• Carrie Gardner

What to do if You're Bit by a Venomous Snake and a Justification to Listen to Metallica

Updated: Sep 19

Like any wild animal, if snakes are cornered or harassed, they will defend themselves. If given the opportunity though, they'd rather go find some place to hide.

If you’ve been bitten, CALL 911! They are in contact with the Florida Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you need help or have been bitten. If you are living in Florida, the Poison Information Center is a statewide service divided into three regional areas: Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami. They work closely with emergency medical staff when a person comes in with a venomous snake bite. In Tampa, it is operated out of Tampa General Hospital and is affiliated with University of South Florida College of Medicine. They are available 365 days/24 hours a day. A physician toxicologist, a registered nurse trained in toxicology and an entomologist are always on call.

Once you arrive at the hospital, treatment depends on the signs you are showing. If there is very little swelling or pain, instead of administering antivenin, they may just observe and monitor your vital signs. This is because there is the possibility that when the snake bit, it didn’t inject venom. Try not to get too irritated. The doctors are doing what’s best for you. It doesn’t make sense to administer antivenin when there is no sign that it was injected. It saves the antivenin for someone who has been envenomated, and it saves you thousands of dollars per vial.

Note: doctors only receive a few hours on venomous animal bites in medical school. If you feel like the doctor treating you isn't competent, you have the right to ask for a consultation with a doctor experienced in envenomation or to be transferred to a facility that does.


1. Spend some time on the computer researching venomous snakes that are found in your area. Memorize what they look like and their behaviors. It is much easier to memorize six snakes (or however many are in your area) than it is to memorize the numerous non-venomous snakes that are the ones most commonly seen. Also check to see if there are non-venomous snakes that mimic venomous ones. The coral snake has two: the scarlet kingsnake and the scarlet snake. The water moccasin has a couple of species of water snakes that are incredibly similar.

If you live near a herpetological society, get in touch with them. They are a great resource of information. (Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. A herpetological society is a group of people interested in reptiles who get together and meet.)

2. Inevitably, your yard is going to have snakes in it. There is no such thing as an effective product that keeps snakes out. And if there was, it would probably wash away in the rain and/or be toxic to the environment. Some substances, like mothballs, are illegal to use outside or in any way other than directed.

There are ways to discourage them from visiting, though. Snakes like cover and hate to be out in the open. Make sure your grass is kept short and your shrubbery trimmed. Pick up any brush piles, stacks of wood (or come up with a creative way to keep them out of the wood) or toys. Likewise, any construction debris should be removed. Walk around your house and yard to fill in any holes you find. Try to keep your yard inhospitable to their main prey source - rodent populations. If you keep chickens, make sure that they are in a coop that snakes can’t get into. Snakes can squeeze through small openings and eggs and chicks are a snake delicacy. *Note on rodenticides - Products like RidX, where the rodent ingests the poison, is not recommended for use. It not only kills the rodent but animals that eat the rodent, causing secondary poisoning. Another thing not to use are glue traps. It traps all animals (a kitten for instance) and they will either have a long suffering death or tear themselves apart.) To release an animal found in a glue trap, use vegetable or olive oil. Pour it on, and slowly work the animal loose.


No matter how much you try to deter snakes from your yard, you're probably going to come out and inevitably see one. How much you've learned about venomous species will determine your actions. If it's a non-venomous snake, just go about your business. A snake’s first instinct is to flee. It could be a foot long, or it could be 20 feet and weigh hundreds of pounds, it doesn’t change the fact that they are only a few inches tall. I'm 5'6". To a snake, that's about 62 inches taller. That's quite intimidating!

If they can't flee, they will most likely freeze. Snakes use camoflage to hide, even if they are out the open, they still think they blend in. If they are feeling threatened, they may or may not coil up in an "S" position. They also may feign strikes or bites, but usually, that's just a bluff.

What they really don't want to do is use their venom to defend themselves. Even though they have plenty of venom to defend themselves and still hunt, it takes time (and energy) for the body to make more.

When they feel they are safe, they will usually leave lickity split to where they think is the best place to hide. Sometimes you just happen to be between it and the spot. This has led to rumors that they chase people.

"Survival of the Fittest" seems cliche here, but if snakes chased people, they would be depleting their energy stores and available venom to use on their prey, leaving them unable to defend themselves or eat. For what reason would they do this? Going from a defensive position to offensive position doesn't make sense as far as a survival plan goes.

If the snake you see is venomous, turn around or give it a wide berth. Give them the opportunity to do what they need to do to feel safe.

If you get bit by a venomous snake, DON'T DO THESE THINGS

1. DON’T GO AFTER THE SNAKE OR KILL IT. Trying to kill a snake significantly increases the chance of getting bit again. Running around trying to catch it also increases the venom’s rate of absorption. Instead of chasing and killing, call 911.

Keep in mind that hospitals really aren't too enthused if you bring in a snake, dead or alive. If it's still alive, it's still dangerous. If it's dead, some poor person that has passed will have to share their spot in the morgue with the snake. Okay, that's a bit of a fib. Either way, they will have to call in someone to take it.

Also, DON'T TOUCH A DEAD SNAKE. They have metabolisms that are much slower than ours. When animals (including us) die, our systems don't all stop at once. Snakes can take hours. During this time, they are still receiving the nerve impulses that allows it to bite. If the snake was a pit viper, the snake may also be getting heat sensing signals, so it would know where to bite. If this isn't freaky enough, a decapitated snake's head acts the same. And yes, it is also possible that they feel pain during their zombie period. Their ability to strike after death can last an hour or more, unless the head is destroyed.

If a dead snake bites you, it will drain every last drop of its venom glands into you. And those glands are large. If this should happen, it is a medical emergency and life threatening. Get to the hospital immediately.

2. Unless you are bleeding profusely and you are in danger of bleeding to death, you should NEVER apply a tourniquet EVER. If it is applied incorrectly or it is on too long, the limb will die. You could, at best, have nerve damage and lose use of that limb. At worst, it will have to be amputated. Bleeding will never be bad enough with a snake bite for it to be necessary to use a tourniquet.

3. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that pooling the venom in one area is a good idea. It will keep the venom from spreading, right? It’s not. The more venom that is pooled in one area, the more damage it does. Pit viper venom is mostly a hemotoxin and it breaks down and destroys tissue. It is better to let the venom circulate through your body and let it thin out than risk losing your limb, either through the improper use of a tourniquet and/or the pooling of tissue destroying toxins in one area.

For that reason, you should not apply ice to a bite. It will slow down circulation, allowing the venom to do more damage as it’s moving slowly through your system.

4. Buying a snake bite kit at the store is a waste of money. Again, you can possibly do more damage. The extractor in these kits claims to be a vacuum that produces a suction powerful enough to take the venom out. In theory, it doesn't make sense, Think about getting an injection in a doctor’s office. Do you think that an extractor would be able to remove the medication injected into your muscle and fat? It won’t work with venom, either. By the time the extractor is retrieved, taken out of the packaging and is ready, the venom has already been distributed throughout your system. These suction cup extractors can be damaging all by themselves, causing serious bruising as the vessels underneath your skin gets sucked up with enough force to break them open. Besides sucking up skin and vessels, it may also pool venom.

5. Cutting the wound and sucking out the venom is a big no-no as well (told you it was coming.) It’s painful, causes more bleeding, and the person sucking blood out of the wound might just get envenomated themselves through mucous membranes and/or cuts. It’s also not sanitary and a secondary infection could happen at the site of the bite.

6. Do not drink or eat anything, and for heaven’s sake, no alcohol! Both alcohol and venom are blood thinners and will increase bleeding. Anything that is eaten or drunk can adversely interact with the venom.

7. DO NOT TAKE BENADRYL OR ANY OTHER MEDICATION EXCEPT UNDER THE CARE OF A DOCTOR!!! Benadryl is used to treat allergies. It reduces swelling by attacking histamines. Snake venom is not an allergen and any effects from snake venom like swelling is caused by the venom. If you were to fall and sprain an ankle that caused swelling, you wouldn't take Benadryl to treat it - you would take an anti-inflammatory since it's an injury. DON'T TAKE AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY EITHER. This is very important: THE ONLY THING THAT WILL TREAT A SNAKE BITE AND REDUCE SWELLING IS AN ANTIVENIN!

If the emergency room doctor tries to give you Benadryl, that would be the perfect time to request a doctor who is experienced in treating snake bites.

Now here’s what to do if you get bit.

1. Call for help immediately! There is usually around a two hour window to get treatment - but don’t take your time.

2. If you can, take a picture of the snake, but, chances are that the culprit is a pit viper, and if so, the same antivenin, CroFab is used. There are subtle differences between species, but not enough that it makes it important to get a picture. CroFab is made from the venom of several species of pit vipers found in the United States. Visual descriptions will do just fine if you saw it but couldn’t manage to snap a pic. As of 2019, there is a new antivenin on the market. Anavip is cheaper and lasts longer in the body. This means that no maintenance treatments are needed to prevent problems with bleeding, unlike CroFab.

3. Lay down and stay calm (easier said than done.) Take deep breaths, think of something that relaxes you, etc. The more you panic, the faster the venom will spread. You don’t want it pooling in one area, but you also don’t want it racing the Daytona 500 in your veins either.

4. Try to keep the affected limb above your heart. Make gravity work for you.

5. Loosen up clothing like shirt collars, belts, scarves, unbutton pants and take off boots and shoes. Remove any jewelry you have, including all piercings. The venom will cause swelling, so everything needs to be loosened or taken off so blood flow won’t be restricted.

6. If you can, circle the bite wound with a pen as closely as you can and write down the date and time you were bitten. This will help the doctor approximate how much venom was injected, and the rate at which it is moving.

7. Reptiles don't carry rabies. Neither do birds. Mammals are the only ones that do. So while a bite may require tetanus, you won't have to go through the rabies shots.


~For pit vipers, between 20%-25% are dry bites. Coral snakes are around 50%. They are reluctant to use their venom for defensive purposes. There is a myth that juvenile snakes can't control the amount of venom injected or that the venom composition is different. Neither is true. Babies are miniature copies of their parents.

~Rattlesnakes don't always rattle in warning. Some may have their rattles broken off or the species is too small to hear it (like a pygmy rattlesnake.) Cottonmouths and copperheads will often rattle their tail to mimic having a rattle - as well as many non-venomous snakes.

~There are a lot of people out there who will shoot or decapitate venomous snakes. Which is a shame, because they aren't dangerous unless you force them to be dangerous. Killing a snake increases the chance of getting bit 80 times more than the 0 times

a person has when they leave the snake alone.

~Snakes and other reptiles are "cold-blooded." Technically, it's called ectothermic. What it essentially means is that they depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature, functions, and metabolism. A warmer snake is more active. If they are colder, they can slow down things like digestion, the circulatory system, and heart and lung rates. This is another reason why snakes don't chase people. They have a limited amount of energy stores to use before they need to reenergize by basking. If they were to lose that energy, they would be putting themselves in a position where they can't defend themselves or hunt. It also means that they can literally go months without eating.

Warm-blooded animals are endothermic, mean don't depend on the environment, we generate and regulate our own body temperature, functions, and metabolism.

~Habitat loss, flooding, and droughts also forces them to be closer to humans than either of us feel comfortable with.

~If you're going to a park, make sure you have the numbers you need in case something should happen (not necessarily a snake bite) and be aware of state and federal laws concerning animals. For the most part harassing, handling, or taking animals out of park grounds is frowned upon. But taking pictures isn't. Also, keep in mind that you may be out of a cell service area.

~Snakes have no external ear openings, so technically, they can't hear. They do have a middle ear, since that is responsible for balance. They can feel vibrations. For this reason, I recommend the very distinctive drumming style of Lars Ulrich of the band Metallica. Point the speakers toward the ground and turn it all the way up. At least a ten mile radius will be snake-free. Actually, you won't see a single animal.

~Statistics show that the ones most likely to get bit are white males between the ages of 15-30 who are inebriated enough to think that they would look mighty cool picking up a venomous snake. Needless to say, the snake does not think it's cool. It would think that it's in imminent harm and would definitely use venom. Snakes are also not too impressed with churches that think God will save them from a snakebite either. Indeed, snakes are fond of proving otherwise.

~I am using the terms "venomous" and "non-venomous" loosely. The truth is that there are quite a few snakes that classified as non-venomous that do have venom (garter snakes, hognose, ringnecks, etc.) The reason why they are classified as non-venomous is because their venom is harmless to people...the more proper term is "medically insignificant." I chose to use "non-venomous" because that is how they are referred to in wildlife guides and in most things Googled.

Again, I encourage everyone to look and see what venomous snakes are found in the area you live in. Learning the identity of the most common non-venomous snakes will also help. Some of them have unique ways of defending themselves that might alarm people. Hopefully, learning about snakes will keep you from panicking when you see one.

I'm not saying there will be an instant bond and you'll occasionally meet for coffee. But you will learn to appreciate them and the role they play in the ecosystem.

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