The United States has many beautiful natural places to go camping. Fresh air and open spaces are a great way to unwind. Nature should be enjoyed all year round but with each season there comes a certain set of challenges. Camping during the warmer parts of the year means there are more animals active. One animal, in particular, every camper should be mindful of is the snake.
Several different kinds of snakes live in the United States. Snakes by and large are not immediate threats to humans. They will much sooner run from humans than try to attack them. But that is when people remain mindful and leave them alone. Some snakes are venomous and if cornered will attack which leads to very dangerous, and life-threatening, situations.
We will be discussing the top ten venomous North American snakes and how best to avoid them. There will be some commonalities but knowing the snakes in your area or the ones that inhabit your favorite campgrounds will keep you safer.
The Cottonmouth snake is the only venomous water snake in the United States. It is located in the southeastern region of the Continental US. They prefer to live near slow-moving bodies of water like lakes, rivers, creeks, and even drainage ditches. They are great swimmers. Some have even been seen swimming in the open ocean. But they have also been found to make their homes a great distance away from water such as in forests or drylands.
Cottonmouth is just one of the names the snake goes by. The name is a reference to one of its aggression displays. When it is threatened it coils its body up and lays flat while opening its mouth wide to display its fangs. The inside of its mouth is lined with white tissue, hence the name cottonmouth.
This snake will make its presence be known if you get too close. It is a very defensive snake and will stand its ground just as often as it will run. It will not strike right away and produces a loud hissing sound along with the display of its fangs.
The Cottonmouth will usually layout in shady places during the warmer parts of the day, bask out in the open on cooler days and during sunset. Unlike other snakes, they are more active at night and will most likely be found in or near bodies of water at this time.
They are very resilient and remain active long after most other snake species have gone inactive. In regions where it gets very cold, they have been noted as being the last to enter hibernation. These habits lead to them being encountered by humans many times in unexpected places trying to stay warm or out in the open like on concrete paths and roads.
Their natural colorings make them difficult to spot at times when their mouths are closed. They are commonly colored all black or brown with cross patterns of darker brown along their backs and head while their underbellies are white or yellowish. This provides them with great camouflage.
Their body tapers to a narrow neck then the head juts out with a wide crown and blunt nose. The appearance is very close to other nonvenomous water snakes in the area which leads to them being misidentified in nature sometimes.
The best way for campers to keep safe is to be observant when out in the woods during the day. The cottonmouth is less active during the day but suns itself in open areas where hikers may be passing through. If seen sunning it is best to give it plenty of space so as not to spook it.
Be sure to keep an ear out for the signature loud hiss and an eye open for the aggression display. In this case, you should retreat as the cottonmouth will stand its ground. This is an aggressive species that has been known to attack.
The venom takes immediate effect and starts to eat away at the muscle tissue and skin right away. While the death count for this snake, if bitten you will suffer some permanent scarring.
This snake also hunts in and around water, especially at night and during the warmer part of the year. They are ambush hunters which means you may not see them right away. They hunt in the shallows and along the banks of rivers and lakes, drawing their prey into the shallow water to make them easier to capture. This means they are fully capable of biting underwater. Keep all this in mind when planning camping and fishing trips.
It is best to wear leather and high boots when near the water in areas where you know these snakes make a home.
This is the only rattlesnake that is located in the northeastern United States. It also has one of the most widespread areas of habitation covering a large part of the country and was at one point found in some places in southern Canada.
It is a terrestrial snake that lives in wooded areas and preys on small mammals. As it grows the preferred prey changes, but they generally stick to animals that are land-bound and do not often hunt anything that lives in trees or flies. This has to do with how they hunt which is by ambush.
The timber rattlesnake uses its senses to pick up on chemicals in the air and they set up in tree logs where they wait for their prey from an advantageous position and wait to strike. Once they have bitten and injected their prey, they will stalk it and wait for the venom to take effect then go in to finish it.
This snake species have different types of venom, depending on the region the snake is from. With each different venom, there are different symptoms; one attacks the nerves leading to muscle spasms, another causes heavy bleeding, there is one venom that is a combination of the first two and the last one is the least toxic.
During winter they find deep crevices and hibernate with other snakes. The snakes prefer to stick to rocky and densely wooded areas where it is cooler. The only time the snakes venture into the open is when the females are pregnant and tend to look for open rock ledges to sun themselves on warm days.
These rattlesnakes are very mild-tempered. The instances of attacks on humans are very low. Timber rattlesnakes are not aggressive and will give a person every chance to get away before they decide to attack.
They will use the rattle at the end of their tale to make sure you know they are there. They are also very large so even though their coloring helps with blending into the forest floor and trees they will make their presence known to humans if we venture too close.
Black Diamond Rattlesnake
This species of rattlesnake lives in the northwestern area of the United States and the southwestern portion of Canada where it is one of the last species of rattlesnake left in the entire country. It is more common in the US. The snake varies in size and coloring depending on the region they are located at. Their scale coloring changes as they mature and their eye color matches the color of the soil where they live.
They have specialized organs on the sides of their heads that function as heat sensors. This along with their forked tongue are what they use to track down prey. They hunt at night, have poor sight, and are deaf but can sense the vibrations of movement or sound to help them navigate their terrain and track their prey.
These snakes would much rather avoid humans but can be aggressive if they feel threatened or intruded on. They will use their rattle to warn people of their presence. Even hearing the rattle people should be extra careful to give the snake plenty of space as the snake can launch from one-third to half of its body when it strikes.
They live in various types of environments but stay close to the ground and are ambush predators. Unlike other snakes, they give birth to live babies and not eggs. Humans should be wary of coming across a mother defending her brood or males fighting for a mate.
The mating season begins right after the snakes come out of hibernation from the winter. This is typically the most dangerous time to enter their territory. They are mostly sedentary animals during the day aside from this one portion of the year.
The tiger rattlesnake is thusly named because of the distinctive striped pattern that extends down its entire body. The colors of their scales can vary from browns to violets and taper down to their bellies into pinks and yellows.
The stripes that go down their bodies consist of darker colors of brown and black. The stripes often take up a large portion of the snake's body and become rings towards the tale and rattle. The head is shaped like a spade and the snake as a whole is the smallest of all the rattlesnakes.
During the hotter portions of the year such as summer, the snake becomes nocturnal and moves at night. During the cooler portions of the year, it moves about during the day and hunts rodents, and finds a place to layout on rocks and the sun itself. It does hibernate during the coldest part of the year from December to January.
Its habitat consists of the warm deserts, rocky ledges, valleys, and springs that cover the southwestern United States. They are mostly terrestrial species, staying low to the ground or in the rocks. They are capable swimmers though and have been seen swimming in lagoons and bodies of waters located in valleys. On rare occasions, they can be found higher off the ground in shrubs and bushes.
The key to avoiding these snakes in the wild is deciding when you want to camp and observing when they will be the most active. If you like camping during the chilliest part of the year, then you can camp when they are hibernating in December. Camping during the summer is good as they will be active mostly at night so hiking will be safer, provided you stick to the trails.
These snakes are known to be somewhat stubborn and while they will do their best to not attack but they will not run either. The best thing to do is give them plenty of space and back away slowly so they can decide to move at their own time.
They are known to have a very toxic venom which is considered one of the deadliest in the country. Although the venom is very potent the tiger rattlesnake has the lowest venom production of any rattlesnake so it will use it sparingly. Because of this, a bite may not always include venom. However, there is no reason to take the chance.
The copperhead is one of the most widespread venomous snakes in the United States. It is located in states all along the easter coast from as north as New England and as far west as Texas. Its population is as large as the area it covers. It has various habitats that range from the deserts of Texas to the dense forests that populate the northeastern US.
It typically sticks to a more terrestrial existence staying close to the ground. In some more rocky regions though, it has been known to inhabit rock ledges and to hibernate through the winters in crevices etched into limestones where it cohabitates with other snakes of the area.
Copperheads can be recognized by the distinctive hourglass pattern that runs down their back. The coloring varies by region but typically follows along with browns and tans. The pattern on their back usually is darker in coloring and isn't always perfect in shape. The pattern tapers down to rings around their tale.
These snakes are ambush predators that prefer to sit and wait for their ideal prey to come along and then strike. The only prey the snakes will chase after are insects.
The copperhead is a very timid snake and has the unfortunate trait of freezing up. That means, in situations where other snakes would flee or make their presence known by hissing or rattling, the copperhead lays completely still and relies on its natural camouflage to hide it. This very habit is responsible for there being many instances of copperhead bites in the US.
The snake will not move at all when it is being approached but will strike the moment it is touched or stepped on.
The copperhead's level of activity changes with the seasons. In the warmer areas where this snake is found the copperhead is nocturnal during the hottest months. In turn, during the cooler spring and summer seasons, the snake becomes more active during the daytime.
The venom of the copperhead is the least dangerous of any of the snakes in the US. The bites very rarely lead to death. Those are in the instances where the copperhead does bite and use venom on a person. Copperhead snakes are extremely timid so even when they are stepped on, they often issue a warning bite that contains very little to no venom.
The best way to avoid being bitten by this snake is to stick to trails when hiking. Bring walking sticks or poles to test the area ahead of you so if there is a snake, it will bite that instead of you.
Also, knowing when it will be most active in your area is a great way to plan your trip and avoid any issues. If you know they are going to be out when you are hiking, take your time on the trail and do not rush. This snake's main goal is to avoid you, be sure to keep that in mind if you do spot one and give it space.
Eastern Coral Snake
This may be the easiest snake to spot on this list if it is out in the open. The distinctive and memorable color pattern help distinguish this snake from others. It has a blackhead, but the rest of its body is covered in alternating black, red, and yellow stripes. The coral snake shares colorings with the nonvenomous king snake, which also shares much of its habitats.
To help tell the difference between the two snakes, locals have long used a children's rhyme to distinguish the snakes from each other. "Red touches yellow, kill a fellow. Red touches black, friend to Jack." This rhyme is only useful in the southeastern United States where these snakes live and have these specific coloring patterns.
This snake inhabits much of the Southeastern US. From as far north as North Carolina to as far south as Florida and reaching as far west as Louisiana. In this region, the coral snake sticks to densely wooded environments. Areas where it can disappear and burrow into the thick foliage or underground. They do not climb trees and prefer to stay on the ground as much as possible.
They also hunt anything from small reptiles, birds, fish, and even other snakes, including other smaller coral snakes. It uses its venom to kill its prey.
They are solitary creatures only seeking out other coral sakes for mating. Their level of activity varies depending on the seasons. They are most active in spring and fall during the mating season.
These snakes try their best to stay out the way of anything they are not trying to hunt. They are very timid and will not bite unless they are directly provoked or touched. They have the least control over their venom when biting for less than half their defensive bites contain any venom.
To avoid this snake, just stick the trails that are clear of debris.
Be mindful when trekking through dense forests where the ground is covered in foliage or overgrowth. Keep an eye out for their signature colors and remember the rhyme so you can identify their unique pattern.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Western diamondback is one of the most iconic snakes on the list. Its coloring pattern can be recognized by anyone who has seen a western or any movie that has taken place in the US desert.
Its coloring ranges to different types of grays and browns to match the ground of its habitat. The most distinguishing marking of this snake is the diamond-shaped pattern that runs the majority of their body tapering off to black and white stripes on their tail.
They live in the southwestern US and inhabit various types of terrain. They can be found in forests, deserts, and rocky terrain as well. They are mostly inactive and tend to hibernate during the colder parts of the year. However, during the early parts of winter and on cooler days they have been spotted on asphalt roads near sunset to warm themselves using the residual heat trapped in the road.
The venom of this snake has several effects such as tissue damage and causing hemorrhaging. The western diamondback is the most aggressive snake in the US and is responsible for the most snake bites that occur in the year. They will never run but instead will stand their ground and use their rattle as a warning and if they feel that is not working, will strike the intruder.
It is best to avoid this snake by, of course, sticking to trails, using walking sticks when hiking. Going out during the day as they hunt mostly at night and very early morning. Avoid entering caves and other dark rock structures as this is where they tend to spend the winter months hibernating.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes are the largest of the rattlesnakes. They occupy an area of southeastern United States. They can be recognized for their lighter brown and yellowish base color accenting their diamond-patterned body where the diamonds are outlined by lighter-colored scales. This distinction in pattern differs them from the western diamondback.
They prefer sandy terrain to make their homes but can also be found in dense woods and small coastal islands and beaches. They are great at swimming, some of them have been seen swimming in the ocean. While not adept climbers, they are capable of it when they are in search of prey. Mostly they are terrestrial creatures and burrowers, spending most of their winters and inactive time in a burrow or turtle nests they find along beaches.
They are not as aggressive as the western diamondback but tend not to always use their rattle when approached or threatened. If a person gets too close, they will attack without making a sound. Although, they would much rather prefer to escape before attacking. They will retreat if given time, they will maintain a visual of the threat and slither away backward until they are hidden.
They are most active during the early morning and at sunset, choosing to either sunbathe or rest in a burrow during the hotter parts of the day.
The best way to avoid them is to keep an ear out for their rattle which is loud enough to be heard from a great distance. Do not place your hands in any burrows or turtle nests, especially during the winter months. Be vigilant if you will be swimming in the Georgia state region as this is where they are most seen. It is best to keep any activity to the main part of the day when they are inactive.
The prairie rattlesnake is light-colored ranging to various browns and grays with rectangular patterns going along its back. The most distinctive marking is the stripes that mark each of its eyes and the darker colored dorsal patches. They also have sensory pits on the sides of their heads to detect heat from prey.
They live mostly in the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains in the United States and can be found as south as northern Mexico. They prefer rockier areas with less vegetation to make their homes. Prairie rattlesnakes make their dens among rock outcropping or take over the dens and burrows of other animals. They prefer to stay on the ground but have been known to climb even being found in crevices of caves and trees.
They change their activity level with the seasons becoming more active during the day when it is colder outside and nocturnal during the hotter summer months. They will readily defend themselves if they feel threatened and will use their rattle to make their presence known. Their venom is both neurotoxin and hemotoxin meaning it attacks the nervous system and can cause damage to blood cells and tissue.
The best way to avoid this snake is to be mindful when going into caves and going rock climbing. Be sure to wear a good pair of gloves and sturdy leather boots. Make sure the activities you plan to keep you within a safe timeframe from when you know the snake to be most active and always stick to the trails.
This rattlesnake is located in the southwestern United states It is often confused with the western diamondback, but the coloring differs. This snake typically follows a brown to green coloring scale and the tail pattern differs from the diamondback as it has more distinct white stripes on its tail as opposed to the darker black and white rings of the diamondbacks.
Despite its name, the snake occupies an area greater than just the Mojave Desert, but its other habitats generally match this kind of terrain. They primarily stick to deserts and low mountain slopes. It prefers open and flat areas with little vegetation and no rock outcroppings.
They are most active from mid-spring to early fall for the mating season. During that time, they will find a mate and give live birth to their young then enter into hibernation for the cooler part of the year. Much like other rattlesnakes, they can be aggressive if threatened and will strike.
They are known to have one of the most toxic venoms of all rattlesnakes. The most dangerous aspect of their venom is the delayed onset of the venom which causes a delayed response by some people when looking for treatment or taking the proper actions to reduce the spread of the venom.
The terrain of this snake will give you plenty of opportunities to notice it before you are bitten. It may be aggressive, but it does not go after humans unless it feels threatened. Be sure to be extra mindful when hiking along trails with places the snake may have positioned itself to ambush prey from.
Humans may not be on the menu, but it could mistakenly strike. Use walking poles to test the path ahead of you. Also, always be listening for that signature rattling sound. The snake is giving fair warning of its presence. Wear tough leather boots that rise high on your leg.
Snakes are not inherently mean or evil animals. They look for the same thing all living things look for: safety and peace. If they attack know it was not out of malice but from a place of fear and survival. When we are camping, we are entering their homes and we should treat them like that, Be respectful of nature and all the things that inhabit it. This way everyone goes home having a good time.
Be sure to read our other articles on what to do in the unfortunate circumstance someone is bitten, 7 Quick Responses To A Snake Bite and our common questions about snakes’ campers should know the answer to, 24 Camping Questions About Snakes Answered. Both of these will be helpful and may save your life one day.