What to Do When You See a Snake and How to Tell If It’s Venomous

Very few people would call an encounter with a snake pleasant even if it’s just a harmless grass snake. But an encounter with a venomous snake can lead to health problems or even death. Each region of the world has their own venomous species and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn more about them. There are also some specific signs that can help you to distinguish whether the snake is venomous or not.

At Bright Side, we’ve decided to share these signs with you along with the pattern of behavior you need to follow in order to avoid dangerous consequences after an encounter with a venomous snake.

Herpetologists explain specific differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes. However, there are so many species of snakes in the world that there can be certain exceptions. Nevertheless, these are some general differences that you should be aware of.

1. Eyes Non-venomous snakes have round pupils while venomous ones have vertical pupils. However, there are some exceptions: the black mamba (Africa), cobra (Africa, Middle East, Asia) and taipan (Australia) snakes have round pupils. It’s interesting that some non-venomous snakes can change the shape of their pupils in moments of danger. A mock viper, for instance, can do this.

How can you identify a venomous snake?

2. A venomous snake normally has a heat-sensitive pit between its eyes and nostrils to locate warm-blooded prey.

3. Most venomous snakes have a triangular shaped head wider than their necks. Non-venomous snakes’ heads are usually rounded.

4. Venomous snakes usually have a single row of scales at the end of their tails while non-venomous ones have a visible line separating 2 rows of scales at the end of their tails.

5. Venomous snakes often have bright colors and can also hiss, rattle (rattlesnakes) or behave aggressively. The exceptions are scarlet kingsnakes and milk snakes.

6. Vipers and grass snakes look like each other but you can distinguish them by the following signs: a grass snake has a yellow collar around its neck while a viper has a dark zigzagging line down its back.

7. If a snake has a diamond-shaped pattern on its skin or it has 3 colors, it’s usually venomous.

8. Venomous water snakes swim with their entire bodies visible above the water while non-venomous snakes keep their bodies under water.

Precautionary measures

While being in the countryside, you should remember that snakes can be anywhere and you should take the following precautionary measures: Cut tall grass in your yard and remove fallen branches — snakes usually like to hide there. Reduce the number of rodents around your country house, they usually attract snakes. You can spray a solution of ammonia in the far parts of your yard. Snakes don’t like its smell while ammonia itself isn’t dangerous to them. Choose closed-toed shoes while walking in the woods. Mountain climbers can be bitten by snakes because they like to hide in rock crevices. You should avoid such surfaces and keep your hands inside. Snakes likely never attack first. They only do it if they’re scared. But they become more aggressive during their mating period between June and July. A scared snake injects more poison. When walking in the wild, especially in wet, swampy areas, try to avoid tall, thick grass, or at least make noisy sounds beforehand by moving the grass with a stick. If you camp out for a night, cover up any sources of light since it attracts snakes. And don’t forget to shake your clothes out in the morning, human smell attracts snakes too. Don’t follow snakes out of curiosity. You can provoke a snake to attack you.

If this happens you must follow these rules to put your health in as little harm as possible. Here are some of the symptoms you can expect after getting bitten by a venomous snake: Examine the bite. 2 close-set puncture marks indicate that the snake has fangs and that it’s venomous. The bite is painful, your skin around the bite becomes swollen and pale. You have difficulty breathing, nausea, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and/or fever.

What should you do if a snake bites you?

Snake venom has different effects on humans. However, if you’ve been bitten by a common viper it probably won’t be fatal if you’re an adult but either way, you need to seek medical attention immediately. The biggest threat from a snake bite is usually connected with allergic reactions to venom which is why you need to have antihistamines in your first-aid kit. Before an ambulance arrives or you reach the hospital, do the following: Examine your skin. If there is some venom outside the wound, remove it carefully to avoid it from getting inside the damaged skin. Drink a lot of liquids like water, tea or broth to remove toxins from your body. Stay calm and don’t move to avoid venom from spreading inside your body because the faster your heartbeat is, the faster the venom will spread inside your body. Make sure your bitten limb stays still. Take antihistamines. It’s also okay to take sedatives and cardiac medications.

You must not do the following: Cut across the wound to remove venom. Apply the tourniquet. Cauterize or apply creams to the damaged area. Drink alcohol or coffee.

There are different opinions on whether it’s worth sucking the venom out or not. This can make sense only in the first 15 minutes after you’ve been bitten but an untrained person won’t be capable of doing it correctly. However, some experts believe that such actions can remove up to 50% of the venom. It isn’t dangerous for a person providing assistance even if they have small wounds in their mouth. If the snake died you can carefully (without touching it with your bare hands) put it inside a few plastic bags and send it to be researched.

We hope you found these tips useful and won’t have to apply them in reality. Have you ever encountered snakes? How did you behave? Tell us in the comments below.

Illustrated by Leonid Khan for BrightSide.me