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POISONOUS SNAKES OF THE AMERICAS


American copperhead
Agkistrodon contortrix

Description: Chestnut color dominates overall, with darker crossbands of rich browns that become narrower on top and widen at the bottom. The top of the head is a coppery color.

Characteristics: Very common over much of its range, with a natural camouflage ability to blend in the environment. Copperheads are rather quiet and inoffensive in disposition but will defend themselves vigorously. Bites occur when the snakes are stepped on or when a victim is lying next to one. A copperhead lying on a bed of dead leaves becomes invisible. Its venom is hemotoxic.

Habitat: Found in wooded and rocky areas and mountainous regions.

Length: Average 60 centimeters, maximum 120 centimeters.

Distribution: Eastern Gulf States, Texas, Arkansas, Maryland, North Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, New York, Alabama, Tennessee, and Massachusetts.


Bushmaster
Lachesis mutus

Description: The body hue is rather pale brown or pinkish, with a series of large bold dark brown or black blotches extending along the body. Its scales are extremely rough.

Characteristics: The World's largest pit viper has a bad reputation. This huge venomous snake is not common anywhere in its range. It lives in remote and isolated habitats and is largely nocturnal in its feeding habits; it seldom bites anyone, so few bites are recorded. A bite from one would indeed be very serious and fatal if medical aid was not immediately available. Usually, the bites occur in remote, dense jungles, many kilometers and several hours or even days away from medical help. Bushmaster fangs are long. In large bushmasters, they can measure 3.8 centimeters. Its venom is a powerful hemotoxin.

Habitat: Found chiefly in tropical forests in their range.

Length: Average 2.1 meters, maximum 3.7 meters.

Distribution: Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad, and Brazil.


Coral snake
Micrurus fulvius

Description: Beautifully marked with bright blacks, reds, and yellows. To identify the species, remember that when red touches yellow it is a coral snake.

Characteristics: Common over range, but secretive in its habits, therefore seldom seen. It has short fangs that are fixed in an erect position. It often chews to release its venom into a wound. Its venom is very powerful. The venom is neurotoxic, causing respiratory paralysis in the victim, who succumbs to suffocation.

Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats including wooded areas, swamps, palmetto and scrub areas. Coral snakes often venture into residential locations.

Length: Average 60 centimeters, maximum 115 centimeters.

Distribution: Southeast North Carolina, Gulf States, west central Mississippi, Florida, Florida Keys, and west to Texas. Another genus of coral snake is found in Arizona. Coral snakes are also found throughout Central and most South America.


Cottonmouth
Agkistrodon piscivorus

Description: Colors are variable. Adults are uniformly olive brown or black. The young and subadults are strongly crossbanded with dark brown.

Characteristics: These dangerous semiaquatic snakes closely resemble harmless water snakes that have the same habitat. Therefore, it is best to leave all water snakes alone. Cottonmouths often stand their ground. An aroused cottonmouth will draw its head close to its body and open its mouth showing its white interior. Cottonmouth venom is hemotoxic and potent. Bites are prone to gangrene.

Habitat: Found in swamps, lakes, rivers, and ditches.

Length: Average 90 centimeters, maximum 1.8 meters.

Distribution: Southeast Virginia, west central Alabama, south Georgia, Illinois, east central Kentucky, south central Oklahoma, Texas, North and South Carolina, Florida, and the Florida Keys.


Eastern diamondback rattlesnake
Crotalus adamanteus

Description: Diamonds are dark brown or black, outlined by a row of cream or yellowish scales. Ground color is olive to brown.

Characteristics: The largest venomous snake in the United States. Large individual snakes can have fangs that measure 2.5 centimeters in a straight line. This species has a sullen disposition, ready to defend itself when threatened. Its venom is potent and hemotoxic, causing great pain and damage to tissue.

Habitat: Found in palmettos and scrubs, swamps, pine woods, and flatwoods. It has been observed swimming many miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching some of the islands off the Florida coast.

Length: Average 1.4 meters, maximum 2.4 meters.

Distribution: Coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and the Florida Keys.


Eyelash pit viper
Bothrops schlegeli

Description: Identified by several spiny scales over each eye. Color is highly variable, from bright yellow over its entire body to reddish-yellow spots throughout the body.

Characteristics: Arboreal snake that seldom comes to the ground. It feels more secure in low-hanging trees where it looks for tree frogs and birds. It is a dangerous species because most of its bites occur on the upper extremities. It has an irritable disposition. It will strike with little provocation. Its venom is hemotoxic, causing severe tissue damage. Deaths have occurred from the bites of these snakes.

Habitat: Tree-loving species found in rain forests; common on plantations and in palm trees.

Length: Average 45 centimeters, maximum 75 centimeters.

Distribution: Southern Mexico, throughout Central America, Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.


Fer-de-lance
Bothrops atrox

There are several closely related species in this group. All are very dangerous to man.

Description: Variable coloration, from gray to olive, brown, or reddish, with dark triangles edged with light scales. Triangles are narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.

Characteristics: This highly dangerous snake is responsible for a high mortality rate. It has an irritable disposition, ready to strike with little provocation. The female fer-de-lance is highly prolific, producing up to 60 young born with a dangerous bite. The venom of this species is hemotoxic, painful, and hemorrhagic (causing profuse internal bleeding). The venom causes massive tissue destruction.

Habitat: Found on cultivated land and farms, often entering houses in search of rodents.

Length: Average 1.4 meters, maximum 2.4 meters.

Distribution: Southern Mexico, throughout Central and South America.


Jumping viper
Bothrops nummifer

Description: It has a stocky body. Its ground color varies from brown to gray and it has dark brown or black dorsal blotches. It has no pattern on its head.

Characteristics: It is chiefly a nocturnal snake. It comes out in the early evening hours to feed on lizards, rodents, and frogs. As the name implies, this species can strike with force as it actually leaves the ground. Its venom is hemotoxic. Humans have died from the bites inflicted by large jumping vipers. They often hide under fallen logs and piles of leaves and are difficult to see.

Habitat: Found in rain forests, on plantations, and on wooded hillsides.

Length: Average 60 centimeters, maximum 120 centimeter.

Distribution: Southern Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and El Salvador.


Mojave rattlesnake
Crotalus scutulatus

Description: This snake's entire body is a pallid or sandy odor with darker diamond-shaped markings bordered by lighter-colored scales and black bands around the tail.

Characteristics: Although this rattlesnake is of moderate size, its bite is very serious. Its venom has quantities of neurotoxic elements that affect the central nervous system. Deaths have resulted from this snake's bite.

Habitat: Found in arid regions, deserts, and rocky hillsides from sea level to 2400-meter elevations.

Length: Average 75 centimeters, maximum 1.2 meters.

Distribution: Mojave Desert in California, Nevada, southwest Arizona, and Texas into Mexico.


Tropical rattlesnake
Crotalus terrificus

Description: Coloration is light to dark brown with a series of darker rhombs or diamonds bordered by a buff color.

Characteristics: Extremely dangerous with an irritable disposition, ready to strike with little or no warning (use of its rattle). This species has a highly toxic venom containing neurotoxic and hemotoxic components that paralyze the central nervous system and cause great damage to tissue.

Habitat: Found in sandy places, plantations, and dry hillsides.

Length: Average 1.4 meters, maximum 2.1 meters.

Distribution: Southern Mexico, Central America, and Brazil to Argentina.


Western diamondback rattlesnake
Crotalus atrox

Description: The body is a light buff color with darker brown diamond-shaped markings. The tail has heavy black and white bands.

Characteristics: This bold rattlesnake holds its ground. When coiled and rattling, it is ready to defend itself. It injects a large amount of venom when it bites, making it one of the most dangerous snakes. Its venom is hemotoxic, causing considerable pain and tissue damage.

Habitat: It is a very common snake over its range. It is found in grasslands, deserts, woodlands, and canyons.

Length: Average 1.5 meters, maximum 2 meters.

Distribution: Southeast California, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

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