Currently, there are about 3700 species of snakes recorded, and only “600 are venomous and over 200 are considered to be medically important.” – WHO. The question “what is the difference between a venomous and non-venomous snake” is a valid question, but there is a problem with it if the question is being asked for identification purposes. There are too many different and similar features among all the species of snakes to determine if one is venomous or not just by looking at it.
“It is hardly possible to make a clear distinction between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. There are snakes whose tooth structure would place them with nonvenomous snakes, but whose bite, though insignificant, causes a minor envenomation. Snakes can be classified as venomous, slightly venomous or nonvenomous with absolute certainty only according to the anatomical construction of their skull, their teeth, and the position of the teeth—for example, evidence of venom ducts in each side of the upper jaw. True venomous snakes have hollow or anteriorly grooved teeth or fangs. These venomous fangs are found practically without exception in the upper jaw.” (1:2)
Many people believe that a triangular head, cat eyes, etc., are ways to identify if a snake is venomous or not. These are not correct and can get you killed. Many nonvenomous snakes have these qualities, as well as many venomous snakes, lack these qualities. The best way to know if a snake is venomous or not is to be familiar with the different venomous snakes in your area. With a little effort, you will be able to identify the dangerous snakes, and it will keep you safer. If you want to do this, I recommend learning the dangerous snakes and not the nonvenomous snakes; because there are many more snakes that are NOT dangerous than snakes that are dangerous. So you will only have to learn a few dangerous species.
To see pictures of different venomous snakes from around the world, checkout the Gallery.
- Venomous Snakes: Snakes in the Terrarium by Ludwig Trutnau