Skip to Content

The 5 Most Lethal Snakes in the USA

Severe pain, muscle spasms, nausea, and even death – these are the common symptoms or side effects of snake bites. They’re not something to play around with.

But the good news is that even though about 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by lethal snakes each year, only about five people actually die from snake bites. Modern medicine has come a long way in reducing the fatality rate of venomous snake bites.

But that doesn’t mean you can be careless when out enjoying nature. You don’t want to ruin a vacation or an epic hike because you did something stupid like stick your hand between two rocks.

Let’s take a closer look at five of the most lethal snakes in the country so you can prepare and be on the lookout when you head out for your next outdoor adventure.

How to Tell If a Snake Is Venomous or Not

You may not get close enough to a snake to really tell if it’s venomous or not. Obviously, if it has a rattle, you want to stay far away. But some characteristics are more difficult to observe. Typically, the pupils of a venomous snake are elliptical like a cat and not round. They can also have a pointy snout instead of a rounded one, but again, it will be difficult to see this feature from a few feet away.

You might be able to distinguish between a skinnier neck and a fatter head. This is because the sacks with the venom are under the snake’s jaw. In regards to water snakes, the cottonmouth will have its entire body swimming above the water rather than its head poking out. This is a clear indication of a venomous snake.

Pro Tip: Don’t like snakes? Avoid these 7 Snake Infested States in the USA.

What Should You Do If You Encounter a Snake?

Thankfully, snake bites are quite rare in the United States. Most venomous snake bites occur below the knee due to stepping on a well-camouflaged snake.

Snakes can also be startled by movement like you walking down the trail. So make noise as you walk and watch where you step. Also, never put your hands where you can’t see them. Don’t reach underneath a rock or inside shrubbery without looking first.

If you encounter a snake, step away and let the creature move on its own. Don’t go chasing after it or poking it with a stick. They rarely attack people unless provoked, even lethal snakes.

While snake attacks are uncommon in the USA, you should still be cautious of potentially crossing paths with a venomous snake while out in nature.

The 5 Most Lethal Snakes in the USA

Snakes can be lethal for a couple of different reasons. One is their venom is so potent it can kill a human being. Another is they’re so popular in certain areas that they’re more likely to bite than other types of snakes. So lethal snakes are dangerous because of their venom and their frequency of interactions with humans.

1. Copperhead

Where to Find It: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia

Average Length: Generally less than 3 feet

Why It’s Dangerous: Unlike most snakes that slither away from humans, copperheads freeze. As a result, copperheads bite more people than any other venomous snake in the U.S. These lethal snakes also cover a lot of territory, so you’re likely to encounter them on a hike in Texas, the Midwest, and the East Coast.

The venom of a copperhead won’t be near the potency of an eastern coral snake or a Mojave rattlesnake, but you have a much higher risk of interacting with one.

2. Cottonmouth

Where to Find It: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia

Average Length: Generally about 3 feet

Why It’s Dangerous: If a cottonmouth bites you with the maximum amount of venom it can deliver, it’s enough to kill you. These lethal snakes are the country’s only venomous water snakes and some of the most aggressive.

Since the cottonmouth – also known as the water moccasin – is the world’s only semi-aquatic viper, pay close attention when you’re traveling near swamps, lakes, or slow-flowing rivers.

3. Eastern Coral Snake

Where to Find It: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana

Average Length: Generally less than 3 feet

Why It’s Dangerous: Unlike rattlesnake venom, eastern coral snake venom is a neurotoxin instead of a hemotoxin. Neurotoxins don’t attack blood cells, and organs like hemotoxins do.

They attack the body’s nervous system. If your brain can’t communicate with your heart or lungs anymore, that’s bad news. Remember the old rhyme, “Red on yellow, kills a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack,” when hiking. It’s also known as the American cobra.

4. Mojave Rattlesnake

Where to Find It: The Mojave Desert in California, Nevada, and Arizona and into parts of New Mexico and Texas

Average Length: Generally about 3 feet

Why It’s Dangerous: A bite from a Mojave rattlesnake is dangerous because the onset of symptoms takes a while. As a result, you might think you’re not affected, but in reality, you’re getting closer to death. This lethal snake’s venom has neurotoxic and hemotoxic effects, attacking the nervous system and the red blood cells.

Pro Tip: While in the Mojave Desert make sure to do these 9 Best Things To Do in The Mojave Desert.

5. Tiger Rattlesnake

Where to Find It: Arizona

Average Length: Generally about 2 feet

Why It’s Dangerous: The tiger-like stripes of the tiger rattlesnake help to easily identify this venomous creature. Even though they have tiny heads compared to the rest of their bodies, tiger rattlesnakes have one of the strongest venoms in the world.

However, its diminutive size means a smaller volume of venom is usually in a bite.

What to Do If Bitten By a Snake

If you do encounter a snake, most of the time, you’ll watch it slither away quickly. Snakes don’t want to interact with humans. However, if you get bitten by a venomous snake, get away from the animal and stay calm. You have to keep your heart rate down.

Take off any jewelry because it could cause further damage with the onset of swelling. Cover the bite and get to a hospital as soon as possible. 

You don’t have to know what type of snake bit you, but you do need to tell the hospital staff what color the snake was. This helps them determine the right type of antivenom. Don’t try to capture the snake and bring it in.

Snake with tongue out looking at camera.
Not all snakes are lethal, but unless you can correctly identify them, you should stay on alert and avoid them.

Enjoy the Outdoors But Be Aware of Your Surroundings

There’s no reason to avoid experiencing the beauty of the outdoors because of lethal snakes. The likelihood of getting bitten is slim, and severe symptoms or death are even slimmer. But it’s crucial to pay attention to your surroundings. Teach your children how to be alert.

Keep your dogs on a short leash. Preventative measures will significantly reduce the risk of a snake bite.

Don’t take these venomous snakes lightly. If you provoke them, you’ll put yourself in an extremely dangerous position. Have you ever encountered a snake in the wild? Do you know if it was venomous or not? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: