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Don’t kill them all! Some snakes are good!

Capt. William E. Simpson author badge for

ost survivalists and Preppers spend a good deal of time outdoors as do many other Americans. Many people have a healthy fear of snakes, and given the fact that there are several species of venomous snakes that are indigenous to the continental United States, such a fear is not unwarranted. However, given that the vast majority of snakes (about 127 species) in the continental U.S. is harmless, and moreover, is highly beneficial to mankind, it’s a real mistake to indiscriminately kill all snakes. People who ignorantly kill any snake they see are doing all of us a major disservice.

I should note however that, in a survival situation, all snakes are edible. In the case of venomous snakes and lizards (the Gila Monster and Beaded Lizard are venomous), the poison is restricted to glands located in the head of the animal, so if you cut-off and dispose of the animal’s head, the rest of the reptile can be skinned, and then cooked. Deep-frying is the best method (I think) for cooking snakes and lizards, and fresh diamondback rattlesnake is actually very tasty cooked in that manner.

Gopher Snake
The author with gopher snake. Photo by Laura Simpson

Few people realize that without the beneficial species of snakes, mankind would be quickly overrun with a host of highly undesirable insects and small rodents such as rats, moles, voles, gophers, mice, weasels, and other varmints and critters that can make our lives miserable. And maybe even more importantly for those people who dislike snakes as a psychological function of the inclusion of venomous snakes, there are a few species of harmless snakes that actually kill and eat the venomous species so that they don’t proliferate to the point of overrunning our homesteads, making life far more risky for our families and pets.

So let’s take a look at a couple of the really ‘Good Guys’ (the snakes that eat venomous snakes), so that hopefully, we won’t accidentally (or intentionally) kill any of these very beneficial snakes:

The King Snake
The king snake lives in most areas of the continental U.S. and is usually found living in the same areas where there are other poisonous snakes, which it preys upon, along with rodents and other reptiles. King snakes are extremely docile and are a favorite pet for those collectors who enjoy reptiles. The king snake is immune to the venom of the dangerous snakes that it eats, so if it is bitten during a struggle with another snake, it will not be harmed by the venom. It is a constrictor, so it will wrap itself around another snake and literally squeeze until the other snake can no longer breathe, and dies. Then it will devour the other snake head-first (never disturb a snake when it is feeding, it can kill the snake).

Common King Snake
Common King Snake

Some species of king snakes mimic the color banding of the deadly coral snake as a means of defense against its predators. Like most snakes, the king snake will try to stay out of your way. If you take up a rudimentary study of snakes, there is a common saying among handlers, which is a handy tool for separating a deadly coral snake from other snakes who are mimics. Differentiating a king snake from a coral snake is really not that difficult: Coral snakes have red, yellow and black (or various nuances of those colors), and in all cases in North America, the yellow and red bands touch each other. In non-poisonous king snakes, milkshakes and scarlet snakes, the red and yellow color bands are separated by a black band, so they do not touch each other… hence the saying; “Red to yellow, kill a fellow, Red to black, OK Jack”… More information on this go here.

Also, here is a short yet informative video.

Here is a picture of a beautiful mountain king-snake (below), one several subspecies of king snakes. Even though this particular king snake is brightly colored, some other sub-species of king snakes are not as vibrant. Some have black and white bands, while others may be darkly colored and speckled. This snake is absolutely harmless, and is very beneficial to man, since it will kill and eat many rattlesnakes each year. King snakes are very docile when handled with care. Do not handle any snake unless you have been instructed in the proper manner in which to pick-up and hold a snake. Improper handling can injure these animals.

Mountain King Snake
Mountain King snake

Here (below) is a picture of a deadly coral snake:

Deadly Coral snake
Coral snake

Notice how the light yellow and red color bands are touching…”red to yellow, kill a fellow.” This snake is dangerous and should never be handled. It will try to avoid people anyway it can… so if you happen upon one, it will usually be heading away from you.

In addition to killing and eating rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths, king snakes will also kill and eat coral snakes.

Here’s great video showing how a king snake kills and eats a rattlesnake:

Another short video showing a common king snake (it has black and white color bands) that killed a venomous copperhead snake.

Here’s some more information on the king-snake:

The Indigo Snake
Indigo snakes are common to the lower eastern United States. As the name indicates, they have a deep indigo color (black with a blue sheen is common). They can grow to be fairly large and snakes over 6 feet long are not uncommon. Indigo snakes eat rodents and will also kill and eat rattlesnakes whenever they find them. Like the king snake, the Indigo snake is immune to the venom. They are not constrictors, so they depend upon their size to overpower their prey. In some cases, they will beat prey, such as rattlesnakes, to death against nearby objects. Many times they can be seen sunning themselves on a wooden porch or deck after a meal. They will happily live around humans and are very beneficial to have living under your house, since they will patrol for mice, rats and any other venomous snakes, and kill and eat them, making your home much safer for you, your family and pets. They are also very docile and can be handled if care is used. Normally, they will flee if they are confronted by a human, unless they have just eaten, in which case they will be lethargic and calm.

Here (below) is a picture of an indigo snake:

Indigo snake
Indigo snake

Here is an indigo snake devouring a rattlesnake it just killed

Indigo snake devouring a rattlesnake
Indigo snake

Find more information on the indigo snake here:

Here are 4 species of venomous snakes that live in the continental U.S.: Two of them are pit-vipers (rattlesnake, cottonmouth/moccasin).

Pit Viper identification
Pit viper identification

Rattlesnakes can be found in most states in the continental U.S. They can vary in size and color depending upon there they live in the U.S. but generally speaking they share some of the same characteristics: They are pit vipers and have heat-sensing pits in the front of their heads; they have front fangs and they have very toxic venom; and they have the characteristic rattles on their tails. Rattlesnakes are nasty tempered animals, and when approached usually display a defensive posture (head drawn back ready to strike and tail rattling). They will typically respond with a warning when they sense a person or a large animal nearby. These snakes have a sticking distance equal to about one-third the length of their body length. So if you happen upon a rattlesnake, and maintain a distance of four-feet or more, you will not be in danger. The best practice is to move away from the snake and leave the area. If you must kill a rattlesnake, and you do not have a shotgun or a pistol with BB shot, the best method is to throw a large rock onto the snake’s head. Using a stick to beat it, might bring parts of your body into striking range, and so beware.

Here (below) is an example of a rattlesnake:



More information on rattlesnakes can be found here

Copperhead Snake
Copperheads bite more people every year in the U.S. than any other venomous snake. It is fortunate therefore that their venom is the least toxic of the venomous snakes, although still potentially deadly, and can certainly cause scarring and loss of use of a limb. Some researchers have concluded that copperheads will give little warning before they bite, as compared to others, like the rattlesnake and cottonmouth that will usually hiss and rattle their tails as an initial warning. In all venomous snakes, the venom is an important commodity in that it is required for killing prey. So in many cases, snakes will conserve venom when making a defensive bite, which serves to lessen the severity of bites, which are nonetheless still potentially deadly, especially when a child or pet is involved. Copperheads are found in many eastern states including, but not limited to; Illinois, Massachusetts, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Nebraska.

Here (below) is an example of a copperhead snake:

copperhead snake
Copperhead snake

More information on the copperhead snake can be found here

Cottonmouth (moccasin) snake
The cottonmouth snake (aka: water moccasin) is a semi-aquatic, venomous snake. They have keeled scales, which provide them with excellent swimming ability that is superior to other non-aquatic species. As such, the cottonmouth is usually found in and around wetlands, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes, where it usually preys upon small fish and frogs using specialized hook shaped teeth to retain its prey. They are a viper and have front fangs that are used to envenomate prey with fast-acting venom that is also potentially fatal to humans. The cottonmouth can be found in most southeastern states and on some of the islands off the east and gulf coasts of the United States.

Here (below) is an example of a cottonmouth (water moccasin):

Cottonmouth snake
«Cottonmouth snake

You can find more information about cottonmouth snakes here

Coral Snake
In the United States, the coral snake ranges from the southern-most part of California and across the southern-most states to Florida and in most southeastern states and up the east coast to North Carolina. The coral snake only accounts for about 1% of venomous snake bites. This is because of this snake’s highly reclusive nature and the fact that it is not prone to biting. Interestingly, the coral snake is related to the cobra and the yellow belly sea snake, which also have very toxic venom. On a personal note: When I was a boy, my family lived in Arizona. One morning, I found a small coral snake, and not knowing its potential danger coupled with its beautiful coloration, I proceed to handle the snake as I examined it. A while later I showed the snake I had caught to my mother who simply told me; “drop the snake”… which I did. Clearly, if this snake had been bad-tempered, I would have been bitten. The venom of coral snakes is one of the most toxic and it is delivered via small grooved fangs, which are located in the front or rear of the snake’s mouth, depending on the species of coral snake. If you ever encounter one of these snakes, given its habits, it is probably best to simply leave it alone.

Here (below) is an example of a coral snake (notice that the yellow bands touch the red bands:

coral snake
Coral snake

You can learn more about coral snakes here.

Cheers! Capt. Bill

[Editor’s Note: This article appeared first at]

William E. Simpson spent his formative years growing up on a working ranch in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. William (aka: 'Capt. Bill') is a retired U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Bill has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. In early 2013, he appeared on National Geographic’s hit TV show Doomsday Preppers (Season-2 ‘A Fortress At Sea’) and received the highest score in two seasons for disaster preparedness and survival, earning the title of ‘Best Prepper’.

Capt. Bill is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot and a PADI DiveMaster. Simpson is an accomplished writer covering all aspects of disaster preparedness, including a recent book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press). His articles have been featured via numerous magazines and websites and he has been a featured guest on various disaster preparedness radio talk shows. More info at

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