Types of Poisonous Snakes in the United States by Region
When we step outside to enjoy the outdoors we're sharing the trail with all types of creatures. From the salamanders that dart through the water to the bears that roam the woods, our presence is just one small part of a thriving ecosystem. The natural environment offers many gifts but it also comes with some hazards, one of which is the potential to encounter poisonous snakes while outdoors.
There are approximately 20 species of venomous snakes in the United States, and they are found in every state except Alaska. While the threat of crossing paths with a dangerous snake shouldn't keep you at home, it is important to understand the types of poisonous snakes that exist in the places you will be hiking and know how to respond should you encounter one. (Pictured below: Hikers are warned of rattlesnakes in a portion of Badlands National Park)
If you want to avoid poisonous snakes while hiking, the Pacific Northwest is a great place to do it. There is just one poisonous snake in Oregon and Washington and it is the Pacific rattlesnake (pictured below). This snake is not found in the rainy areas west of the Cascade Mountains but is common in the dryer, eastern parts of the Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific rattlesnake is typically found at elevations under 3,000 feet and prefers rocky areas. In the summer when temperatures are high, the snake is nocturnal, though in the cooler spring and fall seasons it emerges during the daytime, too. It is identifiable by its triangular head, thin neck and rattle on the end of its tail. There are dark brown or black blotches on its back and it is usually two to three feet in length.
Common venomous snakes in the southwestern region of the United States, encompassing states such as Arizona, Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah include nearly 20 species of rattlesnake. In California alone there are six types of venomous rattlesnakes and Arizona is home to an impressive 18 species of rattlesnake. Three of them are a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake and are found at an altitude of up to 8,200 feet, identifiable by their dark brown, dark gray, or yellow coloring with dark blotches along the spine and sides. They grow to a length of three to five feet.
While each species of rattlesnake found in the southwest may vary in color, they can all be identified by the rattle on the end of the tail and the loud, rattling sound they produce when threatened.
The southwest is also home to the Arizona coral snake and the Texas coral snake. The Arizona coral snake is a small snake reaching less than two feet in length and bright in color, with alternating bands of black and red separated by narrow bands of white or yellow. The Texas coral snake can reach up to 30 inches in length and has alternating bands of black, red and yellow.
The broad-banded copperhead, Southern copperhead and trans-picos copperhead (pictured below), are all found in Texas. The broad-banded copperhead is tan with wide, dark brown, hourglass shaped crossbands and looks very similar to the trans-picos copperhead and the southern copperhead. All three species of copperhead tend to avoid humans, prefer wooded habitats, and have yellow, cat-like eyes.
The Western cottonmouth is a dark, thick snake that can reach up to 42-inches in length. When the cottonmouth feels threatened it will open its mouth, revealing the bright white skin inside. These snakes have very few or no markings and most often appear completely black with a wide, flat head. The Western cottonmouth prefers to live in lowland swamps, rivers, marshes, irrigation ditches and other moist areas.
There are three poisonous snakes found in the northeastern United States.
The timber rattlesnake (pictured below) can grow up to five feet in length and is found in forests and rugged terrain. In the warm months, female timber rattlesnakes like to sun themselves on rocks. The main body of the timber rattlesnake is brown, yellow, gray or tan in color. The tail of the snake is black and has a distinguished rattle. The venom of a timber rattlesnake is strong enough to kill a human, but the docile nature of the snake means that it almost never strikes without first giving a great deal of warning. The timber rattlesnake is found in the Northeastern states of Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake is uncommon but does exist in the Northeast in New York and Pennsylvania. The snake grows to about two feet in length with a dense body and a heart-shaped head. They are typically gray or light brown and have chocolate brown blotches. They prefer to live in wet areas such as near rivers, lakes and marshes.
The Northern copperhead has, you may have guessed it, a copper-colored head and a copper or reddish-brown body with brown, hourglass-shaped crossbands. They can grow to be about three feet in length and live in a range of environments, from forests to wet lowlands. The Northern copperhead calls Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
There are four types of venomous snakes living in the southeastern United States, this includes the states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky.
The Eastern cottonmouth (pictured below), Western cottonmouth and Florida cottonmouth all live in the southeast. As described above, the cottonmouth is most distinguishable by the way it opens its jaws wide when threatened, revealing the fleshy white interior of its mouth.
Four of the five sub-species of copperhead call the southern U.S. home. The Northern copperhead, Southern copperhead, broad-banded copperhead and osage copperhead all have that namesake copper-colored head and reddish-brown bodies.
Nine subspecies of rattlesnake live in the southeast: the timber rattlesnake, Western pygmy rattlesnake, Carolina pigmy rattlesnake, dusky pygmy rattlesnake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Western diamondback rattlesnake, desert massasauga, Western massasauga and prairie rattlesnake.
The brightly-colored Eastern coral snake is also a resident of the southeast. The snake has yellow, red and black bands and the dangers of encountering one can be remembered by the rhyme: red touches yellow, kills a fellow.
There are six subspecies of rattlesnakes living in the mountain states of Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. These are the great basin rattlesnake, Northern Pacific rattlesnake, prairie rattlesnake (pictured below), desert massasauga, Western massasauga and the midget faded rattlesnake.
The Midwestern and plains states, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Kansas, are home to three species of venomous snakes.
The Northern copperhead, osage copperhead (pictured below), Southern copperhead and the broad-banded copperhead all live in the plains.
Six sub-species of rattlesnake, the Eastern massasauga, Western massasauga, desert massasauga, timber rattlesnake, prairie rattlesnake and Western pygmy rattlesnake all call the plains home.
The Western cottonmouth is also found in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.
What to do if you are bitten by a poisonous snake
According to the CDC, about 7,000- 8,000 people per year are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States. Only about five of those people die, but that's because most people that are bitten by a snake seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of a venomous snake bite can range in severity depending on the type of snake but generally include:
- Puncture marks with redness, swelling and intense pain around the bite
- Nausea, vomiting or trouble breathing
- Blurry vision
- Sweating and salivating
- Numbing or tingling in the face and extremities
If you believe you have been bitten by a poisonous snake, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Try to stay calm, as a pounding heart can increase the rate at which venom spreads through the body. Keep the bite below the level of the heart and clean the wound with soap and water if possible. Do not try to suck out the venom.
Article Written By Kim Dinan
Kim Dinan is a writer covering the outdoors and travel. Her adventures have taken her around the world, including camping and hiking in nearly every US state. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. She is also a published author.
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