Venomous Snakes: How Can You Tell?
Six of the 55 different kinds of snakes in Mississippi are venomous. Although the risk of a venomous snake bite is low, it can happen. It’s important to know the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes.
In my opinion, snakes are not cute and cuddly like some other wildlife, such as rabbits and baby deer. However, they do an important job in nature and benefit humans by controlling pests, including mice and insects, that can spread disease and damage property.
Snakes do not seek out humans, but we can and do come across them. If you happen to encounter one, it’s unlikely it will bite unless it feels threatened or you surprise it.
Six of the 55 different kinds of snakes in Mississippi are venomous. Although the risk of a venomous snake bite is low, it can happen. It’s important to know the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. So, how can you tell?
Five of Mississippi’s venomous snakes belong to the pit viper group. They are the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake, copperhead, and cottonmouth. Their distinctive characteristics include:
- Pits or small depressions on the side of its face
- Triangular head, slim neck, and a heavy, flattened body
- Vertical “cat-like” pupils
- A single row of scales on the underside of the tail
The first two characteristics should help you identify a pit viper from a safe distance.
The Eastern coral snake is Mississippi’s sixth type of venomous snake, and it looks very different. Its features include:
- Rounded head
- Indistinct neck
- Round pupils
- Smooth scales
- Hose-shaped body
Coral snakes are brightly colored with bands of red, black, and yellow. They look very similar to scarlet king snakes, but be sure you know the difference. All coral snake bites are not deadly, however, bites from a coral snake are a life-and-death situation.
You may have heard this rhyme which can help you remember which snake is which:
“Red touches black, friend of Jack; Red touches yellow, kills a fellow.”
For more information about Mississippi’s venomous snakes and photos of what they look like, refer to Extension Publication 3529, “Snakes Alive! How to Identify Hazardous Snakes.”
Have you seen snakes around your house?
Extension Publication 2277, “Reducing Snake Problems Around Homes,” explains how to discourage snakes from hanging out around your home and what to do if you encounter them.
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