Snake Damage Identification

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling

Property owners typically discover the presence of snakes by direct observation or discovery of a skin. On average, a skin of a snake is 20% longer than the snake that shed it.  

Damage to Structures 

Snakes do not damage structures.  

Damage to Livestock and Pets 

Some snakes eat eggs and young birds. A classic sign of the presence of snakes is the daily disappearance of eggs. Most mammals break several eggs and leave the shells behind. Snakes swallow them whole and usually eat just 1 per day. Pets and livestock may be severely injured if bitten by a venomous snake, especially if the bite occurs on the nose or face.  

Damage to Landscapes 

Snakes do not harm landscapes or gardens. They help reduce populations of insects and rodents and usually are considered beneficial.  

Health and Safety Concerns 

Snakes that are native to North America do not hunt or attack people, though a provoked or harassed snake will defend itself. When people are bitten, it usually is due to the snake reacting defensively after being handled, threatened, or approached.  

Never put your hands or feet into holes or other areas that you have not inspected visually. Wear leather gloves and use a snake tong or hook when capturing and handling snakes. When walking or inspecting areas where an encounter with a venomous snake is likely, wear protective leggings and always step on logs, as opposed to stepping over them without looking.  

Exotic snakes present special safety issues. Exotic snakes are non-native snakes that once were pets but were released into the wild, some of which are extremely dangerous due to their large size and toxic venom. While few complaints regarding dangerous snakes have occurred, the risk is increasing as they become more popular in the pet trade. Many WCOs, particularly those in southern regions, encounter exotic snakes. We strongly encourage WCOs to learn about exotic snakes, particularly those commonly kept as pets or in private collections. 

Snakes have few diseases that are transmissible to humans. Salmonella is rare in wild snakes (versus snakes from the pet trade), with the notable exception of water snakes that inhabit waters with abundant waterfowl. Some snakes carry ectoparasites but most are harmless to humans. Maintain standard sanitation procedures to protect yourself from snake-borne diseases.  

A bite from a non-venomous snake has no venom and will not harm the long-term health of the victim. Some individuals have been bitten several thousand times by non-venomous snakes and suffered no adverse reaction. They only required basic first aid for any of the bites. Non-venomous snakes cause harm by frightening people who are unfamiliar with them and possible infection from a bite, just as with any break in the skin. A bite from a non-venomous snake should be treated as any other minor flesh wound. Clean the area and treat it with an antiseptic. 

A bite from a venomous snake usually results in an almost immediate bodily reaction. Swelling, tissue turning a dark blue-black, a tingling sensation, and nausea are common reactions to venom of snakes. If no signs are observed or felt, the bite was likely from a non-venomous snake or the bite did not contain venom (it was dry). Over ½ of the bites from rattlesnakes lack venom. Snakes dispense venom to capture and digest prey; they have little interest in people. Most bites occur in the suburbs, not during hunting or farming. The following figures offer a breakdown of occurrences of bites from snakes in the US:  

  • reported bites in US is ~7,000 per year;
  • 65% from rattlesnakes;
  • 55% to 60% resulted in no venom injected, and
  • 50% of the people were handling snakes.  

The probability of a bite from a snake being fatal in the US is 0.002%. Typical victims are white males between the ages of 18 to 40 who have purposefully been handling a snake. In about a ¼ of these cases, alcohol was involved.  

First Aid for a Venomous Snake Bite 

First, move away from the snake to avoid any further bites. Keep others in your party away from the snake. Try not to panic; stay as calm as you can. Panic will increase blood flow and the speed of travel of the venom through the bloodstream. Do not drink alcohol after being bitten. Alcohol dilates veins and will aid in the spread of the venom.  

Seek medical care immediately. Call 911 and transport the victim to the closest hospital. If skilled at handling snakes and the proper equipment is available (snake hook or tongs and a sealable container), capture the snake and bring it in for identification. A photograph of the snake can suffice but stay at least 2 snake lengths away.  

Remove constrictive clothing and jewelry. Swelling will prevent such articles from being removed and can result in a tourniquet action. Do not use a tourniquet or ice, as they can increase tissue damage. Do not cut the skin or apply suction to the site of the bite. Clean the wound with water to remove residual venom on the skin and reduce the risk of infection.