are over 2,700 species of snake in the world of which around 725
are venomous, though only 250 stock a powerful enough toxin to kill a human with one bite.
Avoiding snake bites
• never aggravate a snake in any way or try to capture it by hand. This may seem ridiculous, but most bites in the USA and Australia are a result of drunken late night bravado. If you see a grizzly bear do you feel you have to throw a rock at it?
• Camping? Keep the site clean and free of food scraps which may attract rodents (and possibly other dangerous animals!) that will in turn attract snakes. Camp on areas of short grass as snakes dislike exposed areas and prefer to move through long grass. If possible sleep off the ground on a camp bed if nights are cold to avoid being joined by a snake seeking warmth.
when out walking in snake zones, check the the areas
immediately either side of where you will be treading.
• wear substantial socks and boots and possibly gaiters when wild walking.
• do not lift up large stones or fallen vegetative matter unless absolutely necessary and if you must, proceed with extreme caution. These are favoured places for animals of the biting persuasion.
• if a snake is within striking distance and you are lucky enough to notice it - don't panic! Stay absolutely still. These animals are very quick but generally attack only when they feel threatened so move away veeery sloooowly and don't make any sudden movements.
Severe pain, swelling, discoloration around the bites; later comes fluid build-up, secondary infection, dead tissue, extreme skin and neural sensitivity. This may continue for several days.
If the venom contains neurotoxins the victim may experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, slurred speech, and difficulty in breathing.
n.b. In some countries such as Australia wounds should not be cleaned unless the animal has been firmly identified. Medical facilities have a venom detection kit that requires samples from the skin surrounding the bites.
1) Standard and best treatment
- a high proportion of bites do not result in any venom entering
the body, so don't panic.
2) Cold pack
- quickly wrap a light bandage above and below the bites (if you
can't get two fingers under the bandage, it's too tight).
3) Cut and suck - little chance of success, probably make things worse
If the hospital is well over 3 hours away and the snake was a
deadly one, some believe it may be acceptable to cut
and suck or suction bites, but this is not
normally recommended because:
To do it properly:
4) Electroshock - little chance of success
A newish idea. The theory is that an electric shock disrupts the
venom cells, reducing the impact of the toxins. The current should
be DC (i.e. not from a wall socket), around 100k voltage at .1
or .2 milliamps. A small stun gun is sold for this purpose in
The venom is a specialized form of saliva and its primary purpose
is to immobilise or kill the prey - sometimes also to begin digesting
the meal before consumption.
The level of toxicity of any particular venom is in all practicality irrelevant as the amount injected makes the difference. This will depend on the size of venom sacks, the amount they contain if the animal has bitten something else recently, and the amount the creature decides or manages to inject.
The location of the bite will also influence the speed of the effect, depending on the proximity of the bite to main veins and arteries through which the venom travels to vital organs.
Some venoms can kill a strong male in a couple of hours, but it more commonly takes up to two days. Recovery can be long and incomplete.
The countries where most people die from snake bites are India and Sri Lanka with around 20,000 fatalities annually in India alone.
In the USA the state with most snake bites is Arizona though recently a camper in Missouri died after a snake bite.
Australia hosts nine of the world's top ten deadly snakes but averages only one fatal bite a year. In 2008, a tourist in Australia was bitten on the genitals by an eastern brown snake during a pee stop but survived to tell the tale - of some pain and more embarrassment.
According to the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation at the University of Florida, snake bites in the USA cause five or six deaths per year and many of victims put themselves in harm's way by their actions.
The world's most deadly snakes
Australia: (1) Inland Taipan (the world's most toxic snake but fortunately rare), (2) Eastern Brown (the country's biggest killer), (4) Taipan, (5) Tiger, Black, Sea.
SE Asia: (3) Malayan Krait, a night mover.
USA: Water and Mexican Moccasins, Cottonmouth and Copperhead Rattlers, Coral.
India: Russel's Viper, Indian Cobra.
Africa: Egyptian Cobra, Puff Adder and Saw Scaled Viper.
Central/South America (e.g.Costa Rica): Fer-de-Lance