Should You Kill the Snake that Bit You?

You likely heard this myth growing up, especially if you had a misguided scout leader or grandpa! The idea is that, if you get bitten by a snake, you should immediately kill it so you can bring it with you to the emergency room. Supposedly, the snake’s carcass will allow doctors to know whether the snake is venomous and what treatment is needed.

There are several reasons that this is a terrible idea. One is that— even if you don’t care at all about the well-being of the snake— attempting to kill or capture it is a way to nearly guarantee a second bite. Danger-noodles often “dry bite” with the first strike but fully envenomate with the second. If the snake that bit you is venomous, trying to catch it will make the situation go from you-need-a-doctor-bad, to you-might-actually-die-bad.

Another issue is that bringing the carcass to the ER won’t actually affect your treatment. We don’t know of many medical doctors who moonlight as herpetologists, and hospital staff who are great with snake identification are required by law (and malpractice insurance!) to treat you based on your symptoms. In an emergency, no doctor would bet a patient’s life on the opinion of hospital’s nurses and janitors who are arguing over whether it’s a watersnake or a water moccasin.

If you have been bitten by a venomous snake, your treatment won’t actually depend on doctors knowing its species. It’s a common misconception that species-specific antivenins are the only way to treat snakebites, but there’s only one antivenin sold in the United States. It works for multiple species and many hospitals don’t even carry it. Antivenins are mostly used in parts of the world where snakes are much more likely to be deadly, and yes, we mean Australia.

Instead, most snake bites in the U.S. are treated successfully based on symptoms. A snake bite victim might receive medications to treat allergic reactions, stabilize the heart, improve blood clotting, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain… or they might find out that they have no symptoms of venom exposure and simply get sent home after monitoring. These medications are given based on the patient’s actual condition, not the type of snake they were bitten by.

If you do get bitten by a snake (which is, itself, rare unless it is provoked) please don’t endanger yourself and harm the animal by trying to kill it. Leave it alone and call for help as quickly as possible. If you’re able to take a photo of the nope-rope without it putting you in danger or delaying your medical attention, a picture is just as helpful as a carcass in helping to identify the animal.

%d bloggers like this: