Updated: May 9
Every spring, our scaly friends will emerge from hibernation to help keep rodent populations in check.
Snakes terrify people, though the fear is usually unfounded. In this article, I am going to prepare you for the upcoming warm months when snakes become active. I will also offer a few recommendations for preventing snakebites, DO's and DO NOT's of snakebites, and some gear recommendations for living, working, hunting, and hiking in areas where snakes may be present. Nothing offered in this post can guarantee you will never be bitten by a snake. I mean, we aren't fortune-tellers.
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How many venomous snakes are in North America?
In North America (north of Mexico), there are currently 28 recognized species of venomous snakes (that are potentially dangerous to humans). Most readers can probably list a handful, but if you knew there were 28 moderate to highly venomous snakes in North America, you are kidding yourself. Or maybe you are really smart. I don't know you. But because I like you people... or need to eat up content space, I am going to provide you the full list, as accepted by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in the Checklist of the Standard English & Scientific Names of Amphibians & Reptiles, 8th ed (2017).
List of Venomous Snakes in the US and Canada
Florida Cottonmouth - Agkistrodon conanti
Eastern Copperhead - Agkistrodon contortrix
Broad-banded Copperhead - Agkistrodon laticinctus
Northern Cottonmouth - Agkistrodon piscivorus
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus adamanteus
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox
Sidewinder - Crotalus cerastes
Arizona Black Rattlesnake - Crotalus cerberus
Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus
Rock Rattlesnake - Crotalus lepidus
Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake - Crotalus molossus
Western Rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus
Eastern Black-tailed Rattlesnake - Crotalus ornatus
Twin-spotted Rattlesnake - Crotalus pricei
Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake - Crotalus pyrrhus
Red Diamond Rattlesnake - Crotalus ruber
Mohave Rattlesnake - Crotalus scutulatus
Panamint Rattlesnake - Crotalus stephensi
Tiger Rattlesnake - Crotalus tigris
Prairie Rattlesnake - Crotalus viridis
Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake - Crotalus willardi
Yellow-bellied Seasnake - Hydrophis platurus
Sonoran Coralsnake - Micruroides euryxanthus
Harlequin Coralsnake - Micrurus fulvius
Texas Coralsnake - Micrurus tener
Eastern Massasauga - Sistrurus catenatus
Pygmy Rattlesnake - Sistrurus miliarius
Western Massasauga - Sistrurus tergeminus
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Rattlesnake Safety (and other Venomous Snake Safety)
The majority of venomous snakebites occur in the warmer months of the year. Why? Snakes and humans are more active when it's warm! Here are some tips for avoiding snakebites:
Wear appropriate over-the-ankle hiking boots, thick socks, and loose-fitting long pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas. If you typically wear low-top boots or shoes, then wearing snake gaiters may be the safest solution for you.
When hiking, stick to well-used trails, if possible.
Avoid tall grass, weeds, heavy underbrush, and rocky outcrops where snakes may hide during the day.
Look where you step!
Do not place your hands where you cannot see.
Use a rechargeable headlamp or flashlight at night!
If a fallen tree or large rock is in your path, step up first, then look over where you will step down.
When climbing rocks or gathering firewood, watch where your hands will go. If you have a woodpile, remove logs carefully.
Check out stumps or logs before sitting down.
Do not turn over rocks or logs. If you must move a rock or log, use heavy gloves or a snake hook to pull it towards you. Pulling it towards you allows a path of escape away from your body/feet.
All venomous snakes can swim. Be aware of what may appear to be a "stick" in water. However, many nonvenomous snakes live in and around water.
Avoid approaching any snake.
If you hear a warning rattle, move away from the area and do not make sudden or threatening movements in the direction of the snake.
Not all venomous snakes can warn before they strike!
Do not handle a freshly killed snake.
Snakebite First Aid
Snakebites are not to be taken lightly. While a significant percentage of snakebites CAN be dry bites (no envenomation), it is impossible to tell when a bite has no venom. Waiting for symptoms can result in severe injury or even death. NEVER WAIT TO GET MEDICAL CARE.
DO stay calm
DO call 911 and let them know what happened (preparing a hospital for a snakebite victim while in transit can be beneficial)
DO wash the bite area with water or soap and water if available
DO remove jewelry or clothing that can constrict swelling
DO immobilize the bite area
DO keep the bite below the heart
DO get to a medical facility quickly and safely
Grab the best guide to venomous snakes in North America:
Snakebite DO NOTs
DO NOT cut the bite area or suck on your friend's bite area (unless sucking on your friend calms them down... still, don't do it)
DO NOT apply a tourniquet or pressure wrap
DO NOT apply ice
DO NOT use NSAIDs for pain or swelling
DO NOT waste time or money on "Snake Bite Kits"
DO NOT try to catch the snake
Where Can Venomous Snakes be Found?
Venomous snakes can be found throughout North America. The map below shows the ranges of several (not all) venomous snakes that have a higher human interface probability. That means the species below are more likely to be experienced by you amazing readers. However, just because a venomous snake range covers your area, it does not mean you are in danger. Venomous snakes pose little threat if you follow the safety tips I listed above. Persecution of snakes is irrational and irresponsible. Yeah, I'm looking at you with the shovel.
Ranges of Widespread Venomous Snakes
Snake Safety Gear Recommendations
No gear is truly "snake-proof." However, some gear can reduce your risk of snakebite. Below, you will find my recommendations for gear that could protect you in the event of a venomous snakebite or an item that could help to prevent a snake encounter (like a headlamp).
Personally, I have been tagged several times by multiple rattlesnakes in the Rocky Men's 16" Snake Hunting Boot, and I have known a volunteer who was hit by a prairie rattlesnake in the Crackshot Men's Snake Bite Proof Guardz Gaiters and had no penetration. Additionally, I carry the Fnova 52 Inch Professional Standard Snake Tongs and DocSeward Snake Hook into the field. And finally, my favorite headlamp is the Nitecore HC30 1000 Lumens Rechargeable. It was recommended by cavers, so I trust its durability. I do not use any gloves, but kevlar reinforced gloves are never a bad idea. They likely cannot offer complete protection, but they can likely help in preventing bites that are not straight on.
Best Snake Boots - Irish Setter Men's 2875 Vaprtrek Waterproof 17" Hunting Boot
Budget Snake Boots - Rocky Men's 16" Snake Hunting Boot
Best Snake Gaiters - Crackshot Men's Snake Bite Proof Guardz Gaiters
Best Budget Snake Gaiters - ForEverlast Snake Guard - Snake Gaiters
Best Snake Stick - Fnova 52 Inch Professional Standard Snake Tongs
Best Snake Hook - DocSeward Snake Hook
Best Headlamp - Nitecore HC30 1000 Lumens Rechargeable
Best Budget Headlamp - JLANG Headlamp. LED Headlamp
Best Snake Gloves - RAPICCA Bite Proof Kevlar Reinforced Leather Gauntlets
Best Budget Gloves - KIM YUAN Extreme Heat/Fire Resistant Gloves
Guides to Snakes and Other Reptiles & Amphibians of North America
I hope you found this post helpful as warmer weather begins to fill our days. As a final thought, I would encourage everyone to simply leave snakes alone. This is the best method for preventing negative encounters with snakes. However, since many readers will not listen to this very simple advice, at least arm yourself with some knowledge. Below are some great books from Amazon for learning more about snakes in North America and the world.
Best Snake Guide (Eastern North America):
Best Snake Guide (Western North America):
Range Map made consulting data and maps from iNaturalist. Available from https://www.inaturalist.org. Accessed 01 March 2020.