The Many Venomous Snakes of the Midwest
Welcome to the Wild, Wild, West!
Welcome to the Midwest! On your journey through this historic area of the country, you may encounter many different situations, wildlife, cultures, landmarks, and of course the occasional venomous snake.
There are currently 7 venomous snakes that make their homes in the Midwest. All of these snakes are in the "pit-viper" family. I currently reside in Missouri, the mid-western state with the most venomous snakes, which currently harbors 6 out of 7 deadly snakes found in America's Midwest. This has inspired me the most to write this Hub, as it not only proves to educate others about the subject, but also helps me personally become familiar with the reptiles in "The Show Me State".
You can expect quite a bit of information from this hub, including a video on how venom works, which venomous snakes you can find in America's Midwest, a general description and picture of each type of snake, which states you can find those snakes in, as well as what to do (and not to do) if bitten by a snake.
How Does Venom Work?
Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
North America's only venomous water snake, the Water Moccasin, is a member of the "pit viper" family of snakes, hunting its prey using heat-sensing facial pits. These "pits" enable the Water Moccasin to detect even the smallest change in temperature, allowing for a precision strike and easy meal.
This snake is nicknamed the "Cottonmouth", due to the white, cottony, appearance of the snakes inner mouth, which it exposes to predators and other threats as a warning sign, before striking and injecting its very potent hemotoxin venom. This venom acts as an anticoagulant, preventing the victims' blood from being able to clot and causing internal bleeding, which can result in death, if not treated with the (crotalidae) polyvalent antivenin. This venom from the Cottonmouth snake can also cause sever and permanent tissue damage, nerve damage, and may also result in the need for limb amputation.
The Water Moccasin makes its home in these Midwestern States
Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
The Copperhead is one of the most widely distributed venomous snakes that make its home in the United States. It prefers a terrestrial, rocky, and semi-aquatic habitat. They are often found in forested regions, as well as under wood piles, rocky areas (which offer a cool sanctuary from the summer heat), and even in the wetlands.
Classified as a "pit-viper", the Copperhead snake is born with full functioning fangs, capable of injecting venom into its prey. The venom from this viper is not as potent as other vipers, such as the Water Moccasin, but is still capable of causing death and victims of a Copperhead bite should still seek emergency medical treatment. Most people are bitten when they step on the cleverly camouflaged Copperhead, or when they are reaching into their home. These snakes will not hesitate to strike and then quickly dash away to safety.
The Copperhead makes its home in these Midwestern States
Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
The Prairie Rattlesnake is the most common rattlesnake in the Midwest and loves to make its home in rocky canyons and the open prairie in abandoned burrows of small mammals. Once, these snakes were rumored to live in harmony with the creatures that made those burrows, but they would rather eat those creatures than be friends with them.
Each time the Prairie Rattler sheds its skin, they grow one more segment to the "rattle" at the end of their tails. This is used to warn predators (and other threats like humans) that they are a creature that is not to be messed with. Like most pit vipers, the venom from a Prairie Rattlesnake works to destroy the integrity of the blood cell, making it easy to swallow and digest its prey.
The Prairie Rattlesnake makes its home in these Midwestern States
- North & South Dakota
Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
Timber Rattlesnakes make their home in hilly, forested mountaintops and their venom packs a deadly punch. It is capable of killing a human but rarely are there any reported snake bites. They are a very shy snake and would prefer to give warning, than to strike.
Ranging between 3-5 feet in length, the Timber Rattler, often has a brown stripe going down its back, a broad triangular head, and dark colored bands on its brownish/yellowish body. This serves as excellent camouflage for the leaf litter and forest floors where it hunts its prey.
The Timber Rattlesnake makes its home in these Midwestern States
Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)
Prairies, floodplain forests, meadows, swamps, woodlands, marshes, and desert grasslands are among the places in the Midwest that the deadly Massasauga Rattlesnake makes its home.
Just like the other venomous snakes in the Midwest, the pit viper uses its heat sensing facial pits to detect changes in heat signatures, allowing it to distinguish between dinner, or danger! It also uses its tongue to "taste" the air, and detect the smell of the meal through the Jacobson's organ, the same as other snakes.
Massasauga, are a beautiful rattlesnake with a grayish coloring and dark splotches that are circular in shape. These splotches tend to become more triangular as they meet the end of the tail, near the rattle.
The Massasauga Rattlesnake makes its home in these Midwestern States
Western Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri)
The Western Pygmy Rattlesnake is the smallest, but still deadly, rattlesnake. Often referred to as the Ground Rattler, the slate gray colored scales, laced with black splotches and orange spine stripes, help the snake blend into the rocky areas and spruce forests that it loves to make its home.
The Pygmy Rattlesnake loves to eat small rodents, lizards, and frogs, which it lures in by slightly twitching its small rattle, mimicking an injured worm/insect. If encountered by a human, this snake is known to strike multiple times before it retreats and often puffs its body up to make itself look more intimidating.
The venom of the Pygmy Rattler is less potent than the venom of other rattlesnakes, such as the Diamondback Rattlesnake. The severity of damage is known to cause mostly localized pain and swelling, but rarely tissue necrosis. This does not however, warrant avoiding an emergency trip to the hospital, as some people can be allergic to snake venom, similar to severe food and bee-sting allergies.
- Missouri is the only Midwestern State Western Pygmy Rattlesnakes make its home
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
Probably the most famous of the species of rattlesnakes is the Diamondback Rattlesnake. The name of this snake says it all, boasting the diamond shape patterns on its thick body, and black & white stripes tail; the Diamondback can grow up to 7 feet in length and packs a deadly venom that can be devastating to prey, as well as humans.
The venom works similar to other pit vipers by destroying the integrity of the blood cells and can result in severe pain, swelling, blistering and the death of bodily tissues/organs (Necrosis).
The Diamondback is known as a "generalist" snake, and will make its home in just about any place it seems fit. This snake is not threatened or on the endangered species list. It loves to feed on small rodents, birds, lizards and even larger mammals, such as gophers.
- Kansas is the only Midwestern State that the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake makes its home
I've been Bitten! What should I do?
Nearly 8,000 people are bitten by poisonous snakes every year. Less than ten people a year die as a result of a venomous snake bite. Taking the proper preventative precautions, you can reduce the likelihood of becoming a snake bite victim and in the event that you are indeed bitten by a poisonous snake, knowing what to do (and NOT to do) can save a life!
If you are positive you were bitten by a Venomous Snake:
- Seek medical attention immediately. Dial 911 or call your local Emergency Medical Services.
- Identify the snake by photograph (if it is safe to do so), or remember the size, shape, and color of the snake. This will help the medical professionals identify which treatment you will need.
- Keep still and calm. Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart. This can slow down the spread of venom.
- Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away. (Wash the bite with soap and water, then cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing).
Do NOT do any of the following:
- Do not attempt to pick up the snake or try to trap it. This will most likely result in an additional injury.
- Do not wait for symptoms to appear if you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not apply a tourniquet. This can result in additional swelling and damage to the circulatory system.
- Do not slash the wound with a knife.
- Do not suck out the venom. This is proven not to work and if you do suck any venom out, you will now have it in your mouth. This also increases the risk of infection greatly.
- Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
- Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller. Alcohol affects blood pressure and also thins the blood, accelerating the spread of venom and making it easier for it to break down the blood cells in your body.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages.
Be Prepared for Unexpected Surprises on Your Adventure!
If you plan on taking an adventure into the wilderness, it is strongly advised that you bring along a First Aid Kit in case of emergency situations. I purchased this particular first aid kit to keep in my vehicle for my adventures in Geocaching, which often lead me into venomous snake country. It has clearly labeled pouches for each item as well as a zippered pouch for other items like medications. I have never needed it for a snake bite situation, but have used for minor injuries and tick bite care as well.