Pit vipers are a group of viper snakes that include the copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnake. These are the most common venomous snakes in the U.S.
Pit vipers have a unique, heat-sensitive pit organ between each eye and nostril. This receptor allows them to more accurately aim strikes at warm-blooded prey. Their pupils are vertically elliptical and they have a single row of scales on the underside of their tail.
Copperheads are the most common pit viper in the United States and are notoriously aggressive. Fortunately, their venom is mild and rarely fatal to humans.
Be Wary Of Look-Alikes!
Like many creatures in the animal kingdom, pit vipers have several non-venomous look-alikes. It’s not uncommon to come across snakes that have similar coloring and patterns to their venomous counterparts.
Cottonmouths – range in color from black to green. They have a small white stripe along the side of their heads. They are most often found in or around water, but are equally at home on dry land. Young Cottonmouths have a bright yellow tail. They are usually found on their own, so if you see several snakes that appear to be getting along quite peacefully, they are probably not a cottonmouths
Copperheads – have a similar body shape to cottonmouths but are much brighter, ranging from coppery brown to bright orange, silver-pink and peach. Young Copperheads have yellow tails as well. Look for a distinctive ‘copper’ colored head against a mostly brown of green body – hence the name
Rattlesnakes – Look for the signature ‘rattle’ on the end of the tail. Some clever but harmless snakes imitate this distinctive rattle sound by brushing their tails through dry leaves, but only true rattle snakes have the bulbous-like rattle at the end of their tails. If you can’t see the rattle, they also have a heavy triangular head