What types of venomous snakes live in Central America?
Due to the variety of habitats in Central America, there are dozens of different snakes you might see. While many species are not harmful to humans, you must be careful because some types are INCREDIBLY venomous and highly dangerous. Some snakes can even cause death if the bite is not treated quickly.
In the article below, I have listed some of the most common venomous snakes you might encounter in Central America. For each species, you will find out how to identify that snake correctly, along with pictures and interesting facts!
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Venomous snakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a snake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and to determine if the snake is venomous.*
16 Venomous Snakes in Central America:
#1. Black-tailed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus molossus
- Adults are 76-107 cm (30-42 in) long. The females are usually larger than the males.
- Their coloring is a mix of olive green, yellow, black, and brown. The tail is entirely black, which is where the common name comes from.
- They have a black band across their eyes, which looks like a mask.
Look for these venomous snakes in Mexico in grasslands, deserts, and forests.
The Black-tailed Rattlesnake is mostly a terrestrial snake, although it is also known to be a great swimmer. It likes to avoid the heat, so it’s mostly active at night during summer. In the spring and fall, you’re likely to see one during the day, while in the winter months, they hibernate in abandoned mammal dens.
This highly venomous snake is drawn to the body heat of its prey using special organs in its head called “pits.” Black-tailed Rattlesnakes hunt birds, small reptiles, rodents, and other small mammals. When they sense the heat coming from these small creatures, they move quickly to strike and inject venom. Then, when the animal is subdued, they eat its prey whole.
#2. Variable Coral Snake
- Micrurus diastema
- Adults are 40-160 cm (16-63 in) long.
- Their coloring is black, with yellow, red, and white bands. The first few bands on the head tend to be yellow or white, with red bands along the body and yellow or white bands on the tail.
The Variable Coral Snake inhabits tropical wet woodlands but can also be encountered in dry forests. Like other coral snakes, this species is shy and secretive. They prefer to hunt at night and stay away from humans as much as possible.
Despite their shyness, this venomous species can be dangerous if threatened. Back away slowly, or you’ll risk a bite from its powerful fangs that deliver neurotoxic venom. Their fangs are designed to deliver a lot of venom even in a quick bite, which is what makes them so dangerous.
Death from a Variable Coral Snake is rare, but symptoms are unpleasant, including weakness, paralysis, difficulty breathing, and swelling. So be cautious around this species!
#3. Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
- Crotalus atrox
- Adults typically grow to about 1.2 m (4 ft) in length.
- Coloration ranges from brown, gray, brick red, pinkish, and chalky white. Look for the darker diamond-shaped blotches down its back, outlined by white scales.
- Broad, spade-shaped head with a black mask over the eyes. Elliptical pupils and pits between eyes and nostrils.
- A rattle on the tail alternates between black and white-colored bands.
This famous VENOMOUS snake has a wide range of habitats in Mexico!
You might spot them in deserts, grassy plains, forested areas, coastal prairies, rocky hillsides, and river bottoms. But your best chance to see one might be on a rural road in the evening because of the heat the pavement retains.
The Western Diamond-backed feeds on small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, and rats. They also consume birds that fly within reach. Like other pit vipers, they ambush their prey and track them while the venom takes effect.
If you hear their characteristic rattle, make sure to leave the area slowly! Due to their specialized fangs and large venom glands, these snakes can deliver a lot of venom in a single bite! Untreated bites have a 10 – 20% mortality rate, so make sure to get to the hospital quickly if struck!
When threatened, these snakes typically stand their ground. They rattle and coil, lifting themselves off the ground to prepare to strike.
#4. Wilson’s Montane Pitviper
- Cerrophidion wilsoni
Also known as the Honduras Montane Pitviper or Montane Pitviper.
- Adults are 82-139 cm (32–55 in) long.
- Their coloring is brown to black, with a characteristic zig-zag pattern and blotches covering the body.
The Wilson’s Montane Pit Viper’s natural habitat in Central America is humid forests. You’ll need to pay careful attention to spot one because its color and pattern make it nearly impossible to see among leaf litter.
As a pit viper, this snake is venomous, and you should avoid disturbing it when possible. Of course, it’s easier said than done if you’re hiking through its habitat, but try and make every effort to stay alert.
This species is smaller than most vipers, but it’s no less dangerous. Although there are no reports of deaths from its bite, viper venom is potent and can cause painful, debilitating symptoms. Seek medical attention if you’re bitten, and watch out for pain, swelling, and difficulty breathing.
#5. Yellow-blotched Palm Pit Viper
- Bothriechis aurifer
- Adults are typically 70 cm (28 in) long, but rare specimens reach 1 m (3.2 ft).
- The body is slender with a prehensile tail, and they have round golden eyes with vertical pupils.
- Their coloring is a vivid green with black-bordered yellow blotches.
Yellow-blotched Palm Pit Vipers prefer forests and bushy, rocky areas where they can easily hide. You’ll need to focus on the trees if you want to catch a glimpse of this predator! In addition, this snake is primarily nocturnal, hunting at night and sleeping during the day.
Although they aren’t considered aggressive, Yellow-blotched Palm Pit Vipers don’t shy away from striking if disturbed. You should use caution in areas where this venomous snake is known to live.
Interestingly, the Yellow-blotched Palm Pit Viper is ovoviviparous. This fascinating reproductive habit means that the young grow in eggs, but they are incubated and hatched inside of the mother. Then, the female gives birth to around a dozen live young. This way, the mother knows that her eggs are safe without having to guard a nest!
#6. Central American Coral Snake
- Micrurus nigrocinctus
Also known as salviara, limlim, babaspul, and coral macho.
- Adults are 65-115 cm (26-45 in) long.
- Their pattern is two or three-colored, with black, yellow, and red banding.
- The body exhibits smooth scales, the head is rounded, and the eyes have round pupils.
The venomous Central American Coral Snake is mainly found in lowland forests. It is a terrestrial snake that often resides in burrows, leaf litter, or under logs. This species is nocturnal, but you may sometimes find it at dusk or dawn and after rainfall.
Central American Coral Snakes hunt in the leaf litter of their habitat. Their diet consists mainly of other snakes, amphibians, small lizards, and invertebrates. Take care when hiking or walking in its territory. Although this snake is not considered to be aggressive, if it finds itself threatened or if you accidentally step on one, it will not hesitate to bite.
This species is highly venomous! Its venom has a strong neurotoxin that causes weakness and paralysis in victims. The Central American Coral snake has to chew on their victim to inject the venom to its full potential. Therefore, most bites on humans are mild and don’t result in death, but you should still seek medical treatment immediately.
#7. Eyelash Viper
- Bothriechis schlegelii
Also known as Eyelash Pit Viper, Eyelash Palm Viper, Schlegel’s Viper, Eyelash Lancehead, Eyelash Mountain Viper, Horned Palm Viper, Parrot Snake.
- Adults are generally 55-82 cm (22-32 in) long.
- Their heads are broad and triangular.
- Coloration depends on habitat. These include bright yellow, green, orange, or pink. You might also see dark speckles dotted all over the body.
Look for this small, venomous snake in Central America in forests and woodlands.
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The fancy-looking Eyelash Viper earned its name from the pair of modified scales above its eyes which resemble eyelashes. A myth tells of this viper winking at its victims after biting them. But, of course, snakes don’t have eyelids, so they can’t actually wink!
Did you know that Eyelash Vipers are resourceful creatures? To hydrate, they drink the water droplets that gather on leaves. In addition, they use their tails to grab onto branches, positioning themselves to hunt rodents, lizards, and small birds at night.
Eyelash Vipers are generally docile but will strike in defense if threatened. They’re moderately venomous, and while there are no recorded human deaths, their bites can still be very painful. So be careful if you happen to find one!
- Bothrops asper
- On average, these vipers are 120-180 cm (47-71 in) long.
- Terciopelos have wide, flat heads.
- Females can grow up to 10 times larger than males.
- They range from brown to gray. Patterns include dark spots and stripes that form triangles along the body.
The Terciopelo, which is also commonly called the Fer-de-lance, is a venomous species found in tropical rainforests and lowlands. They have a fierce reputation and are responsible for many of the snakebites that occur in Central America. Unfortunately, they also have large fangs and an exceptionally high venom yield. This snake is impressive but terrifying and has been nicknamed “the ultimate pit viper”!
Tercipelos are patient predators. It will disguise itself among leaf litter for long periods, then bite swiftly once prey comes in range.
The venom of a Terciopelo is dangerously potent. Unfortunate victims can experience fevers, internal bleeding, and even death in extreme cases. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you’ve been bitten. If the Terciopelo is cornered, it will strike faster than you can react. So always keep a respectful distance!
#9. Rainforest Hog-nosed Viper
- Porthidium nasutum
Also known as Hognosed Pit Viper.
- Adults are 40-60 cm (16-24 in) long. The females tend to be relatively larger than the males.
- The body is stout, with a triangular-shaped head and a short, thin tail. They have an upturned snout.
- Their coloring is shades of brown with alternating cream and dark brown rectangular marks on the back.
As its name suggests, this species is most often found in rainforests. The Rainforest Hog-nosed Viper is a terrestrial species and, due to its color, is difficult to spot in the jungle foliage.
In addition to its camouflage, you’ll have trouble spotting a Rainforest Hog-nosed Viper because it’s nocturnal. During the nighttime, it hunts frogs, lizards, small mammals, small birds, and other snakes.
Use extreme caution when you’re in this species’ territory. It’s a highly venomous viper, and if a bite goes untreated, it can cause death in humans. Unfortunately, Rainforest Hog-Nosed Vipers frequently pass through plantations and sometimes enter gardens, so bite incidents are not uncommon.
If you receive a bite from one of these venomous snakes in Central America, get treatment right away.
The symptoms are painful, often severe, and can last days. Redness and pain around the bite, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, low heart rate, and vision problems are all common symptoms. Avoid this dangerous snake if possible!
#10. Central American Bushmaster
- Lachesis stenophrys
- Adults grow up to 200 cm (6.5 ft) and occasionally exceed 330 cm (10.8 ft).
- They have rounded heads with distinctly narrower necks, round pupils, and a black line extending backward from the eyes.
- Their coloring is grayish brown or cream colored with black or dark-brown triangular or rhomboidal patterns.
Bushmasters are the longest venomous snakes in Central America!
The Central American Bushmaster lives in the Atlantic lowlands. They prefer cool, moist environments, and they prefer to stay close to water. They are nocturnal, so humans don’t often encounter them. And this is a good thing because although they are docile, their venom is extremely dangerous.
A bite from the Central American Bushmaster is rare, but in addition to severe pain from the snake’s inch-long fangs, the victim may suffer serious symptoms that require medical attention. It’s common to experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, and convulsions, and if left untreated, a bite can cause massive internal bleeding and even death.
These venomous snakes have extraordinary camouflage that enables them to coil among fallen tree limbs, grass, and leaves on the jungle floor for days without being seen. These ambush hunters use their keen sense of smell to select a hunting spot, then lie in wait for mammals, birds, and rodents. Amazingly, Central American Bushmasters can survive on just 10 large meals per year.
Bushmasters make their nests in the abandoned burrows of mammals, although they occasionally take them over after feeding on the occupant!
#11. Central American Rattlesnake
- Crotalus simus
- Adults grow to about 109 cm (43 in).
- They are thick and robust with rough-looking scales, blunt heads, and round snouts.
- Their coloring is beige with dark brown to black diamond shapes.
Look for the highly venomous Central American Rattlesnake in dry habitats.
They frequent semi-arid tropical and scrub forests and thorny thickets, grasslands, woodlands, and open areas.
This athletic species can climb trees and swim to catch a meal. They feed only at twilight on rodents, lizards, and small birds. Central American Rattlesnakes are not aggressive unless provoked, but you should avoid stepping on them or getting too close. Oddly, the bite of a newborn is much more potent than an adult’s.
Symptoms of a Central American Rattlesnake bite include internal bleeding, blindness, necrosis, paralysis, kidney failure, and death. The fatality rate for this snake is about 75 percent unless large quantities of anti-venom are administered soon after a bite.
Despite the dangers posed by this venomous snake, it’s an important resource in medicine. Nearly all of the rattlesnake anti-venom produced is sourced from Central American Rattlesnakes!
#12. Dusky Rattlesnake
- Crotalus triseriatus
- Adults grow to about 60 cm (24 in) long.
- Their coloring ranges from olive to dark brown or greenish, with oval spots along the back surrounded by a thin line.
- A wide, dark black line bordered by thin white lines is present on the head.
This venomous snake is common in temperate regions of Mexico.
The Dusky Rattlesnake prefers coniferous forests, especially at altitudes above 6,000 feet. They are active during the day and hide among fallen tree trunks and rocks at night. These snakes are adept at foraging, yielding a highly diverse diet that includes frogs, rodents, lizards, crickets, salamanders, and small mammals.
As with many snakes, their venom has value in various medical applications. Some of the most widely known remedies are used to treat congestive heart failure, complications from diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.
Despite the positive benefits of their venom, you don’t want to get bit by a Dusky Rattlesnake! Although typically not life-threatening, a bite will cause intense pain, swelling, faintness, and cold sweats. You should see a doctor immediately if you’re bitten!
#13. Redtail Coral snake
- Micrurus mipartitus
- Adults are 60-89 cm (24-35 in) long.
- They have thin, cylindrical bodies, small heads, and short fangs.
- Their coloring is black and yellow or white alternating bands, and they have red heads and black snouts.
Redtail Coralsnakes prefer mountains and rainforests with dense vegetation. Occasionally, you might see them in coastal shrub areas and dry, rocky regions.
Unlike most venomous snakes in South America, this one is semi-fossorial.
This means they spend most of their time underground or burrowed in the foliage of the forest floor. Here, they feed on other reptiles and amphibians. They prefer smaller prey as they swallow meals whole and have small mouths.
Although Redtail Coralsnakes are timid and nocturnal, they will strike if surprised, and their venom is highly toxic. Most encounters are with agricultural workers. If left untreated, a victim can suffer paralysis, respiratory arrest, and even death.
#14. Rhombic Cat-eyed Snake
- Leptodeira rhombifera
- Adults grow 45.7-61 cm (18-24 in) long.
- Their coloring is a mix of brown and light yellow with dark blotches in shades of brown, black, orange, or yellow.
- This species has golden or brown eyes with elliptical pupils, hence the name.
The Rhombic Cat-eyed Snake is mostly terrestrial, so keep your eyes focused on the ground to see one. Their diet consists mainly of frogs. However, they also eat tadpoles, lizards, salamanders, small fish, and mice.
Even though this species is mildly venomous, it isn’t considered dangerous to humans. For one, its venom isn’t strong enough to do much damage. Secondly, the Rhombic Cat-eyed Snake’s fangs are in the rear of its jaw, making it difficult to bite anything larger than a frog. Finally, this species rarely injects venom defensively and prefers to deliver a “dry bite” as a warning.
Despite all this, it’s still better to be safe than bitten. So if you encounter any snake, including a Rhombic Cat-eyed Snake, give it a respectful amount of space and observe from a distance.
#15. Side-striped Palm Pit Viper
- Bothriechis lateralis
Also known as Yellow-lined Palm Viper, Green Palm Viper, and Parrot Viper.
- Adults are 80-100 cm (31-39 in) long.
- Their coloring is emerald green to bluish, overlaid with a series of yellow vertical bars.
- These slender snakes have prehensile tails and round, yellow eyes with vertical pupils.
The Side-striped Palm Pit Viper is most often found in forested areas. However, this adaptable species also frequents agricultural developments like coffee plantations.
They are primarily arboreal, preferring to quietly spend their time in the thick foliage of trees and shrubbery. Side-striped Palm Pit Vipers eat small birds, rodents, lizards, and frogs. To hunt, they cling to branches with their prehensile tails and snatch prey quickly and firmly.
This species relies on its camouflage to avoid disturbance rather than attacking, but if they are threatened, they strike quickly. The venom is not as potent as in other vipers, but bites still need immediate medical attention. They are extremely painful, and the symptoms can be life-threatening if a victim doesn’t receive treatment.
#16. Yellow-bellied Sea Snake
- Hydrophis platurus
Also known as the Pelagic Sea Snake.
- Adults grow to 70 cm (28 in) in length.
- They have narrow heads, long snouts, and flattened flipper-like tails.
- Their coloring is bright yellow on the belly and deep brown or black above.
Yellow-bellied Sea Snakes are spotted swimming in tropical waters across the Indian Ocean. Stay vigilant while on beach walks, as it’s common to see this venomous snake in Central America! They make breeding grounds out of free-drifting masses of sea kelp.
Yellow-bellied Sea Snakes are incredibly agile while underwater. Capable of swimming backward or changing direction in a split second, they can catch any passing prey. They also stay motionless for hours to trick fish into coming close. In open waters, they sometimes gather and hunt by the thousands.
The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake’s bite is highly venomous. Victims suffer muscle pain and drowsiness, or even complete paralysis and death in the worst cases. Most bites happen on beaches, where the snakes sometimes wash ashore.
Check out these guides to other animals found in Central America!
Which of these venomous snakes have you seen in Central America?
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