Snake Identification

USA and Canada are home to a large number of different species of snakes. Many species are similar in appearance and are extremely difficult to differentiate from one another while some snakes display high variations in appearance within a particular species. For these reasons experts rely on scale patterns to make a positive identification of a snake.

These two Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textiles) illustrate how snakes of the same species can have different appearances.

Difference Between Snakes and Lizards

The most common method for determining the difference between a snake and a lizard is presence or absence of limbs. However, their are several species of lizards that have very small or no legs. The differences between snakes and legless lizards are:

  • Tongue - Snakes have forked tongues which they use to 'taste' the air for scent particles. All species of legless lizards have a fleshy tongue.
  • Eyes - Most species of lizards have moveable eyelids. Snakes have fixed transparent scales that cover their eyes which are known as the brille or spectacle.
  • External ear openings -  All species of legless lizards have external ear openings. Snakes do not have ears, and as a result are unable to hear air borne sound using an ear. Snakes are very sensitive to vibrations and actually have some remnant bones of the ear attached to the lower jawbone.

This Burtons Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis) displays its fleshy tongue.

Center for Snake Conservation

Herp Facts

Herp Facts

The Alligator Snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle species in North America. Males can exceed 200 pounds.

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The American alligator became the official state reptile of MS in 2005

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The American alligator was taken off the endangered species list in 1987

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