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5 Venomous Snakes Look-Alikes: Know Your Snakes



Featured | A black and beige snake on branch | Venomous Snakes Look-Alikes: Know Your Snakes

Learn to tell venomous snakes look-alikes from the real deadly ones with this guide before you go and conquer the wild or your backyard.

RELATED: Snake Bite Survival

Venomous Snakes Look-Alikes You Need to Know

Venomous Snakes in the Outdoors

There are over 600 species of venomous snakes on this planet, but only 200 of them can cause real harm to us.

With the weather getting warmer and the sun shining brighter, many of us are killing a great deal of time outdoors. And the longer we spend time outdoors, the possibility of encountering different types of venomous snakes is higher.

That is why it is of utmost importance to recognize the poisonous snakes from the non-poisonous snakes.

I am barefoot more often than not, especially when I’m outside. The other day while I was walking down a path in the woods, I came close to stepping on a water snake while it was peacefully sunbathing.

I must admit I was startled and so was the poor snake. Good thing they typically take off when encountered by a human.

It’s important to know the snakes in your area especially if you love being outdoors. It’s good to remember we’re not the only ones enjoying the sunshine!


We must coexist with them on this planet. This article is going to cover some of the most common venomous snakes in the U.S. and their non-poisonous look-a-likes.

1. Eastern & Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes

The Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake is located in Eastern and Southeastern states and the Western Diamondback is located in Southwestern desert land. You can find them hanging out in places like dry pine flatlands, sandy woodlands, and in coastal scrub habitats.

The western species live in grassy plains and rocky hillsides. Some of their look-a-likes are the gopher snake, bull, and pine snakes. Both of them are extremely venomous pit vipers and regarded as two of the deadliest North American snakes.

2. Eastern & Western Coral Snakes

There’s an old coral snake rhyme which goes “red touch yellow, kills a fellow and red on black is a friend of Jack.”

It’s a good one to remember because that’s how you can determine whether the snake is the venomous coral snake or a non-poisonous look-a-like.

The Eastern coral snake is native to Southeastern states while the Western coral snakes are located along the coastal plains. Coral snakes enjoy the wooded, marshy, sandy ground and hide in leaf piles.

This deadly reptile has venom packed with dangerous neurotoxins. If left untreated, it could cause cardiac arrest.

As a matter of fact, they have the second strongest venom in all of the snake species, next to the Black Mamba. A coral snake look alike includes the scarlet kingsnake, Florida scarlet snake, and milk snakes.

If you happen to come across a coral snake, make sure you have a watchful eye. They have a trick where they lift their tail up and move it to make you think it’s their head and then attacks you from the opposite angle.

3. Copperheads

Rattlesnakes are not the only pit viper thriving in the Southwest. These rusty colored beasts are native to North, Northwest, Southern, and Southeastern states.

Copperheads are fond of ecotones which is why they can be found in rocky woody mountainsides and sunny thickets to suburban areas under some pile of woods.

What Is Ecotone? This is an area in the environment where two communities encompass each other. That area of transition is called ecotone.

A copperhead snake may not be as venomous as a fierce snake or an inland taipan but their bite is extremely painful.

Its venom may not be very potent but one you should respect. If you get bit, seek help immediately.

Something you should know is they are the most likely to strike and bite out of all the snakes on this list. So if you see one avoid it as much as possible.

Some of the copperhead’s look-a-likes are the Eastern rat snake and black racer snake. A northern water snake, Mole Kingsnake, corn snake, and Eastern hognose snakes are also a copperhead look alike.

RELATED: One Quick, Simple, & Dirty Way To Deal With Snakes

4. Cottonmouths

Cottonmouths are also known as, water moccasins. The name cottonmouth was chosen because when they open their mouth real wide, it looks like a white ball of cotton in there.

These venomous snakes like the heat and are native to Southeastern states such as Arkansas and Texas, although they have been seen elsewhere.

These semi-aquatic snakes live close to bodies of water with rocky banks for them to sunbathe on. They rarely bite humans unless these pit vipers are threatened.

You can find them in and around creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers, and rocky marshes. Their bite can be potentially fatal causing anaphylactic reactions.

Some of the cottonmouth’s look-a-likes consist of the Northern water snake, brown water snakes, and red-bellied water snakes.

5. Timber Rattlesnakes

Timber rattlesnakes are one of the few snakes that thrive in the Northeastern United States. They enjoy nesting in deciduous forests, rough and rugged terrain, as well as, on rocky ravines and ledges.

These snakes have massive fangs and can distribute a large amount of venom into their victim making them dangerous and feared. There are some water snakes that resemble the timber rattler but this slithering snake has distinct markings.

Orry Martin shows a video of a coral snake vs a milksnake:

There are venomous and dangerous creatures anywhere you roam. It’s wise to know where they live and avoid any issues, as well as, to enjoy the beauty offered. If you love going outdoors, I highly suggest learning about the specific venomous snakes vs. look-alikes in your region.

If you study them, you’ll notice certain ways to tell the venomous apart from the non-venomous pet snakes. Things like the shape of their head, their markings, the shape and size of the pupils, and their size and features. Some snakes produce a strange smell to warn predators they are around. Some smell like cucumbers while others smell more like menthol.

I hope you’ve learned a thing or two and I encourage you to reach out and teach me some of your wisdom as well. Happy Trails!

Do you know of other venomous snakes look-alikes? Please share them with us in the comments section below!

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Venomous Snakes and Their Look-Alikes |

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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  1. Rick Boschen

    July 12, 2017 at 9:09 AM

    Bottom line is they are all part of the natural order of things, if you leave them alone they will leave you alone – period.

    • confedgal

      July 12, 2017 at 11:40 AM

      Not necessarily. The copperhead and. Western diamondback are known to be aggressive and have gone after people. For other US snakes you are correct though.

      • The_Great_Gearoni

        July 12, 2017 at 12:03 PM

        That applies to the Cotton Mouth Moccasin as well. My experience is they are very aggressive.

        • ccter

          July 12, 2017 at 2:13 PM

          I have had a Moccasin drop out of a tree close to my kayak and come after me. Repeatedly had to push away with my paddle.

          • stevie3x

            July 12, 2017 at 4:40 PM

            in Oklahoma while swimming in a pond i have seen a cottonmouth Moccasin swim from across the pond [ apx 40 ft. ] after me & my Sister making us get out ofthe water , & they can swim Fast !

      • PhD Herpetologist

        April 5, 2018 at 9:54 PM

        No they don’t don’t speak about what you don’t know.

    • Rick Boschen

      July 12, 2017 at 12:29 PM

      I have a lifetime of experience handling all the animals mentioned in these replies. NEVER ONCE has anyone one of them “charged” me, the idea they will actively and/or aggressively attack is the product over overactive imaginations. At most the will “stand their ground” and strike until they perceive they have an escape opportunity. I repeat, if you leave them alone and walk the other direction there is not even the slightest chance you will be attacked.

      • Dave

        July 12, 2017 at 2:45 PM

        I agree. Snakes bite to obtain food or in self defense. Most snake bites occur when a human invades their personal space. There are aggressive snakes, to be sure, but they will not chase down and attack a human. Snakes know how big a meal they can handle and will not go after bigger, nor will they waste venom on prey to large to eat. Even in a defensive strike they are apt not to invenomate. The majority of truly aggressive snakes can be found in Africa, Central and South America, and southeast Asia.
        However, I have never come across a snake which will chase down and attack a human. You can actually stand next to a rattlesnake and not be bitten if you make no threatening move. A rattler which has been disturbed will stop rattling if you stay still or back away to a distance the snake feels safe. There is a big difference between “aggressive” and “attack”. The majority of stories about snakes attacking are just stories or misinterpretations of a snakes actions.
        Everyone should become familiar with the dangerous creatures they may encounter wherever they travel. That includes reptiles, arachnids, etc. It also includes plants and insects.

        • Sicklesteel

          July 18, 2017 at 4:37 PM

          I can almost remember reading about a snake in Australia that will attack humans on site and that article further stated it was the only snake in the world who does that …but….can’t say for sure.

          • Dave

            July 22, 2017 at 5:47 PM

            Folklore. There are aggressive snakes (Aussieland has 10 of the world’s deadliest) but they do not hunt down humans. The aggressive ones will strike repeatedly even if you are out of range but near them. Most snakes are ambush predators anyway. They hide and lay in wait for prey. Some will actually go down a rodent hole after food. There are a couple which will enter bird nests for the same reason, but you are still talking about meal sized prey. Even a King Cobra will avoid humans if given a chance to crawl away. Remember, what is a comfort zone for snake varies. For example it’s pretty close for a rattler but distance increases for a spitting cobra which can accurately hit targets (the eyes) over 6 feet away.

          • Sicklesteel

            July 22, 2017 at 8:54 PM

            Thanks for that clarification….like I said…I wasn’t sure…

          • SportsFan

            July 27, 2017 at 11:22 PM

            You probably are referring to the Brown Snake…and are correct…they will chase you down…very toxic venom..

        • Maggie Devens

          April 6, 2018 at 10:46 AM

          just because some of you don’t SEE FOR YOURSELF that a water moccasin will chase a human does not make it so.. it only means you have never seen it happen.. i have on more than one occasion.. everyone who lives near these animals knows they are aggressive. we in the south know better.

        • Anonymous

          September 22, 2018 at 8:05 AM

          Bull puky , venomous snakes, will strike,even non provoked, you tree huggers do not understand, about who is invading who’s territory, where ever I am, it’s my territory at that moment. I have lost cattle and horses and dogs to snake bites,

      • John Wedow

        July 15, 2017 at 2:21 AM

        I a turned a Copperhead den on a creek bank and they chased me back up stream . So I think they will show chase agression

      • Robert McGehee

        August 11, 2017 at 2:27 PM

        Check out blue runner, when I was a kid one chased me for about 100yards before it gave up. And down here, copperheads are just mean, they will chase you too.

        • Michael Hearn

          April 7, 2018 at 9:26 AM

          For a copperhead be alert and keep a 20 gauge

      • Mark

        April 5, 2018 at 9:50 AM

        Not true. While fishing on a pier my son an I saw a water moccasin come down a bank about 25 yards away, look at us, get in the water (watching us the entire time), swim to us and try to get on the pier watching us the entire time. The snakes are aggressive and do chase. Many stories from reliable sources say the same. Beware these snakes!

      • ButchDavis

        June 7, 2018 at 5:08 AM

        then you should get out of the office more.. Copperheads and Cottonmouths can be territorial during mating season. They will attack you until you leave their area. PhD doesn’t mean you’re means you passed some tests and can write.

    • William Hickey

      August 2, 2017 at 8:20 AM

      For the most part this is true but for Cotton Mouths they have been known to chase people. They also will drop out of trees into your boat.

      • Michael Hearn

        April 7, 2018 at 9:30 AM

        That is true never drift under a tree in your boat I was in a boat with this guy
        he panicked and shot a hole in the boat

  2. Linda Miller

    July 13, 2017 at 12:50 AM

    I live in Texas and we have the rattlesnake, coral snake, copperhead and water moccasin to contend with. What I would have liked for your article to have shown is the difference in the poisonous and non poisonous snake heads and tails.

  3. Arizona Don

    July 17, 2017 at 1:43 PM

    Snakes who doesn’t hate snakes. Or better yet who doesn’t hate surprises by snakes. Has anyone noticed there seems to always to be a surprise associated with a snake. I have.

    Rattle snakes should all be killed because they can do extremely serious damage to anyone they bite and put them though very serious pain. As a pilot I was once dispatched to pick up a snake bite victim in northern Arizona in a remote area it took me about 45 minutes to get there and get on the ground. In that 45 minutes the mans arm had swollen to at least 5 times its normal size and began to turn color (it appeared to be kinda reddish purple with some parts turning black). According to him the pain was extreme. It was another hour to get him to a hospital and even at that he nearly lost his arm and also came close to dying. Since then if I see a rattler I kill it if I can. While trapping I had one strike me in the right leg just below my boot top however I also had on chaps and he did not get through all those layers. I have seen Mojave’s seven feet long here in Arizona with fangs over an inch long. Snakes can usually strike about half their length. However, usually a rattler must feel threatened before it will become aggressive but make no mistake they will become aggressive if threatened. I have had mountain rattlers rattle 20 feet off the path I was riding my horse on. It got the horses attention but caused no problem. Of course the rattler never rattled again. I killed him!

    Why some people think rattle snakes must be preserved is a mystery to me. We have plenty of non-venomous snakes to fill their niche if they are all killed. At my home I have two bull snakes (some times referred to as gopher snakes mostly in California) they seem to keep the rattlers away. King snakes will do the same. So those snakes should be preserved. Everyone should learn the differences.

    I have caught alive dozens perhaps hundreds of rattle snakes for a friend of mine who was afraid of them to the point he would not get within 50 feet of one. He made the desk top paper weights you may have seen. Seemed a weird profession for someone who was deathly afraid of snakes. However, I was smart enough to have a long catch poll. But if you intent to do something like that educate yourself first. Furthermore, never pick up a rattle snake because you think it is dead. I know a guy who did that and found out it wasn’t. He lost his thumb and nearly died. The hospital never treated him with anti-venom. Their mistake but he paid the price!

    One more thing the biggest rattler I ever saw was in Texas. And I mean big although not very long just big around. However, it never rattled again either.

    • Ginner

      August 11, 2017 at 9:01 PM

      I am one not to miss with snakes. I give em respect and back away. You best hope no Game Warden reads this post cause they will make note of it. Texas Game Wardens take their jobs seriously. Rightfully so. Otherwise illegal hunting would be a problem.

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  5. William Hickey

    August 2, 2017 at 8:18 AM

    Coral snakes have a very small mouth and can really only inject its poison if you handle them. Red on yellow kill a fellow, red on black friend of Jack.

    • Robert Vahle

      April 5, 2018 at 8:39 PM

      Your right…you almost have to stand still, and let them bite you.

      • Maggie Devens

        April 6, 2018 at 10:51 AM

        sorry folks but what you state is an old wives tale.. according to Texas Parks and Wildlife book on poisonous snakes the coral snake can open it’s mouth wide enough to get you on the flat of the leg, arm or anywhere else on your body.. they do not have the fangs the pit viper has, but that row of teeth they do have are very sharp and can inject quickly.

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  9. Hawk

    April 5, 2018 at 11:34 AM

    Top Image: Coral Snake; Bottom Image: Wild Scarlet Snake

    There’s an old rhyme that says “black and yellow, kill a fellow and red on black is a friend of jack” and it’s a good one to learn because that’s how you can determine whether the snake is the venomous coral snake or a harmless look-a-like.

    THIS INFORMATION IS “‘DEAD” WRONG! It should say Red and Yellow Kill a fellow….Red on Black friend of Jack.

    • gsm

      September 22, 2018 at 7:53 AM

      Yep…it is “RED on YELLOW kill a fellow”.

  10. Larry D. Butler, Phd.

    April 5, 2018 at 6:24 PM

    Anyone who believes snakes cannot be aggressive doesn’t know a thing about western diamondbacks! They are territorial and if your in the space they consider theirs, they will come after you…to kill! All that is necessary is for someone to stumble upon them unknowingly and they will attack! I’ve had people tell me a rattler won’t attack until it has warned you by rattling first…that’s crap! I always carry a pistol loaded with snake load, when I’m out in territory they are known to populate and I’ve disturbed them unknowingly and had them strike without warning! Snakeload out of a .44 is very effective on rattlers! It’s the same as a .410 shotgun!

    • gsm

      September 22, 2018 at 8:30 AM

      cotton mouth moccasins in my experience are more scary…i was walking on a back road in NC sand hills… came to water drainage ditch… saw rather small looking black-brown snake…closer i got… it was about 2 feet long….SNAKE retreated under wooden bridge , came out other side of bridge & slittered up the embankment toward pig pen… i was following it on foot…THEN IT stopped and came toward me! I turned to get out of there and
      another snake was suddendly there ..
      was coming toward me!!
      Needed to run and i never looked back. …..this was for real. Cotton mouths are very risky encounters.

      Another encounter occurred in Fla …hiking through trees over looking a water cistern , near Swanee river… heard swishing sound and several were flipping off limb just over our heads into water below!
      During the actual cave dive…saw nada.

  11. Michael

    April 12, 2018 at 11:32 AM

    “If you happen to come across a coral snake, make sure you have a watchful eye. They have a trick where they lift their tail up and move it to make you think it’s their head and then attacks you from the opposite angle.”

    Omg! lol

  12. Chad Moore

    September 22, 2018 at 3:39 PM

    Prairie rattlesnakes look identical to bullsnakes, the only difference is a thin white line around its dark spots, bullsnake doesn’t have the white line, or the rattle, but at a glance can be easily mistaken for each other.

  13. Delicia Ambrosino

    September 22, 2018 at 7:27 PM

    Some snake species can be extremely curious. This may be misconstrued as being chased. Though I would highly recommend keeping a distance between you an it. The Australian Brown for example is NOT a snake of curiosity. It is, in fact, a mean aggressive snake which will literally launch itself at you. Here in the states we have only a very few snakes who are like that. Nonetheless it is always wisest just to leave any snake alone.
    I will say that the constrictors we now have in the South thanks to pet shops destroyed by hurricanes and dumb people setting their pets loose should, in my opinion, be hunted and killed and nests destroyed~~~~but not by just anyone. The reason why I feel this way is because they are an invasive species and are wreaking extreme havoc on our environment and killing off many of our native species. Beautiful as they are they, and other exotics, do not belong here.

  14. Delicia Ambrosino

    September 22, 2018 at 7:34 PM

    I would like to share a story with you about a non venomous snake here in upstate New York. I was sitting under my brothers portico. The foundation had a crack in it and I’m just sitting there having a smoke when I happened to see movement in the crack. Within minutes that crack had 1 female ring necked racer and several {up to 15} male snakes come out of it and formed a ball around the female. They were mating. They were writhing frantically and there was a whole lot of slime. In all my{then} 62 years had I never seen the like of it. I filmed it but it didn’t come out because of low light. But it was amazing. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad for the female.

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  17. BobS

    March 20, 2021 at 9:26 PM

    The black mamba isn’t even the top 10 for most venomous snakes. What makes the black mamba so dangerous is it’s ability to bite multiple times very quickly.

  18. Elise Curran

    May 1, 2021 at 2:07 PM

    The author listed look-a-like snakes for copperheads as black racers and rat snakes. Neither of these snakes looks like a copperhead, since both of them are longer and thinner than the typical copperhead, and neither of them has the distinctive hour glass shapes or the color combination. There is no mistaking a copperhead when you see it.

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