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I just saw a snake. How do I find out whether it's venomous or non-venomous?
How do I safely contain a snake?
I saw a snake in or near water (creek, pond, lake, etc.). It HAD to be a cottonmouth, right?
How dangerous are snakes?
I was bitten by a snake that I think was venomous, but I'm not feeling sick or seeing any swelling. What do I do?
I found a baby snake. Is it true that venomous snake babies have more potent venom than their parents?
I've seen more snakes this year than usual. Why is that?
I found some eggs that I think are snake eggs. Are they venomous snake eggs?
What about coral snakes? Don't they lay eggs?
What should I do with the eggs I found?
I saw a snake that had milky, blue-colored eyes and its color wasn't very bright. Is that snake sick or blind?
I found a snake shed in my attic. What is it?
I saw a snake today that shook its tail at me. It was a rattlesnake, right?
Is it true that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by the number of buttons on its rattle?
I found a snake with a ring around its neck. Is it venomous?
I saw a snake that my neighbor called a "black snake," but it wasn't really black. What is it?
Why do some snakes have so many different names?
Do all snakes have teeth?
Can all snakes bite?
I saw a snake that acted like a cobra. My grandpa called it a "spreading adder." Was it a cobra?
I caught a snake and it shot smelly white liquid out its backside. What is that stuff?
The snake I saw today had a triangular-shaped head. Doesn't that mean it's venomous?
Do the "snake repellents" I see for sale online really work?
I've heard spreading moth balls around the outside of the house will keep snakes away. Also, what about sulphur?
I've got kids that I worry about when they're outside playing. How do I keep them safe from snakes?
Are there any snake identification books that I can use when I'm not near my computer?
Q: I just saw a snake. How do I find out whether it's venomous or non-venomous?
A: If you want to know what species it is, you can go about identifying it in several ways.
1. Safely contain the snake in a bucket or large trash can. We highly recommend keeping
the snake alive while you get it identified. There's no need to "shoot first and ask questions
later" when the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of it being non-venomous. Besides,
snakes are extremely beneficial to humans, despite what you think of them.
2. Take a photo of the snake and use this webpage to identify it. If you are unable to positively
identify it on your own, you can always e-mail us for assistance. Digital photos can be
e-mailed and print photos can be scanned and then e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. If you don't have a digital camera, you can simply use our website to identify the snake,
or you can e-mail us a description and we can help.
4. If the snake moves to a place where you can't contain it or photograph it, then try to
remember all the color and pattern details that you can. Use this website to identify it.
If you are unable to identify it on your own, you can always e-mail us for assistance.
Warning: Always exercise caution when physically handling unidentified snakes.
Use a tool to move them or scoop them up, not your hands.
Q: How do I safely contain a snake?
A: It's usually easier than you think. Get a bucket (with a lid) or a large trash can, and a regular kitchen
broom. Place the container on its side and gently sweep the snake into it. Move to the opposite side
of the opening and lift the container to an upright position by the handle. If done properly, you
never come in close contact with the snake. Sometimes this will require two people, but most of the
time one person can do it.
Warning: Always exercise caution when physically handling unidentified snakes.
Use a tool to move them or scoop them up, not your hands.
Q: I saw a snake in or near water (creek, pond, lake, etc.). It HAD to be a cottonmouth, right?
A: The overwhelming majority of snakes found in or near water are NOT cottonmouths. Many snakes are
found near water sources because that's where their food is. Gartersnakes and watersnakes - both
of which are harmless - primarily eat fish and frogs. Therefore, they're going to be found near
water, where those prey items live. The best thing to do is note the color and/or pattern you see on
the snake, and if it's in the water, observe how it's swimming. Cottonmouths swim with their entire
body on the surface of the water, while water snakes swim with the lower half of their body below the
surface. Also, check the range map of the western cottonmouth. They're only found in the eastern
third of the state, so they may not even range in your county, especially if you live out west.
Q: How dangerous are snakes?
A: Snakes make every possible effort to avoid contact with people. We are far more dangerous to these
animals than they are to us, and a vast majority of venomous snake bites are a result of someone
trying to capture, kill, or handle the snake. In the United States, humans experience approximately
8,000 venomous snake bites each year. Of those, an average of 10 per year - less than 0.13% - result
in death. More people in the U.S. die from dog attacks (average of 20 per year) than from venomous
snakes. It's worth noting that a large number of venomous snake bite cases in the United States
involve the victim having consumed alcohol before the bite. If you use good judgement and caution
around venomous snakes, there should be no injuries to either party.
Q: I was bitten by a snake that I think was venomous, but I'm not feeling sick or seeing any
swelling. What do I do?
A: If you were bitten by a snake and you are not experiencing any ill effects, then one of two things could
1. You were bitten by a non-venomous snake. In the excitement of seeing or handling a wild
snake, many people get confused and think they're dealing with a venomous species. You
were most likely disturbing a non-venomous snake that was simply telling you that you
were too close. Snakes aren't typically aggressive by nature. They will usually attempt to
flee upon discovery by a human. If you persist, then they'll bluff, often puffing their body
up, trying to look as big and menacing as possible so you'll leave them alone. If that doesn't
work, they will defend themselves by striking if you get too close.
2. You were bitten by a venomous snake and experienced a "dry bite." This is when a bite
occurs, but no venom is injected. This happens in about 1/3 of all U.S. venomous bite cases
each year. The snake controls how much, if any, venom is injected. The primary use
of venom is to catch food. Its secondary use is for defense. Venom is regenerated over time,
much like our blood is after we donate to the Red Cross. If a snake uses its venom for
defense, then it may not have enough left to catch a rodent that it needs to grow and
survive. This is why many defensive bites end up as "dry bites."
NOTE: Regardless of the symptoms, www.oksnakes.org highly recommends that you see a
physician immediately if you think you were bitten by a venomous snake.
Envenomation is a dynamic process and all symptoms don't always occur within minutes of
the actual bite. Don't perform any cutting, sucking, or other first aid at the site of the bite.
Leave all treatments to a qualified doctor.
Q: I found a baby snake. Is it true that venomous snake babies have more potent venom than
A: The snake you found might not be a baby. There are many species of snakes in Oklahoma
that are fairly small as adults. Some grow to a maximum length of only 12 - 15 inches, so not all
snakes are several feet in length.
As far as venom potency goes, it doesn't really matter if a baby venomous snake has more
potent venom than its parents (or other adults of that species). Venomous is venomous, and
regardless of the snake's size, you don't need to be bitten. It's always a good idea to leave ALL
venomous snakes alone if possible.
Q: I've seen more snakes this year than usual. Why is that?
A: There are several reasons why you might be seeing more snakes and other wildlife:
1. Commercial and residential development. Whenever wild land is disturbed, there are many
different types of animals that are uprooted from their homes and are forced to move
somewhere else. When animals are taken out of their normal habitat and routine, they are
often seen more by humans. There aren't necessarily any more snakes, you're just seeing the
ones that were displaced by bulldozers and other heavy equipment. This is what happens
when you build your home on top of theirs.
2. You're outside during active times of year. Snakes typically look for mates in the spring and are
very active as soon as the weather warms up for the year. You're more likely to see them in the
daytime in the spring. When the heat of summer arrives, most species become nocturnal
because their prey is also avoiding the heat of the day to forage for food at night. When summer
finally subsides and the weather cools more in the daytime, snakes typically revert back to being
diurnal, or active during daylight hours.
3. Drought. When the weather gets hot and dry, and we don't get the rain we're used to getting,
lots of different animals are forced to work harder at finding food and water. This usually means
they'll be moving around more, giving you more opportunities to spot them.
Q: I found some eggs that I think are snake eggs. Are they venomous snake eggs?
A: No. Venomous snakes that are found in Oklahoma give birth to live young and do not lay eggs.
(see the term ovoviviparity in the glossary) If you've found any kind of reptile eggs, it's guaranteed
that they're not venomous snake eggs.
Q: What about coral snakes? Don't they lay eggs?
A: Yes, coral snakes are venomous and lay eggs, but they don't range into Oklahoma. Arkansas, Texas,
and New Mexico are the closest states that have wild coral snakes. This website only covers
snakes that are native to Oklahoma.
Q: What should I do with the eggs I found?
A: Leave them exactly where you found them. They were deposited there for a reason and taking them
home only increases the chances that they won't hatch. Even if you're inquisitive and have the best
intentions in the world, odds are you won't be able to provide the temperature and humidity those
eggs need to finish developing. If you want those turtles / lizards / snakes to hatch, then please
leave the eggs in their original nesting spot.
Q: I saw a snake that had milky, blue-colored eyes and its color wasn't very bright. Is that snake
sick or blind?
A: No, the milky-colored eyes and opaque-looking skin are signs that the snake is about to shed. This
photo of a western cottonmouth shows this well. Snakes go through a period of looking "blue" for
about a week, then the skin clears up, and about a week after that, they shed their skin. Most snakes
don't feed and aren't very active during this time due to the fact that they can't see very well when
their eyes are opaque. They are most vulnerable to predators during this time.
Q: I found a snake shed in my attic. What is it?
A: 99% of the time this is going to be the shed skin of a black ratsnake or a great plains ratsnake. No
other Oklahoma snakes are as adept at climbing as Elaphe are. These species feed on birds and their
eggs, so they're commonly found in trees and along the eaves of houses, where birds like to build their
nests. Sometimes they will crawl into an attic through an opening and leave behind a shed. Does this
mean they're still hanging around? Most likely not. Snakes only stay in an area where there is food.
If the food is gone, so are they. The best way to avoid this scenario is to seal up any holes or gaps in
your roof and eaves. You can also work to make it hard for birds to nest in these areas.
Q: I saw a snake today that shook its tail at me. It was a rattlesnake, right?
A: Not necessarily. Many non-venomous snakes will vibrate or "buzz" their tail when they're frightened or
agitated. Ratsnakes, kingsnakes, and bullsnakes are amongst the non-venomous snakes that are
prone to displaying this behavior. Rattlesnakes have obvious rattles, or at the very least one button,
which sets them entirely apart from non-rattlesnakes.
Q: Is it true that you can tell the age of a rattlesnake by the number of buttons on its rattle?
A: No, this is false. The old myth is that a rattlesnake adds one new button to its rattle each year. In
reality, rattlesnakes add a new button to their rattle each time they shed their skin. This occurs
several times a year with younger snakes, so in actuality, a young rattlesnake can add three to four
buttons to its rattle in a year's time. Also, rattlesnakes sometimes break off parts of their rattles by
snagging them on objects as they crawl through dense undergrowth. There is no true way
to tell the absolute age of a snake unless you've had it in captivity since it was born/hatched.
Q: I found a snake with a ring around its neck. Is it venomous?
A: No, this is a ring-necked snake and it's completely harmless. It's a small species that specializes in
eating earthworms and slugs, so they're great for the garden.
Q: I saw a snake that my neighbor called a "black snake," but it wasn't really black. What was it?
A: Black ratsnake hatchlings have a distinct pattern when they first hatch. At around a year of age,
they begin to gradually darken as they grow. Like people, all snakes are slightly different, and no two
look quite the same. Some black ratsnakes are completely black on the top side of their body, while
others darken but retain enough pattern that you can still see it when they grow to be adults. We've
even seen black ratsnakes that have flecks of orange in their pattern (click here for a photo) . The
point is, there are many snakes that have a juvenile form that looks much different than their adult
Q: Why do some snakes have so many different names?
A: Some snakes have regional names that many people from that area will use. Some of the names are
handed down from one generation to the next. Here are some examples:
The cottonmouth is commonly called a water moccasin by some people. Even though cottonmouth is the correct herpetological name, most people know what they mean.
The black ratsnake is sometimes called the pilot snake or chicken snake. The former describes peoples' beliefs that the black ratsnake leads rattlesnakes to their winter den sites. The latter describes the rat snake's affinity for bird eggs and their propensity to be attracted to chicken coops.
Q: Do all snakes have teeth?
A: Yes, all snakes have teeth. Since all snakes are carnivores, they use these teeth to hold and swallow
their prey, no matter what it might be. The venomous snakes have modified teeth called fangs that
deliver their venom, but they have other, regular teeth as well.
Q: Can all snakes bite?
A: Yes, all snakes can bite. In fact, any animal that has a mouth that opens is capable of biting, including
humans. Do all snakes want to bite? No. They will only do so if they feel threatened, which can be
caused by getting too close to them or by trying to handle them.
Q: I saw a snake that acted like a cobra. My grandpa called it a "spreading adder." Was it a
A: When agitated or threatened, the hog-nosed snake will often puff up the front part of its body and try
to get the threatening creature (in this case, you) to leave them alone. It's all a bluff and this snake is
of no threat to humans. In Oklahoma we have two species: western hog-nosed and eastern
Hognose snakes aren't the only snakes to put on a display when they feel scared. Bullsnakes and
black ratsnakes will often open their mouths and hiss if they feel the threat is great enough.
Q: I caught a snake and it shot smelly white liquid out its backside. What is that stuff?
A: Many snakes will emit musk from their scent glands when picked up or molested by humans or other
animals. This is their way of deterring a predator from harming them. They hope the foul smelling liquid
will cause the animal to leave them alone. Watersnakes have a pungent musk that sticks with you all
day, even after diligent washing.
Q: The snake I saw today had a triangular-shaped head. Doesn't that mean it's venomous?
A: Absolutely not. While venomous snakes have a somewhat spear-shaped head that's accented by a
thin neck behind their round jawline, this is a TERRIBLE way to identify snakes. Many non-venomous
snakes will flatten out their head when they feel threatened. This allows them to appear larger and
more menacing than they really are, hoping you'll leave them alone. Identifying snakes by their
colors, patterns, and other markings is the best method, while the "triangular-shaped head" thing
should be forgotten.
View photos of non-venomous snakes that were merely frightened of the photographer
because he was simply too close to them: harmless species
Q: Do the "snake repellents" I see for sale online really work?
A: None of the commercial products for sale in feed stores, hardware stores, or online have ever been
proven to work at repelling snakes. If they did, we'd be selling them to you from this website. You'd
be better off spending that same money on a good amphibian and reptile field guide.
Q: I've heard spreading moth balls around the outside of the house will keep snakes away. Also,
what about sulphur?
A: Neither of these "home remedies" have ever been proven to repel snakes. Again, you'd just be wasting
your time and money.
Q: I've got kids that I worry about when they're outside playing. How do I keep them safe from
A: We completely understand your concerns about your children and snakes. Very small children
shouldn't be outside unattended, so you're the one responsible for keeping them from harm's way,
be it venomous snakes, stray dogs, lightning, strangers, running into the street, etcetera. Older kids
can learn about wildlife and you can teach them about snakes and when to approach / not approach
The oksnakes.org webmaster grew up in rural Oklahoma where there were all sorts of potential dangers
(including venomous snakes), and he made it to adulthood without getting killed. Amazing, huh? :)
His mother took him to the public library where he checked out all the reptile books they had, and she
made sure to read to him when he was young. It's never too early to educate your kids about wildlife.
Make it a family experience.
I now have a child of my own and I take the responsibility of her safety very seriously. That doesn't
mean, however, that I'm going to allow her to grow up learning to be frightened about wildlife. She
will most certainly be outdoors with mom and dad a lot and we'll make sure she gets interesting,
accurate, and positive facts about nature. It's very easy to do and I wish more people would take
the time to educate their kids about the world we live in. It's the best classroom you're going to get
and it's all around us! Better yet, it's free!
Q: Are there any snake identification books that I can use when I'm not near my computer?
A: Yes, there are three great books that are available for identifying U.S. amphibians and reptiles...
This book is now available for purchase. Click on the image for more information.
This book covers the entire United States. It can be purchased at most local bookstores or online at Amazon.com or Half.com.
This book covers eastern and central United States. It can be purchased at most local bookstores or online at Amazon.com.
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