How to Identify Snakes by Their Markings


Snakes can be identified in many ways: geographical location, habitat, size, shape, texture, behavior or even scale type. Their markings, however, are key to identifying the particular species to which they belong. Snakes come in a variety of colors with diverse patterns rivaling tropical fish and birds in their brilliance and symphony of interlocking shapes. Snakes can run the gamut from having a single uniform color such as the green tree pit viper or northern black racer, to the intracacies of the oriental carpet-like Kirtlands snake or Gaboon viper. Common pattern types include stripes, bands, spots, blotches or geometric shapes.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide
  • Consult a field guide to identify snakes by their markings. Look for a field guide in your local bookstore, library or nature center.

  • Go online to a regional (statewide) website that organizes snake species by color and patterns to familiarize yourself with identifying markings.

  • Identify snakes with uniform (solid) colors commonly black, brown, tan, orange, yellow, gray, blue or green. These snakes are easiest to identify because they have no markings.

  • Identify snakes that have spots (small rounded marks usually without a border), blotches (large squarish or irregular-shaped markings, frequently with dark borders) or speckles (small flecks of color).

  • Identify snakes by their cross bands (running across the back and down the sides) or stripes (lines running lengthwise).

  • Identify snakes by their diamond patterns often with dark borders or dark and light borders.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many times the patterns on the dorsal side (back) or belly are different. Familiarize yourself with the markings on both sides of the snake's body.
  • On some species, the color may be darker on the head and neck and become lighter on the back.
  • The smaller field guides that fit into a backpack or glove compartment can be taken with you on snake-identification expeditions.
  • Many snakes, including the seemingly harmless garter snake, will attempt to bite or strike if disturbed. Observe at a safe distance when identifying markings.

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