When the time comes for you to bug out, you never know where you might ultimately wind up. You might plan to be in a certain place, but the nature of the SHTF is that unexpected things happen and force us to take drastic action. This might translate to living in an abandoned Laundromat for all we know. It could also mean moving into a failed restaurant venture that closed and is boarded up tight. Or you may find yourself wandering about in the great outdoors, becoming in tune with the wilderness that is your new home.
If you are in the great outdoors, you may find yourself stumbling across all sorts of potential new friends as well as foes. Little Bunny Foo Foo is hardly a threat; he may bop field mice on the head but he is unlikely to attempt the same with you. What is a threat, however, are venomous snakes. They are nondiscriminatory when it comes to who they bite; all you have to do is be in the wrong place at the right time to get a dose of venom that could end your life or make you wish you were dead.
When it comes to venomous snakes, knowledge is power. There are rules for identifying venomous snakes, but there are also exceptions to those rules. The only way to be certain as to whether or not a snake is a threat is to be able to identify that species of snake. With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines for snake identification, but do remember that they only go so far and there are no guarantees.
1. Look (but not too closely!) at the shape of the snake's head. Is it triangular? Most venomous snakes have triangular-shaped heads, but not all do. Some venomous snakes, such as the Coral Snake, have rounded heads. Likewise, some non-venomous snakes have triangular heads, such as the Eastern Hognose Snake, which flattens its head when threatened in order to appear venomous. Even though there are exceptions to this rule, the safest thing to do when you see a snake with a triangular head is to avoid it.
2. If you notice a hole, or pit, between the snake's eyes and nostrils, this is another snake from which you should stay away. This hole is what constitutes a snake that is a 'Pit Viper.' These snakes use pits as a source of thermal imaging to locate warm-blooded prey. A pit viper can see you even in the dark. A rattlesnake is an example of a pit viper, but not all pit vipers are rattlesnakes. However, if you are walking through the woods and hear a rattle, do not advance any further. The rattle is a warning that often precedes a strike and if you heed that warning, you lessen your chances of getting bit.
3. The eyes of most venomous snakes will resemble that of a cat, bearing the shape of an ellipse or oval. This is not a foolproof venomous snake identification, however, as there are other snakes that have this trait and are non-venomous. For example, the Black Mamba and Cobra have round pupils and are venomous while Green Tree Pythons as well as Red Tail and Emerald Tree Boas have oval pupils.
4. If you encounter a snake in water, take note of the way it swims. If only the head is above water, it is most likely a harmless water snake. If the body is atop the water, it could be venomous as most venomous snakes trap air in their lungs while swimming, hence the reason they sit higher in the water. Some of the snakes most likely encountered in water are the water moccasin/cottonmouth and various types of water snakes. Even if you are convinced it is only a water snake, give it a wide berth regardless as they can be quite aggressive and many will give chase regardless of species.
5. Be aware of snakes that mimic or look similar to one another. For example, the Eastern Coral Snake, Scarlet King Snake, and Scarlet Snake all closely resemble one another, but only the Eastern Coral Snake is venomous. The easiest way to remember the difference is with a little rhyme regarding the coloring of the Coral Snake, "Red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow. Red touches black, you're okay, Jack."
Also remember that just because a snake is not normally found in the United States does not mean it will not show up unexpectedly and bite you. There is a huge problem with the importation of snakes into the U.S. through the pet trade. As people grow tired of those pets, many of them dangerous species, they simply let them go. Many of these snakes have proven quite hearty and have proliferated in the southern states, which as a result is now overrun with invasive species.
The best thing you can do to stay safe around snakes is to familiarize yourself with them. If you are aware of what species you are seeing, you will be better able to judge the level of caution you need to exercise. Never pick up or otherwise harass a snake, venomous or not, because even a bite from a non-venomous snake can be quite painful and cause a nasty infection due to bacteria present in the mouths of snakes. Always wear boots or solid shoes when hiking in addition to heavy socks and pants whenever possible as this could prevent a successful bite. Remember that young, immature snakes are actually more deadly than adults as due to inexperience they will inject more venom. In short, if you see a snake that you suspect could be venomous, stay away to be certain you will live to see another day.