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American Venom - Poisonous Snakes Of The United States

Updated on July 8, 2013
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

What Kinds Of Snakes Are Poisonous?

There are four types of venomous snakes in the United States. Three of them are front-fanged vipers. One is a rear-fanged elapid, a relative of cobras.

Although these snakes have a dangerous reputation, anti-venom has reduced fatalities in the U.S. to a mere 6 deaths per year.

Coral Snake
Coral Snake

The Coral Snake

The coral snake is an elapid. It belongs to the same venomous family as cobras and mambas. Like these relatives, the coral snake's fangs are fixed in place (not hinged, like the pit vipers) and face rear-ward.

Because of its bright coloration, most coral snake bites occur on children. Kids seem to be attracted to the bright colors and are more likely to pick them up.

Several other snakes have similar red, black and yellow markings on them and are often confused for coral snakes. A simple rhyme can help you remember the difference:

"If red touches black
You're ok, Jack.
If red touches yellow
You're a dead fellow"

Shopping Results For American Snakes

Timber Rattlesnake
Timber Rattlesnake
Sidewinder Rattlesnake
Sidewinder Rattlesnake


Rattlesnakes are responsible for more bites than any of the other three snakes. "Rattlers" are common from coast to coast and can be found in nearly every one of the 48 continental states. There are several species of American rattlesnake:

The Eastern Diamondback is the largest. It is found across the southeastern United States.

The Black-tailed is found in isolated areas of the southwest.

The Massasauga has strangely enlarged scales on its head. It's found from the east coast to the southwest.

The Sidewinder is easily recognized by its unique locomotion. It is common in the deserts of the southwest.

The Pygmy is found throughout the southeast and into Texas

The Western Diamondback is most common in the southwest, but is also found from California to Arkansas

The Timber is common in the woods and forests of east and midwest.



The Copperhead is a pit viper found in the eastern and midwestern United States. It can reach up to three feet in length.

Unlike the rattlesnake, Copperheads don't warn when approached. Instead, they usually prefer escape to confrontation. Less often they will lay still and allow the threat pass by.

While Copperheads are often encountered, there are very few bites reported. Many of those bites end up being "dry" - with no venom injected.



The Cottonmouth, or Water Moccasin, is a close relative of the Copperhead. It inhabits the swamps and wetlands of the southeastern United States. Its species name is piscivorous - that is "fish-eater" - and warm-blooded mammals make up only a small percentage of its diet.

When threatened, Cottonmouths open their mouth wide, displaying the coloration that give them their name. Cottonmouth venom is considerably stronger than their Copperhead relatives, but Cottonmouths are usually non-aggressive. Most bites occur when they are unseen and stepped on.


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    • ChristopherJRex profile image

      ChristopherJRex 4 years ago from Fort Wayne, IN

      I’m sorry for not providing proper references to support the point I was trying to make about sidewinding locomotion (I guess I was just being lazy). Sidewinding can be thought of as a specialized form of serpentine (lateral undulation) locomotion ( ), implying that many snake species that move by lateral undulation can also perform some degree of sidewinding locomotion. This behavior has been observed in water snakes, including the Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata) in the U.S. ( ). In addition, I have personally observed this behavior in several other American species, including several rattlesnakes and colubrids, given the right conditions (over my 14 years of snake handling experience).

      I understand your need to grab an audience from Google by including “poisonous” in the title (as I did such a thing myself for one of my articles)…I just think that it may be prudent to add a sentence stating that calling these snakes “poisonous” is a misnomer (as there are only ~4 species of “poisonous” snakes in the world, with the caveat that they are “venomous” as well). Generally speaking, you can’t be “envenomated” by a poisonous mushroom anymore than you can be “poisoned” by a venomous snake!

    • mattheos profile image

      mattheos 4 years ago

      Thanks Christopher! That's the last time I write an info hub based on memory alone, lol! I've gone through and edited the points you address and fixed the faulty information!

      The three subspecies of Sidewinder are indeed unique AMONG AMERICAN SNAKES for their method of locomotion. I understand they're not the only snakes to move like this, but they're the only snakes in America to move like this - making them unique in the context of this article (as well as the context of that particular paragraph on rattlesnakes).

      As far as "poisonous" being in the title: I know it's a misnomer - that the correct term is "venomous." In fact my original title had only that term in it. google search results have increased dramatically when I included some variant of "poison." It seems the specific nuances of these terms elude the average browser! :)

    • ChristopherJRex profile image

      ChristopherJRex 4 years ago from Fort Wayne, IN

      This article splits up and discusses the types of snakes in the U.S. in a nice way that I had not previously considered. I was also impressed with how you refrained from calling the animals poisonous throughout, despite the fact the title, itself, retains that inaccurate term. There are a couple of mistakes/misconceptions in this article that I’d like to bring your attention to, however.

      To start with, elapids generally have fixed, front-fangs, not rear-fangs (see this link for an image of the coral snake’s skull: ). In fact, I am unaware of any elapid (or viperid) that actually possesses rear-fangs.

      Secondly, the Sidewinder’s mode of locomotion is not unique, as many other snake species are capable of “sidewinding.” It’s propensity for often using that mode of locomotion is, however, fairly unique.

      Third, Cottonmouths most often feed upon cold-blooded animals (fish, amphibians, reptiles) with warm-blooded animals (mammals/birds) consisting of only a small percentage ( ).

      With the exception of the third point, these topics are also covered in detail in several of my hubs (for example, ). Like I said, the article was nice, but it had a couple of things that required attention. So, keep it up and good luck on your future hubs!

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Nice hub!!

      Wow! That cottonmouth vid is great! It shows exactly how diverse the colours can be for those snakes. I've never seen one that lightly coloured myself.

      Last year at around this time while out fishing I'd left a bass in a cooler, and walked on a ways looking for the next fishing hole.

      When I came back to get the cooler, I dumped the water out without looking...but a water moccasin had smelled my fish inside the cooler, and I guess it opened the top with it's head, and crawled in...when I dumped the water from the cooler - the thing slithered right between my feet!