21 Venomous Snakes Found in South America (2023)

What types of venomous snakes live in South America?

Due to the variety of habitats in South 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 South 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.*

21 Venomous Snakes in South America:

#1. Central American Coral Snake

  • Micrurus nigrocinctus

Also known as salviara, limlim, babaspul, and coral macho. 

Identifying Characteristics: 

  • 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 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.

#2. 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

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 South America in forests and woodlands. 

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. 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. Be careful if you happen to find one!

#3. Fer-de-lance

  •  Bothrops atrox

Also known as Common Lancehead, Barba Amarilla

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults can grow 75-125 cm (30-49 in) in length.
  • Look for a series of trapezoids across the body.
  • Coloration is usually olive, gray, or brown. They have light-colored bellies, commonly white or cream.
  • These snakes have golden irises and black tongues.

The venomous Fer-de-lance is responsible for most of the snake bites in South America.

So, it’s best to tread carefully if you find yourself in the Amazon region. While these snakes live primarily in dense forests, they also wander into coffee plantations when hunting.

As with other pit vipers, the Fer-de-lance has heat sensors below its eyes to track prey. They easily devour smaller prey like frogs and tarantulas. However, when it comes to larger prey, these snakes bite and then let go. The venom eventually kills the animal while the snake tracks it down to consume it.

This snake isn’t only dangerous to its prey, either. A bite from this venomous snake targets the circulatory system and can cause serious internal bleeding in humans. Interestingly, the younger snakes have faster-acting venom. Either way, you should seek medical attention quickly if you get bitten by this aggressive species.

#4. Rainforest Hog-nosed Viper

  • Porthidium nasutum

Also known as Hognosed Pit Viper.

Identifying Characteristics: 

  • 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 South 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! 

#5. Terciopelo

  • Bothrops asper

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 referred to as a Fer-de-lance in its range, is a venomous species you can find in tropical rainforests and lowlands. They have a fierce reputation and are responsible for many of the snakebites that occur in South America. They also have large fangs and an exceptionally high venom yield. This snake is impressive but also terrifying and has been nicknamed “the ultimate pit viper”!

This large pit viper is a patient predator. It will disguise itself among leaf litter for long periods, then bite swiftly once prey comes in range. The Terciopelo’s usual meal includes various insects, rabbits, and crayfish.

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 think you’ve been bitten. If the Terciopelo is cornered, it will strike faster than you can react. So always keep a respectful distance!

#6. Brazilian Lancehead

  • Bothrops moojeni

Identifying Characteristics:

  • These heavy-bodied snakes are about 160-230 cm (63-91 in) long.
  • They have broad, lance-shaped heads.
  • The coloring is gray, brown, and olive. Body markings are a series of trapezoids or triangles in contrasting colors.

This venomous snake in South America is a particularly angry member of the pit viper family. Stay alert around streams! The Brazilian Lancehead likes to keep a water source nearby. At night, it lurks in lush vegetation, feeding on small mammals, birds, and amphibians.

Young Lanceheads tend to latch on to their prey, biting and not letting go until the victim is incapacitated. As they grow, they learn to release their bite to avoid injury from flailing prey. Instead, they track their victim down again as the animal succumbs to the venom. 

Brazilian Lancehead venom causes immediate pain. It also thins the blood, causing dangerous internal bleeding in bite victims. In the worst cases, stroke and death are possible. Seek immediate treatment if you get bitten!

#7. Mountain Keelback

  • Helicops angulatus

Also known as Brown-banded Watersnake, Water Mapepire

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults grow to a maximum length of 78 cm (31 inches).
  • Their eyes and nostrils are situated at the top of their heads.
  • These snakes tend to be olive or grayish brown. Dark, jagged bands cover their bodies.

The Mountain Keelback is one of the slowest venomous snakes in South America!

These sluggish travelers only move about a few meters each day. If you want to find one in action (or non-action, because of their slow speed), look in the freshwater bodies of the Amazon basin.

Because of its slow-moving nature, this species prefers to ambush unsuspecting prey. At night, Mountain Keelbacks lie in wait for unlucky animals swimming by. Smaller fish, frogs, and tadpoles are all on the menu. However, sometimes they are the unlucky ones as they are common prey for herons and larger snakes.

Mountain Keelbacks are only mildly venomous. However, they can be very irritable when disturbed. In defense, they will coil into an S position before lunging into a bite. They can’t kill you, but their bites are still quite painful. Hands off!

#8. Neotropical Rattlesnake

  • Crotalus durissus

Also known as South American Rattlesnake, Central American Rattlesnake, Cascabel Rattlesnake, Guiana Rattlesnake, Aruba Island Rattlesnake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically 150 cm (59 in) long on average. 
  • There is a prominent stripe at the base of their heads, intersecting each eye.
  • Scales protrude from their body.
  • They usually appear in shades of brown and gray. Sometimes, patterns of diamonds and triangles form across the body. Bellies are yellowish or white.

Neotropical Rattlesnakes in South America are residents of grasslands and tropical forests.

You might also find them in drier areas if a shortage of prey drives them to find food. These snakes are most active at dusk, stalking rodents and other reptiles. They’re equipped with heat-sensing pits below their eyes to track down prey.

These rattlesnakes are dangerously venomous. Left untreated, bite victims can experience muscle paralysis and difficulty breathing. In the worst cases, victims can end up with organ failure and death. Therefore, if you receive a bite from a Neotropical Rattlesnake, it’s vital to get medical help as soon as possible.

A Neotropical Rattlesnake can move with remarkable speed, but its first instinct is not to attack. To warn you, it might make a rattling sound with its tail or raise its forebody into a defensive striking posture. When this happens, it’s best to respect the warning, back away slowly, and then leave the area.

#9. Painted Lancehead

  • Bothrops diporus
Credit (left image): Silvio Montani, via Wikimedia Commons

Identifying Characteristics:

  • On average, adults are 65 cm (26 in) long, but rare specimens nearly double that length have occurred.
  • Their heads are flat and lance-shaped.
  • Brown and gray colors are common. You’ll also notice dark trapezoids, triangles, and blotches alternating along the body.

These venomous snakes in South America are well known for their intricate patterns and dangerous venom.

The Painted Lancehead is hard to spot on land because of how well it can camouflage itself. As such, it’s highly successful in catching passing frogs, lizards, and rodents.

Painted Lancheads, like other pit vipers, have special heat-sensing pits below their eyes. These pits allow them to find warm-blooded animals before they can see them. Of course, since humans are warm-blooded, they will sense you if you’re in range, too!

Great caution is advised when dealing with Painted Lanceheads. They are highly venomous, and untreated bites occasionally kill humans. If you encounter one, don’t attempt to confront or trap it because you’ll only make it angry! Back away from the snake slowly and leave the area instead.

#10. Patagonian Racer

  • Philodryas patagoniensis

Also known as Patagonia Green Racer

Credit (left image): Frederico de Alcântara Menezes, Arthur Diesel Abegg, Bruno Rocha da Silva, Francisco Luís Franco, Renato Neves Feio, via Wikimedia Commons

Identifying Characteristics:

  • These are slender-bodied snakes growing up to 150 cm (59 in) long.
  • They have big, round pupils, rounded snouts, and prominent scaled markings from head to tail.
  • Coloration is various shades of olive green or brown. Their bellies are white.

The Patagonian Racer lives in steppes and grasslands in South America. This reptile is technically not considered venomous to humans, but it does have toxic saliva. If you’re bitten, you might notice bruising, bleeding, or numbness around the wound site. Its fangs almost never inject enough venom to harm a human. Despite this relatively low langer, it has a nasty bite, so it’s best to observe this snake from a distance.

Juvenile Patagonian Racers prefer cold-blooded prey like frogs and lizards. Adults, on the other hand, prefer warm-blooded prey such as birds and small mammals. They spend most of their time hunting in trees during the day. At night, they retreat to land crevices to avoid Barn Owls.

This stealthy snake has a habit of startling hikers with its astounding burst of speed! It can blend almost perfectly into the forest floor or tree cover. 

#11. South American Bushmaster

  • Lachesis muta

Also known as Atlantic Forest Bushmaster, Mapepire Zanana

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 200-250 cm (79-98 in) long.
  • They have broad heads.
  • Their coloring can be yellowish, tan, or gray-brown.
  • Look out for a scaly diamond pattern and a pale-colored underside.

True to its name, the South American Bushmaster loves to hide in the bushes and undergrowth of forests with frequent rain. This stealthy snake lurks near animal trails, waiting to ambush rodents, birds, and other smaller reptiles.

Bushmasters are solitary creatures. In fact, they are so elusive that herpetologists are still arguing about how dangerous they are. When they’re not hunting, these pit vipers rest in hollow logs and small burrows. So, don’t go peeking inside unless you’re prepared to come across one!

Loud rustling among fallen leaves can indicate the presence of a South American Bushmaster. They usually try to escape if disturbed but stay cautious nonetheless! Most researchers agree that they’re highly venomous. Untreated bites are thought to be potent enough to kill.

#12. Urutu Lancehead

  • Bothrops alternatus

Also known as Urutu, Crossed Pit Viper, Wutu

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults reach 80-120 cm (31-47 in) in length.
  • Their heads are distinctly broad and lance-shaped.
  • They’re brown, olive, and gray with a unique “mirrored” body pattern that can form cross-like shapes enclosed in large blotches.

Widely found in swamps and rainforests, the Urutu Lancehead is a member of the pit viper family. This highly venomous snake is drawn to the body heat of its prey using special organs in its head called “pits.” It blends into leaf litter to sneak up on unsuspecting mammals like opossums and mice.

Urutu Lancheads are short-tempered, contributing to many bites in humans. Its venom can cause serious tissue damage around the bite wound. In severe cases, amputation of the affected limb is needed. Go to a hospital immediately if you find yourself bitten by this snake!

Although they usually live far away from civilization, Urutu Lanceheads can stray into farmlands in search of prey. Sadly, farmers are often forced to kill these snakes to protect their livestock.

#13. Yarará Lancehead

  • Bothrops jararaca

Also known as Jararaca, Yarará

Credit (left image): Fausto E. Barbo, via Wikimedia Commons

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults can reach lengths of 60-160 cm (24-63 in).
  • Their heads are flat with sharp ridges that meet towards the front. You can spot a dark marking behind each eye, running back to the angle of the mouth.
  • Coloration varies significantly. These include brown, gray, olive, and yellow with trapezoidal markings.

If you find a snake in the forests of South America, be extra cautious of the Yarará Lancehead. You wouldn’t want to meet this highly venomous and aggressive species. It’s responsible for many snake bites because it frequents agricultural fields while searching for food.

Lanceheads are ambush predators. They blend well on the forest floor, waiting to catch unsuspecting rodents. Juvenile Yararás use their white-colored tail tips to lure frogs and arthropods. Once they strike, they bite to inject their potent venom, which quickly kills the prey.

Astonishingly, this viper’s venom has helped save lives! Despite being deadly on its own, it was used to create the world’s first ACE inhibitor. This drug is used to treat patients with high blood pressure and certain types of heart failure.

#14. Redtail Coral snake

  • Micrurus mipartitus
By Anton – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Via Wikipedia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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.

#15. Caatinga Coral snake

  • Micrurus ibiboboca
By Ricardo Marques – Flcikr, CC BY 2.0, Via Wikipedia

Also known as the Cobra de Coral, Painted Coral Snake, and Coral Cobra.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults grow to about 60 cm (2 ft) long.
  • They have slender bodies with very short tails and small, rounded heads.
  • Their scales are smooth and glossy, with a pattern of black, red, and white bands.

The Caatinga Coral snake is a habitat generalist, so don’t be surprised to see this venomous snake throughout its range. They make their home among moist or semi-arid deciduous, evergreen, and thorn forests or savannas.

Although the species is considered terrestrial, the Caatinga Coralsnake swims very well and can hold its breath underwater for long periods. They’re primarily nocturnal. However, they do occasionally appear during the day if it’s cloudy.

Caatinga Coralsnakes prefer legless lizards and other snakes for prey, but they consume amphibians, invertebrates, and fish. If food becomes scarce, they often turn to cannibalism.

Although it’s venomous, this snake is not aggressive toward humans, and their bites account for only one percent of total incidents in Central and South America. And it’s a good thing, as their venom is extremely dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. It causes a near-instant neuromuscular block which causes paralysis and death from respiratory arrest.

#16. Caatinga Lancehead

  • Bothrops erythromelas

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are an average of about 55 cm (22 in) long.
  • They have large eyes and elliptical pupils.
  • They are reddish-brown with black or dark brown triangular markings, and their bellies are yellowish with brown spots.

Be extra cautious if you find this venomous snake in South America!

They’re primarily terrestrial but tend to hide in low vegetation, so keep your eyes on shrubs and bushes at knee height. Caatinga Lanceheads will strike violently even if they are only slightly disturbed. They won’t hesitate to bite, so keep a good distance if you encounter one.

Thankfully, these snakes feed mainly on rodents and lizards, so humans are not generally a target. Interestingly, the venom from Caatinga Lanceheads is of great interest in the medical field. Research continues on the venom’s ‘antitumor action on cervical cancer cells.

Most bites from the Lancehead are caused when agricultural workers don’t see the snake and accidentally step on it. Fortunately, the bites are usually on the lower extremities, and envenomation is mild. Left untreated, however, a bite from the Caatinga Lancehead could result in cardiovascular collapse and death.

#17. Whitetail Lancehead

  • Bothrops leucurus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 25-185 cm (1-6 ft) long.
  • Their coloring varies from tan to reddish-brown, with darker and lighter spots across the body.
  • They have a medium build and a flattened, lance-shaped head.

This venomous snake in South America isn’t picky about the weather!

Although Whitetail Lanceheads prefer forests, you can find them in other habitats, including arid, semi-arid, dry, humid, and sub-humid regions. They’re most active in warm or humid weather and at night. The Lancehead’s diet consists of rodents, lizards, amphibians, other snakes, and birds.

The species is well camouflaged, so it can be tough to spot them until you’re much too close. However, they don’t typically attack unless they feel threatened. Their bite is moderately venomous.

However, the symptoms are far from modest: local pain, edema, hemorrhaging, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, urinary disorders, headaches, reduced blood pressure and heart rate, dizziness, visual disturbances, and tremors are all common reactions. You should seek medical attention immediately if you’re bitten!

#18. Jararacussu

  • Bothrops jararacussu

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults can grow to 2.2 m (7 ft) long.
  • They have robust bodies with flat, ridged heads and greenish eyes with vertical pupils.
  • Their coloring can vary from yellow to brown to black, with a pattern of dark and light scales.

The Jararacussu is one of the deadliest venomous snakes in South America.

Known for being highly aggressive, this snake is feared by locals and visitors alike. Its highly venomous bite results in necrosis (with amputation a very real possibility), shock, hemorrhage, and renal failure. Even after administering anti-venom, some victims succumb to respiratory and circulatory failure.

Jararacussus prefer semi-deciduous, perennial, and pine forests, as well as low swampy regions and riverbanks. If you’re in any of these areas in its range, pay special attention to where to step to avoid them.

These snakes spend the morning basking in the sun before hiding from the heat of the day. As nocturnal hunters, Jararacussus hunt small mammals, rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, and occasionally other snakes.

#19. Painted Coral snake

  • Micrurus corallinus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 65–85 cm (26–33 in) long.
  • They have slender bodies and small heads that are indistinct from the neck.
  • Their coloring is a repeating pattern of red and black bands separated by narrow yellow bands, and they have a black head and yellow or white chin.

Although dangerous, bites from this venomous snake in South America are rare. They are not aggressive toward humans, and Painted Coral snake bites account for less than one percent of all cases. However, their venom is highly potent. Victims need immediate treatment to avoid progressive muscle weakness and acute respiratory failure.

These snakes are abundant in tropical deciduous and evergreen forests. They hunt other snakes, along with some amphibians and lizards. Pay special attention while hiking because Painted Coralsnakes are excellent at blending in with their environment. This is one animal you don’t want to accidentally step on!

#20. Fonseca’s Lancehead

  • Bothrops fonsecai

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults grow to be approximately 1 m (39 in) long.
  • They have a medium build with a short tail, broad head, narrow neck, and movable front fangs.
  • Their coloring varies from tan to medium brown, marked with pale-edged black blotches.

These venomous snakes are most often found in well-drained forests in South America near the coast. Look for this viper on the ground since they’re a terrestrial species. They’re also nocturnal and hunt small mammals, amphibians, birds, and lizards during the night.

Bites from Fonseca’s Lancehead are rare. However, they are moderately venomous and require treatment. Pain, local swelling with bruising, blistering, tissue necrosis, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, seizures, renal failure, and collapse may result without proper intervention. See a doctor as soon as possible if you’re bitten!

#21. False Water Cobra

  • Hydrodynastes gigas

Also known as False Cobra, Brazilian Smooth Snake, South American Water Cobra

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically 200 cm (79 in) long but occasionally up to 300 cm (118 in).
  • They can flatten their necks and other sections of their bodies.
  • Typical coloration is olive or brown, patterned with dark spots and bands. Undersides are lighter in color.

False Water Cobras favor the high humidity of forests and marshlands. Here, they are highly alert hunters preying on fish and amphibians in the daytime. Take note of how unpredictable these snakes can be. Some individuals are mild-mannered, while others can be quite aggressive. To be safe, it’s best to observe this species from a distance.

As their name suggests, False Water Cobras aren’t true cobras. They can, however, puff up their neck and flatten the skin to mimic a cobra’s hood. You can tell them apart because False Water Cobras can’t raise their forebodies off the ground as real cobras do.

False Water Cobras are unique because their fangs don’t hold a large amount of venom. As a result, they must repeatedly chew on their prey to incapacitate it. Consequently, bites on humans are usually not serious since we can get away before this happens. Symptoms may include swelling and bouts of muscle paralysis, so it’s still important to see a doctor.

Check out these guides to other animals found in South America!

Which of these venomous snakes have you seen before in South America?

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