Venomous Vs. Non-Venomous Snakes: How to Tell

Want to learn how to identify which snakes are venomous and which ones are not? Find out more in this in-depth blog!

Oct 12, 2023By Nikita Hillier
venomous vs non venomous snakes how to tell

Snakes have long caused a conversation of fear vs. awe between people. Some people think they’re cute and wholesome creatures, while others assume they’re vile and aggressive individuals. These long, slithering creatures have a long and fascinating history.

Just when you think you’ve found out all you can know, the next fact comes along to blow your mind. Though, perhaps the most important thing you need to know about snakes is whether they are venomous or completely harmless.

The Main Differences

brown and cream patterned python
Image Credit: Pixabay

While there are many differences when it comes to venomous and non-venomous snakes, there are a few that tend to stand out more than others do. While venomous snakes have glands full of poison, non-venomous snakes have evolved to be without them. Also, only venomous snakes have fangs containing the poison that is often fatal to humans.

It also isn’t as easy just saying venomous or non-venomous because there are two entirely different venom types. The first venom type is hemotoxic venom which is the type of venom that is toxic to the blood. The second type is known as neurotoxic venom, which is toxic to the nervous system.

The Purpose of Venomous Vs. Non-Venomous Snakes

speckled rattlesnake poking tongue out
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When talking about the purpose of venomous vs non-venomous snakes, you will find that this is the part that becomes truly interesting. To begin with, they obviously have two different purposes. For example, non-venomous snakes do a great job controlling the pest population.

In fact, the mouse and rat population has diminished largely in some areas where there are more snakes. They do a great job at controlling the pest population. While these snakes are completely harmless, it is always a good idea to give them their space when you come across them, as their bite can still pack a punch!

Sometimes, non-venomous snakes will prey on poisonous snakes and reduce their numbers greatly. It isn’t known why this occurs, but it sure is helpful! While non-venomous snakes have a lot of excellent purposes, venomous snakes on the other hand do not.

Non-venomous snakes actually provide a lot of positives to the environment. Venomous snakes, on the other hand, have only really made a positive impact in the world of science. For example, snake venom has been the key to developing new medicines that treat a variety of conditions, such as pain, high blood pressure, cancer, strokes, and even heart attacks.

How to Tell the Difference

snake swimming in water close up
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In the United States, there are four types of poisonous snakes that you need to know about. These snakes are coral snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. In fact, studies found that around 7,000 Americans are bitten by venomous snakes every single year.

This is why it is of the utmost importance that you know how to tell the difference between these types of snakes. While you should remain vigilant anyway, sometimes snakes appear in the most inconvenient circumstances. Sometimes, you can’t help but get bitten!

The thing you need to know is whether you’ve been bitten by a venomous or non-venomous snake. Different snake bites will need different types of medical intervention and treatment. This is why it is crucial to know which snake you’ve been bitten by.

Head Shapes

The first thing you need to look at to distinguish whether a snake is venomous is by checking out their head shape. Venomous snakes have very distinct head shapes that even inexperienced snake handlers can point out. Venomous snakes have triangular head shapes that are very wide at the back.

Non-venomous snakes have a more rounded head. Though, it is important to remember that you can’t solely identify a poisonous snake by its head shape as some non-venomous snakes have been known to flatten their head to make themselves appear dangerous to predators.

white and black patterned snake close up
Image Credit: Pixabay


By looking at snake pupils, you can find out a lot. When trying to determine whether or not a snake is venomous, getting a look at its pupils can do wonders. However, if you will be in danger while trying to identify this, avoid it at all costs.

There are other ways to find this out without putting your head close to a venomous snake. Back to pupils, poisonous snakes have eyes much like cat eyes with a slit-like pupil in the middle. Non-venomous snakes, on the other hand, have round pupils.


While this method of identification can once again be less thorough than you’d like, it can help sometimes. Usually, but not always, if snakes have one solid color, they’re harmless. If you notice a snake with loud colors, distinct patterns, or anything that isn’t a solid color, stay away, as it may be venomous.

Again, this is not always the case, as one of the most venomous snakes on earth, the Black Mamba, is plain and solid in color. The general rule of thumb is to exercise caution around any snakes.

orange head black snake curled up
Image Credit: JarkkoManty on Pixabay


While not suitable to identify all snakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads can easily be identified by their tails. They are usually a green or yellow color. Also, if you hear a rattling sound coming from the tail of a snake, the snake is most certainly poisonous.

In saying that, some non-venomous snakes can replicate a rattling sound. To stay safe, if you hear any rattling at all, don’t take your chances and vacate the area immediately.

What to Do If You’re Bitten By a Snake

brown rattlesnake ready to strike
Image Credit: Ray_Shrewsberry on Pixabay

If you’re bitten by a snake, make sure you stay calm and sit down. Keep your heart rate low, remove tight clothing or jewelry, and keep the wound below your heart. Remaining calm in this situation can do wonders.

If you can, try to identify the snake and then get yourself to the emergency room.

Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!