The thought of snakes elicits a fear response. We are prone to imagining that all snakes are dangerous and venomous. This means that we also picture snakes striking and biting us at every opportunity. While it’s true that snakes do bite humans, it’s rarer than you may realize.
Some bites can cause damage to your skin, even if the snake releases its bite immediately. It is vital that you understand how to react to a snakebite without panicking, and learn what to do after it’s happened. We will also explain why a snake may attack, and what to expect if it does happen.
- 1 Why Would a Snake Bite a Human?
- 2 How to Remove a Snake Biting You
Why Would a Snake Bite a Human?
Snakes will typically bite humans through fear. No matter how scared of snakes you are, they will be considerably more afraid of you.
Snakes are nervous creatures by nature. They’re prey to many animals in the wild, and they know it. This is why snakes often remain hidden from view, focusing on staying safe.
When a human approaches a snake, all the snake sees is a predator. This means that a snake’s natural response will be to attempt an escape and to hide. Like all scared snakes, however, a snake may bite in self-defense if it considers this necessary.
The good news is that this will often be a short, sharp attack. As snakes see humans as predators, they will have no intention of prolonging their exposure. This usually means that the snake will bite, then seize their opportunity to flee.
Most snakes will release their grip as soon as they bite. The exception is a particularly angry and frightened venomous breed. They will chew to release poison to subdue their prey.
Do I Know if a Snake is Going to Bite Me?
There is not always a hard-and-fast rule to an aggressive snake’s body language. The common ‘strike’ pose – body in an ‘s’ shape, head reared – does not apply to all species. However, there are certain signs to look out for:
- A snake edging toward you. Most snakes will be frightened of humans, and aim to escape. If they are getting closer and closer, it suggests they are looking to bite.
- A snake hissing and licking the air. This is because snakes have poor eyesight, and use their tongues to smell. A snake’s forked tongue sends a message to a gland inside the mouth. This tells the snake if the prey is to their left or right.
- A snake moving their tail onto something solid. A snake is looking for a rock, or something similar may be seeking a launchpad. They will use this to propel themselves forward and attack.
Remember, a snake could attack from any position, so never be complacent.
How Can I Tell if a Snake is Poisonous?
There are a handful of venomous snakes that are native to the United States. All of these belong to the pit viper family.
Cottonmouths, coral snakes, and Diamondbacks are the most common breeds of dangerous snake in the country. Some of the common physical characteristics shared by poisonous snakes are:
- Wide, fat bodies. Most nonvenomous snakes are longer and thinner.
- Triangular heads, with diamond-shaped eyes. Nonvenomous breeds tend to have round heads and round eyes.
- Non-venomous snakes do not have prominent fangs, but rather rows of small teeth. Remember, though, that some poisonous snakes retract their fangs when using them to avoid hurting themselves.
- Rattles on the tail. All rattlesnakes are venomous, but some snakes just rattle their tails.
- Bright colors though is not an exact science. Some non-venomous breeds can also be colorful.
Unless you are an expert, it can be difficult to tell a venomous snake on sight. This means that, should you encounter a snake in the wild, you should leave it alone.
Even if a snake is venomous, it will not actively hunt a human. Stay calm, and slowly move away. This should allow the snake to go their own way without incident.
How to Avoid Getting Bitten By a Snake
A failsafe method of avoiding snakebites is avoiding the interaction. If you come into contact with a snake, don’t make a fuss. Remember that this is a frightened animal, operating on instinct.
Just stay calm and quiet, and take one, slow, step backward. Do this steadily, as a typical snake has poor eyesight but can sense sudden movements. If you panic and rush, you may inadvertently trigger a snake’s hunting instinct.
No matter if a wild snake is venomous or not, you should never attempt to handle them. Again, this comes down to the fact that snakes are afraid of you.
You may just be scooping them up for a closer look, but the snake doesn’t realize this. Keeping your hands away from a snake’s teeth is an obvious way to avoid being bitten.
If you keep a pet snake in a terrarium at home, they may still occasionally bite. Most snake breeds kept as pets are docile and will tolerate being handled. However, tolerating is not the same as enjoying. Snakes do not bond with their owners in the same way as a dog or cat.
If you handle your snake before they are used to your scent, they may be frightened. Handling your snake around feeding time may lead to them mistaking your hand for food. The same may also happen if you don’t wash your hands and they smell of prey.
Finally, avoid handling your snake around the time they are shedding. Their skin will be feeling delicate around this time, and they prefer to be left alone.
Do All Breeds of Snake Bite?
All breeds of snake can bite and may do so. The same could be said about any animal with teeth, including humans. Most snake breeds avoid doing so.
The constrictor family, for example, asphyxiates prey rather than biting due to a lack of venom. Popular pet snakes such as the ball python fall into this category. A snake with poisonous fangs, however, such as a rattlesnake, will attack via their teeth.
In these instances, the snake will remain clinging on to chew their prey. Biting is a rare reaction from a nonvenomous snake upon seeing a human, though. These breeds will usually retreat immediately after they have struck.
If you encounter such a creature in the wild and they rear up, back away. If you spot a snake minding their own business in the wild, leave them to it. If you have a pet snake that bites you, return them to their habitat immediately. The explanation for any of these behaviors usually revolves around fear. This can be avoided by respecting the boundaries between humans and snakes.
Do Snake Bites Hurt?
This depends on the breed of snake. Some pet snake breeds, such as the corn snake, have tiny teeth that cause little pain. In these circumstances, it’s no worse than being bitten by a hamster or other small animal. You may bleed a little, but all you’ll need is a Band-Aid.
Of course, a venomous snake in the wild will cause much more pain – and other potential side effects. These could range from bleeding to trouble breathing, muscle spasms, and paralysis.
Fatality is even possible in the long term. If a poisonous snake bites you, such as the coral snake, seek medical attention immediately. Antivenins are available, but time may be of the essence.
How to Remove a Snake Biting You
A venomous and agitated snake will hold onto their prey after biting. The more a snake chews, the more venom they release. This, in turn, can subdue and paralyze prey. In these circumstances, you’ll need to know how to get a snake to release its grip.
Follow these steps to do so:
- Don’t yank the snake backward. This will potentially tear your skin, or break their teeth.
- Focus on releasing the top jaw of the snake. This is where the venomous fangs are found, and where the snake will concentrate their biting. Open the mouth with a stick and release yourself. Don’t squeeze the snake’s head. This will agitate it, and cause it to bite harder.
- If you are in trouble, try bending the snake’s tail up. This will cause the snake a great deal of pain, as you are essentially bending their spine. Most snakes will release their grip in such circumstances, but you may enrage the snake.
- If you have access to alcohol, pour this over the snake’s head as a last resort. This will often kill the snake. This will release their grip, but nobody wants to kill an animal unless it’s 100% necessary.
Another option could be to seek a water source. Running warm water over a snake’s head will usually cause them to release their grip. You could also try submerging the snake in water. As snakes cannot breath underwater, they will eventually release you.
Sometimes, a nonvenomous snake may also remain clinging on after a bite. This may be an act of aggression, but this is extremely rare. What is more likely is that the snake’s teeth are stuck in your skin. You should follow the same steps as above in these situations.
Alternatively, just rub their scales against the natural direction of growth. This often sends a message to a tame snake to release a bite.
Do Snakes Lose Their Teeth When They Bite?
A snake’s teeth are not like a bee sting, falling out after every bite. However, if you pull a snake away suddenly, it’s possible that their teeth will break off. This can also happen when chewing on particularly tough prey.
If your pet snake loses a tooth, there is no need to panic. A snake that loses a tooth or fang will grow back a replacement fairly quickly. As long as their mouth remains clean and disease-free, the snake will be perfectly healthy.
What Should I Do if a Snake Has Bitten Me?
If a snake bites you, the first thing that you must do is stay calm. Slowly move away from the snake if it’s in the wild, and provide it with an escape route. You may well find that the snake flees straight afterward. If the snake is clinging on, follow the advice in this guide to release its grip. Never seek revenge on the snake. You’ll probably earn a second bite for your trouble.
Following a snake bite, take the following steps.
- Try to identify the snake breed that bit you.
- If you are bleeding, dress the wound and keep it the below the heart.
- If the bite is on the hand, remove any rings or other jewelry.
- If the snake was nonvenomous, keep an eye out for any symptoms. If you have not had a Tetanus shot in ten years, book one with your physician.
- If the snake was poisonous, get to the closest ER as quickly as possible. Stay calm, but acknowledge that you will need medical attention. Thankfully, antivenins are hugely impactful, and the mortality rate of snakebites in America is virtually zero.
Knowing the difference between a poisonous and nonvenomous snake can be pivotal. Unfortunately, when it comes to a snakebite, the difference can become clear too late. A venomous snake that holds on and chews can cause real health problems. If you are not sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry and visit the ER. Not every symptom of a snakebite manifests immediately.
If a snake bites you and seems reluctant to let go, you should seek medical help after the event. Remember, however, such a scenario can often be avoided by leaving a snake alone. If you avoid contact, the snake will rarely track you down and pick a fight.