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  • Writer's pictureCasey Wilson

Being Able To Identify The 10 Most Dangerous Snakes Can Actually Save Your Life

While there are plenty of harmless snakes out there, there are also many that can be dangerous to humans. Knowing how to identify which might pose a threat is an important skill.

If you spend a lot of time in the outdoors, there’s a good chance that you’ve run into a snake or two. It’s always a bit spooky to see one, but they tend to be relatively calm unless you go out of your way to agitate them.

With that being said, you still need to be careful around them. Some of them are kind of cute, sure, but there are also plenty of dangerous - even deadly - snakes in America.

Knowing which snakes are dangerous versus safe is a great skill to have, and it can help keep you safe the next time that you venture into the wilderness.

Timber Rattlesnake

You probably already know that you shouldn’t mess with rattlesnakes, but here’s one in particular that you should be very wary of. The timber rattlesnake can be found all the way from eastern Texas all the way to the east coast, meaning that it appears in nearly half of the United States.

The timber rattlesnake is very venomous and sports large fangs, but it’s luckily relatively timid. They have a pretty recognizable pattern of dark zig zags across their bodies, and that makes them easy to spot and easy to avoid. Give them space, don’t aggravate them, and you should be safe.

Common Coral Snake

The common coral snake is known by quite a few names, but the important thing you need to know is that it looks incredibly similar to the scarlet snake and the scarlet kingsnake. This is key to note because those snakes are harmless while the common coral snake is very dangerous.

The three snakes have similar color schemes, but the order of the colored stripes differs between them. The nursery rhyme, “Red touching black, friend of Jack; red touching yellow, you’re a dead fellow” sounds silly, but it is actually quite helpful in remembering. Getting bit by a common coral snake is rare, but you don’t want it to happen. It can be fatal.

Black Diamond Rattlesnake

Here’s another deadly rattlesnake that you should learn to identify. The black diamond rattlesnake has a beautiful and unique pattern of scales, a large rattle, and lots of venom in its bite. It’s found throughout the western part of the United States, but it can also be found as far north as British Columbia.

The nice thing about rattlesnakes is that they tend to use their rattle before biting. That means that you probably shouldn’t be hiking with headphones in if you’re in rattlesnake territory. Keep a good ear listening to your surroundings and watch where you’re stepping. Your awareness of your surroundings is the strongest defense you have against rattlesnakes.

Mojave Rattlesnake

The Mojave rattlesnake is not only one of the most venomous snakes in North America, but also among the deadliest reptiles in the entire world. It has a relatively small range compared to some of the other rattlesnakes in the states, mostly existing in Arizona with smaller populations in southeastern California, southern Nevada, southern New Mexico, and western Texas.

The issue with the Mojave rattlesnake is that its appearance can vary from light green to a distinct pattern of brown. If you ever get bit by one, seek medical attention immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the venom can affect you.


Agkistrodon piscivorus, otherwise known by the much easier to say cottonmouth, is one of the more common venomous snakes that you might stumble upon in the United States. The cottonmouth is considered semi-aquatic, and that means that you really need to keep an eye out for it when you are close to water. It’s generally found in the southeast, particularly in swampy regions of Florida.

You can identify a cottonmouth through a few different characteristics. They are typically big and have a wider head than neck. If you surprise one, it will open its mouth wide to scare you off before striking, and that’s a dead giveaway. Unfortunately their colors vary, so it’s best to go off their behavior instead.

Prairie Rattlesnake

The prairie rattlesnake, at least compared to the mojave rattlesnake, is not all that venomous. However, you still don’t want to get bit by one. Like all rattlesnakes, it can potentially bite if it feels threatened, and you don’t want to end up in that position. The prairie rattlesnake is largely found a bit west of the center of the United States, with a range stretching all the way from Texas to Montana and North Dakota.

You’ll usually see them be around three feet or so, and they have heads shaped like a triangle. They might not be the most venomous out there, but they are still quite dangerous.

Tiger Rattlesnake

The tiger rattlesnake is a relatively obscure snake, and not too many people know about it. Because of this, you may be surprised to hear that it actually has some of the most intense venom in the world. But luckily for us, that’s actually not a huge deal. Because the snake only injects a small amount of its venom when it bites, you probably won’t end up in a fatal situation if it bites you.

The tiger rattlesnake is also not very common in the United States, only having populations in southern Arizona near the Mexico border. The snake is also not known to bite people very often. All of this is great news for anyone living in Arizona! You can identify a tiger rattlesnake by its tiny head.

Desert Massasauga

The desert massasauga has one of the most unique names of any venomous snake in America. It also has a unique appearance: it is characterized by having a light-colored (sometimes even white) body with dark, circular spots across its back. The snake is mostly nocturnal, so you are unlikely to see it while you are out hiking during the day. Its bite is also generally thought to not be fatal.

Like many of the other venomous snakes on this list, it can be found in the southwest of the United States. It doesn’t pose a major threat to humans, but its venom can still cause extreme pain if it decides to bite you.


To a snake lover, the sidewinder is incredibly interesting. They aren’t very large, but they are very fast. In fact, sidewinders are known to move at a top speed of almost 20 miles per hour. Pretty impressive! Someone who comes across them in the wild may not be as interested in them as a snake lover would be. For a hiker, a sidewinder is a pretty scary sight!

They are a type of rattlesnake, and that means that their bite can be fatal. You can tell a sidewinder from its light color, the horns above its eyes, or the strange way it moves. The “sidewinding” motion of the snake helps it move across sand quickly to catch prey.

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

The dusky pygmy rattlesnake might win the prize for the cutest name on this entire list. Don’t let it convince you to put your guard down, though. The bite from the dusky pygmy isn’t thought to be fatal, but it is still dangerous and very painful.

As implied by the name, they don’t get too big, and they can generally be found in the most southern parts of the United States, particularly in Florida and nearby states. The dusky pygmy isn’t too hard to identify, as it has a unique color pattern and a dark-colored head that makes it stand out from its surroundings. As always, give it a wide berth and you should be alright.


Planning your next camping adventure? Read about the 10 most dangerous spiders in the American wild before you head out.


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