How to Tell If a Snake is Poisonous or Not: Quick Tips!

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” And when it comes to identifying snakes, this couldn’t be more true. Understanding whether a snake is venomous or not could mean the difference between life and death in some cases.

So, what exactly should you keep in mind when trying to determine if a snake is poisonous or not? Here are some quick tips to help:

1. Know What Venomous Snakes Look Like

The first step in identifying a poisonous snake is to know what they look like. While there are many different species of venomous snakes, there are some general characteristics to look out for:

  • Triangular Head: Many venomous snakes have a triangular-shaped head that is wider than their necks. This is a clear sign that a snake is venomous.
  • Pit Between the Eyes and Nostrils: Some venomous snakes have a small pit between their eyes and nostrils. This is used as a sensory organ to detect heat and is a clear sign that a snake is venomous.
  • Vertical Pupils: Venomous snakes often have pupils that are more vertical than horizontal. Nonvenomous snakes typically have round pupils.
  • Brightly Colored: While not all brightly colored snakes are venomous, many are. So, if you see a brightly colored snake with a triangular head, beware!

2. Consider the Snake’s Behavior

The behavior of a snake can also provide clues as to whether it is venomous or not:

  • Aggressiveness: If a snake is acting aggressively or seems agitated, it could be a sign that it is venomous.
  • Rattling: Some venomous snakes have rattles on their tails, which they use as a warning signal. If you hear a rattling sound, it’s time to back away slowly.
  • Stillness: Nonvenomous snakes tend to move around more than venomous ones. If you come across a snake that is still, it could be a sign that it is venomous.

3. Look for Physical Markings

Physical markings can also help you determine whether a snake is venomous or not:

  • Pit Vipers: Pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths typically have diamond-shaped markings along their backs.
  • Coral Snakes: Coral snakes are often recognized by their bright red, yellow, and black bands. Remember the rhyme: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack.”

4. Know Your Location

The location where you find the snake can also be helpful in determining whether it is venomous or not:

  • Africa and Asia: Many of the world’s most venomous snakes are found in Africa and Asia. If you’re traveling to these regions, be especially cautious around any snakes you encounter.
  • North America: While there are some venomous snakes in North America, they are generally less common than nonvenomous ones.

5. When in Doubt, Stay Away

If you’re not sure whether a snake is venomous or not, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and stay away. Even nonvenomous snakes can bite and cause infection or other health problems.

Common Questions and Answers about Identifying Poisonous Snakes

  • How do I identify a poisonous snake? Look for physical characteristics such as a triangular head, vertical pupils, and brightly colored skin. Consider the snake’s behavior, and know what types of venomous snakes are common in your area.
  • What should I do if I encounter a venomous snake? Slowly and carefully back away, giving the snake a wide berth. Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten.
  • What are the most venomous snakes in the world? The most venomous snakes include the inland taipan, the Eastern brown snake, and the black mamba.


By keeping these quick tips in mind, you’ll be much better equipped to identify whether a snake is venomous or not. Remember to always stay calm and give snakes plenty of space, and seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten.


  • “How to Identify Venomous and Nonvenomous Snakes.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 17 Dec. 2018,
  • “Identifying Snakes.” Snake Removal, The Snake Pit, Inc.,
  • “Snakebite: Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Dec. 2018,

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