What is the Difference Between a Poisonous and a Venomous Snake?

The difference between a poisonous snake and a venomous one. Wait don’t they mean the same?

Just like all Mercedes vehicles are cars, not all cars are the Mercedes brand. Hence, not all poisonous snakes are venomous. The concepts, venomous and poisonous, describe the extent to which chemical weaponry is delivered.

You could be outdoor camping with family and friends and accidentally get bit by a snake. The first thought that comes to mind would be if the snake bite is treatable and what first aid method to take.

A friend might be too quick to dismiss the snake bite as that of a venomous snake, while you’re in a panic wondering the difference between the two and especially the side effects.

Therefore, we have come up with a comprehensive guide that helps you understand the difference between a poisonous and venomous snake and get more informed.

Difference Between A Poisonous and Venomous Snake in 2023

Both venomous and poisonous snakes use toxins to subdue prey.

A venomous snake delivers its toxins by wounding through a fang, sting, or spine. On the contrary, a poisonous snake will administer toxins when in contact with the skin through touch or ingestion.

Venomous snakes have a triangular-shaped head, while poisonous snakes have a more round-shaped head. Although a poisonous snake can mimic the triangular-shaped head to appear more dangerous.

There are only one animal species of snake that is both poisonous and venomous; that is the Asian tiger snake.

Poisonous Snake

The poisonous snakes that exist are; Cobra, Viper, Krait , Rattlesnake, and American coral snake.

Poisonous snakes only deploy their toxins defensively to avoid being eaten by predators. They acquire toxins from eating poisonous toads, then these toxins are stored in their nuchal glands.

Behavior observation helps identify the right solutions when humans and wildlife interact. The rattlesnake will for instance shake its tail while creating a loud clicking sound that serves as a warning to predators.

When ingested, these toxins travel to the body quickly, posing harm to the life of a predator, depending on the amount of poison.

Venomous Snake

A toxic bite is a popular method of delivering toxins in venomous snakes.

Observing the habitats will help in identifying a venomous snake. For instance, cottonmouth lives in or near water. Thus, depending on the geographic location, if there is a pond nearby, you’ll likely observe a Cottonmouth.

Although coloring may not be an efficient distinguishing feature, there are details that differentiate between a venomous and poisonous snake.

For example, the venomous coral snake and the non-venomous scarlet king both have scales patterns of black, yellow, and brown. But the difference is the red bands touch yellow bands in coral snakes, whereas the red band touches black bands in scarlet king snakes.

Dos and Don’ts of Snake Safety

Although it is so unlikely to be attacked by a snake, people should take precautions, especially during summer when out in the woods and near ponds.

Snake Bite Mitigation

Here are a few tips for mitigating hazardous snake bites.

  • Do not place your hands where you cannot see.
  • When venturing off nature trails, wear boots that cover up to your ankles.
  • Use a walking stick to tap ahead of you before stepping where you can’t see.
  • Avoid walking through dense bushes.
  • Never try to pick up a snake, even if it’s dead.
  • Do not make an attempt to kill the snake, just move away.
  • Consider carrying a snake bite kit when having outdoor activities.

What to do if Bitten by a Snake

It is advisable to know what to do in the occurrence you or your loved one has been bitten by a snake. 

The first step is to quickly go to a health facility and as you wait, contact the National Poisons Control Center

Below are a few first aid tips you should administer:

  • Immobilize the site and keep it below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
  • Remove any rings or constricting items to prevent swelling.
  • If you have a pump suction device, follow the advice written on it.
  • Do not apply an ice compress to a snake bite.
  • Do not try to suck out the venom by mouth.
  • Do not take painkillers unless a doctor tells you so.
  • Do not give the person anything by mouth.


In very rare cases, snake species can be both poisonous and venomous. Take for instance the spitting cobras, which bite and spray venom at the eyes and face of the predator. 

There are some Keelbacks snakes originating in South East Asia, that are known to be venomous but since they feed on poisonous toads they end up passing toxins through touch, ingestion, and bite.

So the answer to this question is that to a larger extent, there is a difference between venomous and poisonous snakes. While to a smaller extent, both are similar which is described by the two snake species, that inhibit both methods of delivering toxins.

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