SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE BITTEN BY A SNAKE?
April 18, 2010
a version of these questions every spring.
Q: How many
eastern snakes are venomous? What should I do if I see one or get bitten?
of the Mississippi River, only seven of more than 50 native species of
snakes are venomous. Many environmental variables can influence what species
you encounter and how dangerous a bite from one might be. Following are
basic guidelines for avoiding snakebite and recommendations for what to
do in the unlikely event that someone is bitten.
the venomous species are the copperhead and the two small rattlesnakes
(massasauga and pygmy). A bite from one of these snakes is rarely if ever
lethal to humans. Copperheads bite more people in the United States than
any other venomous species, but their venom is less potent than most of
the others and a bite usually causes minimal damage to the victim. The
other venomous snakes of eastern North America are the large pit vipers
(diamondback rattler, timber or canebrake rattler, and cottonmouth or
water moccasin) and the coral snake. Any of these is potentially lethal.
But unless you pick up a snake, you have only a small chance of receiving
a serious bite. Snakes bite people in self-defense as a last resort. Dangerous
snakebites are uncommon and most can be avoided. With a few simple precautions
you can enjoy the snakes along with the rest of nature's springtime wonders.
the snakes in your region. If you are concerned about the potential danger
of snakebite, find out which venomous snakes might be around and what
they look like. Check out websites such as www.uga.edu/srelherp
or consult a field guide.
2. Use common
sense. If you see a snake, observe it from a few feet away. Do not try
to catch it or disturb it in any way. Many people have been bitten trying
to kill a large venomous snake in a natural area when they could have
simply walked away from it. If you are in an area that venomous species
inhabit, watch where you step and be careful where you put your hands.
Rock ledges and fallen logs are prime real estate for snakes.
proper attire. When you walk through areas known to have venomous snakes,
such as swamps or thick vegetation, the safest approach is to wear long
pants and high-topped boots or even snake leggings. Leather shoes are
too thick for most snake fangs to penetrate.
your car keys and cell phone handy. Having a vehicle to transport a snakebite
victim to an emergency care facility and a cell phone to call ahead are
smart precautions to take. Of course, such forethought would be helpful
in any emergency.
snakebites are rare, and whether a bite is serious or minor depends on
various factors. Many U.S. bites occur when someone picks up the snake-so
don't pick up the snake. For bites in which the person did not see the
snake until too late to avoid being bitten, half or more of them are "dry
bites." That means no venom was injected. The potency and amount
of venom injected and the tendency of the snake to strike depend on the
species. For example, an eastern diamondback has venom 10 times as potent
as a copperhead. But a copperhead is far more likely than a rattlesnake
to strike a person.
almost everyone, but some people fear them more than they do any other
animal. Much misinformation is disseminated about snakes, and they are
more maligned than any other group of animals. Fortunately, superstitions,
exaggerated stories, and irrational fears about snakes are on the wane
as Americans become more educated about our native wildlife. Snakes are
a barometer of regional environmental attitudes. An ecologically educated
community accepts snakes as an integral component of the natural environment.
Do your part to make sure your community falls into that category by learning
the basic rules for avoiding snakebite. Then get outside and enjoy the
you have an environmental question or comment, email