How Much Do You Know About Venomous Snakes?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Swift, sneaky, scary... snakes scare us and fascinate us in equal measure, especially the ones with a deadly bite! But knowledge is power, so test your snake savvy with our quiz!

Why is it incorrect to call a venomous snake a "poisonous snake"?

Something that is poisonous must be ingested to do its damage. Venom is a toxin that is injected into the prey's flesh, often via fangs. A venomous snake would only be poisonous if you ate it and the venom stored in its glands harmed you.

Is "venomous" a term that only applies to snakes?

Although when you say "venom" many people will think of snake venom, other animals have toxic saliva as well. Even platypuses have a toxin injected with spikes on their feet -- and they looked so cute!

Which snake was long erroneously believed to be the most venomous?

This was due to improper testing methodology, and was perpetuated by a book called "Snakes in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book." This sea snake is also often mistakenly called the "hook-nosed sea snake." Boy, it really needs a good publicist!

Which snake is actually the most venomous?

Is anyone surprised that this most deadly of snakes is native to Australia? We didn't think so!

Many of the most venomous snakes, including the inland taipan, cause very few human deaths. Why is this?

The inland taipan, which has the most toxic, potentially deadly bite, actually avoids people. Some articles even describe it as docile. (Even so, we're not adopting one as a pet!)

What is the name for a person who studies snakes, venomous or not?

More broadly, herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. It comes from a Greek word, meaning "to creep."

Which snake is known for its dramatic hood?

Cobras spread their hoods when agitated or stimulated. This display is one reason they're used in snake-charming shows.

How did the "Big Four" venomous snakes get their nickname?

The Indian cobra, common krait, the Russell's viper and the saw-scaled viper are the Big Four. They are found only in India and surrounding regions, where a serum for their venom is common in medical facilities.

Which of these is known for killing cobras?

The mongoose is immune to cobra venom. Cobra and mongoose fights were popular in India, but have declined because of pressure from animal-rights activists.

What subfamily is the rattlesnake part of?

Species names include Crotalus horridus and Crotalus atrox. "Horridus" probably needs no translation; "atrox" is the Latin root of English's "atrocious."

Why are young rattlesnakes considered more dangerous than adult ones?

Hikers and campers know to listen for the "castanet" noise of a rattler. But adolescent snakes don't have fully-developed rattles yet, and they can't make this sound.

What color is a black mamba?

Black mambas aren't really black -- at least, not on the outside. The interior of their mouths are black, and since this is what the victim sees just before they bite, well, it made a big enough impression to give the snake its name.

How is the viper subfamily different from other venomous snakes?

Vipers do create eggs, like other snakes, but the eggs remain inside the body until the young are born live. This seems like one of those times when evolution wasn't able to make up its mind, splitting the difference between two modes of reproduction.

The copperhead may be found on which of these continents?

There are species of copperheads on all these continents. There's also a snake called the "copperhead rat snake," but these are not venomous.

Which of these snakes is native to Africa?

The black mamba is distinguished from the other mambas (or dendroaspis) by its habitat. The other mambas live in trees; the black mamba prefers the ground.

Which of these venomous snakes can easily be mistaken for the California mountain kingsnake?

The coral snake actually resembles several of the kingsnakes, but unlike them, it is dangerous. Which is why it is confusing that Daryl Hannah's hired-asssassin character in "Kill Bill" was "California Mountain Snake" and not "Coral Snake."

Some snake venom, like that of the coral snake, is neurotoxic. What does this mean?

These venoms can disrupt motor function, learning and memory. They don't go straight to the brain, but if they get across the blood-brain barrier -- the brain's "firewall" -- that's when serious damage can occur.

Finish the phrase: "Red touching black, safe from attack; red touching yellow, kills a _______."

Okay, this one was easy. But it's meant to be -- it's a mnemonic to help hikers distinguish between the harmless kingsnake, whose red and black bands touch, and the killer coral snake, whose red and yellow bands are adjacent.

Venomous snakes too small to kill humans can still cause necrosis. What does this mean?

Necrosis is when tissue dies. Often snakebite survivors have to have the dead tissue surgically removed, which is called debridement.

Most venomous snakes are oviparous. What does this mean?

It's not just venomous snakes which lay eggs, but non-venomous ones. Also most reptiles... and, of course, birds.

Which of these snakes is NOT found in Australia?

These are native to North America. Of course, we can't swear that people haven't brought coral snakes *into* Australia. Because there just aren't enough dangerous animals there.

Which type of snake is found in England?

Europe is not known for snakes, but it has asps and adders. A character in Thomas Hardy's "The Return of the Native" is bitten by an adder while walking the moors.

Which of these snakes is found in Ireland?

Legend says that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. Whatever the reason, there are no snakes on that island, nor on New Zealand.

Which of these snakes would you find in Africa?

Puff adders are responsible for more snakebite deaths in Africa than any other kind of snake. This is partly because they have a forceful strike, with the fangs sinking deeply into flesh, getting venom past skin and subcutaneous fat.

In pit vipers, what purpose do the pits on the head serve?

In other words, these snakes use thermal imaging -- they combine this information with their eyesight for a fuller picture of their surroundings. How cool is that?

Which of these snakes is a gorgeous green color?

The boomslang and the green mamba are both tree snakes. The green mamba tends to be a light green, while the boomslang is a darker yet almost irridescent green, with blue or black color edging its scales.

Which of these snakes is NOT found in North America?

Jameson's mamba, like all the mambas, is found in Africa. It has a beautiful green color, but don't chase it down to get a better look: mambas are reclusive and only bite when they aren't left alone.

Which of these pythons is NOT venomous?

The entire python family is not venomous. They kill their prey by constriction.

Which snake has a mouth with a stark white interior?

The cottonmouth was named for this feature, which can be seen when it strikes. Likewise, the black mamba was named for the dark inside of its mouth.

Which of these snakes is part of the suborder Serpentes?

Serpentes is the suborder that contains all snakes (the name puts it right out there, really). Within this suborder are the families elapidae, viperidae, pythonidae and more.

Which of these snakes is found in Antarctica?

Snakes are cold-blooded, meaning they need environmental heat to regulate their body temperature. In frozen Antarctica, this is impossible.

Great snakes of legend and fiction, part 1: Which great world leader was said to have killed herself with an asp?

According to legend, she held an asp to her breast as a form of suicide. Shakespeare dramatized this in "Antony and Cleopatra."

Great snakes of legend and fiction, part 2: Was the serpent of Genesis, who tempted Eve, venomous?

The serpent in Eden was dangerous because he was wily: "The serpent was more subtle than any of the creatures God had made." ("Subtle" here is an old-fashioned word for "tricky.") But it is not said to be venomous.

Great snakes of legend and fiction, part 3: In which series would you find the giant snake called Nagini?

Nagini was the giant snake that served Voldemort, Harry's mortal enemy. Like many names in the Potter universe, "Nagini" has its roots in the real world: "Nagaina" is the Hindi word for "female snake."

Is snake venom used in medicine?

Because some snake venom causes uncontrolled bleeding, it has application as an anticoagulant. Snake venom is also used to make antivenin, in much the way that weakened viruses are the basis of vaccines.

Which of these is not a venomous snake at all?

The irukandji is a jellyfish in the waters off the coasts of Australia. It's dangerous in part because it is very small; avoidance, for surfers and swimmers, is difficult.

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