Have you ever been on a leisurely nature hike or a family camping trip, stumbled upon a snake and hoped it wasn’t poisonous? Chances are you were more than likely safe, but it is important for everyone to be at least somewhat knowledgable about the potential dangers Mother Nature has out there.
In the United States there are thousands of species of snake, but only four are venomous. These species are the copperhead, the coral snake, the cottonmouth, and the rattlesnake.
The Copperhead is easily recognized by its triangular shaped head and vertical pupils. Triangular shaped heads and elliptical shaped pupils are two of the physical aspects of a snake you can look at to determine if a snake is poisonous or not. Copperheads can grow over four feet long and have patterns of brown ‘crossbands’ along the entire body of the snake. The color surrounding the bands varies from snake to snake and could be copper, brown, or a pink-ish brown color.
Copperheads are not considered to be aggressive and usually flee when humans come near. Although venomous, their bites are not considered dangerous and aren’t lethal. Mild pain and sweeping is usually all that is associated with a Copperheads bite.
Coral snakes are most notably recognized because of their bold band coloration of red, black, and yellow. They have a variety of behaviors but they are mostly elusive and prefer to remain hidden under leaf piles in the woods or in slow-moving bodies of water with a lot of vegetation.
Coral snakes are also considered to be elusive, like the Copperhead, and will only bite as a last resort. However, unlike the Copperhead, the Coral snake has a very deadly neurotoxin-type venom. Although the initial reactions to Coral snake bites is usually mild, respiratory failure happens within hours. What makes them even more deadly is the fact that since Coral snake bites are so uncommon, usually less than 25 bites a year, antivenom is considered to be “unprofitable” to manufacture and thus very hard to come by. Keep this in mind when living or visiting areas they are known to live.
Coral snake comparison
Coral snakes are most memorable because of their bold coloring pattern, but can be easily confused with other non-venomous snakes, most notably the King snake, which also has bold banding of red, black and yellow. The easiest way to tell them apart is remembering that Coral snakes have red banding next to yellow banding. King snakes have red banding next to black banding.
Cottonmouths are a large breed of venomous snake and have a potentially fatal bite. These snakes are often confused with Copperheads but it is important to know the differences. Cottonmouths and Copperheads have similar coloration but are most notably different in their size comparison, with Cottonmouths being larger than Copperheads. Cottonmouth males, which are larger than Cottonmouth females, have very large heads with the bases of their skulls being distinctly wider than their necks and blunt snouts. They have very distinct dark banding along their bodies as well.
If confronted by a Cottonmouth, it is best to turn and go back the way you came. Although rare, males have been known to be very aggressive, often curling up and then lunging at the intruder if they feel extremely threatened. Other defensive tactics are more likely to be seen, such as hissing, shaking its tail, and even secreting a foul smelling secretion from their anal glands in order to chase perceived predators away.
Rattlesnakes are the most commonly known species of venomous snake. They are easily recognized by the large rattle found on the tips of their tails. Most often, you will hear them before you see them because they will coil and rattle their tails when threatened. They have a deadly hemotoxic venom which they use to kill their prey. This venom flows through the bloodstream, killing tissue as it goes causing massive internal bleeding and organ failure within minutes of injection into their prey. Some species have a neurotoxic component to their venom, which cause paralysis and other nervous symptoms.
Although the leading culprit of snake bite injuries in the United States, rattlesnake bites are rarely lethal, if treated properly and promptly. Rattlesnakes usually only bite as a last resort due to the amount of energy they need to replace the venom they used. Although easily treated these bites are know to cause immense pain so it is best to still not take them lightly.