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Complete list of species, with images and family descriptions.  Click on web address for Snakes of  North America
 
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Identification of Poisonous Snakes

Because all poisonous snakes are members of the pit viper family, you can easily tell the difference between poisonous and harmless snakes. The three ways to distinguish poisonous snakes: Pupil shape. The black part in the center of the eye (pupil) of harmless snakes is round. Poisonous snakes have egg-shaped or cat-like (elliptical) pupils (Figure 2a). In good light, you can easily see the pupil shape from a safe distance because snakes cannot jump nor can they strike from more than one-third of their body length. 

Pit. Poisonous snakes also have a very conspicuous sensory area or pit (hence the name “pit viper”) on each side of the head. The pit looks somewhat like a nostril and helps the snake locate warm-bodied food. It is located about midway and slightly below the eye and nostril (Figure 2a). Harmless snakes do not have pits. Scale arrangement. The underside scales of a venomous snake's tail go all the way across in a single row from the anal plate (Figure 2b). The very tip of the tail may have two scale rows. Nonpoisonous snakes have two rows of scales from the vent to the end of the tail. This characteristic can also be observed on skins that have been shed. Other features that may help you identify a poisonous snake at a distance: Head shape. Venomous snakes usually have a triangular (wide at the back and attached to a narrow neck) or “spade-shaped” head. Be aware that many harmless snakes flatten their heads when threatened and may appear poisonous. Distinctive sound. Rattlesnakes will usually sound a warning rattle (a buzz or a dry, whirring sound) when approached. However, many nonpoisonous snakes (black racers, corn snakes, rat snakes, milk snakes, and pine snakes) and several poisonous snakes (copperhead and cottonmouth) often vibrate their tails when threatened. The sound produced by this vibration often imitates a rattle or hissing sound when the snake is sitting in dry grass or leaves.

Tail. You can easily recognize young cottonmouths and copperheads by their bright yellow or greenish yellow tail.

Identification of Poisonous Snakes

Because all poisonous snakes are members of the pit viper family, you can easily tell the difference between poisonous and harmless snakes. The three ways to distinguish poisonous snakes: Pupil shape. The black part in the center of the eye (pupil) of harmless snakes is round. Poisonous snakes have egg-shaped or cat-like (elliptical) pupils (Figure 2a). In good light, you can easily see the pupil shape from a safe distance because snakes cannot jump nor can they strike from more than one-third of their body length. 

Pit. Poisonous snakes also have a very conspicuous sensory area or pit (hence the name “pit viper”) on each side of the head. The pit looks somewhat like a nostril and helps the snake locate warm-bodied food. It is located about midway and slightly below the eye and nostril (Figure 2a). Harmless snakes do not have pits. Scale arrangement. The underside scales of a venomous snake's tail go all the way across in a single row from the anal plate (Figure 2b). The very tip of the tail may have two scale rows. Nonpoisonous snakes have two rows of scales from the vent to the end of the tail. This characteristic can also be observed on skins that have been shed. Other features that may help you identify a poisonous snake at a distance: Head shape. Venomous snakes usually have a triangular (wide at the back and attached to a narrow neck) or “spade-shaped” head. Be aware that many harmless snakes flatten their heads when threatened and may appear poisonous. Distinctive sound. Rattlesnakes will usually sound a warning rattle (a buzz or a dry, whirring sound) when approached. However, many nonpoisonous snakes (black racers, corn snakes, rat snakes, milk snakes, and pine snakes) and several poisonous snakes (copperhead and cottonmouth) often vibrate their tails when threatened. The sound produced by this vibration often imitates a rattle or hissing sound when the snake is sitting in dry grass or leaves.

Tail. You can easily recognize young cottonmouths and copperheads by their bright yellow or greenish yellow tail.