What The Different Colors Of Snake Are Trying To Tell You

Snakes are sometimes reviled for being creepy, slithering weirdos whose bodies are little more than poop tubes. But they can also be beautiful sirens of death, moving with rare grace before striking their killing blow. Often, the more beautiful the snake, the deadlier it is.

Everyone knows snakes can be deadly, but how can a person tell which snakes are poisonous? It turns out many snake colors have evolved over time as a warning sign to potential predators. These bright displays are often the first sign that a snake is not one to mess around with. Dangerous snake colors range all over the color wheel, from white to black and everything in between. If a snake's color pops, it’s best to stay away. Wondering what a snake’s color means? This guide is here to (colorfully) illuminate you.

Photo: Jon Fife / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 2.0

  • Red: The Honduran Milk Snake

    This Central American reptile can be found in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Despite their bright coloration, these snakes are actually harmless. They do not produce any sort of venom, but instead rely on their constricting abilities to kill their prey. This species of milk snake uses it's bright coloration as a defense mechanism, faking out predators who mistake it for the more deadly coral snake.

    The Honduran milk snake has a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years and spends most of its life alone. They live off of small rodents that they often catch in barns and other human habitations. Milk snakes are often sold as pets because of their small size, bright colors, and harmless nature.

  • Corn snakes are another species that uses bright colors to mimic a more dangerous snake, in this case the highly venomous copperhead. Corn snakes themselves are harmless, often kept and bred as pets. These animals can be found throughout the Eastern United States, sometimes in areas developed by humans. Corn snakes are shy, spending most of their days hiding in burrows and other nooks and crannies.

    These reptiles got their names from their habit of hiding in corn silos and hunting the rodents who came to pig out. They eat a wide variety of small animals including other snakes, lizards, birds, and small mammals.

  • Yellow: The Boa Constrictor

    Boa constrictors are kind of like the chameleons of the snake world. They can be all sorts of different colors depending on the environment they've adapted to. Some are green with dark patterns on their scales, while others can be bright yellow with traces of white.

    Boas kill using constriction, literally squeezing the life out of their prey. They are nonvenomous but have plenty of razor sharp teeth that are perfect for digging into flesh. They are closely related to anacondas, the largest living snakes in the world. Like anacondas, boas are comfortable in the water and are adept swimmers. The longest boas can grow up to 14 feet in length.

  • Green: The White-Lipped Pit Viper

    Interestingly some brightly colored snakes use their color to causes predators to assume they are poisonous when they aren't as a defense mechanism. Whereas a green snake, like the white-lipped pit viper who blends well with its treetop habitat, is trying to hide just how deadly it is. These emerald green vipers should be avoided at all costs. They are highly venomous and have killed humans in the past. 

    The white-lipped pit viper is the most common viper species in Thailand and can be found throughout Southeast Asia. They hunt in the trees, striking their prey and clutching them tight until their deadly venom works its magic. Scientists have observed three subspecies of the white-lipped pit viper.

  • Blue: The Blue Racer

    Blue isn't the most common color in the animal kingdom, but these snakes rock their unique colors as well as anyone. Surprisingly, the blue racer is a nonvenomous species. They can be found in the United States and occupy a number of different habitats. Unfortunately, these beautiful snakes are threatened by human activity. They are often killed as many people mistake their bright colors as a sign that they are venomous. They are wary of strangers and can become extremely agitated if handled.

  • White: The Rat Snake

    Rat snakes are not normally white but, like any kind of animal, they can have a genetic disorder causing a lack of pigment. In this case it's not that the snake is albino. This animal is actually leucistic, meaning they lack some pigment. Albinism is the total lack of pigment and can be identified by the organism's pink eyes. 

    Rate snakes are nonvenomous constrictors who feed on rats (obviously) as well as other small rodents. Corn snakes are actually a species of rat snake and they can come in a variety of different colors. A few species of rat snake can grow as long as ten feet, although that size is rare. When frightened, they tend to freeze most of their body while expelling a pungent musk from their tails.