There are more than 3,000 different species of snakes on our lovely green and blue planet, and they make up an incredibly diverse group of fascinating (albeit often tragically misunderstood) animals! Narrowing down the most beautiful snakes in the world is no small task, but the 10 species I’ve listed here are truly some of the most visually stunning.
As beauty is very subjective, the following snakes are in no particular order. Without further ado, let’s take an up-close look at the most beautiful, colorful, vivid, unique, and overall unforgettable species within the absolutely massive Serpentes suborder.
1. Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)
We start our list off with the stunning and aptly-named sunbeam snake. There are actually two species within the Xenopeltis genus, collectively known as sunbeam snakes. Both species are native to Southeast Asia and its surrounding islands. The better-known variety, Xenopeltis unicolor, was originally defined taxonomically by Dutch botanist Caspar Georg Carl Reinwardt in 1827. It primarily inhabits countries like Myanmar, southern China, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Sunbeam snakes owe their beauty primarily to the highly iridescent scales that cover their entire bodies. While their main body color is a more drab gray, black, or brown, this color shifts wildly in direct sunlight. They can be hard to find and very reclusive, though, as they are highly fossorial and are usually burrowing underground.
However, when these snakes come up to the surface to hunt for food in the evenings and early morning hours, they’re a truly unforgettable sight! Tiny rainbows dance across their scales in the sun as they slither about and constrict their unfortunate prey.
2. Rainbow Snake/Eel Moccasin (Farancia erytrogramma)
The rainbow snake, also known as the eel moccasin, is another species with a name that suits it perfectly. These mostly aquatic snakes have a truly mesmerizing coloration, particularly on their sides and bellies, with alternating scale colors of bright red, yellow, black, brown, and orange. There were originally two subspecies, though one of them is unfortunately extinct as of 2011.
Like many of the beautiful snakes on this list, the eel moccasin is highly reclusive. It usually stays hidden in the water amongst the dense plant growth in the marshes and swamps of its native habitats throughout the southeastern United States. Notably, they are surprisingly docile towards humans, preferring to save their energy for their semi-aquatic prey like frogs and salamanders.
The rainbow snake has many names, including the red-lined snake, red-sided snake, and striped wampum. As far as snakes go, it is quite large, heavy-bodied, and muscular. However, despite its size, it is non-venomous and mostly harmless to anything larger than the typical frog or toad.
3. Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schegelii)
This is the first of several gorgeous vipers on this list, as the Viperidae family consists of a wide range of colorful, striking, and unique species. One of the most notable and beautiful varieties is the eyelash viper. This fearsome, usually electric-yellow snake has protruding, eyelash-like scales just above its large eyes.
These bizarre yet handsome snakes mostly reside in Central and South America. Their preferred habitat is mainly in low-elevation, heavily shaded, and densely forested areas close to water. Interestingly, researchers currently believe the viper’s “eyelashes” help it to better camouflage itself by making its outline more difficult to make out when the snake hides amongst dense plant growth.
Though they are somewhat small compared to most other pit vipers, these ambush predators are highly accurate, expert hunters. Thankfully, despite their venomous nature and extremely sharp fangs, they aren’t very aggressive towards humans. In fact, eyelash vipers are reclusive and tend to avoid us at all costs. They primarily feed on small animals like frogs, rodents, lizards, and occasionally birds.
4. Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi)
A flying snake is many an ophidiophobe’s worst nightmare! Don’t worry, though, these snakes don’t so much fly rather than glide short distances from tree to tree. Still, the paradise flying snake zooming overhead is a truly incredible sight, not only for the unique way the species flattens its body to make itself lighter and more aerodynamic but also thanks to its gorgeous, vivid coloration.
There are several different species within the Chrysopelea genus of flying snakes, but the paradise tree variety is the most beautiful by far. Its scale patterning varies from individual to individual. Typically, though, this snake has a spotted appearance, with alternating colors of green, orange, yellow, and red. The snake’s head typically has horizontal striping in addition to the tiny spots.
Paradise flying snakes are highly arboreal and mainly live in humid forests throughout southeastern Asia. By stretching its ribs out and flattening its lightweight body, this beautiful snake can easily glide from tree to tree. It uses its powerful abdominal muscles to gracefully land on and grab onto tree branches.
5. Blue Malayan Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus)
These beautiful yet highly venomous snakes are, like several others on this list, also native to Southeast Asia. Their coloration is absolutely stunning, with bright, blood-red heads and tails, bluish-black bodies, and thin, sky blue stripes running down the snakes’ sides. They can be hard to find and properly document, as they are quite reclusive and semi-fossorial. These snakes spend most of their time burrowing in the dirt and leaves in their heavily forested, mountainous habitats.
While they aren’t particularly aggressive, blue Malayan coral snakes can occasionally kill humans with the help of their long venom glands that house powerful cytotoxic venom. Fortunately, though, this is rare, as humans are most certainly not on their menu! Notably, they mostly feed on other, smaller snakes.
If you’re lucky (or, perhaps, unfortunate) enough to see one of these snakes in the wild, it’s best to admire them at a safe distance. There is currently no antidote or antivenom to treat their powerful bite!
6. Hairy/Rough-Scaled Bush Viper (Atheris hispida)
The next snake on our list is the rough-scaled bush viper, also sometimes known as the hairy bush viper. It is mainly unique for its bizarre yet beautiful outward-pointing, keeled scales which give it a strikingly dragon-like appearance. Like most vipers, these particular snakes are brightly colored with flat, broad heads, short snouts, and large, protruding eyes.
This snake’s coloration varies from bright greens and yellows to oranges, browns, and greys. It mainly inhabits hot, humid rainforests in Western and Central Africa in countries like Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. There are a few subspecies, all of which are similar in appearance, size, color, and geographical range.
Though the bush viper isn’t very aggressive towards humans, its hemotoxic venom is quite potent. However, only a few isolated human deaths have been contributed to the species.
7. Indian Cobra (Naja naja)
The Indian cobra is perhaps the most well-known and recognizable of all “true” cobras (aside from the king cobra, anyway) within the Naja genus. It has a few additional common names, such as the Asian cobra or, more notably, the spectacled cobra, thanks to its strange, bespectacled eye-shaped markings on the back of its hood. This species is also one of the larger cobra species, often reaching up to 5 feet in length and being quite heavy-bodied overall.
Though the Indian cobra’s coloration is made up of somewhat drab shades of grey and brown, its scale patterning, massive hood, and large size make it visually remarkable. As its name suggests, it’s native to India, as well as a few surrounding countries like Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
Indian cobras are hardy and highly adaptable and can thrive in a wide variety of different habitats, including urban areas. However, it most often lives near water, spending much of its time hidden away in rocky outcrops, termite mounds, and hollowed-out trees.
The snake’s venom is powerful and deadly, being both neurotoxic and cardiotoxic. Notably, the Indian cobra is one of the famous “big four” snakes that cause the most bites and human deaths in India.
8. California Red-Sided Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis)
Did you expect to see the humble garter snake on this list? It turns out, there are actually three distinctly colorful subspecies of the common garter snake! The California red-sided variety, however, is perhaps the most beautiful, with either vivid blue or yellow stripes stretching across its brightly-colored red body. The snake’s head is typically bright red as well, making it stand out against the drab, swampy habitat in which it lives.
As its name suggests, this beautiful snake mostly lives throughout California, usually along the coast in low-lying swamplands and marshes, never far from water. Like most typical garter snakes, they’re strong swimmers and skilled hunters. They primarily feed on small amphibians, fish, rodents, and occasionally birds.
Aside from its more unique coloration, the California red-sided garter snake is, well, a pretty standard garter snake. Its very mild venom is not harmful to humans, and the snake itself is not very aggressive towards humans anyway. They’re also quite small, maxing out at around two feet in length.
9. Rhinoceros Viper (Bitis nasicornis)
We come now to yet another viper on this list: the highly venomous yet visually stunning rhinoceros viper! Though its geographical range is small, this beautiful snake has become well-known for its unique patterning and coloration. Also notable is the species’ protruding nasal scales that resemble tiny horns.
This short yet heavy-bodied snake is both colorful and gorgeously patterned. It has ornate bluish-green diamond and hourglass-shaped markings running down the length of its brown and olive-green body. On the top of its head typically is a black diamond-shaped or triangular splotch, with its trademark “horns” at the tip of its nose.
Rhinoceros vipers live only in West and Central Africa, mainly in countries like Ghana, Sudan, Cameroon, and Uganda. More specifically, it resides in densely forested areas near water, where it hides amongst the foliage and leaf litter on the forest floor during the day and comes out to hunt at night.
The rhinoceros viper’s venom is both hemotoxic and neurotoxic, a deadly and potent combination that it uses to take down prey with incredible efficiency. Fortunately, an antivenom does exist, but you still definitely want to avoid this beautiful snake if it crosses your path!
10. Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus)
Finally, we cap off our list with the absolutely breathtaking emerald tree boa. This snake’s name suits it perfectly and mainly refers to its vivid emerald-green coloration. This green base body color is accentuated and broken up by small, irregular, zig-zagging white lines that almost look like tiny lightning bolts!
Interestingly, the emerald tree boa is not bright green from birth. As babies and juveniles, these snakes are more orange or red in color. Eventually, as they age, their true emerald color sets in, usually by the time they are around a year old. The snake’s eyes are a similar greenish-yellow shade with typical thin, slit-shaped pupils.
As their name suggests, emerald tree boas are highly arboreal and skilled, muscular-bodied climbers. They are native to South America, mainly living in parts of Brazil, Venezuela, the Guianas, and Colombia, both in and around the Amazon Rainforest.
Despite being non-venomous, emerald tree boas are skilled and efficient hunters. They are nocturnal and hunt late at night, hiding amongst the branches and waiting to ambush any small rodents, lizards, frogs, and birds that cross their path.