How to Identify Venomous SnakesMay 9, 2013 by Melanie Swick | 8 Comments
Spend a little time outdoors on nearly any continent, and you will eventually encounter a snake—likely sooner than later. The key to surviving this encounter is the ability to quickly and accurately determine whether you’re facing a minor annoyance or a deadly threat.
You can often identify a venomous snake by looking for certain physical features, which unfortunately means you must be closer to them than you’d like. That’s never a good thing. This isn’t a fool-proof solution though, because there are some that do not posses these features.
1.) Venomous snakes generally have a thick triangular head that is wide in proportion to their body like the rattlesnake hiding amongst these rocks.
2.) As with this cottonmouth, venomous snakes often have a stout, heavier bodies, compared to the thin, lighter bodies of many non-venomous snakes.
3.) Most venomous snakes have elliptical pupils that resemble long narrow slits, as seen in the baby copperhead below, rather than the round pupils you find in most creatures.
4.) All snakes have teeth, but only venomous snakes have fangs capable of delivering poison, as shown by this bush viper. They often display their fangs long before striking in an attempt to scare you away—and it usually works.
5.) If you have the unfortunate opportunity to get really close, you can look for two small holes that look like nostrils, visible on this Malabar pit viper. They aren’t though; they are actually heat-sensing organs used to find prey.
These features aren’t the only indication that a snake is venomous though. The coral snake, found throughout temperate U.S. states, does not have a large triangular head, a stout, heavy body, or elliptical pupils, but it packs one of the most potent venoms of any snake in North America. Throughout the world, there are many other snakes, such as the cobra, sea snake, and mamba, to name just a few, that don’t have these easily identifiable features, but are just as, or more deadly than their counterparts.
The only 100% certain way to identify venomous snakes is to learn about them ahead of time. I recommend the book, Venomous Snakes of the World to familiarize yourself with the species you’re likely to encounter where you live or travel.