Trivia 009: No Step on Snek

As the weather begins to get warmer, we are starting to enter snake season. I, for one, love our scaly little friends. For example, here’s a friendly little Western Racer who came into our building last August.


It took a bit of coaxing to get him out the door. Along the way he tried to give me a few kisses on my foot. Luckily my boots are thick and he was small, so he couldn’t get through them. If this was a bigger snake, though, we would have exercised much more caution. Since we do get rattlesnakes in the area, it is something we have to be careful about. So to those of you living in areas prone to snakes, here are some tips on what to do in case of a snakebite.

First of all, remember that a snake does not want to bite you. You are big and scary, and the snake would rather you leave them alone. As long as you don’t get too close, or go around sticking your hand into random holes and crevasses, you should be fine. However, if you get to close, it may become frightened and strike. If you or someone you know gets bitten by a snake, there are a few important steps to follow:

What TO DO if You or Someone Else is Bitten by a Snake
  • If you or someone you know are bitten, try to see and remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
  • Keep the bitten person still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom if the snake is venomous.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get the person to the hospital right away.
    • Lay or sit the person down with the bite below the level of the heart.
    • Tell him/her to stay calm and still.
    • Wash the wound with warm soapy water immediately.
    • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
What NOT TO DO if You or Someone Else is Bitten by a Snake
  • Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it (this may put you or someone else at risk for a bite).
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a pain killer.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

Snake venom can be an incredibly potent mix of toxins. These can have a range of effects, like causing your heart to beat faster, promote internal bleeding, and stop clotting. Since every species of snake has a slightly different blend of toxins, the best way to treat a bite is using a snake-specific antivenom. In order to create antivenom, researchers inject tiny amounts of venom into a horse. Over time, the horse will develop antibodies in its blood which can break down the toxins. After a few months, about six liters of blood is taken from the horse, treated, and stored. This is then sent to hospitals to use as antivenom.

This is a labor and time-intensive process, but researchers have been working hard on creating a “universal antivenom“. In 2016, scientists created an antivenom capable of treating bites from 18 species in Asia and Africa. As progress continues, determining exactly what species of snake bit you is no longer strictly necessary. That being said, it is still useful for the doctors to know.

Ultimately, though, the best thing to do is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Exercising caution in snake habitats will help ensure that both you and our scaly friends can live in peace.

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