How To Identify Venomous Snakes

Have you ever wondered if a snake you saw is venomous?

Do you worry about seeing a venomous snake?

Venomous snakes are scary to come across, but chances are, you’re not running into any anytime soon. 

If you are curious about venomous and non-venomous snakes, you might wonder:

How do you identify venomous snakes?

There are a few easily identifiable characteristics of venomous snakes in the wild, including a triangular-shaped head, a pit near their nose, and slit looking pupils. Venomous snakes also behave differently than their non-venomous relatives.

If you aren’t sure if the snake is venomous or not, it is best to give it a wide birth and do not antagonize the snake.

For even more information on identifying venomous snakes, continue reading. 

how to identify venomous snakes

How To Identify Venomous Snakes

In the United States, venomous snakes aren’t too prevalent.

In fact, there are only four major species of native venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes.

There are different kinds of these four groups of snakes throughout the continental United States.

When you are in areas where these four species or any other venomous snakes throughout the world live, it is beneficial to understand how to identify them to avoid harm.

There are a few characteristics only venomous snakes possess to help you know if you are seeing a poisonous snake or not. 

When in doubt, do whatever it takes to avoid the snake and if necessary, contact your local animal control official to safely and humanely remove the animal.

Triangular-Shaped Head

The first identifiable characteristic is the shape of a venomous snake’s head.

These snakes have a more triangular-shaped head as opposed to the rounded heads of the non-venomous snakes.

Some non-venomous snakes can mimic the triangular shape of their head by flattening theirs.

This is a ploy to make them appear dangerous to predators. 

The venomous snake’s head is shaped this way, with a bulbous head and a skinny jaw because their venom sacks sit under the jaw.

A gradual sloping jaw is found in non-venomous snakes because they don’t have those sacks to worry about. 

Pit Near Their Nose

Another way to tell venomous snakes from non-venomous snakes is by looking for two pits on their snouts.

All four of the venomous snakes native to the United States have these pits on their heads.

The pits are found mostly in vipers. 

The snakes have these to give them the ability to detect heat from their prey. 

This second characteristic is a little harder to identify from a distance, but if you are close enough to see, back away to a safe distance.


A snake’s pupils hold another tell for anyone looking to identify whether the animal is venomous or not.

In venomous snakes, the pupil is elliptical. 

They look similar to a cat’s eye. 

The thin vertical pupils of a venomous snake differ from a non-venomous snake.

In a non-venomous snake, the pupils will be rounded.

As with the pits on their head, identifying a snake by the pupils is something you will have a hard time doing from farther away.

Getting close may be dangerous if the snake strikes. 


Behavior is a great way to identify what kind of snake you have come across.

Each species of snake will act just a little differently than another.

For example, a cottonmouth swims differently than non-venomous snakes in the same area. 

Non-venomous snakes will swim with just their head above water, but a harmful cottonmouth has a buoyant body.

With this buoyancy, the cottonmouth floats along the water.

Rattlesnakes give you a warning with their behavior.

True to their name, these snakes put off a rattling sound with their tails.

Understanding the behavior of different snakes is a great way for you to start identifying venomous snakes.

Know What Snakes Could Be In The Area

Ultimately, a knowledge of where venomous snakes live will be some of the biggest help.

Whether you are living in an area they make their habitat or just visiting, knowing what could be out there is the first step in knowing if there is a danger there.

Some locations in the United States only have a small population of venomous snakes.

It is helpful to know if you could run into one of four species or if there are not usually any venomous snakes in your area.

Research and knowledge of your surroundings or where you are going will undoubtedly help you if you are worried about identifying a venomous snake. 

What To Do If You Are Bitten By A Venomous Snake?

Even when you do your best, sometimes a bite it just happens.

If you are bitten by a venomous snake, there are a few things you must do to minimize the damage.

The first is to seed immediate medical attention.

Some non-venomous snakes disguise themselves to look like venomous ones as a way to scare off predators.

If you aren’t sure what kind of snake bit you, it is best to go to the doctor either way. 

If the snake turns out to be venomous, waiting will only allow the venom to cause more damage to your body.

Do not panic if bitten. 

Staying calm will help to reduce the spread of the venom in your lymphatic system.

Applying pressure to the bite is another way to slow the spread of venom. 

Whatever you do, do not go after the snake and to catch it.

The medical professionals do not need the snake to identify the venom.

They will do so with a variety of tests, giving you the best, most appropriate treatment.


Even though you might hear about snake bites, this occurs, more often than not, when someone is attempting to handle or remove a venomous snake without proper training.

Being able to identify a venomous snake from a non-venomous one may save your life.

Look for a triangular-shaped head, heat-detecting pits, slit-like pupils, and their behavior to help you identify a venomous snake.

If you do see one, avoid it and if necessary, contact someone trained to handle venomous snakes to help you remove it from the area. 


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