The Art of Manliness Guide to Snakes Part 1: Know Thine Enemy

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 14, 2008 · 55 comments

in Manly Skills

You and your buddies are out on a camping trip reconnecting with nature and your masculinity. You’re taking a day hike to see some ancient Indian hieroglyphics, when all of sudden you feel the acute pain of two razor sharp fangs entering your flesh. You’ve just been bitten by a snake. Do you know what to do?

Just the sight of a slithering snake can send a shiver down even the manliest spine. And with good reason-with just one nibble, and in only a few hours, these feetless, cold-blooded serpents can snuff out your life. While only 9-15 people in the United States die every year from snake bites, if you don’t know how to treat them correctly, you or your loved one could become part of those statistics. Knowing how to deal with snakes and snakebites is essential man knowledge.

The best way to “treat” a snakebite is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. So in Part 1 of the Art of Manliness’ Guide to Snakes, we’ll give you a dossier on all the bad boys you need to look out for.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss ways to avoid becoming some snake’s snack and how to treat a bite if you do get bitten.

Know Your Enemy

If you were a Boy Scout, you were probably taught an old mnemonic to help you identify venomous snakes:

Red and black, friend of Jack. Red and yellow, kill a fellow.

Or in other words, if a snake has adjacent red and black colors on its skin, it’s not venomous. If red and yellow are adjacent, that snake is venomous.
But as a man, you’re past simple maxims. You want to know how to identify and name a snake. You want to know the habits of your nemeses. So, here’s a description of the various poisonous snakes found in North America and around the world.

Coral Snake

Know Thine Enemy: Coral snakes are easy to spot by their distinctive coloring. They have alternating, red, yellow, and black bands. Did you get that? Red and yellow are touching each other, meaning this bad boy is poisonous. Be on the look out. There are counterfeit corals that have alternating red, black, and yellow bands. These aren’t poisonous.
Coral snakes are shorter than other venomous snakes. They average about 40 inches and have smaller mouths and fangs.

Their hideout: Corals are found in the southern and eastern United States, and in other places around the world. They can usually be found slithering in dry areas with lots of shrubs. They frequently spend their time underground or buried under leaf litter, and don’t pop out to say hello very often. You’ll see them most frequently after it rains or during breeding season. There are also some aquatic species that loiter in your favorite swimming hole.

How mean are they? They’re not aggressive or prone to biting, but if they do bite-watch out. Their venom takes longer to deliver, so when they bite, they hold on and won’t let go.


Rattlesnakes are easy to identify because, well, they have a rattle at the end of their tail. When threatened, the rattlesnake shakes its rattle as a warning to his would-be nemeses. Luckily for us, it’s a pretty damn loud warning; its peak frequency is equivalent to that of an ambulance siren. Did you ever wonder what a rattlesnake’s rattle was made of? Yeah? Me too. It’s basically composed of modified scales that slough off from the tail. Each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin, a new segment is added. When the snake shakes its tail in the air, the segments rattle against each other. Contrary to popular belief you can’t tell a rattlesnake’s age from counting the number of rattle segments; while they do add more segments on a regular basis, they also lose them during travels. Word of warning: if the rattle gets soaked from wet weather, it will no longer emit its noisy warning. So tread lightly in those conditions.

Several varieties of rattlesnakes exist and their habitats range from Canada to South America. The diamondback rattlesnake, the mojave rattlesnake, the sidewinder rattlesnake, and the timber rattlesnake are three species common to the United States

The Diamondback Rattlesnake

Know Thine Enemy: The different species of rattlesnakes have varied colorings, but all can be identified by their skin’s telltale diamond pattern. Most diamondbacks are about 3.5-5.5 feet long, although the Eastern diamondbacks, the biggest of the bunch, have been found in the 7 ft range.

Their hideout: Diamondbacks are generally found along the southern border of the United States, from Florida to Baja California and into Mexico. Rattlesnakes like to sun themselves and come out in the early morning or afternoon to bask in the sun’s rays. You therefore often find them sunning themselves on rocky ledges. While not typically adept climbers, species like the eastern diamond back have been found 32 ft off the ground. Some are excellent swimmers as well; eastern diamondbacks slither for miles in-between islands in the Florida Keys.

How mean are they? Some diamondbacks will retreat if given a chance. But often they will stand their ground and may strike repeatedly. They can strike from a distance up to 2/3 their body size and strike faster then the human eye can see, so stay as far away as possible. They have some of the fiercest venom of any snake; victims can die within hours of being bitten.

The Mojave Rattlesnake

Know Thine Enemy: Generally 3-4.5 ft long, it has grayish diamond shape markings on its back like the diamondback, but it’s overall coloration is more green than brown.

Their hideout: The mojave rattlesnake primarily lives in the desert of the southwestern United States, so be on the look out for it when you’re riding a burro down the Grand Canyon.They are common in wide expanses of desert and can often be found near scrub brush. They hibernate during the winter.

How mean are they? Although there isn’t scientific date to back it up, mojaves have a reputation for being quite aggressive, especially towards people.

The Sidewinder Rattlesnake

Know Thine Enemy: The sidewinder gets its name from its trademark sideways locomotion. The reason they do this is to reduce the amount of contact they have with the hot desert sands and to increase their movement’s efficiency. Just watching this thing move puts you on notice that it’s a killing machine. Smaller than its rattling cousins, the sidewinder usually is 1.5-2 feet long. The sidewinder is light in color with darker bands on its back. In addition to its trippy sideways movement, evolution has given the sidewinder another killer advantage: it can survive in the desert without a single drop of water. They get all the water they need from the prey they devour. That’s right. When a sidewinder sees you walking along, you’re not only lunch, but also a canteen. Watch out.

Their hideout: These snakes can be found in the desert of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. During the cooler months (about December to February) the sidewinder is nocturnal. They are diurnal the rest of the year.

How mean are they? Their venom is weaker than their cousins, but still can cause a serious health threat. Tread lightly.

Timber Rattlesnake

Know Thine Enemy: Timber rattlesnakes have a yellow, brown, and rust orange coloring and are typically 3-4 ft in length. The timber rattler was immortalized during the American Revolution where it served as the symbol in the “Don’t Tread on Me Flag.” It also serves as the First Navy Jack.

Their hideout: Unlike many of its rattlesnake cousins who live in the deserts of the West, the timber rattlesnake is found in the eastern United States; it’s the only rattlesnake to make its home in the Northeast.

How mean are they? Timber rattlers are a much mellower breed of rattlesnakes, so they don’t bite too often. And they tend to rattle a lot before striking, giving you time to hightail it out of there.

Cottonmouth Snakes

Know Thine Enemy: The Cottonmouth is one scary snake. No one wants to see it slithering toward them at their favorite watering hole. Cottonmouth snakes are usually around 2 ft in length, although some have grown to a size of nearly 6 ft. Their brown, gray, tan, yellowish olive or blackish coloring, is segmented by dark crossbands. When threatened, cottonmouths will throw their head back and open their mouth wide, displaying the white interior from whence it derives the name “cottonmouth.”

Their hideout: The cottonmouth is an aquatic snake found in the south and southeast part of the United States. Cottonmouths make creeks, streams, marshes, and lakes their home, although they can also be found on dry land. Because of their affinity to water, cottonmouths are also known as water moccasins. Cottonmouths can be active during the day and night. But when it’s hot, they are usually found coiled or stretched out in the shade.

How mean are they? Despite their vicious reputation, in many cases the cottonmouth’s hiss is worse than its bite. Cottonmouths often engage in a showy threat display without attacking. This routine includes shaking their tail and letting a musky secretion rip from their anal glands. The scent of this snake fart has been compared to that of a billy goat; so if you smell goat, flee in the other direction.

Copperhead Snakes

Know Thine Enemy: Copperhead snakes are identified by their coppery colored head and neck. Adults reach lengths of 2 to 4 feet.

Their hideout: Copperheads are mainly found in the eastern part of the U.S. They make forest and woodlands their home. However, they do prefer to live closer to water.

How mean are they? Copperheads will only bite if they feel directly threatened, i.e., if you try to pick up or touch them. But this contact can happen inadvertently. Unlike many venomous snakes that usually slither away when humans are around, copperheads will freeze in place, often resulting in humans stepping on them and getting bitten. A bite from a copperhead is extremely painful but is not fatal if treated properly.


Cobras are probably the most famous of all the venomous snakes, thanks in part to Johnny and the gang at Cobra Kai Dojo in the Karate Kid. (I hate Johnny. What a prick.) Several species of cobras exist. What they all have in common is the distinct “hood” they make when they are threatened. In order to create this distinct cobra hood, cobras will flatten their body by spreading their ribs.

The King Cobra

Know Thine Enemy: The King Cobra is the world’s longest venomous snake, growing to a length of between 12 and 13 feet Wowza! Their olive green, tan, or black skin has pale yellow cross bands down the length of the body.

Their hideout: King Cobras are found in South and Southeast Asia. They can also be found in some parts of India. King Cobras typically live in dense highland forests near rivers and streams.

How mean are they? The King Cobra is one scary mother. The King Cobra doesn’t just feed on small rodents, this bad boy is cannibalistic- it eats other snakes. While the King Cobra is shy, it will attack if it is provoked. The venom from a King Cobra consists of extremely potent neurotoxins that attack the victim’s central nervous system. A single bite from a King Cobra can kill a full grown Asian Elephant. It can kill a man in half an hour.

The Red Spitting Cobra

Know Thine Enemy: Red Spitting Cobras vary in color from red to gray. They can grow to about 4 feet in length. What makes this cobra unique is its ability to “spit” or project their venom at their prey. Watch out!

Their hideout: Red Spitting Cobras are native to Africa are most common in that continent’s northeast region. They make their homes in brush and forests. The red spitting cobra is nocturnal, so make sure you zip up your tent!

How mean are they? Like the King Cobra, the Red Spitting Cobra is a timid and shy snake and will only attack when threatened. Unlike the King Cobra with its ultra toxic venom, the Red Spitting Cobra’s venom is much milder. While it may cause extreme sickness, a bite from a Red Spitting Cobra will probably not cause death. However, if the venom gets in your eyes and is not treated quickly, it can cause blindness so still take caution.

The Black Mamba Snake

Know Thine Enemy: The black mamba is the largest and most deadly snake in Africa. It also happens to be the fastest moving snake in the world. In short, this snake is a killing machine. The Black Mamba gets its name not from the fact that it has black skin, but because it is black on the inside of its mouth. The skin of a black mamba is actually gray to olive green. Black mambas can grow to a length of between 7 and 13 feet.

Their hideout: Black mambas make their home in the grasslands of Africa. You can find them primarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

How mean are they? Black Mambas are mean mothers. They will readily attack when threatened. They’ll make multiple attacks, aiming at the head and body. With each bite, they inject their super deadly venom. One bite from a black mamba has enough venom to kill 120-140 men. The venom paralyzes the muscles used for breathing and the victim consequently dies from suffocation.

An important note: While all this “enemy” language is in good fun, snakes actually play a vital role in our ecosystem. Without them, vermin and critters of many kinds would overrun us. These tips should help you avoid snakes, not seek them out for destruction. Unless it’s a do or die situation, leave the snake alone and move in the other direction.

Part 2 of The Art of Manliness Guide to Snakes

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

1 pete July 14, 2008 at 9:24 pm

You call those snakes? Have a Google of Australian Snakes to learn about some real monsters like the Death Adder and the no-so-scarily-named-but-ridiculously-poisonous black and brown snakes!

2 Andrew Barbour July 14, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Pete, I don’t know if you yourself are Australian, but you came perilously close to sounding like Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee:

“Mick, he’s got a snake!”
“That’s not a snake. THIS is a snake!”

3 Chris July 15, 2008 at 12:10 am

Makes me glad I live in the UK. We have (IIRC) only three native species of snake, the largest of which – the Grass Snake – is about 4ft long and non-venomous. The only British snake with a bite fatal to human is the Adder, and they’ll avoid people as much as they can.

It’s a fine thing to live in a country where the wildlife isn’t a major hazard to life and limb. ;-)

4 pete July 15, 2008 at 1:09 am

Strewth Andrew

5 Israel July 15, 2008 at 4:46 am

This is so ironic. Last nigh I had a dream that my house was flooded with swamp water. In the swamp water there were tons of snakes. I mean huge ones, like the ones from that movie Anaconda. I actually held one of the snakes, it was red and white and orange.

This must have been one of the scariest dreams I have had in a long time.

6 Kyle July 15, 2008 at 6:12 am


I believe that’s “coincidental”.


Yeah, I live in the prairies of Canada where the wildlife is moderately non-threatening as well. We don’t even have dangerous spiders here.

Interesting article so far. I believe you should list the venom effects for all of the snakes though, not just a select few.

7 Rage Kage July 15, 2008 at 7:59 am

Love the article. Despite my very unmanly fear of snakes (moving without limbs is just unnatural) I’ve always been very interested in them.

8 Josh July 15, 2008 at 8:14 am

*Shiver* Just looking at those pictures gives me the willies. Nice article… But I hate snakes. Sucks that I live out in the boonies where they abound.

9 Kevin (ReturnToManliness) July 15, 2008 at 10:10 am

Black Mamba’s have enough venom in one bite to kill 120-140 FREAKING men????!!!!???? Another reason I will never travel to Africa. That is insane…

We are all scared of the Mojave and Sidewinder rattlers here in Vegas, but after reading this, not so much anymore. Besides, I have bigger issues at the moment with scorpions infesting my household.

10 Bob July 15, 2008 at 11:23 am

Snakes – love em. We used to catch rattlers when I was a kid. Not only do snakes look cool, and manly – a real man knows how to put them to good use opening beer.

11 Pat July 15, 2008 at 11:57 am

I was mountain biking on Friday and my I thought my friend blew a tire. When I went by the same spot I knew it was a rattler right away! Had to high tail it outta there!

12 Will July 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm

What? No recipes? :)

13 Jim Nutt July 15, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Kevin, when dealing with scorpions remember that the potency of the venom is inversely proportional to the size of the scorpions. In other words, the big ones aren’t much more than a bee sting, it’s the little ones that are dangerous. A UV light is fun to use scorpion hunter, it’ll make the little suckers glow.

As for recipes, rattlesnake is good batter fried. It doesn’t really taste like chicken, but it is a bit similar…

14 Face July 16, 2008 at 6:42 am

Actually, the grammatically correct form of the title is “know thy enemy”. By analogy, it’s “I know my enemy”, not “I know mine enemy”.

15 8rustystaples July 16, 2008 at 6:46 am

Wow, this article is full of half-truths and misinformation. You’ve given everyone just enough information to scare them shitless when they see any snake (the vast majority of which are not dangerous), but not enough to let them know when they’re truly encountering a dangerous snake.

There are over 20 species of rattlesnakes in the U.S., and many of the pygmy rattlers have rattles too small to alert people to their presence. Also, many nonvenomous species shake their tails in mimicry behavior as a warning.
Diamondback Water Snakes are a very common nonvenomous snake in the Eastern U.S., and it has a diamond pattern.
You mention a couple of Asian species like the King Cobra, one African species, the Black Mamba, but fail to mention any South American or Australian species (and Australia harbors the most dangerous snakes in the world). If you’re trying to scare the readers, where’s the Taipan,? Or the Gaboon Viper, an African species with the longest fangs?

And you fail to mention that snakes play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit, including (and often especially) the venomous ones. The western diamondback rattler is a very important predator of rodents in their habitats, and large increases of local rabbit populations occur in areas where “rattlesnake roundups” occur under the false pretense of protecting children and livestock. And rabbits wreak havoc on farms. Nature sort of likes to keep things in balance.

I can only hope you did the proper research on treatment of snakebites, because improper first aid can create horrendous problems.

16 Brett July 16, 2008 at 6:57 am

8rustynails- If you had read the entire post, you would have seen at the end we discussed how snakes play an important part in the ecosystem.

And I don’t see how we put out any half truths or misinformation. The research came from field guides and books on snakes. It just sounds like the post isn’t comprehensive enough for you. Had we discussed every dangerous snake in the world the post would have been insanely long. We concentrated on snakes in North America since the majority of our readers live there, but threw in some of the interesting ones from around the world too.

17 8rustystaples July 16, 2008 at 11:50 am


Sorry I missed the disclaimer. I had trouble getting past all the histrionics like “killing machine” and “When a sidewinder sees you walking along, you’re not only lunch, but also a canteen.”

And I wasn’t asking for a complete list of venomous snakes, just a healthier and less hyperbolic explanation of a very misunderstood animal. Just by reading the comments in the talkback above, it’s obvious snakes are the subject of many people’s phobias, and many species are endangered due to this fear.

18 Pet-Snakes July 16, 2008 at 7:11 pm

I enjoyed the spirit of the article (to educate people about these amazing creatures), but I can’t help but think you’ve managed to stir up a little more fear than was once there. Hopefully not.

19 Brett & Kate McKay July 16, 2008 at 7:20 pm

@8rustynails- The killing machine bit was mainly for comic relief. We try to be serious on this site, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

20 james jay July 17, 2008 at 11:17 am

ok just the pictures got me freaked out…i pulled my legs from under my desk…
i live in arizona and grew up on the reservation so im used to seeing rattlesnakes walking out your front door and hey there is a 5 foot rattlesnake siting there…

I even worked as a archeologist and we would go out in the early mornings on summer because of the heat and see this damn rattlers laying out on the ground trying to take in the morning cool… i hated those mohave ones they are like green and nasty looking…

damn snakes…

21 Horizontal Mamba July 21, 2008 at 5:26 am

Fun article, but why so much bold text? It was distracting.

22 Danny X July 21, 2008 at 11:24 am

We dont have snakes in IL :(

23 JetClarke July 21, 2008 at 12:22 pm

No snakes in Illinois? You have at least one poisonous one, the Mississauga Rattler, as specified on this quick Google’d website:
These live around my grandparent’s cottage. Fairly large critters.

24 Danny X July 21, 2008 at 12:50 pm

I stand corrected, Im going to the libreary tonight ill look it up.
There is alot i dont know about snake

25 Crazy Eddie July 26, 2008 at 7:20 pm

“If you were a Boy Scout, you were probably taught an old mnemonic to help you identify venomous snakes: ‘Red and black, friend of Jack. Red and yellow, kill a fellow.’ Or in other words, if a snake has adjacent red and black colors on its skin, it’s not venomous. If red and yellow are adjacent, that snake is venomous.”

And if you really learned that rule as a Boy Scout, your Scoutmaster should get a good smack upside the head. The “red-on-black” rule is only a mnemonic for separating coral snakes from mimics (e.g., the milk snake) – it is not, and was never intended to be, a rule for separating poisonous snakes from nonvenomous snakes.

26 Mark September 10, 2008 at 4:00 am

Check out the Australian Snakes for sure…

Taipan for one… And its even more poisoness (although shyer) relative the Western Taipan.

Browns and King Browns are pretty poisonous as well and then theres the Tiger Snake as well….

27 Richard November 10, 2008 at 2:50 pm

The best advice anyone can give is: Stay away. A wild snake is a dangerous thing no mater where you are. Pet snakes are breed and raised by people. But a snake in the wild is another storl. Remember if you see a snake in the wild. STAY AWAY.

28 mariam nasr November 22, 2008 at 8:59 am

I liked what was wriiten about snakes but I would like to know how to save them and how to save animals rights

29 Nick November 27, 2008 at 5:22 pm

I just wanted to mention one thing you got somewhat wrong in this article. It’s not something that most people seem to be aware of but many rattlesnakes have stopped rattling. It’s evolution at work.

The ones that rattled were able to be located and killed by people, those few that didn’t managed to stay hidden and alive. So the quiet ones passed on their genes while the rattling rattlers didn’t so much. Because of natural selection it is becoming increasingly common for rattlesnakes to not make any noise.

I’m not trying to make people more afraid of snakes or anything. I just want to make sure people know that you can’t trust a rattler to warn you before you step on it every time. In other words, KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. Stay alert in areas that have poisonous snakes and you will be alright.

30 ben December 25, 2008 at 11:21 pm

hi……I was really amazed after reading the above info about snakes….. it was a bit shoking to hear but also intresting to hear……… i also enjoyed those snake stills………….

31 Robert Brockway January 1, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Do not try to identify a snake species by colouring. I have been told by doctors in Australia that (as a result of reducing populations) snakes have been interbreeding resulting in hybrids that may visually identify as one species but have the venom of another. In Australa (and I presume elsewhere) if you are bitten by a snake first aid is to treat a snake bite as dangerous until proven otherwise.

32 siri January 7, 2009 at 3:21 am

snakes are just so beautiful. i luv them. though they are dangerous ,they strike only when they are threatened. so guys tread carefully. never get your step on a snake. becoz thats probably the last thing youdo. but please dont hate snakes .they are awfully good. HELP CONSERVE SNAKES…

33 Sachin January 11, 2009 at 8:23 am

The content is good…..I am a snake lover.thanks for the content and the photographs.

34 suellen January 18, 2009 at 11:28 am

amo cobras

35 DIANE January 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm








36 SAGAR January 27, 2009 at 10:10 pm


37 lindon February 12, 2009 at 7:31 am

thanks Diane am also javing a better understanding about the colours of the coral snake
i was bitten by a carol snake before but i think am very bleddsd by the lord to have witnessed this drama

38 aquilino erfe March 19, 2009 at 9:57 pm

woow im scared thank you for the information that you gave to us may you continue on what you doing THANK YOU VERY MUCH

39 Andresse.. May 11, 2009 at 7:40 am

I lost my egytian cobra at home..

40 MIKE May 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm


41 Lon Parish June 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

When I look up King Snake & Coral snake you show the exact same picture. One is poisonous the other is not. Hope some fool don’t get bite taking your pictures as fact

42 cassidy June 28, 2009 at 10:16 am

snakes r cool but not when there lookin @ u

43 anankae September 5, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Given that you’re offering a “guide” to snakes, you probably should be aware that snakes are not poisonous, they’re venomous. There’s a pretty significant difference.

44 Lois Bauer September 19, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I descendted my staircase and found a very small snake that had red and yellow rings around its body. It didn’t move, so I touched it with my shoe. It then moved and stuck its tongue out at me. I gathered it in a plastic bag, and showed it to the rest of the family. No one knew what it could be. We took a number of pictures of it, and then released it at the bottom of our deep front yard, nearly one hundred yards long. I would sure like to know what kind of snake it was. I assume my cat brought it in. I also think it might have been a very young one, but then where is the nest? If anyone knows anything about such a snake I would like to hear about it.

45 viper-5 November 10, 2009 at 5:28 am

hmmm… interesting.makes me want that albino carpet python for a pet even more.i just love snakes.there cool and mean :)

46 nkole robinson April 14, 2010 at 11:29 am

i usedto be scared of snakes but now i like looking at all the differnet pics of them CREEPY!!!!!!! those snakes can eat the h**l out of something

47 A.P. April 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

pete- death adder? i googled it. i don’t know what’s so scary about it. please explain.

48 A.P. April 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

Lois Bauer- red and yellow, kill a fellow!

49 abhimanyu kashinath pawar June 5, 2010 at 6:05 am

hi i like snake photo and information thanks please send me more images of snakes

50 jademason June 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm

them snackes are real nasty and ugly yu no

51 Bose Thomas July 29, 2010 at 2:53 am

thank u for ur information…….i like snakes………..

52 Bienthoughts August 12, 2010 at 2:17 pm

This is amazing! I don’t wanna see a Black Mamba! It got me scared. :]

53 marissa September 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

hello the green snake we have it was funny.

54 Tanveer April 17, 2013 at 11:08 pm

King cobra is very dengerous snake in the world, i have an small experiece when i have gon to Medikeri, one bite can kills 6 people in 10 mins.

55 Sophie December 7, 2013 at 5:15 am

Yeah red and black snakes are all good. UNLESS YOU’RE IN AUSTRALIA WHERE EVERYTHING CAN KILL YOU!

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