The CDC estimates that 7000-8000 people in the United States are bitten by venomous snakes every year. That number does not include all the people who are bitten by nonvenomous snakes as well.
Snakes do let go after they bite. However, some species of snakes may hold on for longer than others, depending on what kind of teeth they have and whether they are venomous. Venomous snakes need to hold on longer in order to inject more of their venom. If you are bitten and the snake does not immediately let go, do not try to pull it off. Grabbing the snake’s tail may result in it letting go.
Let’s explore why a snake might bite, and then get into some of the differences which may affect how long it takes a snake to let go.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Do Snakes Bite?
- 1.1 How Snake Teeth Types Affect Its Bite
- 1.2 Do Snakes Chew To Release Venom?
- 1.3 Which Snakes Hold On The Longest?
- 1.4 How To Get a Snake To Release Its Bite
Why Do Snakes Bite?
Snakes are more likely to try to avoid a conflict, so biting is often a last resort. Let’s look more closely at the reasons why snakes bite:
The most common reason a snake will bite is hunger. In the wild, a snake’s teeth are its main tool for hunting. It doesn’t have any hands with which to grab its prey, and so the snake needs to issue a single strong bite.
In captivity, it is common for snakes to become conditioned to associate the presence of a hand with food. If the only time you open your snake’s cage is to feed it, then it may get excited and bite your hand, thinking it’s about to get a meal.
However, you can avoid this by using tongs to feed your snake, or by feeding the snake in a different container than its usual enclosure.
If a snake feels threatened and cannot escape, then biting is its best defense. Snakes can interpret being suddenly grabbed, cornered, or otherwise approached as an attack, and bite as a response.
The best way to avoid getting bitten by a snake is to not give the snake any reason to think that you are a threat. And the best way to do that is to leave the snake alone.
Most other animals in a snake’s habitat associate the sight or smell of a snake with the thought of a painful bite. This is an excellent defense strategy for the snake.
How Snake Teeth Types Affect Its Bite
There are four main types of snake teeth:
These teeth primarily belong to nonvenomous snakes, such as the Burmese python. Aglyphous teeth are similar in their shape and size. These snakes do not have distinct longer fangs.
Venomous snakes have smaller teeth in the front of their jaw and larger teeth in the back. The back teeth inject venom into the snake’s prey. Garter snakes and hognose snakes have opisthoglyphous teeth.
Proteroglyphous teeth are the stereotypical snake teeth often imagined when you think of snake fangs. These snakes, including the king cobra, have two large front fangs and very few other teeth.
Rattlesnakes and other vipers have solenoglyphous teeth. These fangs rest folded up against the roof of the snake’s mouth.
The fangs can be brought down onto their prey very quickly, injecting a large amount of venom in a short period of time.
Do Snakes Chew To Release Venom?
Though snakes have teeth, they do not have the muscles necessary for chewing. Instead, snakes swallow their prey whole. Depending on the species of snake, they may bite their prey and wait for it to die, or they may swallow the prey while it is still alive.
There are some interesting variations on this no-chewing rule. Snakes with opisthoglyphous teeth need to get their prey to the back of their mouth in order to inject their venom. This results in a mouth motion which ‘appears’ similar to chewing.
Also, some species of water snake have been observed tearing their prey into smaller chunks which are easier to swallow. This serves the same purpose as chewing does for humans.
Which Snakes Hold On The Longest?
On the whole, a venomous snake is more likely to hold on with its bite than a non-venomous snake. This is because the snake is using the length of time to inject its venom. Most species of snakes only need a few seconds to inject their venom, but every second counts in this dangerous situation.
Of course, this length of time varies among species of snake. Not all venomous snakes hold on for very long when they bite. According to the Southern Medical Association, Texas coral snakes do not hang onto their prey after a bite.
Additionally, eastern green mambas deliver their venom through a series of quick bites. They grab and release their prey multiple times instead of holding on for a longer period of time.
Snakes with solenoglyphous teeth are able to inject a large amount of venom in a single short bite. This makes these snakes particularly dangerous to humans. With other venomous snakes, it is possible to limit the amount of venom injected by removing the snake in time.
How To Get a Snake To Release Its Bite
If you are bitten by a snake, especially if the snake does not let go right away, you could be in a dangerous medical situation.
Don’t Try To Pull The Snake Off
Many species of snake have curved teeth. If this is the case, then you could rip your skin by pulling it off. This can hurt both you and the snake, making the wound worse and damaging the snake’s jaw.
Grab The Snake’s Tail
A snake’s tail is a sensitive part of its body. Firmly grabbing or bending the snake’s tail can compel a snake to let go of its bite.
Use Water To Remove The Snake
If you can, try submerging the snake and your limb under water. The snake should let go in order to escape and catch its breath. Running warm water over the snake’s head can work as well.
If the snake did inject venom, then the venom will be absorbed more quickly than you could “suck” it out. Instead, you may end up causing an infection by putting your mouth to an open wound.
Make a mental note of the snake’s traits. How big was it? What color was it? What was the shape of its pupils? What kind of teeth did it have? These details can tell a doctor so that the right antivenom can be administered.