How You Can Prevent (and Treat!) Venomous Snake Bites

If there’s one thing that can make even the most experienced tracker shudder, it’s the sight of a venomous snake.

Each year in North America, 8,000 bites from venomous snakes are reported – and the number of unreported bites is probably much higher. This number seems incredibly high, but the truth is that very few of these bites result in death. In fact, it is estimated that there are only five deaths per year. To put things in perspective: You’re nine times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a snake.

However, this does not mean that we should be content with snakes, as they are still very capable of inflicting a harmful bite. Although death is unlikely, poisonous snake bites can cause shortness of breath, blurred vision, and possibly temporary paralysis.

This guide tells you everything you need to know when hiking in Snake Land. We teach you effective prevention measures, how to recognize snakes and what to do in the unlikely event of a bite.

Snake identification and de-mythification

First, we will debunk the many myths surrounding snakes. Whether it’s someone quoting an old pipe they found in a magazine from the 1970s, or someone dishonestly trying to sell you a useless snake bite kit, there are a lot of falsehoods circulating on the internet.

Cut-out eyes = poison?

One of the best known identifying features of a venomous snake is the shape of its eyes. Many people believe that a poisonous snake has slits in its eyes. It doesn’t have to be this way.

A 2010 study showed that there is absolutely no connection between the presence of poison and the shape of the pupil. In fact, it has been shown that pupil shape can be determined by predation/formation behavior.

Does snakebite work? (TLDR: NO!)

It is especially a burden for serious trackers and snake lovers. When it comes to poison treatment, snake bite kits are probably one of the biggest scams. These kits just don’t work. Moreover, they are potentially extremely dangerous.

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular kits: the Sawyer suction pump. A 2004 medical study, which received 5 stars and excellent sales, concluded that the pump removes virtually no toxins.

These kits work, for example. B. for less serious bites. Think bees or wasps, but not snakes. In fact, the use of these kits can actually increase local tissue damage due to the concentration of the toxin. In addition, you significantly increase the risk of infection.

Snake detection

One of the most important things you can do to avoid being bitten is to learn how to recognize a venomous snake and take the time to learn some of its most common behaviors.

There are four main species of venomous snakes in North America, each with its own characteristics. Plus, each species has its own behavior, and knowing that will help you prepare for your hike.

Coral Snake

The coral snake is one of the easiest deadly snakes to identify, provided you remember the following saying correctly: red and yellow, kill the man; red and black, Jack’s friend. This saying refers to the colored band on the snake. When the red and yellow bands come together, you know you’re dealing with a poisonous snake.

The coral snake is usually found in forested areas where it hides under leaves or underground. With this knowledge, you will know when you are walking on or near piles of leaves. In general, he has a withdrawn behavior, i.e., he retreats when not being provoked. In other words: If you walk away from it, a bite is highly unlikely.


It is the best known venomous snake species and is especially recognizable by the rattle at the end of its tail, which is both audible and visible. In addition, rattlesnakes usually have a thick and heavy body and a diamond-shaped head.

Although their warning sign is a rattle, it is important to remember that rattlesnakes may not have developed a rattle yet (but they are just as venomous!). It is also possible for the adult snake to lose its rattle, which means you need to know more identifying features than just the tail.

If the rattlesnake seems to have disappeared, it may be easier to identify it in the opposite direction: In other words, if it looks like a rattlesnake but has a pointy tail, you know it’s probably a harmless snake with similar characteristics.

Cotton swab

It is the only semi-aquatic venomous snake in North America, typically found in wetlands such as marshes or in and around water. During the day, you can find a cotton swab on the stones to warm your body.

The main characteristic of the cottonmouth is the presence of dark transverse stripes with light brown shades. In older specimens, however, it can be difficult to see this, as the color becomes incredibly dark.


This snake is known to lure predators into an ambush. It usually hides under rocks or leaves until its prey arrives. It is considered most likely to bite humans, although its venom is not very strong.

Copperheads, instead of always acting like hermits, have been known to stand still when they encounter a human being, unless they can easily move away from him. These are usually the most protected venomous snakes, striking immediately when they feel threatened.

As the name suggests, this snake has a brown horizontal band in the shape of an hourglass or dumbbell, which rests on light skin. Normally the band is wider at the sides and narrower at the top.

How to prevent a bite from

Being able to identify a venomous snake and knowing its normal habitat are just the first steps in preventing a bite. We would also like to point out that this article is in no way intended to incite an irrational fear of a venomous snake. On the contrary, through simple understanding and greater awareness, you will be able to keep certain tactics in mind while on the job, and this will put you in a much better position.

You don’t have to write them down and memorize them, but take the following tips to heart and remember to put them into practice:

  • Always look under tree trunks, rocks and piles of leaves – bites often occur without the victim knowing the snake was there.
  • Stay off the beaten path – snakes tend to go off the beaten path.
  • Avoid tall grass if possible – it is an ideal hiding place for them.
  • Think snake-proof clothing, for example. B. Boots, friendlies and gaiters – most bites occur on the lower legs or feet.
  • If you see a snake, lie down and don’t be afraid – snakes only bite when they feel threatened.
  • Do not try to move or push the snake, even if it looks dead – snakes look very still, and even the head of a dead snake can bite.

What to do if you are bitten by a poisonous snake.

First of all: Don’t believe everything you read. There is so much misinformation about best practices, and there are even conflicting medical journals.

Being bitten by a poisonous snake is a serious matter, even if it is unlikely that you will die from it. The snake’s venom can destroy skin and muscle tissue, and the bite can lead to amputation of limbs.

Stay calm.

If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, your first reaction will likely be shock and pain. However, it is important that you remain calm and think logically about the next steps. Panic can increase the heart rate and thus accelerate the spread of the poison.

9-1-1 calling

You should call an ambulance as soon as possible and never try to treat a bite without the help of a health professional. If possible, you should let emergency services know what type of snake you are dealing with, as this can help determine the type of anti-poison treatment that should be used. If you can’t identify the species of snake, you can photograph it, as long as it is safe to do so.

Don’t try to catch the snake!

Snakes often strike twice; the first bite serves as a warning (and therefore often contains no poison). This is one of the reasons why you should avoid the second bite as much as possible. Leave the snake alone and do not try to catch or kill it.

Hold the wound at the level of the heart.

Keep the wound immobile and at the level of the heart, and be sure not to take any painkillers or try to suck out the poison. While ingesting poison is not necessarily dangerous, it can cause problems if you have cuts in your mouth, and it will not help remove the poison.

Avoid snake bites

In addition, as mentioned above, do not use extractors. They have been shown to be ineffective in removing a significant amount of toxins, if any, and may do more harm than good.

Remove tight clothing and jewelry

Finally, particularly tight clothing and restrictive jewelry should be removed, as they can contribute to increased swelling. Do this as soon as you are bitten – don’t wait until you get symptoms, because then it may be too late to remove the jewelry.

From the publisher: Here’s a fantastic computer chart that summarizes the article:

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frequently asked questions

How can a bite from a poisonous snake be prevented?

Six tips to prevent snake bites – UC Davis Health

What is the treatment of venomous snakebites?

Stay calm and cool to slow the spread of the poison. Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you feel bloated. If possible, position yourself so that the bite is at or below heart level. Wash the wound with soap and water.

What to do if someone is bitten by a snake?

The 5 things to do if you get bitten by a snake

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