Whether you have a large or small garden or yard, you’re bound to see a snake at least once during the summer months. It’s always nice to know what type of snake you might have just come across. However, due to the numerous amounts of snakes living all over the country, it’s difficult to remember what they all look like. I find it’s much easier to know at a glance if I’m dealing with a poisonous or a non-poisonous snake. Here are a few tips on how to do just that!
Does the tail taper abruptly or gradually?
Poisonous snakes have tails that come to a point rather abruptly, making them appear rather fat. A non-poisonous snake tends to have a longer looking body where the tail tapers gradually into a nice, fine point. Another quick sign to look for is a rattle at the end of the tail. You’ll most likely hear it before you ever see it. This is a warning sign rattlers use to let you know you’re getting too close!
Is the snout pointy or rounded?
Many venomous snakes have an upturned nose, while non-venomous has a rounded snout.
Prefer amphibians? Here’s how to build a frog house.
Are the pupils slits or rounded?
You generally won’t get close enough, or shouldn’t want to get close enough, to a snake to see if the pupils are rounded or slit-like. Rounded pupils are usually found on non-poisonous snakes and slit-like pupils are seen on poisonous snakes.
Is the snake brightly colored or muted?
As with most reptiles and amphibians in nature, bright colors are usually a sure sign of danger. Coral snakes are brightly colored, which should be your first clue to steer clear. This is how you identify a Coral Snake best, since they have rounded pupils, and a long tapering body, just like non-poisonous snakes. Also, many venomous snakes come in an assortment of browns, so don’t think all brownish snakes are approachable.
An exception to this rule is the Scarlet King Snake, who is brightly colored, but harmless. The colors are the same as those on a Coral Snake, but the yellow bands aren’t thin with wide black bands next to them. The Scarlet King Snake has bands of black, yellow, and red that are all about the same width and none of them are straight lines. There is also a rhyme kids often learn to tell the difference between the two snakes by observing their color pattern:
Yellow touching red: You’re dead
Red touching black: Safe for Jack
Does the snake swim above or below the water?
If you live near the water or have a pond on your property, this is a good question to ask yourself when you see a snake swimming nearby. Poisonous snakes will inflate their lungs when going for a swim, allowing them to swim on top of the water. Non-poisonous snakes will have only their head above the water as they swim.
How are snakes useful?
Snakes are great rodent removers, making them excellent friends to have on farms where grain is kept. In many areas, mice and rats carry diseases that make humans very ill. Having snakes around to keep the rat and mouse population down sounds like a huge help to me. Also, some smaller snakes eat insects, worms, and slugs. I don’t know about you, but I’m all for getting rid of the slugs in my garden!
If you have children that are interested in snakes [my son’s friend wants to be a herpetologist] this book has lots of information and bright pictures: Everything You Need to Know About Snakes
What do I do if I find a poisonous snake?
The best thing to do when coming across any type of snake is to remain calm. Even a non-poisonous snake can feel threatened enough to cause it to bite. Younger poisonous snakes are also more likely to release venom when they bite, while an older poisonous snake tends to save venom for when it’s needed most. More snakebites happen when someone tries to move the snake, instead of simply leaving it alone and walking away. When in doubt, leave the snake alone and it will often continue on its way.