Survival Skill – How to Identify Common Poisonous Snakes

It is fairly common see a snake while hiking or camping. Luckily many are harmless, but some are poisonous. To help avoid a chance encounter with a snake – make noise as you walk in order to give the snake a chance to move away, as most snakes don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them.

The 4 Most common venomous snakes in the United States are:

  • Cottonmouths
  • Rattle Snakes
  • Copperheads
  • Coral Snake

Cottonmouths (Water Moccasin)

Cottonmouths can be identified by:

  • Can grow to be 3 feet long
  • Their bodies are thick and bulky
  • Head is arrow shaped. Looks triangular when viewed from the top and is noticeably larger than its neck.
  • Color and markings get darker with age. When born, the tail is yellow and becomes green then black as it gets older.
  • Adults also have a thin, pale white line above the eyes.

Rattle Snakes 

Rattle Snakes can be identified by:

  • Rattle snakes are pit vipers, meaning they have Heat-sensing pits on their snouts which allow them to detect their prey.
  • The head is large and triangular – protruding from their more-slender necks
  • Can grow up to 8 feet long
  • Diamond shaped markings on their back
  • A rattle on the tail which is used to ward off threatening animals or predators.


Copperheads can be identified by:

  • Heart shaped or triangular head
  • Thick, stout bodies which can get up to 3 feet in length
  • Typically the color of dead leaves – tan, brown or orange. Allows them to blend in with the forrest floor
  • Pattern of wide, irregular dark bands on their back
  • Vertical slit pupils

Coral Snake

Although not common as the others, this is the most deadly US snake.

Coral Snakes can be identified by:

  • Rounded heads
  • Round Pupils
  • No heat-sensing pits
  • Colorful. Red and black segments separated by yellow bands
  • Remember the rhyme – “Red touches black, I’m alright Jack! Red touches yellow, will kill a fellow!”

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Camping Is Easy® was founded by lifelong friends who shared a passion for both the great outdoors and the gear required to enjoy it to the fullest. Erik & Alex now travel the world searching for the best camping spots all while reviewing the products they use along the way. Thanks for visiting!

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