North America has a variety of snake species with different habitats, spread, behaviors, and appearances.
Many of them are venomous and deadly, so it’s worth having an idea about some of the most dangerous species if you’re to stroll through their territory.
Today, I’ve come up with a list of the 9 most popular and recognizable snakes in North America to help you gauge the outstanding diversity of the American continent.
Let’s get it going.
Rattlesnakes are highly recognizable by their distinct tail sound, which they use to deter potential predators and make their presence known. These snakes are highly adaptable and inhabit a variety of habitats, from deserts to forests and even elevated grounds of up to 7,000 feet.
The typical rattlesnake comes with bland, earthy colors and a rhomboid pattern designed to improve its camouflaging abilities. This makes the reptile nearly invisible in rocky and desertic areas where it prefers to hunt.
Forest rattlesnakes come with a different coloration that matches their respective habitat. When threatened or scared, the rattlesnake will curl up and use its tail rings to produce the recognizable sound meant to scare off any potential intruder.
The venom is a moderate cocktail of various molecules and proteins designed to inflict a mix of neurotoxic and hemotoxic effects. The victim will experience discomfort at the bite sight, including inflammation and pain.
Muscle paralysis and difficulty breathing may also occur, along with tissue damage, depending on the venom’s potency and the amount injected.
It’s important to note that not all bites are venomous, as rattlesnakes prefer to warn intruders, flee if possible, or resort to dry bites rather than inject venom. Also, not all rattlesnake species are equally venomous.
Some only possess a mild venom, more useful for hunting smaller prey, that can’t hurt adult humans as much. Others, like the Mojave rattlesnake or the eastern diamondback, can kill.
Rattlesnakes prefer to avoid human contact, especially since their habitat is under constant transformation, pushing some species to the endangered list.
Efforts are currently underway to protect endangered rattlesnakes and restore their habitat as much as possible.
The kingsnake has a pretty descriptive name that doesn’t come from its physical attributes necessarily, but rather its predilection for killing and eating other snakes. Including venomous ones.
This is medium-sized species, capable of growing between 12 inches and 3-4 feet, depending on the species and its habitat. Kingsnakes qualify as constrictors and inhabit a variety of environments, like grasslands, forests, and even desertic regions.
The kingsnake is very similar in appearance to the coral snake. It comes with multiple color and pattern variations, but the baseline remains similar in most species.
Most kingsnakes are red with black and white vertical bands covering the entire body. Other species are black and white-only, while the Mexican black kingsnake is completely black.
While snakes are constantly on the menu, the kingsnake is really an opportunistic hunter. It will consume anything it can catch, including small rodents, birds, and lizards, and even hunt for eggs. The California kingsnake is also notorious for hunting bats which it can catch in mid-air.
These snakes are not aggressive and pose no danger to humans. They don’t bite, and even if they do, they’re not venomous. They’re also not big enough for their constricting power to pose any threat to an adult human or even a child.
Overall, the kingsnake population is stable thanks to the snake’s adaptability and resilience. These snakes can live up to 30 years or more in the wild.
3. Gopher Snake
This species is similar to the rattlesnake in appearance but without the tail rings. This is a constricting species that relies on strength to subdue its prey. The typical gopher snake will grow between 3-4 feet, although some species can reach 8 feet in some cases.
The gopher snake inhabits a variety of environments, but it prefers dry and desertic regions where it can blend with the environment. Gopher snakes have interesting defense mechanisms to make up for their lack of venom.
Remember when I said that they resemble rattlesnakes? That’s because this is an evolutionary feature, not a coincidence. Gopher snakes are famous for their ability to mimic venomous species to deter predators from engaging with them.
They can also inflate their bodies and hiss loudly when threatened to make themselves appear larger. Overall, though, gopher snakes are shy and prefer to stay out of trouble if possible.
These snakes draw their name from their predilection for gophers, a small mammal that makes up most of their diet. But they can eat a variety of other animals like squirrels, mice, rats, birds, and other reptiles.
These snakes can live up to 25 years in good condition.
4. Water Snakes
Water snakes are also non-venomous and prefer to inhabit various bodies of water around North and South America. These semi-aquatic reptiles adapted to living and hunting in the water, only coming to land to lay eggs and warm up when necessary.
The typical water snake is usually dark, with one or two dull colors like black, brown, or yellow.
These snakes rely on their habitat’s layout to protect themselves from predators. You can find them most often in marshes and swamps, preferably areas with thick vegetation; very rarely will you ever catch one in an open space.
The standard water snake can reach 3-4 feet in length, with 6 being the maximum.
The snake’s diet has adapted to its lifestyle and habitat, such as the snake consumes mostly fish, crayfish, mammals, birds, and amphibians, among other invertebrates.
Understanding the water snake’s physiology, appearance, and lifestyle is paramount before invading its habitat. Not because the water snake itself is dangerous but because you risk confusing this species for venomous species that also prefer the same habitat.
An example is the cottonmouth, which is similar in appearance to the water snake but is venomous.
5. Coral Snakes
Coral snakes are cute, colorful, and deadly. They’re even deadlier if you consider that many people mistake them for corn snakes due to their similar coloration, except corn snakes are not venomous.
This can cause people to drop their guard in the presence of coral snakes, which can be deadly. These snakes possess a powerful neurotoxic venom that can cause death via suffocation.
This species can grow up to 3-4 feet in length and live between 10 and 20 years in the wild. Coral snakes prefer to consume rodents but won’t refuse any other feeding opportunities should they arise.
The standard coral snake comes with vivid colors like red, yellow, white, black, and orange. Some species, like the Malayan blue coral snake, have metallic-blue bodies with red heads and are rarer overall.
These flashy colors are meant to serve as a warning, informing potential predators that it’s best for them to keep their distance. This is quite an effective defensive mechanism, which is why the non-venomous corn snake has adopted it as well.
Coral snakes also have another interesting defensive mechanism in the form of their anatomical ambiguity. The snake’s head is smooth with no protruding jaws, causing it to be just as wide as the rest of the body.
The head is also black, making it difficult to distinguish its facial features. This can cause predators and humans to mistake the snake’s head for its tail.
When it comes to predators, these will attack the snake’s tail rather than the head, allowing the snake to detach its caudal appendix and flee for its life.
The outcome is more gruesome for humans who attempt to grab the snake.
6. Colubrid Snake
Colubrid snakes rank among the most varied non-venomous snakes in the world, comprising over 1,800 species spread across the globe.
They are pretty much present on all continents except Australia and Antarctica and have adapted to a wide range of habitats. These include grasslands, forests, desertic regions, and even semi-aquatic ecosystems.
Colubrid snakes are pretty much a family of snakes that include numerous species, from small ones like the smooth green snake (2 feet) to the notorious green anaconda, capable of reaching 30 feet.
These snakes exhibit an astounding color and pattern variety and physical characteristics, depending on the species and their native habitat.
These are constrictor snakes that specialize in consuming small and large animals, depending on the snake’s size. Some of the most common prey include mammals, birds, other reptiles, and even carrion (dead animals.)
Some Colubrids are also known to consume plants and fruits occasionally, which is quite uncommon among snakes.
These snakes have several defense mechanisms, with some mimicking the appearance of venomous species while others resorting to camouflage and speed to avoid predation.
Overall, these are shy animals that prefer to avoid human contact. They will bite if cornered, but they’re not as dangerous as venomous snakes.
Except if the colubrid itself is a 20-foot green anaconda, in which case the snake may not limit itself to biting.
Most of these snakes can live up to 25 years in the wild, depending on how stable their habitat is, the presence of predators, and the impact of human interaction.
Boas are a group of snakes known for their size, strength, and ferocity. The family includes numerous species, all of which vary in size, appearance, behavior, and preferred habitat.
These snakes are fairly recognizable by their size, color pattern, and head shape. Boas have rectangle-shaped heads with powerful, square jaws and astounding head and neck muscles.
The largest boa can reach sizes of up to 30 feet and weigh in excess of 250 pounds, which stands proof of the snake’s strength and threat level. Despite their ominous presence, boas prefer to avoid human contact and stick to the shadows.
Depending on the species, these snakes prefer various environments, causing some boas to stick to the trees, while others prefer a semi-aquatic lifestyle.
These animals can hunt, kill, and eat anything, including boars, antelopes, alligators, and other snakes, you name it. The main hunting method relies on stalking, biting into the prey, securing it with its long and curved teeth, and starting the constricting process.
The snake moves fast and uses its astounding power to immobilize and suffocate the prey. Because of the constricting strength, the victim cannot inflate its thorax to breathe, which leads to death by asphyxiation.
The boa relies on the prey’s breathing movement to learn when to squeeze; it will tighten its grip every time the prey exhales, soon making inhaling impossible.
Boas are known as ovoviviparous, which means they reproduce via eggs, which hatch inside their body.
The reproductive process takes place every 4-5 years, with female boas being able to deliver between 20 and 100 young in one session.
Pythons are very similar to boas in terms of physical appearance and behavior. Several species are available, all varying in appearance, size, and color.
However, all pythons have the same standard features, such as the rectangle-shaped head with protruding head muscles, the muscular body, and the small and innocuous eyes.
These snakes can reach up to 20-30 feet in length and have adapted to living in a multitude of habitats like rainforests, deserts, grasslands, and swamps.
Some pythons are arboreal, while others are ground-dwelling, but they can all climb to rest on branches and stalk their prey from their preferred vantage point.
Pythons can eat a variety of animals thanks to their size and strength. These include rodents, other reptiles, pigs, other pythons, and even monkeys.
Pythons also rank as ovoviviparous, like boas, producing approximately 100 young every 2-3 years.
It’s important to note that not all pythons are beneficial to their ecosystem. Some species, like the Burmese python, rank as pests due to their effects on the local fauna.
These snakes don’t eat too often, but they don’t have too many natural predators because of their large size and strength. This causes them to multiply undisturbed and soon take over their natural habitat.
Vipers are short, powerful, and venomous snakes that inhabit numerous ecosystems. They are very recognizable by their short and muscular bodies, triangle-shaped heads, and the trademark zig-zag pattern on their backs. Not all vipers have the zig-zag feature, but most do.
There are numerous species of vipers that vary in appearance and environmental preferences, but they’re all venomous.
The viper’s venom is hemotoxic, which means it causes tissue death, necrosis, blood clotting, and organ failure. Many of the venom’s effects are often irreversible, causing permanent scarring and even limb loss.
Vipers populate a variety of habitats, including desertic regions, swamps, and forests. They also vary dramatically in terms of behavior, with some being shier and more docile than others.
The European adder, for instance, will attempt to flee when surprised or scared, while the gaboon viper will almost always fight back. This makes learning the differences between the different species a matter of life and death.
It’s also interesting to note that vipers vary in venom type. Most vipers possess a hemotoxic venom, but others have a mix of hemotoxic and neurotoxic effects, while others, like the saw-scaled viper, are fully neurotoxic.
Vipers are generally widespread and showcase a stable population, primarily thanks to their adaptability and reproductive prowess. Most viper species reproduce yearly and are capable of producing up to 100 offspring in one session.
As a North American, you can also run into a variety of other snake species in the wild, depending on where you’re going.
Several of the most popular wild snakes found in North America include:
- Western ribbon snake
- Eastern kingsnake
- Eastern garter snake
- Eastern indigo snake, and many others.
Some are non-venomous, but many are highly venomous, and it doesn’t help that many snake species look alike. This can easily lead to confusion, which can easily turn deadly.
Snakes are fascinating, often deadly animals that play a major role in their respective ecosystems.
It’s important to respect and appreciate them for their beauty and uniqueness but do so from a safe distance.
If you’re planning to spend a weekend in the wilderness, learn about the various snake species roaming around that area.
And take the necessary precautions to avoid bites because you never know when a seemingly innocuous crawler decides to serve you a neurotoxic cocktail.