The Myth or Reality of Venomous Snakes in Hawaii: An In-Depth Exploration

When visiting Hawaii or any other tropical island, you may want to check what kind of dangerous animals you may encounter while you’re there. Venomous snakes may be close to the top of the list since they can harm you, even fatally. What venomous snakes can you find in Hawaii? 

There are 3 species of venomous snake in Hawaii: the yellow-bellied sea snake, the garter snake, and the brown tree snake. The only native snake to Hawaii is the yellow-bellied sea snake. Its venom is powerful and can be fatal if left untreated. The other 2 snakes aren’t as dangerous.

If you want to know more, stick around! I’ll explain everything about these snake species and what you should do to be safe if you encounter them. Moreover, I’ll cover additional Hawaiian snake species that aren’t venomous but could pose other dangers. Let’s get started! 

1. Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

The yellow-bellied sea snake is the only snake native to Hawaii. It’s quite venomous and sends neurotoxins to your brain, so you must seek treatment immediately if one bites you. The bite can be fatal if the snake is large and injects enough venom. 

Thankfully, the chances of encountering a yellow-bellied sea snake are pretty low. These snakes live in the ocean around the Hawaiian islands and rarely surface near populated beaches. However, if you go scuba diving, your chances of spotting a yellow-bellied sea snake are higher.

Even though you probably won’t see a yellow-bellied snake in Hawaii, you need to know exactly what it looks like, so you can avoid it if you need to. Yellow-bellied sea snakes have shiny black backs and bright yellow bellies. This black color turns into spots on the tail. 

2. Garter Snake

Garter snakes are native exclusively to North America, so you might wonder what they’re doing in Hawaii. It’s believed that they were accidentally brought to Hawaii in Christmas trees that were shipped from Oregon. They have since settled on the island and have been thriving for years. 

These snakes are venomous, but their venom is relatively harmless and non-life-threatening. However, you might experience intense pain and swelling if a garter snake bites you, so seek treatment just in case.

It’s not easy to spot garter snakes because they’re relatively small, with the largest ones reaching only 42 inches (106 cm) long. They have dark bodies and 3 yellow, brown, or blue stripes that run along their body. The stripe in the middle is narrow, while the 2 stripes on the side are broad.

3. Brown Tree Snake

Like most snakes on this list, brown tree snakes aren’t native to Hawaii. Most experts believe that they were inadvertently carried to the islands on planes from Guam, where they are native. They’re pretty rare, but this doesn’t mean encountering one is impossible.

Brown tree snakes live in the Hawaiian rainforests, typically feeding on birds, eggs, and bats, but they can also be found near cliffs, gardens, and other areas near humans. Their venom contains neurotoxins and cytotoxins, but they’re not very dangerous to humans because their teeth placement makes it hard for them to inject enough. However, venom may have a stronger effect on children.

These snakes are long and slender, and can have various colors. They are typically beige, yellow, and brown, but you can also find some with reddish spots. Their bright yellow eyes are distinctive, earning them the nickname catsnakes.

Non-Venomous Snakes in Hawaii

Now that I’ve discussed Hawaii’s venomous snakes, you might wonder what other snakes you might find on the island. Hawaii has 5 main non-venomous snake species. Although they aren’t considered dangerous, some can still pose a certain danger to humans.

Let’s discuss them below:

1. Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy blind snakes are completely harmless to humans. They aren’t venomous and typically avoid open spaces. Interestingly, all brahminy blind snakes are female and can lay eggs without the assistance of male snakes. 

They’ve been in Hawaii for a long time, and most locals believe they were brought over from the Philippines while burrowing under potting soil. These snakes have found very favorable conditions and have thrived in Hawaii. That said, they haven’t negatively impacted the ecosystem and seem to live harmoniously with the island’s other snakes. 

You may find brahminy blind snakes under rocks, abandoned buildings, or in some gardens, but you’ll have to try hard. They are dark silver in color but can sometimes be purple and often don’t reach more than 6 inches (15.24 cm) in length. 

2. Corn Snake

Corn snakes aren’t native to Hawaii and are very challenging to encounter. Very few corn snakes have been spotted in Hawaii, and the only corn snake report is in someone’s backyard. 

These snakes live in abandoned buildings, gardens, and overgrown fields and have an orange body with red spots and a cream or white underside. They’re not venomous, so their bite can simply cause pain. However, you should seek medical attention if a corn snake bites you. 

Corn snakes are constrictors, meaning they strangle their prey before eating it.

3. Southern Black Racer

The southern black racer is native to Florida, but it’s been spotted in Hawaii at an airport, which explains how it ended up all the way to the islands. Southern black racers are not venomous and are generally harmless to humans. Their bite is painful but not life-threatening, and they typically only get aggressive when cornered.

Southern black racers can usually be found in bushes near water, and their appearance makes them look dangerous, with shiny black scales and lighter underbelly. However, it’s rare for them to attack humans.  

Southern black racers are incredibly fast, which explains their name, and they are constrictors like the corn snake.

People often mistake southern black racers for venomous water moccasins, but you can rest assured that the latter has never been spotted in Hawaii, and the black snake you see is harmless.

4. Rainbow Boa

Rainbow boas are not native to Hawaii, but several have been spotted in different areas around the islands. These snakes have most likely been smuggled as pets

Rainbow boas are native to the Amazon River and make excellent pets. However, they shouldn’t be approached if spotted because they scare easily and will likely bite in defense. 

It’s easy to spot a rainbow boa. They’re stunningly beautiful, with their bright orange and red or brown body with purple or black spots. Some boas have a rainbow sheen on their scales under particular lighting conditions. These snakes can be 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) long

5. Gopher Snake

Gopher snakes are originally from the west coast of the United States, but they have been spotted several times in Hawaii. They may have been brought over accidentally or purposefully as pet snakes. They get their name because they hunt gophers.

These snakes aren’t dangerous to humans in terms of venom, but they have a very painful bite. Thankfully, they’re generally calm, and they will only attack when they feel cornered. Gopher snakes typically live in oak or pine barrens, but you can also find them near shipyards in Hawaii.

Gopher snakes can be heavy and large, reaching even 9 feet (2.75 m). Their bodies are light brown or beige with dark brown or red spots.

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