To identify a snake, examine the head size and shape, the overall color and size of the snake and the facial features, such as the pupils, of the animal. Observe the snake from a safe distance to avoid the risk of being bitten.
Examine the colors and patterns on the snake to identify it from a safe distance. Pattern types include rings, blotches and stripes. For example, the copperhead snake has skin that features irregularly-shaped blotches of black, tan and brown on a tan body. The length and overall size of the snake also helps to identify it. Some snakes, such as water moccasins, are stout and heavy in appearance with a thick, blunt tail. Other snakes, such as ring-neck snakes, are slender and short with a long, thin tail.
Some venomous snakes are identifiable by observing the shape of the snake's head. Pit vipers, such as rattlesnakes, have a triangular-shaped head that is wider than the neck with a pit between the nostril and eye. Venomous snakes also have vertical, rather than rounded, pupils. Rattlesnakes are easily identified by the distinctive tail rattle that the snake uses when threatened.
The location and behavior of the snake can be used to identify it. For instance, banded watersnakes are found near water sources, such as lakes, and the snake flattens its head and body when threatened. Garter snakes, by comparison, can be found in a wide variety of locations and release a foul odor when threatened.