Dealing With Snakes - IS IT VENOMOUS?

Don't worry -- To be safe around snakes, you don't have to be able to identify them all! These tips will help you to quickly answer the question "IS IT VENOMOUS?" If you aren't sure, be safe - give it space!     GO BACK to "Dealing with Snakes"

Pit Vipers

"Pit Vipers" get their name from heat-sensitive pits found on each side of the face. Five of Florida's venomous snakes are pit vipers, but only three of them are found throughout the state. The Timber Rattlesnake (also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake) and the Copperhead are only found in certain areas of northern Florida.  The Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin is also a pit viper, and is frequently confused with harmless watersnakes -- find out how to tell them apart.

Is it a pit viper? Check for these four key characteristics of pit vipers:

  • pit vipers have blocky heads
  • 1. Thick, blocky head with obvious neck.
  • 2. Thick-bodied for its length.


  • heat sensing pits
  • 3. Rough looking 'keeled' scales (also some non-venomous snakes).
  • 4. Dark facial band from eye to the corner of the jaw. (all species EXCEPT Copperheads -- but also some non-venomous snakes)


DON'T get too close to the snake, or try to catch or kill it, and NEVER handle a "dead" snake. If you aren't sure if it is venomous, be safe - give it space!  For more information and tips to help you identify each of Florida's five pit viper species, see the information sheets below.

Coral Snakes

There is only one species of Coral Snake in Florida -- the Eastern or Harlequin Coral Snake -- and it can easily be recognized by the distinct pattern of brightly colored bands. Check for:

Coral Snake

1. Black snout - Harmless look-alikes have red snouts.

2. Red bands touching yellow bands - Harmless look-alikes have red bands touching black bands.

3. Tail ringed with black and yellow.


For more information about Coral Snakes, see the information sheets below.

Dealing With Snakes - Identifying Venomous Snakes

Venomous Snake Information Sheets

These info sheets will help you to identify each of Florida's venomous snake species, and to learn more about their ecology and habits. You will need the free Adobe reader to view the files. 

Other Resources

Venomous Snakes of the Southeast Poster

Venomous Snakes of the Southeast CD/DVD set

Online Key to the Snakes of Florida - FLMNH

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