How to Avoid Venomous Snakes While Touring the U.S.

There’s one characteristic that most of us share with Indiana Jones, and no, it’s not being a renowned archaeologist who travels the world and just so happens to be as handsome as Harrison Ford. It’s having that pit-in-your-stomach, adrenaline-fueled-desire-to-run-away-screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs fear of venomous snakes. And while having that innate fear is certainly justified, it’s not going to help you to avoid being one of the 8000 reported snake bite victims in North America each year.

With medical treatment having the potential to be prohibitively expensive, and temporary paralysis or even death being a distinct possibility, it’s preferable to prevent snakebites from occurring over having to deal with actually being bitten.

Learn to identify venomous snakes.

As you probably already know, not every snake is created equal. Some are completely harmless (other than the pain of an actual bite!), while a bite from venomous snakes species might equal a swift helicopter ride to the nearest hospital. In North America, there are four different types of venomous snakes, each with distinct features and behavior patterns.

Coral Snakes

The brightest venomous snake in the U.S. can be identified by the famous rhyme: “red and black, friend of Jack; red and yellow, kill a fellow.” The visual difference is relatively small, but knowing it is essential.

Some snake species look remarkably similar to the coral; for example, the harmless Florida scarlet snake also has red, black, and yellow bands. However, the red and yellow never touch, signifying that you have nothing to worry about.

You’ll find coral snakes throughout the southern coastal plain, anywhere from Louisiana to North Carolina. They’re most common in Florida and are known as a shy snakes as they often are hiding in forested areas.

Cottonmouth Snakes

The trouble with the cottonmouths is that they’re quite difficult to identify. Adults of this venomous snake species don’t have many distinctive features or markings. Nevertheless, there is one characteristic that sets the cottonmouth apart: it has a bulky head that is generally wider than its neck.

A cottonmouth has light shading between its crossbands, and the body is commonly quite dark. A younger cottonmouth will have crossbands that are widest near the top of its body, a characteristic not found in copycat snakes.

This snake is the only venomous snake in North America that’s known as semi-aquatic, meaning that it resides near water. If you’re visiting Virginia, Florida, or southern Texas, ensure you’re on your toes near swamps, rivers, and lakes.


The rattlesnake is perhaps the most famous snake around; its rattle is its most recognizable feature, meaning you’ll usually hear them first. Visually, rattlesnakes have a diamond-shaped head and a noticeably thick body.

Keep in mind that while baby rattlesnakes won’t have a developed rattle they are just as venomous. Even more confusing: adult snakes sometimes lose their rattle, which means identification can be even more difficult.

Rattlesnakes are found in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to sparse grasslands and deserts. You’ll find them in Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and California.

Copperhead Snakes

Yet another snake that we often misidentify, copperheads share many characteristics with other snake species. Most have brown hourglass bands, with the colors being similar to chocolate milk. The bands are also much more precise, compared to the average cottonmouth for example.

Copperheads are nocturnal, so you’re unlikely to find them during the day unless it’s unusually cold. What makes this snake a potential danger is its tendency to freeze in place; this makes it tough for the average passerby to notice the copperhead. This snake is known to act defensively and will strike when it feels threatened.

Copperheads are versatile creatures that adapt to a wide variety of environments. You’ll find them anywhere from Texas to New England. Not only are do they call forested areas home, but they’re also common in the suburbs.


When it comes to snakes, it’s all about prevention. All it takes is a couple of simple steps, and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble.

Don’t prod snakes or act aggressively!

Most of us make the mistake of thinking that snakes will attack humans by default, causing people to attack snakes with rocks, sticks, or other objects. Don’t be one of those people.

Snakes will often keep a defensive stance; they won’t attack unless provoked. If you spot a snake, move away slowly and calmly. And don’t underestimate a snake’s reach, either.

Research your area.

Planning a holiday to somewhere you’ve never been before? Plan ahead: look into whether venomous snakes are common in the area, and look at photos so that you know what to expect. If you do get bitten, it’s important to give medical professionals as much information as possible.

Stick to the paths.

Snakes usually avoid being out in the open and are often hiding underneath bushes or stacks of leaves. If you’re out for a walk or around a river or swamp, avoid walking through areas where a snake may be lurking. Stick to walking paths or trails as much as you can.

Wear appropriate gear.

While snakebites can’t always be avoided with gear, some products can potentially help if you know you will be in a snake-prone area. For example, snake chaps and boots are made from materials that prevent fangs from piercing through to the skin.

However, be careful when looking into these products. They can get a little pricey, which means people often look to cut corners. The result? Cheap snake chaps that don’t do what the packaging promises.

Bitten by a venomous snake? Here’s what to do.

Even with the necessary precautions, there’s always the possibility that you’ll still fall victim to a nasty bite. Fortunately, most venomous bites in North America are not life-threatening. Keep to the following pointers, and you’ll most likely be just fine:

  • Call emergency services as soon as possible. The biggest error you can make is waiting for symptoms to appear; do this, and it may be too late! Many deadly bites come as a result of individuals refusing to seek medical services.
  • Minimize your movement and loosen your clothing, removing any constricting jewelry.
  • Avoid taking painkillers or any stimulants.
  • Do not use snakebite kits, suction devices, or similar.
  • Keep the wound at heart level until further advised by a medical professional.
  • You should only put pressure on the wound if bitten by a coral snake.
  • Only take a photo of the snake if you are at a safe distance.

Written by Alex Smit

Alex is a keen outdoor blogger based in Scotland. He spends most of his free time out in the wild, whether camping, trekking, or climbing. His main areas of interest span wildlife (particularly toxicology and herpetology), survival skills, and outdoor first aid. His passion for travel was instilled early on in life, having grown up in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Houston, TX.

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