Black Snakes: Are they Poisonous Or Dangerous?

Most people typically think of earth tones, camouflage patterns, and similar colors when they imagine snakes, but many snakes can have striking or even beautiful coloration.

black rat snake
black rat snake

One of the most striking colors that adorn the scales of snakes, and arguably the most sinister, is black.

From the matte black of the cottonmouth or certain rattlesnake species to the glossy, iridescent black scales of the indigo snake, many species can be said to be black in color.

But what we need to know is this: are black snakes venomous, and are they dangerous?

Several black snake species are highly venomous, but most are not. Venomous North American snake species include the cottonmouth or water moccasin and some regional species of rattlesnake. Many other black snakes, such as the rat snake, kingsnake, and indigo snake are not venomous and not considered to be dangerous.

There is no way to rely on the color black alone as a way to determine if a snake is venomous and dangerous or not.

There’s simply too much variation across all the many species of snake in North America and elsewhere across the world.

You’ll need more info, like the size and build of the snake, the shape of its head, and other distinguishing traits.

But think twice before you get too close for a better look, or it might be the last mistake you make! Keep reading and I will tell you more about black snakes…

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What Does a Black Snake Look Like?

Since we are talking about black snakes, the only thing you might say they all have in common is their overall black coloration. But even then, there can be a tremendous amount of variety:

  • Are they mostly black or all black?
  • Is the belly a different color?
  • Do they have subtle or obvious patterns that offset the primary black color?

Black itself can range anywhere from a charcoal gray to a glossy midnight blue or iridescent deep black.

And that’s just color and pattern. There are tremendous physical differences between various black snake species.

Some are short, others are long. Some are slender and agile while others are muscular and stocky. Again, it all depends upon the species of snake, and once again, there are many!

Further complicating matters is that some black snakes exhibit mutations or “morphs” in their coloration which may completely change the color and pattern of their scales to something else.

So can you really rely on color alone to tell if a snake is dangerous or not? I say no. More information and a greater knowledge base are needed for positive identification.

But know this for sure: there are quite a few black snake species, either typically or possibly black, that can be venomous! If you aren’t sure, 100% sure, do not approach any black snake.

Where are Black Snakes Found?

Once again, there are simply too many species out there to say where you might run into a black snake.

The short answer (and truth) is that you can run into black snakes absolutely everywhere!

Black snake species can be found all over the entire globe, on every continent, and in damn near every country except the South Pole. Wherever you go, there will be black snakes there…

Are Black Snakes Venomous?

Not all black snakes are venomous, but some are. Statistically, most black ones are not venomous, but these stats are not ones that you should gamble your life on with a close encounter.

Because on the other hand, many black snakes that happened to be venomous are also statistically extremely venomous, with death, loss of a limb, or lifelong complications likely if they bite you and inject.

Black rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and the infamous fer-de-lance South America are just a few examples of extremely dangerous venomous black snake species.

Can Black Snakes Kill Pets or Livestock?

Yes, they can. The vast majority of venomous black snakes won’t seek out contact with livestock or pets, but of course, close encounters that result in a bite and envenomation can easily lead to the death of an animal so unfortunate.

But, even among the non-venomous black snake species, they might prove to be a threat to small pets and farm animals.

Chicks and ducklings are highly vulnerable to many species of non-venomous constrictors, as are chicken and duck eggs.

Among the largest of the non-venomous black snakes, many small animals like puppies or kittens, small species of sheep or goats, and other livestock could fall victim to them.

And not for nothing, the sudden appearance of any snake might cause larger animals like cows or horses to lash out, trip, or stampede in an attempt to get away from them, resulting in inadvertent injuries or other dangerous conditions.

Will Black Snakes Attack Humans?

Generally no, but definitely don’t count on this.

The temperament of any wild animal, including all snakes, is unpredictable but, as a rule, most snakes tend to try and get away from humans and other large animals that come near. They don’t want to be stepped on!

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But this gets even more difficult to assess with certainty when you consider that some snakes, including black snake species, will freeze in place or lay perfectly still in an attempt to avoid notice.

This might allow you to inadvertently come too close to the point where the snake feels like a bite is its best defensive option.

Furthermore, some snake species are highly territorial, bordering on flagrantly aggressive, and will readily posture and even strike in an attempt to drive off would-be predators.

Assume that any black snake can and will bite you. Period. Again there is simply too much variation and far too many variables to say whether or not a given black snake will or will not bite you.

Will a Black Snake Bite Hurt You?

I will make a blanket statement that’s going to upset some herpetologists, but I’ll make it anyway: yes, assume the bite of any black snake will hurt and might be lethal.

The bite of any venomous black snake that does inject venom is going to result in prolonged agony, and probably far worse injury.

If you cannot positively identify the snake and don’t have any skill or experience in capturing or handling snakes, just assume the snake will bite and stay away from it.

Any snake, even snakes that are known to be cowardly or borderline docile, can and will bite if they are cornered, stressed or mishandled, so never take that for granted even in cases of positively identifying a quote-unquote harmless snake.

Is it Best to Kill Black Snakes Just to Be Safe?

As upsetting and stressful as all of this might be to hear, you generally don’t want to make it a rule to kill any snake out of hand unless you know it is a clear and present danger to yourself, your family, or your animals.

Snakes, all snakes, and that even includes venomous black snake species, have a positive role to play in the environment and you should not kill them out of hand without a good reason.

That being said, you also shouldn’t risk a potentially life-altering bite from a snake, and a misguided attempt to preserve its life over your life and limb or the lives of your animals.

But that is why it is so important to learn what you can about snakes and all other creatures in our environment so that you can make an informed call based on what you know.

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