Brown Snake With Black Spots: What Is It and Is It Venomous?

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: August 24, 2023
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There are over 4,000 different species of snakes in the entire world. They can come in many different shapes and sizes; some may even pack a venomous bite. Identification can get tricky with so many different species, especially if you aren’t a professional. As a result, if you come across a brown snake with black spots, you may be wondering just what it is.

When it comes to identifying a brown snake with black spots, it can be tricky. That’s because this specific pattern is actually quite common in the snake world, with many different species sporting this coloration. This complete guide will help you learn more about the brown snake with black spots you’ve seen, including whether or not it’s venomous. Even if a snake isn’t venomous, however, it’s important to be careful and avoid handling them as much as possible. Snakes are still wild animals; their bites can introduce harmful bacteria even without venom. Plus, even for the most harmless snakes, handling can cause them unnecessary stress.

With that being said, here is more information about seven brown snakes with black spots! Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in. 

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1. DeKay’s Brown Snake

DeKay’s brown snake (Storeria dekayi), also known as the brown snake, is a nonvenomous species found in North America and Central America. This snake can be brown or light gray, and it has a line running down its dorsal side that is a lighter color. This stripe is then bordered by black spots. It’s a smaller species, with most adults growing no larger than around 12 inches long. The longest brown snake ever recorded was around 19 inches long, however.

Because the brown snake is so small, you won’t see it going after larger prey. Instead, this brown snake with black spots likes to eat animals like earthworms and slugs. The brown snake may be preyed on by toads, frogs, birds, and large mammals. 

Snakes in Maine - DeKay's Brown Snake (Northern Brown Snake)

As a smaller species of snake, adult DeKay’s brown snakes generally don’t grow longer than 12 inches.

©Jay Ondreicka/

2. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

The eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest species of rattlesnake. Not only that, but this brown snake with black spots also just so happens to be the most venomous snake in all of the United States.

One of the best ways to identify the eastern diamondback rattlesnake is by its unique pattern. While it is a brown snake with black spots, a closer inspection will reveal a unique fact about this snake’s scales. Rather than just having plain, organic spots, the eastern diamondback’s spots actually take the shape of a diamond. This is where they get their name from.

You can also identify them by their angular head — which is typical for rattlesnakes — as well as their size. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes can easily reach lengths up to 7 feet long. However, there have been larger ones recorded in the past.

Want to know an interesting fact about rattlesnakes? Their rattles are made out of keratin. Keratin makes up various parts of our bodies, too! Each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin, a new segment will grow on its rattle, just like rings on a tree. This helps to tell you how old a rattlesnake is just at a glance, although they can lose segments to predators. 

eastern diamond back rattlesnake on road

Unlike DeKay’s brown snakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are large and highly venomous.

©Chase D’animulls/

3. Eastern Fox Snake

The eastern fox snake (Pantherophis gloydi) almost resembles the Dalmatian of snakes! They have a light brown to beige color with large black spots all over their body. Their underside, however, is much lighter than their dorsal side, with a yellow and black checkered pattern. 

Although the eastern fox snake isn’t a fully aquatic species, it is most commonly found in wetlands or around rivers, lakes, and streams. However, you may also find them in dry areas like open woodlands or fields. They’re strong swimmers and can be seen swimming long distances in freshwater.

Typically, you will only find this nonvenomous species around the Great Lakes in the northern United States and southern Canada. 

Juvenile Eastern Fox Snake

With large black spots all over their bodies, the coloration of eastern fox snakes is quite similar to that of Dalmatians.

©ML Howard/

4. Gopher Snake

When you first see this brown snake with black spots, you might think it’s a rattlesnake. This is because, aside from resembling these venomous species in coloration, gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer) also have a unique defense mechanism. 

Although they are nonvenomous, gopher snakes will shake their tails when threatened to help them resemble a rattlesnake ready to strike. If this doesn’t work, they’ll lunge for you—but not to bite. Instead, they’ll hit you with a closed mouth, using the impact of their blunt nose to tell predators to leave.

If you’re not familiar with the term “gopher snake,” it may be because you know one of the other common names for this brown snake with black spots. These can include the coast gopher snake, the western gopher snake, or even the Pacific gopher snake.

gopher snake

Gopher snakes shake their tails like rattlesnakes and even lunge at threats, but they aren’t venomous and don’t bite often.


5. Northern Cottonmouth

You can identify the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) by the inside of its mouth, which is a stark white compared to the pink or red you may commonly see in other snakes. Their genus name, Agkistrodon, is derived from the Greek word ankistron. This can be translated to mean fishhook, which can relate to either the cottonmouth’s hooked fangs or their preference for eating small fish. Their species name, piscivorous, is a direct reference to their love of fish. 

Unlike many of the other brown snakes with black spots we’ve met so far in this list, the cottonmouth is a venomous snake species. They’re not outwardly aggressive toward humans, but they won’t flee, either. If you don’t spot them early, you may accidentally step on them due to their coloration. This can lead to a dangerous run-in for both you and the snake. 

Cottonmouths are most commonly found in the American southeast. They thrive in humid temperatures near water sources. Along with fish, they have a diverse diet comprising animals like amphibians, lizards, turtles, and small mammals like rodents. As adults, their diet increases even further to contain other snakes, including other cottonmouths and young alligators

This species is made up of brown snakes with black spots. They’re medium to large in size, growing to four feet long. 

Northern Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths are venomous snakes.

©Ad Konings/

6. Prairie Rattlesnake

The prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) is another venomous brown snake with black spots that you may encounter. They are most commonly seen in the western region of North America, including the western United States, southwestern Canada, and northern Mexico. There are two different subspecies. 

Prairie rattlesnakes resemble many other species of rattlesnakes. They have diamond-shaped heads due to their venom glands, and they are light brown with dark brown to black spots on their body. They prefer to live on the ground, but they have been observed climbing trees. As they typically live in the Great Plains, they change their activity based on the temperature, being active during the day in cooler months and at night in warmer months. 

Because they have such a widely ranged habitat, the prairie rattlesnake’s diet is equally diverse. They have been known to eat reptiles, including other snakes and amphibians. However, their main diet is made up of small mammals, such as mice and prairie dogs

Prairie Rattlesnake

The prairie rattlesnake has two different subspecies, and both are venomous.


7. Timber Rattlesnake

Also known as the canebrake rattlesnake or the banded rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is the third brown snake with black spots that is also a rattlesnake on this list. In the United States, it is the only rattlesnake you will find in the northeastern region, and it is one of only two venomous species in the New England area. 

While you can identify them by their brown scales, black spots, and unique region, you can also tell the timber rattlesnake by its size. They can grow to be up to around five feet long. However, they have been recorded to grow as large as over six feet long and weigh around three pounds. 

A Timber Rattlesnake striking prey

Timber rattlesnakes are one of only two venomous snakes in the New England region of the United States.

©Joe McDonald/

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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