Cottonmouths are closely related to copperheads. You can best identify them by the distinct "raccoon mask" with a white stripe on the side of the face, the heavy, triangular head and the relatively heavy body. Its colors may vary from bright coppery brown to greenish, brownish or dull black, and its markings from banded or blotched to faint saddles to no markings at all. Baby cottonmouths (right) are more strongly patterned (banded) and may have bright yellow tail tips. Several species of harmless water snakes are close physical lookalikes for the cottonmouth. Click here to learn more about cottonmouths.
There are several species of copperheads that range in color from pale apricot to burgundy to shades of plain grey and tan. Their markings can range from hourglass shaped saddles to solid bands. Like their close relatives the cottonmouth, they have vertical pupils in their eyes like a cat's. Copperheads are only found in Florida in the northernmost part of the state (Liberty County). Click on the photo to learn more about copperheads.
Rattlesnakes come in many different sizes and colors, but they all share the same basic shape. This is an Eastern Diamondback showing off its blotched, diamond shaped markings, its triangular head and its rattle. Not all rattlesnakes will rattle before striking, and not all rattlesnakes have a complete set of rattles, as they can lose them through injury, a bad shed or simply catching them on a bush. Depending on where you live, rattlesnakes may be grey and pink with black bands (the mottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus klauberi in Texas), speckled blue and tan with reddish tiger stripes (speckled rock rattlesnake, C. mitchelli in California) greenish-grey (C. scutulatus, the Mojave Green in Arizona) or most frequently some combination of brown, black and white. In Florida, they can also be tiny and hard to see or hear (pygmy rattlesnake).
Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Nose is black, head is yellow. Red touch black, venom lack. These rhymes will help you remember that a coral snake is a bad one to pick up, even though it is not aggressive and rarely bites unless severely provoked. Note the progression of color (black, yellow, black, yellow, red, yellow, black) and the black nose on this Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). Lookalikes include the scarlet kingsnake and the scarlet snake, both of which have red noses and red bands touching black bands. Click here to find out more about Eastern coral snakes.
The Florida pygmy rattler (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) or dusky ground rattler is a small snake with a tiny, almost invisible rattle that is very difficult to hear. These snakes range from pale grey to dark blackish grey with black blotches. Some may have faint red markings running down the middle of their backs. Their eyes have slit pupils like a cat's, and you should see a clear pattern of black and white stripes across the side of the face. Their scales are rough and textured. A close lookalike is the red rat snake or corn snake. These snakes have round pupils, glossy smooth scales and are able to climb up off the ground. Young black racers are another lookalike. Click on the picture to learn more about this snake and how to tell it apart from its Florida lookalikes.
Caution! Unless you are an expert, it is very difficult to positively identify a snake based on a picture you looked at in a book or on the Internet. There are many things that can fool you - snakes living in different areas can have very different colors or markings, even if they are the same species. Some types of young snakes look very different from their parents, and in other species males and females may look different from one another.
In all the years I have been doing snake rescues, I have almost never had a property owner correctly identify the species of the snake they saw even when they were shown a high quality field guide with photos, not even when the snake was captured and shown to them. Do not rely on these photos (or any others for that matter) to positively identify a snake. Get an expert opinion, and do not handle or approach any snake you are not sure about.
To learn more about these snakes, click on this article: Beware of Snake: Knowing for sure which ones are dangerous. When you are done reading, close that window to return to the Snake Getters page. For links to extensive online resources that can help you identify your snake or learn about snakes, click on the Snake Getters Education Page.
Learn what to do if you see a snake, or look at Central Florida venomous snake photos.
Leave your comments or questions in the Snake Getters guest book.
Back to the Snake Getters Home Page