Snakes conjure up unfriendly mental images. Many people think they're evil creatures that were put on Earth to kill humans. That couldn't be further from the truth! Most snakes are harmless and even helpful. Snakes help control rat and mouse populations and provide a food source for birds of prey and other animals that humans consider desirable.
If that's not comforting, check the statistics. Snake bites only kill about 7 people in the United States every year. You have a better chance of getting killed by falling off your bed (about 600 people are killed every year from falling off of furniture). Snakes do not see humans as food and they will not strike unless they feel threatened. Put down the pitchforks and shovels, and let the garter snake in your backyard be. He doesn't want to see you any more than you want to see him.
Arkansas only has 6 venomous snakes. Five of these have hemotoxic venom. This venom acts by rupturing blood cells and causing swelling and tissue destruction locally. Hemotoxic venom can lead to septicemia (blood poisoning) and organ failure. One, the coral snake, has neurotoxic venom. This venom acts on nerve cells and can cause organ system failure with little to no local irritation.
Without further adieu, here are Arkansas' venomous snakes from least to most dangerous.
Copperheads come in a variety of colors, most commonly light brown to rust. All variations have a distinct hourglass pattern of dark cross-bands that flare out at the belly and narrow at the back. Adults are typically two feet in length. They have vertical eye pupils and boxy heads. Their venom is hemotoxic, but it's not very potent and rarely causes fatalities. That being said, the majority of venomous snake bites in the US come from copperheads.
This small member of the rattlesnake family is often mistaken for a baby rattlesnake. They are actually full grown at one to two feet. They do have a rattle, but it's too small to be seen or heard from a distance. They are generally slate-gray in color with a reddish stripe down the backbone and black crossbands. The venom potency and the size of snake make it hard for them to deliver enough venom to kill a human. They also have vertical eye pupils and boxy heads.
The Cottonmouth is a large bodied snake whose head is wider than its body. They come in shades from black, to brown, to dark olive and everything in between. Younger snakes have an hourglass pattern. As they get older, the pattern fades and they appear solid-colored. They are known locally as an aggressive snake. Their aggressive reputation may not be well earned. Cottonmouths will often stand their ground when encountered by coiling and opening their mouths to show the "cotton" inside. This is a warning to get away.
A truly aggressive snake would not give such a warning before striking. On the other hand, if you're close enough to see their cotton mouth, back away because this behavior is a pre-strike warning. They also have vertical eye pupils and boxy heads.
The Coral Snake is probably the most easily identifiable venomous snake in AR. This is the pretty snake with the red, yellow and black bands. There is a harmless species of king snake which mimics this coloration (you might remember the poem "red on yellow kills a fellow"). It is recommended that you leave all snakes with similar coloration alone because these poems are easy to confuse and not always foolproof. Coral snake venom is highly neurotoxic, but the snakes are generally small and not prone to bite.
They are rarely seen. They do not have the characteristic look of the boxy head with eye slits, like other venomous snakes in Arkansas.
The Timber Rattlesnake is becoming rarer because people normally kill rattlesnakes on sight. Adults can reach up to 5 feet, but smaller snakes are more common. Timber rattlesnakes are a large-bodied snake with dark crossbands and a rust-colored stripe down the backbone. They are usually brown in coloration and they have a large rattle. Venom is highly toxic. They have vertical eye pupils and boxy heads.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Western Diamondback is the largest venomous snake in Arkansas. They are aggressive and have very potent venom. That's why they're ranked here as the most dangerous snake in Arkansas. The snake is easy to identify. First, look for a rattle. When threatened this snake will coil and make the typical rattlesnake sound. Second, look for the distinctive diamond pattern. The backbone of the snake has dark-colored diamonds surrounded by white outlines. They also have vertical eye pupils and boxy heads.