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In the United States, all native species of venomous snakes, with the exception of the Coral Snake, can be identified by a few common characteristics. The most definitive is the pupil of a venomous snake is a vertical slit as opposed to a round pupil which all non-venomous species have. If you do not want to get that close, another sign is the 'diamond-shaped' head of these snakes, however, many harmless snakes can flatten their heads into a diamond-shape when threatened, so this one is not always guaranteed. The final, and easiest (in my opinion), way to distinguish a venomous snake vs. a non-venomous is that general body size of these things. The 3 venomous species in the U.S.: Copperheads, Cottonmouths (also called Water Moccasins), and Rattlesnakes: that we typically deal with are pit-vipers (meaning they have heat sensing pits below their nostrils) and are very fat or stout-bodied snakes for their length.
Because some of these distinctions are relative, unless you are 100% positive you are dealing with a non-venomous species it is always best to leave the animal be and call an expert. Though most species we get calls about turn out to be non-venomous and in many cases, a beneficial snake; there certainly are dangerous ones out there and always best to leave the identification to a trained Critter Control wildlife manangement professional.
- Peter Riney
Critter Control of Central Missouri
There are two distinct way’s to tell if a snake is venomous or non-venomous. One way to tell is bye looking at the eye’s of a snake. Cat-like pupil’s means this is a venomous snake, where round pupils (like you and I) means it is non-venomous. This method puts you in close proximity of the snake and can be dangerous, so I would be very careful when inspecting; if at all possible, use binoculars to keep a good distance between you and the snake. The second way to identify is done so with a sheded skin sample. If you find a sheded skin in your house or yard you will need to look at the underside of the skin, here you will see a pattern of elongated lines that the snake has all the way to the end of the tail. It is about a third of the way from the end of the tail that you will be focusing on. Just after the anal flap, the segmented lines will tell you if it is poisonous or not. If the lines after the anal flap look the same as the line before the anal flap, single lines on both sides it is most likely venomous. If on the other hand you notice that the line are different–single line above and double segmented lines after the anal flap– then this in a non-venomous. Some will tell you that the head is more diamond shape, which is true; however, there are some snakes that when threatened will flatten their body, shake their tail, and coil to strike all as a means of making you think they are venomous.
If you find yourself in close proximity to a snake, don’t panic; keep your eye’s on it and move away slowly all the time watching for other snakes. Most snakes will leave and go the opposite direction, following a very simple rule of nature (fight or flight) if you give room for the snake to leave they will; corner it with no way to go then a fight might happen. If this encounter happens in side you home, then I suggest you have someone keep an eye on the snake while a call to your local Critter Control office can be made. Snake are kings of camouflage and are there one minute, only to be gone the next. Placing a damp towel or waste basket to contain the animal will greatly increase the odds of having a successful capture and removal of the snake.
Locally in the Nashville area the most common snakes seen in the yard are going to be: Gartner both stripped and checkered, Rat Snakes either Black, Grey or Red variety's, Near water you may see a banded water snake. Some more common venomous snakes you might see are Timber Rattlers, and Copperheads.
- Mike Rossi
Critter Control of Greater Nashville