Identifying Snakes

By Julia Fuller

Whether you have a passion for snakes or an aversion for them, being able to identify snakes is important if you enjoy the outdoors. Gardeners, landscapers, hikers, and hunters are just a few of the people who come across snakes accidently. If you live in an area with venomous snakes, spend some time studying their identifying marks in case you are bitten.

Look at the shape of the head

Look at the shape of snake's head and tail. For example, the Massasauga rattlesnake has nine enlarged scales on the top of its head and a rattle on its tail. The non-venomous Hognose snake has a pointed and slightly upturned snout helping to differentiate it from the Cottonmouth Moccasin. The Banded Sand snake has a flattened and protruding shovel shaped snout with dark brown or black cross bands that encircle its tail.

Measure your snake

Measure the diameter and length of the snake. Species of adult snakes can be ruled out if the snake does not fit the usual size of the species. For example, the Flat-headed adult snake is less than 10-inches with a thin build, while the Plain-bellied water snake can reach lengths of up to 62-inches.

Consider the habitat and range of the snake to help identify its species. Snake species may be specific to a certain climatic areas as well as a certain habitat. Kirtland's snake prefers swampland and marshes, while the Lined snake prefers open hillsides and the edges of woodland.

Notice the colors on the snake's skin as well as the order of the colors. The venomous Coral snake has red and yellow bands beside each other. The look-alikes that are not poisonous have red and black bands beside each other. The poisonous snake page at Trailquest suggests that you learn the riddle, "Red and black, friend of Jack; red and yellow kill a fellow" (see Resources below).

Observe whether the snake is aggressive or passive. The Gopher Snake or Bullsnake will try to scare you off by hissing loudly, flattening its head, and vibrating its tail rapidly. It may also lunge and strike in a further attempt to ward off a predator, but its bite is not venomous. The Prairie Kingsnake is usually mild-tempered.