Humans are hardwired to fear snakes due to the risk that they will bite. But, of the 2,700 recognized snake species in the world, just 300 are venomous.
We will provide some really interesting facts about snake venom, explaining how to recognize a venomous snake on sight and what impact their venom would have when injected.
- 1 What Kind of Venom Do Snakes Produce?
- 2 What is the Purpose of Snake Venom?
- 3 How Snakes Inject Their Venom
- 4 How Much Venom Does a Snake Produce?
- 5 What Snake Families are Venomous?
- 6 Can Snake Venom be Removed?
- 7 Can a Snake be Killed By Its Venom?
- 8 How Can I Tell a Snake is Venomous by Sight?
What Kind of Venom Do Snakes Produce?
There are two primary forms of venom:
- Hemotoxic Venom. This attacks the blood and internal organs. The result will be a breakdown of tissue and inflammation. This is extremely painful.
- Neurotoxic Venom. This causes the entire nervous system to shut down. This form of venom is often fatal.
Snakes produce both kinds of venom, with some breeds using one more than the other. Here’s some information on whether snakes are immune to their own venom.
What is the Purpose of Snake Venom?
Snake venom has one primary aim; immobilizing and killing prey, making them easier to eat. This does not mean that snakes only use their venomous fangs to hunt, though.
A snake may bite as a defense mechanism, buying themselves time to escape from a predator. In addition to this, snakes use their venom to dissolve and digest their food.
Rats and mice are common sources of food for most breeds of snake. A snake may lay in wait, hiding in their environment, and ambush a passing rodent. When they sink their fangs into the other animal, it often immobilizes them. The snake will then take one of three actions.
Some snakes bite again and again, until the rodent dies. Some snakes wrap their body around the prey so it cannot escape, sinking their fangs deeper. Others allow prey to crawl away, and wait for it to die. No rodent will survive long after a snakebite, ensuring the reptile can eat its meal.
Snakes always prefer to eat dead prey for the reason of self-defense. Snakes swallow their food whole, as live rodents will be able to scratch and claw. This could cause permanent damage to a snake’s eyes or scales, so they take no chances.
People who own venomous snakes sometimes decide to remove the venom glands of the snake. Obviously, there are pros and cons of this practice.
How Snakes Inject Their Venom
As discussed, snakes inject venom by sinking their fangs into prey. The venom is released from hollow points at the bottom of these teeth. From there, it heads straight into the bloodstream of the prey and gets to work.
Remember though, a snake’s fangs do not contain venom. They act as a delivery system for the toxins when a snake bites down on prey.
Do Snakes Release Venom Every Time They Bite?
Not necessarily. The release of venom is an active choice. Some snakes choose to ‘bluff’ by biting an animal in self-defense and not releasing any venom.
This is done with the intention of hurting and shocking a predator, giving time to escape. This is sometimes referred to as a dry bite. In other instances, a snake may accidentally release their venom prematurely. This means they will perform a dry bite, whether they intended to or not.
How Does a Snake’s Venom Affect Its Prey?
This depends on the breed of snake, and how much venom they release with a bite. However, almost all venom involves the paralysis of nerves, blood clots, and disintegration of muscle tissue.
Common symptoms of snake venom include:
- Searing pain.
- Profuse and uncontrollable bleeding.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Trouble breathing.
- Loss of muscle control.
- Loss of consciousness.
If you encounter any of these symptoms while interacting with a snake, you should seek medical attention. Time may be of the essence, and different venoms react at different speeds.
How Much Venom Does a Snake Produce?
This depends on the size of the snake. A larger snake will have a larger venom gland, meaning they can produce more toxins. Overall, the range of venom created by a snake ranges from 1mg to 850mg.
Have you heard of snakes being called the most venomous in the world? This means that the species release the highest quantity of toxins in a single bite.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) produce the most venom of any snake native to the USA. Throughout the world, the most venomous snake in the world is the Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus). Thankfully, this breed is only found in the Australian outback.
Do Snakes Ever Run Out of Venom?
A snake can temporarily run out of venom. The gland that creates the toxins can only hold so much, after all. If a snake bites and bites, releasing venom every time, there will eventually be nothing left.
Think of a snake’s venom gland as being akin to the gas tank of your car. Every usage depletes the supply. The average snake will be able to perform three of four venomous bites at a time.
However, this is not a reason to feel too secure. As venom is generated organically, the supply will replenish. How quickly this happens depends on the breed of snake.
Also, don’t forget that snakes do not need venom to inflict deadly bites. Even if they aren’t releasing toxins, a snake’s fangs are very sharp and may contain bacteria. Dry bites are not harmless.
How Long Does it Take for a Snake to Produce Venom?
This could take a few minutes, or it could take a few hours. It depends on the size of the snake, and their environment.
Let’s go back to our automobile fuel tank analogy. For a larger snake, refilling their venom gland is akin to filling an SUV with gas. It takes a while, but the results will speak for themselves.
Small snakes can regenerate venom faster, but in turn, they’ll run out again sooner.
What is the Difference Between Venomous and Poisonous?
You may have noticed that snakes are referred to as venomous, not poisonous. Although venom and poison have a similar impact on prey, they are administered in different ways.
As Britannica explains, there is a way to define the difference between venomous and poisonous:
- Venomous animals inject toxins through penetration. This could be fangs, as with a snake, or with a sting, such as a Scorpion.
- Poisonous animals will only release their toxins if eaten. This could apply to a Puffer Fish or certain amphibians, including particular frogs and toads.
This definition means that only certain snakes are venomous, and none are technically poisonous. However, as is often the case, it’s not quite that straightforward.
Some snakes eat poisonous amphibians if they are immune to the toxins found within. This is a defense mechanism, as predators will leave the snake alone if they’re not immune. Eating a snake that has eaten a poisonous animal can be fatal for other animals – including humans.
What Snake Families are Venomous?
Just 11% of all the snakes found in the world are venomous.
Most venomous snakes also belong to the same breed families. These include:
- Atractaspidinae. Native to Africa and the Middle East, most are too small to pose a danger. Famous examples of this genus include Harlequin Snakes and Burrowing Asps.
- Elapidae. These snakes are found all over the world, particularly in tropical climes. Many snakes from this family are lethal to humans. The much-feared King Cobra and Black Mamba, for example, are Elapidae. The Inland Taipan, the world’s most venomous snake, is also part of the Elapidae family. Many of this family are also accomplished swimmers. This means that most sea-based snakes are Elapidae.
- Colubridae. This family comprises over half of the world’s snake population. Popular and common pet breeds such as the Kingsnake, Garter Snake and Corn Snake are Many members of this snake family also make their way into yards across America. The vast majority of Colubridae are actually non-venomous. Those that are toxic, however, have caused fatalities.
- Viperidae. This family is made up of vipers. Vipers can be very dangerous, and can be identified by heat sensors in their head. Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths are common snakes in the USA that belong to the Viperidae family.
Many popular nonvenomous snakes, such as Pythons, are sub-genera of the Constrictor family. This is why Pythons do not have fangs. They constrict and asphyxiate their prey, as opposed to biting it.
Are Baby Snakes More Venomous?
If a snake belongs to a venomous breed, they will have the appropriate toxins. Hatchling and baby snakes also have fangs from birth. This is essential for these reptiles, as baby snakes are vulnerable.
Very few breeds of snake are cared for by their mothers following birth. Alas, the snakes will still need to eat, so they will soon enter the wild.
Due to their slow speed and small size, however, young snakes are easy pickings for predators. These could include birds, mammals, and older snakes. Their ability to generate venom could be the difference between a snake reaching maturity and not.
A baby snake will often mix venom with their saliva, whether they intend to or not. This means that there is often no such thing as a dry bite from a hatchling. Baby snakes may also issue more venom than they intend, or is necessary.
Can Snake Venom be Removed?
Yes, snake venom can be removed. It often is within laboratory settings. This is known as, “milking a snake.”
Milking a snake involves experienced herpetologists the venom from a snake’s teeth. This will then be studied, and combined with the venom of other breeds. The purpose is to create antivenin.
Antivenin is another word for the antidotes marketed to hospitals to treat snakebites. Anybody rushed to an emergency room following a reptile attack will be treated with antivenin. Fatalities from such an incident are now rare due to the effectiveness of antivenin.
Can a Snake be Killed By Its Venom?
A snake has a natural level of immunity that protects it from its venom. A snake may accidentally bite its tail, for example, and this will not be fatal. Many breeds of venomous snake also have retractable fangs, preventing them from injecting unnecessary toxins.
Despite this, a snake may be vulnerable to the venom of a rival of the same breed. A snake will be able to tolerate a handful of nips and bites without too much trouble. This is very common.
Snakes are territorial and antisocial, and may fight if they come into contact. Additionally, male snakes wrestle during the mating season, trying to win the favor of a female.
While one or two bites will be tolerated well, it’s possible that a prolonged attack could prove fatal. A snake can only create so much antivenin naturally, after all. Think of it as a human.
Technically, our bodies are filled with poisonous chemicals. If our pancreas or appendix begin leaking fluid, however, we are slowly poisoned from the inside. The same applies to reptiles.
Can a Snake be Killed by Another Snake Breed’s Venom?
A snake could be a victim of another breed. While snakes have a natural, evolutionary immunity to their venom, the same doesn’t apply to others.
This is particularly prominent in breeds like the Kingsnake, King Cobra, and Black Mamba. These breeds will willingly hunt and eat other, smaller snakes. Naturally, to do so, they will need to subdue their prey with toxins first.
Are Any Animals Naturally Immune to Snake Venom?
Mongooses, hedgehogs, honey badgers, and specific wild birds are immune to snake venom. While hedgehogs are too small to hunt and eat snakes, the other animals are common predators.
How Can I Tell a Snake is Venomous by Sight?
There are a handful of methods of identifying a venomous snake, but none of them are foolproof. There are exceptions to every rule, and some venomous snakes look very similar to harmless breeds. Likewise, some harmless snakes look like toxic counterparts as a defense mechanism.
However, the following guidelines often apply:
- Venomous snakes have fangs.
- Venomous snakes have oval or diamond-shaped eyes, not round eyes.
- Venomous breeds are usually heavier, stockier, and wider.
- Many venomous breeds have more triangular-shaped heads. This is especially common in the Viperidae family. A non-venomous breed will often have a more rounded head.
Are Venomous Snakes More Aggressive?
Snakes are largely afraid of humans and will seek to avoid us. Even the Inland Tapian, deadly though it may be, is famously shy and reclusive.
There are exceptions to every rule. Some snakes are naturally belligerent, such as the Black Mamba or Coastal Taipan. Fortunately, these breeds are not native to the U.S.
You will also need to be careful about accidentally encountering a snake. Remember, these creatures love to hide. Leaves, or even a tree trunk, may camouflage them.
If you enjoy hiking or walking through territories known to host snakes, tread carefully. Wear protective clothing such as boots and long sleeves, and upon spotting a snake, back away.
Is Snake Venom Lethal to Humans?
No, some snakes do not produce enough venom to prove fatal to a healthy adult. At least not directly. However, a snakebite must always be investigated by a healthcare professional. Do not trust that you identified a snake as harmless on sight.
Sometimes, symptoms will manifest slowly. You may feel fine initially, but undergo a slow and steady degradation. In other instances, even if the snake did not release venom, you could be in shock. There is nothing to gain by ignoring a snakebite.
Also, remember that snakes eat rodents, and other wild animals. They also spend a great deal of time burrowing underground. This means that their mouths are rarely clean. At the very least, you may need a Tetanus shot after being bitten by a snake. This is especially important if the bite broke the skin. Even dry bites carry the risk of a secondary infection.