Few Oklahoma snakes are venomous

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

STILLWATER — The vast majority of the more than 40 species of snake found in Oklahoma are nonvenomous, but that does not mean they do not strike fear in many people.

However, snakes would rather avoid people and are incredibly important animals.

“Snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous, cause great anxiety in many people and are considered cold-blooded killers,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “They are cold-blooded of course, but unless you are a rodent, frog, insect or earthworm, you have little to fear.”

Fortunately, most of the snakes capable of inflicting injury are very docile.

“Many bites occur as a result of someone harassing the snake or putting their hands under objects without looking first,” he said. “Rattlesnakes come to mind when most people think of venomous snakes.”

Note the term venomous, rather than poisonous. Venomous animals are those that inject a toxin directly into their prey as opposed to a poisonous animal, which contains a toxin within portions of their body that cause harm if ingested or touched.

“Several species of rattlesnake do occur in Oklahoma, including the timber, western diamond-backed, prairie, western massasauga and western pygmy,” Elmore said. “The prairie rattlesnake can, on occasion, show some temper, but the remainder are typically mild innature.”

The copperhead is a common venomous snake in the eastern half of Oklahoma. They can be unbelievably docile, but do occasionally bite noisy dogs and errant hands.

It is commonly believed every water snake is a venomous “water-moccasin;” however, this is not accurate.

“While there are several species of water snakes in Oklahoma, only one species, the western cottonmouth, is venomous. This species is confined to eastern and southeastern Oklahoma and is easily identified by the signature white lining of the mouth,” Elmore said. “Although cottonmouth often act aggressive, their bark is worse than their bite.”

All snakes provide important ecological services, including those that are venomous. Elmore suggests using some caution when spending time outdoors, and simply walking away from snakes you may encounter.