When traveling to Mexico, most people think about long stretches of white sand beaches. Yet Mexico is actually extremely diverse, with mountains, wetlands, grasslands, rainforests and even volcanoes. A variety of habitats means a huge variety of species living there, and snakes are no exception! There’s 381 different species of snakes in Mexico, and we know if you’re one of the 64% of Americans who are afraid of snakes, that number might put you off visiting.
A fear of snakes is one of the top phobias in the United States, but is this phobia going to stop us from visiting our favorite neighbors to the south? It shouldn’t! Let’s take a deeper dive into the snakes of Mexico so we have a better idea of what to be on the lookout for, and where they’re likely to be seen.
Below we look at some of the most common and harmless snakes in Mexico, before moving on to snakes that are dangerous to humans, where they’re found, how to avoid them and what to do if bitten.
Snakes in Mexico Are Mostly Harmless
Of the many species of snakes in Mexico, only a handful are considered poisonous to humans. In fact, many of the snakes that are kept as pets actually come from Mexico, such as the Mexican Black Snake or Sinaloa Milk Snake.
Snakes are a crucial part of the ecosystem, playing a huge role in controlling rodent populations. Although many people are terrified of snakes, the majority of snakes are equally as terrified of humans.
Here are some of Mexico’s common, harmless snakes. Even though these are considered harmless, it’s best to leave snakes alone if you do encounter them.
Common Snakes in Mexico
1. Brown Vine Snake
Easily recognizable by their very slender build, these snakes, not surprisingly, hang out in branches and trees waiting for their prey to come to them. At night, they hang down from the trees, thus often being confused for a vine.
They’re typically a grey to brown color, with their underbelly having a yellow shade to them. Although technically mildly venomous, their bites will only cause an itching feeling.
Fun fact – as well as opening their mouth wide as a defense mechanism, these snakes will also sometimes “fart” when threatened. Brown Vine snakes are found throughout Mexico, typically in wooded areas. So you’re unlikely to come across them in beach destinations like Cancun or Cabo.
2. Mexican Black Snake
As mentioned, these Mexico boa constrictors are often kept as pets because of their docile nature. Similar to other boa constrictors, they are non-venomous.
The snakes are actually a deep brown color with a blue shimmer. In the wild, they typically grow to be 3-4 feet, however, in captivity they’ve been known to occasionally exceed 5 feet.
Mexican Black Snakes are typically found in Northwestern Sinaloa and western Sonora. They’re suited for rocky, desert areas but can also be found in grasslands. They are one of the most common boa constrictors in Mexico.
3. Western Blind Snake
Another very slender snake, these adorable littlesnakes spend most of their lives burrowed underground. They prefer damp, loose soil like that of the grasslands. Typically a pale brown, pink, or light purple color, they resemble a worm.
Also considered mildly venomous, their main diet consists of insects such as ants and termites. Their venom is not very effective on birds and mammals. You will find the Western Blind snake across the states of northern Mexico.
4. Sinaloa Milk Snake
These snakes are also commonly kept as pets and often confused with the deadly coral snake, thanks to their similar colors and markings. Mexican milk snakes are non-venomous and not dangerous to humans, but instead use their bright colors to mimic their venomous cousins to scare away potential predators. Basically it’s fake snake news.
They’re typically hiding in dark crevices throughout the day and become more active to hunt at night. They will eat pretty much anything they can catch and constrict. Sinaloan Milk Snakes are found in dry, rocky, semi-deserts areas of northern Mexico, across the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua.
Venomous Snakes in Mexico to Watch out For
Although most snakes in Mexico are not dangerous to humans, there are a few we should be aware of. An encounter with a deadly snake in Mexico is very rare, and it’s even less likely the encounter will end up with a bite. (Recommended: Scorpions in Mexico).
If you do get bitten, it’s even more uncommon that it will result in death. In fact, with antivenom technology as advanced as it is today, snakebite mortality rates are extremely low.
That being said, a crucial part of receiving antivenom is knowing what type of snake bit you. If possible, take a picture of the snake with you to the hospital, or try to remember the colors and shape of it. That way your doctor will know how to treat you.
There are eight common poisonous and dangerous snakes in Mexico, most of which are pit vipers. The main types of poisonous snakes in Mexico can be broken up into three categories – pit vipers, coral snakes, and sea snakes. Below we look at each so if you should get bitten, you’ll be able to identify the snake and get treatment as quickly as possible.
Most of the deadly and venomous snakes in Mexico are pit vipers. These snakes get their name from the pit organ located between their eyes and nostrils, which is used as a heat sensor. They use these loreal pits as infrared detection when hunting their prey.
Pit vipers also have a specialized muscle that helps shoot their venom out of their glands when striking. Although known to be potentially dangerous to humans, pit vipers will avoid human contact when possible. Most poisonous snake bites happen because a human was harassing a snake, whether on purpose or not.
Fer-de-Lance comes from the French word for “spearhead.” It is known as the most deadly reptile in the Americas, being responsible for more than half of venomous snake bites in Central America.
They have a wide, flat-shaped head ranging in color from light brown to black that juts out from its body. Down their back you’ll see several dark triangles with pale borders with a zig-zag pattern down either side of its body. Their bellies can range from olive, grey, tan, and dark brown. It is considered “the ultimate viper” due to its large size and potent venom. These snakes can grow up to nearly 6 feet long and weigh up to 13 pounds!
Fer-de-Lance Vipers are found in the lowlands of eastern Mexico. They are mostly found hanging out in forested areas near streams and rivers, either basking in the sun during the day or hiding under foliage waiting for prey. The Fer-de-Lance hunts mostly at night. When preparing to strike, it will assume an “S” shaped position. If you see one do this, get out of there! When cornered or feeling threatened, this viper may strike.
Typically, they will inject 105 mg of venom in one bite, but 50 mg is enough to kill an average human!
That being said, with today’s antivenom availability, there is a very low mortality rate. Still, you do not want to get bitten by this guy. Symptoms include swelling, blisters, numbness, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, or even gangrene if left untreated, potentially resulting in amputation.
2. Mojave Green
The Mojave Green Rattlesnake is the most venomous rattlesnake in the world. They deliver a combination of necrotic and hemotoxic venoms, attacking both your nervous system and your muscle tissue. However potentially deadly the venom may be, chances of survival are extremely high if you receive immediate medical attention.
These snakes range from shades of brown to pale green, with a darker diamond pattern down their back. They typically range from two to four feet in length with a rattle on their tale to warn intruders before striking.
The Mojave green snake prefers an arid ecosystem with little to no vegetation, like the desert, lowlands, or grasslands of Mexico. They’re most likely found through northern and central Mexico, all the way down to Puebla.
Mojave green snakebites sometimes present with delayed onset of symptoms, causing people to underestimate the severity of the bite. Make sure to head to the hospital as soon as possible even if you don’t feel symptoms coming on immediately. Symptoms of a bite from these venomous Mexico snakes can include vision abnormalities, difficulty swallowing or speaking, and potentially respiratory failure.
3. Yucatan Neotropical Rattlesnake
This medium-sized rattlesnake loves to snack on rodents and take an occasional swim. They come in gray, brown, red, green, and sometimes black. You’ll find a diamond-shaped pattern down their back with triangles down their sizes. They also have two stripes starting on their head and continuing down their bodies before merging with the pattern.
You will find the majority of these vipers located in the Yucatan Peninsula. These venomous Mexico snakes are also located in southwestern Michoacan and Veracruz. They prefer a semi-arid habitat, like a dry, tropical forest, or dry, open areas. So you’re unlikely to come across this snake in Cancun or many other beach resort regions.
They will do their best to avoid humans and larger predators using their thermal detection and warning with their rattle. When they feel threatened, they flatten their neck out to appear larger than they are. They are relatively defensive if you disturb them, so it’s best to avoid them if at all possible. Their venom doesn’t typically cause a very severe reaction at the bite itself, but life-threatening symptoms can develop afterward if medical attention isn’t obtained. Typical symptoms include swelling, blistering, nausea, vomiting, with severe symptoms like shock or multiple organ failure.
4. Banded Rock Rattlesnake
These dangerous pit vipers are known for their light and dark gray bands. They are smaller than the other rattlesnakes on our list, maxing out at around 31 inches for males and 27 inches for females.
They mostly spend their time in the dry, mountainous regions of Mexico. They like arid and semiarid climates and spend most of their time hiding amongst rocks or in low-hanging vegetation. You can find them throughout northern and central Mexico.
Compared to other rattlesnakes, the banded rock rattlesnake doesn’t use their rattle very often. These snakes also do their best to avoid humans, however they will strike when feeling threatened.
Their venom is a cocktail of hemotoxins that attack the bloodstream. Their bites can cause mild pain, swelling, blistering, nausea, and vomiting. If treatment isn’t administered, further damage can occur such as shock or multiple organ damage.
5. Queretaro Dusky Rattlesnake
The Queretaro dusky rattlesnake is named after the Mexican state they are most typically found in. These rattlesnakes reside up in the highlands of central-southern Mexico, typically at higher altitudes, so you’re less likely to encounter one. They prefer open, grassy, or rocky areas near the Transverse Volcanic Cordillera.
This venomous Mexican snake comes in a variety of colors typically in shades of green, yellow, brown, or gray with the occasional reddish tint. They are much shorter than typical rattlesnakes and are also considered heavy-bodied snakes.
Like many of the other rattlers on our list, these snakes deliver a potent hemotoxic venom that will attack the circulatory system. Similar symptoms such as swelling, hemorrhage, or tissue death can occur if not treated promptly.
6. Twin Spotted Rattlesnake
Easily identified by its two rows of dark spots running down its body, the twin-spotted rattlesnake is small and slender. You can find them in various shades of green, brown, or gray.
They’re found in the Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental mountainous regions. They are mostly found at higher elevations, typically from 6,300 to 10,000 feet. So again, you’re unlikely to come across this snake in Cancun or many other beach resort regions.
These vipers actively hunt during the day, and will use their rattle as a warning sign to predators but rarely bite.
With similar hemotoxins as their fellow rattlesnakes, if you do get bit by this venomous snake in Mexico you should seek immediate medical attention. Typically speaking, you will only experience mild symptoms such as swelling, blistering, nausea, and vomiting. However, without antivenom, there is always the possibility that symptoms could worsen.
Coral snakes in Mexico are gorgeous but deadly. Although they carry the second strongest venom of any snake in the world, the rattlesnakes above are deemed more dangerous to humans. That’s because coral snakes in Mexico aren’t quite as skilled in the venom delivery process.
Not only are their fangs non-retractable, making them relatively weak, but they don’t carry a lot of venom. Coral snakes have a hard time puncturing human skin, and an even harder time delivering a fatal dose of venom. There have been no reported deaths from Western coral snakes, but the bite can still pack a painful punch.
These snakes can be very slender and lack a defined neck. Their heads look very similar to their tails, which they use as a defensive mechanism. These snakes are known for their brightly colored patterns of red, yellow, and black stripes. Many harmless snakes have mimicked a similar pattern as Mexico coral snakes to avoid predators, making it hard for people to tell which ones are venomous and which ones are harmless. Do you know the old poem to remember which ones which?
“If red touches black, you’re okay Jack. If red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow.”
This little poem may help you identify a coral snake in Mexico, but it’s still best to leave them all alone. When in doubt, you’re better off safe than sorry.
If you’ve noticed the trend, these snakes will also avoid contact with humans or predators. Most coral snake bites are a result of people trying to pick the snakes up. They spend most of the daytime hiding in secret spots like under rocks or leaves.
Yellow-bellied Sea Snakes
Our last venomous Mexican snake is the yellow-bellied sea snake. This long, narrow-headed snake is typically a dark brown or black color with bright yellow bellies, hence their name. They enjoy warm waters close to the shore and are found on the Pacific side of Mexico – so be careful if staying in resorts on the Pacific side.
You can find them near the water’s surface, sometimes collecting in schools by the thousands. Definitely not a sight you want to see while swimming in the ocean!
That being said, it is extremely rare that these docile snakes attack while out at sea. Most bites occur when an injured snake washes up on shore or a fisherman accidentally catches one in their net. While bites are rare, their venom contains very strong neurotoxins which will attack the brain and nervous system if you don’t receive the antivenom.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten by Snakes in Mexico
Okay, so all of those venomous snakes sound terrifying! But realistically, this shouldn’t freak you out that you cancel your trip to Mexico. Most people won’t encounter any snakes during their trip, and dying from a venomous snake bite is extremely rare thanks to modern medical technology.
However there are a few things you can do to lower your chances even further of being bit by a snake while in Mexico.
- Make sure to wear shoes anytime you leave the house and consider heavy-duty boots if you’re doing any hiking, especially in the forest or mountains.
- Make plenty of noise when walking or hiking, giving snakes a chance to avoid you before you even know they’re there.
- If you do see a snake, give it plenty of space. Don’t try to kill it or move it.
- Be careful where you step. Snakes likely won’t attack unless they’re provoked, which, more often than not, happens when someone accidentally steps on them.
- Don’t pick up any dead snakes. You can still be envenomated by a dead snake.
What to Do if You Get Bit by a Snake in Mexico
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, seek medical attention! Even if you don’t think the snake that bit you was venomous, the best thing you can do is snap a picture of the snake and head to the hospital.
That picture will help medical personnel identify the snake and determine what antivenom, if any, is needed. Even if you don’t feel any immediate symptoms, it’s best to go to the doctor anyway. Some snake bites don’t have immediate symptoms and things could escalate quickly.
If you cannot get to the hospital right away, wash the wound with soap and water as soon as possible. Remain calm and still to slow the spread of the venom. Cover the bite with a clean bandage and keep the wound below your heart.
Don’t Let Your Fear of Snakes Stop You From Visiting Mexico
Although some of the venomous snakes of Mexico do sound a bit scary, the truth is there’s just as many in the United States.
If you take some basic precautions to avoid getting bit and keep in mind how far antivenom medical care has come, there is no reason that some slithery snakes should keep you from enjoying your dream vacation in Mexico!