Outdoors and Wilderness Survival

Top 9 Poisonous Snakes to Watch Out for in the Wilderness

Whether you’re a hiker, camper, or just prepping to bug out in case of an emergency, running into a poisonous snake is a possibility.

While you can prepare for a snake bite y learning the first aid skill and having with you a snake bite first aid kit, preventing such a tragedy is obviously better.

In this article we’ll be focusing on the top poisonous snakes in the United States.

Mojave Rattlesnake
Mojave Rattlesnake

Mojave Rattlesnake

Considered to be the most venomous snake in the US. The onset of symptoms can be deceptively slow but serious complications like difficulty in breathing suddenly set in. If you are bitten by this snake with its brown diamond pattern seek help immediately. Untreated venomous bites are likely fatal.

Tiger Rattlesnake
Tiger Rattlesnake

Tiger Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake with the smallest head is actually the most venomous. Unlike its Mojave cousin, it releases a much smaller amount of venom per bite reducing the overall effect. It is still very dangerous however but is luckily only found in Arizona on the border with Mexico.

Copperhead Snake
Copperhead Snake

Copperhead Snake

If you are going to be bitten in the USA, this is the snake that will likely be the culprit. Most snakes will leave the scene if they hear noise or see a larger animal approaching. The copperhead however will stay in place, hoping they go unnoticed. If you come too close however they will feel threatened and strike.

This is the number one reason why copperheads bite more humans than any other snake. The silver lining to their story is that they are probably the least venomous snake on the list. If possible, you still need to seek medical attention with any snake bite but on average the bite you receive will be the least lethal one!

Black Diamond Rattlesnake
The Black Diamond Rattlesnake

Black Diamond Rattlesnake

Another common reason for emergency trips to hospital, the black diamond rattlesnake is found throughout the western half of the country. This time however their bite is much more deadly, with careful monitoring required by the medical team in case repeat treatment is required.

Timber rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnake. By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link

Timber Rattlesnake

This is the friendliest snake on the list. As the least aggressive rattlesnake you are likely to encounter, if you are bitten by a timber rattlesnake, the blame likely lies with you.

All rattlesnakes warn their victim before striking, usually in an effort to conserve energy and the need for more food. A timber snake will warn you for much longer than other snakes, giving you ample time to move away.

eastern diamonblack snake
Eastern diamonblack snake, by Greg5030 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Eastern Diamondback

This is the biggest venomous snakes in the Americas and possibly the world. It can measure 2-3 feet longer than the average human and weighs over 35 pounds. Its large fangs can pump 3 times the lethal dose of venom into the victim requiring large amounts of venom to counteract.

With a strike distance of up to 3 feet one in five victims of Eastern Diamondback encounters die. In fact the majority of deaths every year are a result of attacks from this snake. If you live in the southeast US make sure you avoid any snakes with a black diamond trimmed with yellow.

Western Diamondback
Western diamondback rattlesnake. By H. Krisp – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Western Diamondback

This is the baby brother or sister of the Eastern Diamondback. The black diamonds are swapped out for a fainter brown making it harder to detect. It has a weaker venom than most but makes up for it in pure volume delivered.

A single bite can cause internal bleeding and eventually death. This most aggressive of snakes found in america luckily live in mainly desert and rocky areas, away from civilization.

Coral Snake – the coral snake is in some ways the most and least dangerous snake on the list. It is perhaps the easiest to spot and identify – black and red sections separated by bright yellow rings.

It is mainly nocturnal and takes a fair amount of provocation before it will bite human. Even when it does bite it has to grind it’s jaw to fully release the dose. All this could give the illusion that your risk of injury or death from this snake is quite low

Unfortunately there is only one problem – there is no available antivenom. Hospitalisation is a must to give you the best chance for survival. Coral snakes are found everywhere from the east to west coast and down to Texas. They live in a wide variety of environments including deserts, forests and underground burrows.

Cottonmouth Snake
Cottonmouth Snake. By Ltshears – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Cottonmouth Snake

These snakes take their name from their pure white mouths. When feeling threatened they will hiss and open their mouths wide for a very long time. This is the reason for their name and gives you time to avoid this aggressive snake. As the world’s only semi-aquatic viper you are only likely to see it around the shores, swamps and lakes of the east coast.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake
Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. By Aloaiza – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

Yes you guessed it, this is a water only snake. It is exceptionally venomous, with one bite enough to kill 40 humans! Luckily this snake feeds on fish and rarely strays from the water. This yellow and black snake has evolved from Australian land snakes, which luckily means the antivenom is well developed and effective.

Final Words

These species are venomous snakes and are differentiated by their color, size and pattern. Although you shouldn’t interact with any snakes unless you are experienced, knowing what to look out for in the more dangerous varieties could help you avoid danger. Having the right knowledge could help prevent death or loss of a limb so it is not to be taken lightly.

You may hear hard to die myths like ‘scared snakes don’t bite properly’. While it is true that a startled snake will strike to scare rather than to kill prey you cannot rely on this assumption.

Following myths like this rather than real facts could end in limb amputation instead of what should have been a quick visit to your nearest hospital.

Have you ever encountered a snake? What happened?

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Shane Jackson

About Shane Jackson

Shane is a medical doctor with over 8 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. He's completed over 2 years of surgical work focusing on trauma & orthopaedics alongside maxillofacial surgery. He has been involved in education since medical school and have written courses and taught classes. Having trained in Advanced Trauma and Life Support he is at the forefront of practical, out-of-hospital medicine which can be applied by the public to save lives.
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2 thoughts on “Top 9 Poisonous Snakes to Watch Out for in the Wilderness

  1. I had a cattle ranch in eastern oregon ,,, had a snake den with hundreds of snakes ,snake bites happened we used a hand taser to zap the bite ,some thing about polarizing the poison , had to be done right after the bite before the poison had a chance to spread ,but it did work ,i used it on cattle and horses ,,,,,,,,,and me ,twice ,worked better than a cut down ,less post infections ,remember this was before cell phones and it was 54 miles to a phone and 2 hrs on dirt and back roads to nearest doc, and we’re most often all alone, every fall we poured gas in the den and lit it helped a little ,

    Cows are waiting ,back to work

  2. I’ve only encountered 2 poisonous snakes. A copperhead and 3 water moccasins. 2 in my yard one on a bike trail that struck at my bike. I spotted a copperhead in a tree stump as a kid and went back with a bb gun only to find it not there and nothing but leaves on the ground. Scary…….

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