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Dangerous Snakes of North America

Updated on July 8, 2009

Dangerous Venomous Snakes of North America

The most dangerous North American venomous snakes belong to the pit viper species. They have small heat sensing glands (pits) located above each nostril, which allow them to detect and locate warm-blooded animals, such as rodents, even in total darkness. The pits allow them to strike their prey with deadly accuracy and inject their toxic venom. The pit vipers have relatively long retractable fangs through which they inject their venom, like a hypodermic needle. Most of the pit vipers in North America have a hemotoxic venom that destroys blood cells and causes massive tissue damage.

Some of the rattlesnake sub-species have developed neurotoxic venom as well, which attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, respiratory and cardiac problems. These snakes, which have a combination of hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom pose an even greater risk of lethality to humans.

The four snakes I have chosen as the most dangerous in the U.S.A. are: 1). the Mojave Rattlesnake, 2).the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, 3).the Cane Break Rattlesnake and 4).the Eastern Diamond Back Rattlesnake.

Other factors taken into consideration when assessing dangerousness of a venomous snake, include relative size (a larger snake has a potentially larger amount of venom it can inject ), aggressiveness of the snake (usually based on reports rather than scientific study) and it's habitat and population.

(picture of a Mojave "green" Rattlesnake)

Dangerous But Important to the Eco-system!

Although these snakes may pose a danger to humans, they are an essential part of their local eco-systems. They are responsible for controlling the population of rodents, which are far more dangerous to humans, since they carry disease and destroy vast amounts of grain and food.

These are snakes to be RESPECTED and avoided, but should NEVER be killed indiscriminately! These amazing reptiles should be protected and left alone to do their job.

Dangerous North American. Snake #1: The Mojave Rattlesnake

1). Mojave Rattlesnake - (Crotalus scutulatus)

The Mojave rattlesnake is a venomous species found in the deserts of the southwestern United States and central Mexico. It is perhaps best known for its potent venom. The Mojave rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus, is the most dangerous snake in the United States. Unlike most other rattlesnakes species, California specimens possess highly neurotoxic venom in addition to hemotoxins. This deadly cocktail of toxins attack both nerve endings, leading to paralysis and respiratory failure, as well as massive destruction of tissue and blood cells.

This rattlesnake species averages between 3.25' (100 cm) and 4.5' (137 cm) in length. Their color varies with the terrain, ranging from shades of brown to pale green. Their frequent green hue, has led to their being called "Mojave greens" in some areas of the U.S. This snake is not considered endangered and is found in a fairly wide distribution throughout the southwestern U.S. in good numbers.

The Mojave rattlesnake is often found in close proximity to large and growing population centers in southern California and therefore may be encountered more frequently by humans then other species. They have a reputation for being fairly aggressive, although this is based largely on anecdotal information, rather than scientific evidence. Like most rattlesnakes they will defend themselves rigorously, against perceived threats such as handling, or when disturbed.

The Mojave rattlesnake is widely considered one of the most dangerous and venomous snakes of the Western Hemisphere. The bite from a Mojave rattlesnake is a serious medical emergency and is potentially life threatening. A snake to leave alone and avoid, the Mojave earns first place on my list of the U.S. most dangerous snakes.

Mojave Rattlesnake Video

Dangerous North American Snake #2: the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

2). Southern Pacific Rattlesnake - (Crotalus viridis helleri)

One of the nine subspecies of the western rattlesnake, the southern pacific is relatively dark in coloration. They are native to the southern coasts of California and Baja. They occupy valley grasslands, woodlands and shrub communities.

This is the most common species in San Diego and may be found near housing developments, parks, and even the beach. Its range is from coastal Southern California to northwestern Baja California, Mexico, and they are commonly found on prairies or sage scrub/grassland areas, especially near rocky outcroppings

Like most rattlesnakes, the Southern Pacific produces a powerful hemotoxin that attacks the blood and tissue of its prey. Recently, in some areas of southern California the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake has developed neurotoxins in it's venom, as well. A bite from this snake can cause localized tissue damage in humans, and if left untreated may result in death from hemorrhaging, blood clotting or a drop in blood pressure. In addition if neurotoxins are present in the snakes venom, there may be other neurological issues as well, including paralysis, respiratory failure and cardiac arrhythmia.

It is not clear how some Southern Pacific rattlesnakes have developed neurotoxic venom, although it may be due to cross breeding with the Mojave rattlesnake. In any case this makes for a potentially more dangerous envenomation and snake. The Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus Helleri) is responsible for most of the snake bites in the coastal area of California from Los Angeles to San Diego

This particular snake is highly venomous and even though the Southern Pacific rattler is nonaggressive, it accounts for more venomous bites in the United States than any other snake because we are building new homes and communities on top of their habitat.

I believe this is the number 2 most dangerous snake in the U.S. because it is a large and highly venomous snake that is widely distributed in human populated areas of southern California. Recent brush fires in California have caused even more human and pet encounters with this snake, as they have sought to move away from the fires into safer community areas.

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

Meeting the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake

A Guide to Rattlesnakes of the United States

3). Canebrake Rattlesnake - (Crotalus horridus atricaudatus)

The Canebrake Rattlesnake is actually a sub-species of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus horridus), found widely through the northeastern U. S. The Canebrake is lighter colored than the much darker Timber Rattlesnake. It is pinkish to light tan with dark-brown to black blotches and chevrons, and it has a marked stripe down the back and a stripe from the eye to the jaw. Although the venom of these snakes is variable, the Canebrake tends to possess a neurotoxic venom, which contributes to its overall toxicity.

Potentially, this is one of North America's most dangerous snakes, due to its long fangs, impressive size and high venom yield.

A bite from a Canebrake Rattlesnake can include nervous system affects leading to respiratory distress and cardiac arrythmias, as well as tissue damage and nerve paralysis. These are large snakes with adults averaging 3 to 6 feet in length, which can potentially deliver a massive load of very toxic venom.

Although overall, Timber Rattlesnakes are threatened in some northeastern habitats, the Canebrake sub-species is not currently an endangered species and its population seems stable in most of its southeastern U. S. range. It tends to inhabit hardwood and mixed hardwood-pine forests, cane fields, and the ridges and glades of swampy areas in the southeastern States. It overwinters in the base of hollow trees or in stumps. In cooler weather it is active during the day, but during the heat of the summer it tends to be active and hunt at night. It generally feeds on small mammals, such as rodents and occasionally amphibians, such as small frogs. It is a very important part of rodent control in its habitat.

I chose this snake as number 3 most dangerous, due to it's size and toxicity of its venom. It is a very beautiful and ecologically important snake - leave it alone, give it a wide berth and above all respect it!

Canebrake Rattlesnake Video

Dangerous North American Snake #4: The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

4). Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - (Crotalus adamanteus)

I chose the Eastern Diamondback because of its large size and the fact that it has a very dangerous bite and can deliver enough venom to kill six adults. It's venom is purely hemotoxic, unlike the other three rattlesnakes chosen, but nonetheless, potentially fatal and disfiguring. In earlier times a bite from this snake frequently led to amputation, in order to save a life. This species has the reputation of being the most dangerous venomous snake in North America. While not usually aggressive, they are large and powerful. Wright and Wright (1957) mention a mortality rate of 30% and that some victims have died within a matter of hours.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are native to the Southeastern Coastal Plains. They can be found in Southern North Carolina, Eastern South Carolina, Southern Georgia, Florida, Southern Alabama, Southern Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana.

These rattlesnakes inhabit low elevation sandy areas, long-leaf pine forests, pine flatwoods, sand hill communities, turkey oak forests, live oak hammocks, pine ridges or coastal areas. Favorite haunts include saw palmetto scrub, Gopher Tortoise burrows, and stump holes.

Eastern Diamondbacks are often found on Georgia's barrier islands, the Florida Keys, and Islands in the Gulf of Mexico. They are well known to be excellent swimmers and have often been spotted crossing stretches of water between barrier islands and the mainland off the Georgia coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Florida Keys, sometimes miles from land.

These snakes can often be found on agricultural land. Farms provide a steady food supply in the form of rodents. Tin, plywood, and other debris provide shelter to the snakes. The snakes may spend the first three years of their life underground in stump holes and root systems.

Individual disposition varies, with some allowing close approach while remaining silent, and others starting to rattle at a distance of 20 to 30 feet (6-9 m). When threatened they raise the anterior half of the body off the ground in an S-shaped coil and strike to a distance of at least a third of their body length. Many will stand their ground and may strike repeatedly.

One popular myth is that these snakes must rattle before striking. They are, of course, quite capable of striking while remaining completely silent.

The Eastern Diamondback is a large, impressive, and potentially dangerous snake. It can strike up to 2/3 its body length; a 6-foot specimen may strike 4 feet. The venom of the diamondback is potent. When severely bitten, the mortality rate for humans is nearly 40 percent. Symptoms include, but are not limited to pain, severe swelling, bruising, blistering, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions, Yellow vision; paraesthesia/numbness of digits, metallic taste in mouth, fasciculations, and/or death.

I chose this snake for 4th place only because it's population is threatened and endangered in many of the more populated areas of the southeastern U.S. and would therefore be less likely encountered. It is also a snake that tends to be reclusive and shy and avoids human contact as much as possible.

(picture - Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake)

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Suggestions and Comments - Thanks for your feedback!

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    • mojoCNYartist profile image

      Dan 5 years ago from CNY

      There are 3 types of poisonous snakes found in NY state too that you didn't mention. One of them is an endangered species. it lives in the Cicero swamp, and it's rattle sounds like a bumblebee.

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      Although snakes are my least favorite animal on our planet, I'm glad you included their value. Our eco-system is dependent on every factor and snakes are no different. Angel blessed for Friday the 13th!

    • profile image

      seegreen 6 years ago

      Ok, it was hard for me to look at the pictures, I'm just not a fan of dangerous snakes. Don't mind the non-dangerous ones as long as they aren't lurking anywhere near me lol. Blessed by an Angel.

    • profile image

      Obscure_Treasures 6 years ago

      These all sound so good,I really like your lens.

    • profile image

      qlcoach 8 years ago

      Pretty interesting lens. I live in Cave Junction, Oregon. I think I saw my first baby rattlesnake. It had the pointed head and markings but no rattle. I met you on Lensroll. Hope you will check out the healing chronicles at the bottom of my page about emotional healing. Gary Eby, author and therapist.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      I must admit that I have to force myself to look at lenses like this as although I am OK with non-venemous snakes, I hate looking at snakes like these. But your lenses are always a joy to visit, even if the topics do make me shudder sometimes! Blessings from a shuddering Angel!

    • profile image

      tdove 8 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!