Venomous snakes are among the most feared and misunderstood animals on the planet. There are 600 species of venomous snakes distributed across the globe, from the deserts of Australia to the fields of North America.
While the chances of being bitten by a venomous snake are low, safety is still a concern for anyone who could potentially encounter one of these reptiles. As most people live in an area with at least one venomous species, knowing what to do if bitten is a vital skill.
What does a snake bite feel like? If bitten, what should you do? Continue reading to find out.
How dangerous is a venomous snake bite?
Depending on the species of venomous snake, the effects of a bite can range from temporary minor swelling to rapid organ failure and death. Some snakes have venom so potent that a single bite could kill 100 adult humans!
Despite the lethality of these species, fatalities from snake bites are relatively rare where medical services are available. Of the 81,000 – 138,000 people who die each year from snake bites, most live in areas where treatment is inaccessible.
In the United States, the most dangerous snake is the diamondback rattlesnake. Though not the most venomous species, its large size and aggressive nature make it responsible for the most deaths each year.
What to do if bitten by a venomous snake
Step 1: Stay calm. The first and most important thing to do if bitten by a venomous snake is to remain calm. Venom circulates through the body via the bloodstream, and a panicked heartbeat causes a faster spread.
Step 2: Call for help. If you can, call 911 or local medical services as quickly as possible. If you are in an area without access to a phone or phone reception, slowly make your way to the nearest source of help. Proceed carefully and take a break if you feel dizzy.
Step 3: Photograph the snake. If possible, identify or photograph the snake that bit you. This helps medical teams know what antivenom to administer. Do not attempt to kill, capture, or chase the snake.
Step 4: Apply first aid. Until help arrives, treat the bite with basic first aid. Wash the bite area gently with soap and water, and cover it with a clean, dry bandage. Remove any rings or watches near the bite, as these may constrict blood flow if the area starts to swell. Lay down with the bitten appendage below head level. If you have a pen or marker, mark the progression of swelling with the time.
(Speaking of beasts, make sure to check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to starving the beast.)
First aid for a snake bite: what to avoid
There are many misconceptions about how to treat a snake bite, many of which do more harm than good.
- Apply ice to the bite
- Wait before calling for help
- Apply a tight bandage or tourniquet
- Take pain relievers (many of these reduce the effectiveness of blood clotting)
- Try to drain or suck out the venom
What does a snake bite feel like?
Pain may not set in immediately following a venomous snake bite—in some cases, it can take 15 minutes or more for a bite to become painful. In most venomous species, the pain comes not from the venom itself but from the damage it inflicts on the surrounding tissue.
In North America, rattlesnakes and copperheads are the culprits of most venomous snake bites. A bite from a copperhead is accompanied by localized burning and stinging of the bite site, swelling, nausea, and sweating. Rattlesnake bites are more painful, with victims describing a feeling of an excruciating, scalding burn or persistent stabbing around the area of the bite. They are followed by extreme nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and swelling.
How to prevent venomous snake bites
Venomous snake bites are a painful, frightening, and potentially dangerous hazard of being outside, but should not be a reason to avoid the outdoors. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from unpleasant encounters with venomous snakes.
- Learn about your local species.
Learning what snakes call your area home is an important first step to preventing snake bites. Knowledge of the behavior and body language of snakes, combined with the ability to distinguish native venomous species from harmless ones, will help you identify and avoid dangerous snakes in the first place.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
Whenever you are out in nature, pay attention to where you put your feet and hands. Many bites occur when people accidentally step on or brush past a hidden snake.
- Discourage snakes from settling on your property
Though snakes are beneficial for pest control, having them close to your home can be worrisome if you live in a region with venomous species. To prevent snakes from venturing too close to your property, keep piles of debris (ex., brush piles or lawn décor) picked up and away from your house. Close all garage doors and do not leave out anything that could attract mice.
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The possibility of confronting a venomous snake is a fact of life for many people. Most venomous snakes bite as a last resort and would rather flee than fight, but bites may occur if the snake is stepped on or touched accidentally. There are steps you can take to reduce the chances of being bitten: when outdoors, always pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of what species you may encounter.
Knowing what to do if envenomated by a snake is potentially lifesaving for you or those around you. Have you had a run-in with a venomous snake? Let us know in the comments.
Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty. You can read more from Nigel at More Reptiles