Snake ‘milking’ is the process where a qualified professional extracts the venom from a snake. This is a dangerous profession as the snake may bite you. But with proper training and protective equipment, the risk of getting bitten by a highly venomous snake can be much reduced.
Qualifications in herpetology or toxicology, or at least biology or zoology, are necessary. You will need a degree and perhaps a postgraduate degree in one of these subjects. Venomous snake handling experience, even as a hobby, is needed. Otherwise, the job is too dangerous. Serpentariums, zoos, and research facilities may have positions available for new entrants.
Given the danger of being bitten and envenomated by a lethal snake, the job has obvious health risks. Snake milker pay is lower than you might expect. But it’s a career path that appeals to people who are interested in deadly snakes.
- 1 How Do You Milk a Snake?
- 2 How Do You Get Antivenom for Snake Bites?
- 3 Required Snake Milker Skills and Aptitudes
- 4 How to Become a Snake Milker
- 5 How Much Does a Snake Milker Make a Year?
How Do You Milk a Snake?
The term ‘milking’ is typically associated with cows and other dairy animals. But the process of milking a snake is different. The term refers to the extraction of venom in a particular way.
The first step is to extract the venom from the snake. The snake stores its venom in special glands at the rear of its head (venom glands). However, you can’t extract it with a syringe. The only way is to get the snake to use its venom in the way it would in the wild.
To collect the venom, you need a jar or flask. Over the top of this flask, you draw a sheet of latex. This provides the snake with something to bite into. You have to annoy the snake to the point that it strikes. The snake is positioned so that it will strike the jar.
Naturally, this process should involve protective equipment. Key is venomous snake-handling gloves. These are thick enough that the snake’s fangs can’t pierce them. You should also wear goggles, especially if milking a snake that can shoot its venom, such as a species of rattlesnake.
The snake is left to pump out venom into the jar. You must continue holding the snake by the rear of its head to allow it to continue. Once the snake isn’t producing any more venom, it is put back into its enclosure. The process is then started with another snake.
Venomous Snakes That Are Milked
Not all venomous snakes are milked. That’s because snakes are milked either to create antivenom (snake venom antidote) or for research. Most poisonous snakes don’t have venom strong enough to hurt you seriously, so there is no need for antivenom. These snakes are also researched less.
Some snakes are milked more frequently than others. The most common are those that bite the most. These snakes bite frequently, and also have venom that is interesting for scientists to research. Snakes that are milked include the following:
- Asps and vipers
- Coral snakes
However, not all of these snakes are milked to the same degree. Coral snakes, for example, were always milked to produce coral snake antivenom. The only company to do so in the United States was Wyeth Pharmaceutical.
Wyeth created coral snake antivenom from the 1960s until 2003. But in that year, they stopped production, because it was so rarely needed and unprofitable.
According to the Orianne Society, Wyeth and their old stock were bought by Pfizer. They have not recommenced production, but did tests to ensure that existing stock, even when outside of its original date, was still usable.
PLoS One states that research is ongoing to find a new antivenom. However, there is still no antivenom being produced for the American market.
The lack of antivenom for a reasonably common deadly snake in the U.S. is indicative of the rarity of snake milking jobs and pharmaceutical companies producing antivenom.
How Do You Get Antivenom for Snake Bites?
It’s no surprise that snake venom is the crucial ingredient in the creation of antivenom. Scientists haven’t yet come up with a reliable method of creating antivenom that doesn’t involve real venom.
However, ‘milking’ is only half of the antivenom creation process. If you injected a person with pure venom, it would kill them as quickly as the snake that bit them. The venom has to be processed before it can be used.
This is done by injecting it into an animal that has some resistance to the venom. Historically, horses, sheep, and cows have been used. The venom is injected into their bloodstream. The animal will then produce antibodies intended specifically to fight off the venom.
Over time, enough of these antibodies are produced that they can be harvested in useful amounts. A safe amount of blood is drawn from the animal, and a serum containing the antibodies is spun out.
When injected into a person, these antibodies function as they would have in the animal that produced them. They break down the venom into something more manageable that the body can handle.
The venom extracted from the snake can either go through this process to create antivenom, or be used as it’s collected for scientific research. The former is the more common use, but research into snake venom is always ongoing.
Required Snake Milker Skills and Aptitudes
The primary skill needed is that you can handle a venomous snake safely. If you are unable to do this, you can’t become a snake milker. Safe snake-handling requires:
- Gentleness but with the application of appropriate force at crucial moments
- Knowledge of snake behavior and body language
Knowledge of how to breed snakes may also be necessary. Most snake milker positions don’t just entail milking the snake. They may also require you to breed and keep the snakes correctly, too. Other regular skills are needed, like teamwork and record-keeping.
The personality of a snake milker is important. You have to be safety-conscious at all times, and enjoy handling snakes. You also need to work well in a team.
How Dangerous is Snake Milking?
The risks of snake milking are obvious as you only work with dangerous venomous snakes. Some of these snakes can kill with only one bite. Some snakes even spit their venom from a distance, which can damage your skin or blind you.
However, snake milking is only dangerous if the professional doesn’t do his/her job properly. Snakes take their cues from their owners. So, if you act like a threat, they will respond to you in that way
This means that if you act calmly and professionally, the chances of being bitten are lower. You also have to wear protective equipment, such as:
- Gloves thick enough to prevent bites
- Goggles, especially with snakes that can spit venom
With this protective equipment, there’s little chance of the snake being able to hurt you. But any facility in which snakes are milked will have antivenom to hand anyway. When a snake milker gets bitten, they can use this antivenom to prevent severe side effects.
Why Is Antivenom So Expensive?
Antivenom can cost thousands of dollars per vial. While healthcare is generally expensive, antivenom is more so than usual.
That’s because of the way it is obtained. The process of milking snakes is a difficult and slow one. The dangers of milking snakes mean that precautions have to be taken. It’s not as easy as grabbing the snake and extracting the venom.
Also, each snake only produces a small amount of venom each time it’s milked. This limits the amount of venom available to create antivenom in the first place. Then, aside from that, you also have to factor in the expense of keeping the animals necessary to create the antivenom.
How to Become a Snake Milker
It’s a dangerous job that requires expert knowledge. Without a proper grasp of the science behind venomous snakes, you could be putting yourself in real danger.
That’s why there are qualifications that you’ll need if you want to become a snake milker. Plus, there are lots of basic snake milker facts to learn.
While there are qualifications you’ll need, just as important is your background knowledge. Being interested in snakes, and having kept snakes before, is practically necessary. An employer would always pick somebody who has this background over someone that hasn’t.
If you have already worked with snakes in some capacity, that will help. Working in a zoo, for example, would be a valuable experience. If you’ve handled snakes as a hobby and in a professional capacity, that’s a big plus.
That’s especially the case if you’ve interacted with venomous snakes before. If you’ve worked as a park ranger, for example, or at a zoo that keeps venomous snakes. Having done so shows that you know how to interact with them safely and effectively.
But experience alone won’t be enough. You also have to have qualifications relevant for the niche you want to enter. That applies just as much to snake milking as it does to any other field.
Snake Milker Qualifications
From high school, you’ll require good grades in subjects like biology, chemistry, and math. This will give you the foundation you need for your further academic education.
You will then need a college degree in a relevant scientific field. Biology would be good enough, but ideally, you should study zoology. This will give you the most relevant knowledge that you would use in your day-to-day job. Minors in subjects like biology and chemistry would help.
If you could find a qualification in something like herpetology or toxicology, that would be even better. These would teach you much of what you need to know. They would also likely allow you to experience handling and breeding snakes first hand, or at least working with venom.
Academic Courses for Snake Milking
If you have a degree in biology, for example, you may benefit from further education. This will allow you to specialize yet further in either the handling of snakes, toxicology, or both. With this added expertise, you stand more chance of success in job applications.
Further academic education in the form of a master’s degree (MSc) or a doctorate would be sufficient. There are master’s degrees relevant to toxicology and snakes, specifically. If you couldn’t find an undergraduate course specializing in these subjects, a master’s would be a good step.
A doctorate likely won’t be necessary if you intend on working a public outreach job, for example. You will only need one if you plan on working in an academic environment. So, if you want to research venom and its effects, then a doctorate is necessary.
Where to Apply for Snake Milking Jobs
Snake milking is a highly regulated industry. The government keeps tabs on the facilities that house venomous snakes. Otherwise, anybody could set up their own business milking snakes, but without proper safety practices.
One place that may have snake milker job openings is a serpentarium. These are like zoos, but exclusively for snakes. Facilities like these make money in many ways: by allowing the public to see the snakes, and using the snakes as a resource.
Herpetariums are a similar kind of facility, but which don’t specialize in snakes. Instead, they display reptiles more generally. It’s less likely that a herpetarium will have a wide range of venomous snakes, but they may still have an available job.
Alternatively, there may be vaccine and antivenom biotech companies in your area that offer snake milking jobs. These offer a highly professional and regulated work environment, so are safe despite the danger of the snakes.
These companies usually focus on one kind of antivenom, e.g. for coral snakes. They market their product to medical institutions. They will oversee the entire antivenom production process.
You should send your resume directly to these companies, even if there aren’t any adverts you can find. Because this is such a niche job, you’re not likely to find many open snake milker positions. They may keep your resume on record in case one becomes open.
Snake Milking On-The-Job Training
There’s only so much you could learn about snake milking from a book. Of course, there are the safety aspects of the job. Qualifications in toxicology would give you background knowledge, although it wouldn’t be that useful on a day-to-day basis.
That’s why you’ll need practical as well as theoretical training. This will occur after you’re hired. Unless you have prior experience in the position, they will offer it to you. It will likely consist of shadowing a person already qualified and experienced in milking snakes.
They will show you how to complete the process, from start to finish, safely. This involves the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as safe handling techniques. Watching someone else at work will give you a better idea of how the job works.
Only after this experience will the management team be happy that you are safe and ready to go.
However, there are no apprenticeships or similar that you can undertake. This is such a niche profession that there aren’t any. Plus any experience you gain wouldn’t be useful working elsewhere.
How Much Does a Snake Milker Make a Year?
Because snake milking is such a niche job, it’s difficult to give a proper estimate of how much you’re likely to earn. Open positions for snake milking are few and far between. However, the average seems to be around $30,000.
This is less than you could expect to earn from other jobs related to zoology. For other zoology jobs, you could potentially earn $60,000 or more. Considering that it would be possible to get other zoological jobs that involve snakes, snake milking may not be the most lucrative option.
Another drawback is that there would be no promotional opportunities available. There is no relevant position you could expect to be promoted to, at least not one that has the same responsibilities. Again, this is in contrast to other zoological jobs.
You also wouldn’t be able to negotiate a much higher salary elsewhere, even with experience. Both the experience you gain and the qualifications you need wouldn’t enable you to find jobs in many other fields. This is something you need to consider before you think of taking a position.
Should You Become a Snake Milker?
The main reason you would want to become a snake milker is if you like snakes. It’s one of the few jobs where you get hands-on experience with them. You’ll work with snakes every day.
But there are good reasons to avoid becoming a snake milker. The first is the lack of available openings. You would struggle to find positions near you, so you may have to move. The lack of positions also puts you at a disadvantage when negotiating a salary.
You have to consider whether you’ll work the same job your whole life. If you don’t want to, then the experience you’ll gain from this job is too niche. You won’t be able to use it in any other position.
Then, you have to think about the danger of the job. If done correctly, you will be safe. But you’re still working with exceptionally dangerous snakes. Other jobs have no such dangers.
The low salary is reason enough to avoid the job. While the salary is variable, even if you have a high starting wage, there’s no chance of getting a pay rise through promotion. So, if you enjoy working with snakes, there are other jobs available such as:
- Working in a zoo
- Working in a serpentarium
- Working in a pet store that specializes in snakes or reptiles
- Working in a national park that has a lot of snake species
You should consider these first before training to become a snake milker.