How to Distinguish Between Venomous and Non-Venomous Snakes

A select few venomous snakes reside in the United States: rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. With a few exceptions, most venomous snakes share distinguishing characteristics that aid in identification.

All species of North American venomous snakes belong to a group called pit vipers, named for the deep depressions found on either side of their heads midway between their eyes and nostrils. Non-venomous species do not have these.

Additionally, venomous snakes’ scales tend to appear in a single row on the undersides of their bodies, whereas harmless species have two rows of scales. Therefore, close scrutiny of shed skins found around private properties helps distinguish which types of snakes are present.

Furthermore, venomous snakes tend to have triangular or spade-shaped heads. However, since coral snakes do not share this feature despite being venomous, property owners should not use head shape as definitive means of identification.

Venomous and non-venomous snakes also have differently shaped pupils. Pit vipers have vertically elliptical, or egg-shaped, pupils that may appear slit-like depending on the lighting, while non-dangerous species of snakes have perfectly round pupils.

Protection & Removal

Property owners must be fairly close to snakes to view the aforementioned distinguishing features. This leaves individuals in danger of being bitten. In order to avoid the risk of snake bites, residents should simply contact the trained wildlife removal specialists at Critter Control at the first sight of snake activity.

Learn more about snake removal.

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