The Art of Manliness Guide To Snakes Part 2: How To Avoid & Treat A Snakebite

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 15, 2008 · 44 comments

in Manly Skills

Yesterday, in Part 1 of the Art of Manliness’ Guide to Snakes, we discussed how to identify various poisonous serpents. But knowing your enemy is only half the battle. You should also know how to avoid being bitten and what to do if you are. Therefore, today in Part 2 we present more necessary man vs. snake knowledge: how to avoid and treat a snakebite.

How to Avoid a Snake Bite

While the behavior of snakes is obviously not 100% predictable, you can minimize your chances of being bitten by taking several basic precautions. If you want to avoid being at the receiving end of a pair of venomous fangs, follow these simple guidelines while out romping in the wilderness:

Avoid tall grass. Many of the snakes mentioned in Part 1 of this post like to hang out in grassy areas and heavy underbrush. If you can, stick to the trails so you can clearly see what you’re stepping on. If you have to go off trail, be attentive lest you inadvertently step on a sleeping rattlesnake. If you must venture through tall grass, carry a stick and use it to probe the ground in front of you. And remember, there are always exceptions to the rule; a snake could very well be curled up in the middle of a well groomed trail. Always be aware of your surroundings.

Remember that snakes can climb. While they’re not squirrels, snakes can slither up trees and bushes. Most people never imagine they’ll see a snake at eye level, and are thus quite vulnerable to an aerial attack. The last thing you want is to feel that forked tongue on your face, so keep your wits about you.

Check before you stick your hand into a crevasse. Because snakes are pure evil, they like to hang out in the dark. Holes, a hollow log, or a crevasse in a rock are perfect places for a snake to hide. So before you go sticking your hand in any dark hole, check to make sure there isn’t a snake (or another critter) in there.

Zombie snake attack. Say you find a dead snake that you want to take and turn into a pair of snakeskin boots. Right on. But be careful when picking it up. Freshly dead snakes still have reflexes and can still bite you if you’re not careful. I’ve seen a dead snake slither around firsthand. It’s really creepy. Plus, many snakes are pretty sloth-like during the daytime. And they’re quite skillful at keeping completely still; it’s how they catch their prey. So a snake sunning himself may look good and dead, but may very well be sleeping with one beady eye open, its little reptilian brain thinking, “Just try it buddy.”

Don’t sleep in the enemy’s lair. Most snakes are nocturnal, so you don’t want to let down your guard come sunset. Don’t make your camp in snake territory. Avoid sleeping near a log or large branch, in tall grass, or next to rocky areas. And of course zip up your tent tight. Snakes may have those fierce fangs, but alas, they lack an opposable thumb. Keep your boots inside the tent (most tents come with shoe pockets) and make sure to zip the tent up again in the morning, lest a snake invite himself in while you’re on a hike.

Wear heavy boots and pants. If you’re going to be out exploring in the uncivilized wilderness, make sure your lower extremities are protected. Heavy boots and pants not only protect against fierce snakes but also your ankle’s other nemesis-ticks.

Bonus Tip: Always Check The Overhead Compartment For Snakes

The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Treat a Snake Bite

No amount of precaution can prevent every bite. Sometimes accidents happen. And if it does happen, it’s important for you to immediately know what to do. Don’t be caught with a snakebite in the middle of the woods, scratching your head trying to remember this stuff; sear it into your brain. Getting bitten by a venomous snake is serious business. While the reactions vary from snake to snake, all venom is essentially designed to immobilize the victim and start the process of digestion. Venom is basically toxic snake saliva, ready to turn you into dinner. So if you’re bitten, seek medical attention immediately, even if you don’t think the snake is poisonous. Better to be safe than sorry.


1. Wash the bite with soap and water as soon as possible. You want to remove as much of the snake’s spit as you can.

2. Keep the bitten area below the heart. This is done to slow the flow of the venom.

3. Take off any rings or watches. The venom is going to make you swell, and jewelry might cut off your circulation.

4. Tightly wrap a bandage two to four inches above the bite. If you can’t reach medical care within 30 minutes, wrap a bandage around the bitten appendage. This is to assist in reducing the flow of venom. You want to make it tight, but not too tight as to completely cut off the appendage’s circulation. That will only cause tissue damage.

5. If you have a snake bite kit, place the suction device over the bite to help draw the venom out of the wound. Leave on for a maximum of ten minutes. If used properly, a suction device can remove up to 30% of the venom.


Interesting Fact: “Antivenin” is made by first milking a snake’s fangs for its venom and then injecting a non-lethal dose of that venin into a horse. The horse naturally builds up antibodies to the venom. Its blood is then collected and the antibodies are extracted and made into antivenin for humans. Cool.




1. Cut the wound. While watching an old Western, you might have seen a cowboy making an incision above the snakebite in order to “drain” the venom. This isn’t a smart move because you increase the chances of causing an infection in the area.

2. Suck the venom. Another remedy we all have seen in the movies is people sucking the venom out with their mouth. You don’t want the venom in your mouth where it can get back into your bloodstream.

3. Apply ice to the wound. Ice can cause tissue and skin damage and inhibits the removal of venom when using a suction device.

4. Panic. If you’ve been bitten, try to avoid freaking out. If you’re with someone who has been bitten, try to keep them calm. The more you move and the faster your heart beats, the quicker the venom is going to be circulated throughout your body. So do your best to stay calm and remain as still as humanely possible.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Raconteur July 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Now I know. And learning is half the battle!

2 Mat Goebel July 15, 2008 at 11:22 pm

As an EMT, here is my take on the use of bandages near the bite site.

The point of constricting bandages are NOT to limit the circulation of blood to the bite site – It’s to control the circulation of lymph. In fact, many EMS systems do not recommend the use of constricting bandages.

*If you’re trying to help someone that has been bitten by a snake, your first concern is to make sure that YOU as a rescuer stay safe. Do not become the snake’s next victim. Also protect yourself by wearing latex or nitrile gloves.
*Identify the snake so that proper definitive care can be provided.
*Keep the patient calm.
*Clean the bite site with soap and water.
*Remove any jewelery on the bitten extremity. As the limb swells it may impair circulation.
*Keep the bitten extremity immobilised. A splint can be helpful.
*Keep the limb at or below the level of the heart.
*Constricting bandages are generally avoided. However if you are instructed by a physician or other medical authority to use them, use one above the bite (between the bite and the heart) or two (above and below). Constricting bands should be between 3/4 and 1-1/2 inch wide secured snugly, but not tight enough to impair circulation. You should still be able to feel a pulse at the wrist or ankle. The bands may become too tight as the limb swells and need loosening.

Just my $.02…..

3 Kyle July 16, 2008 at 3:12 am

Useful survival skills. Thanks for the info, both Brett and Mat.

4 Scott July 16, 2008 at 5:59 am

As a Herpetologist (snake nerd) I’m happy to say FINALLY someone in a non-scientific blog is highlighting the CORRECT way to treat a snakebite. You would not believe the number of people still promoting the “cut n’ suck” treatment method. The $1.99 “snakebite kit” at Wal-Mart still does… One thing to add on to Mat’s fantastic advice is ask the Dr. to do a skin scrape test before administering the antivenin. The Wyeth (horse) antivenin is notorious for causing allergic reactions in patients that can be more deadly than the snakebite, however with the introduction of CroFab, which uses Sheep instead of Horse antibodies, the reaction rate is MUCH lower, but since both antivenins are still widely used, and both carry risk of allergic reaction, getting a skin scrape is still a good idea!

And, speaking from a common sense point and not an activist point, remember that in North America MOST snakebites come from someone trying to capture or kill the snake. The demographics for most of those snakebites are Males aged 17-26…an age when they’re trying to be “manly,” no doubt! Speaking from personal experience and research, 99.9% of the time if you leave the snake alone, it’ll leave you alone. If you must take other measures (children, pets, etc in danger), please be careful!

Love the blog!!!!!

5 martinjester July 16, 2008 at 7:32 am

My little brother was bitten by a rattlesnake last year. Two very important things I learned from the experience:

1. Don’t bother using a snake bite kit if the hospital is within an hour or so, just get to the hospital as fast as possible.

2. Call ahead so that they can start mixing the anti-venom before you arrive. (also, anti venom is insanely expensive ($28,000 per treatment, and often multiple treatments are necessary), so if you don’t have insurance think twice before doing outdoor activities where snakebite is a possibility).

6 Brett July 16, 2008 at 7:58 am

Thanks for the extra tips and information guys. Great stuff.

7 Tyler @ Building Camelot July 16, 2008 at 8:08 am

I guess snake chaps are out of question for the guy in the first picture…ouch! Nice information since this is something that most guys learn in scouts and forget about working in the cubicle world. Another great reason to keep reading! Thanks

8 Stew July 16, 2008 at 9:30 am

What do you do if your a 2-3 hour hike from your car and an hour from medical help? In order to keep the person still, do you leave them where they were bitten? Or should they try to walk out with your help?

9 Dave July 16, 2008 at 10:47 am

To be honest, your cell phone should be your first line of defense if bitten by an venomous snake. Call 911 and seek medical attn: ASAP. Pit viper venom eats away at tissue. The faster you get to a hospital with antivenom, the better your mobility recovery chances will be. Antivenom won’t reverse damage that’s already been done. Another poster is right on about CroFab. It’s made from sheep and has been shown to cause much less allergies than the horse serum. Also, CroFab does NOT require skin testing (My bro is a Emergency MD in the South and uses this stuff a lot!). He says that suction devices can make things worse.
You don’t need to identify the sanke that bit you because most MDs in snake country know what the symptoms are. If bitten in a remote area, imobilize the affected area and walk slowly to the nearest area where you can call 911 or reach medical attention.

10 8rustystaples July 16, 2008 at 11:40 am


The steps listed are first aid only. The priority in any venomous snakebite situation is to get the victim (whether it’s you or someone else) to the hospital for proper treatment AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If you’re three hours from a hospital, by all means, get there in three hours. First aid can be given as you’re traveling. If you’re minutes away from a hospital, you can skip the first aid as it will only slow you down.
The constriction band is useful in those situations when the victim is far from emergency care. And, as stated, it is not a tourniquet. Venom, if completely isolated by a tourniquet can have devastating effects on and around the bite site, as can ice or cryotherapy.
On another note, in the event of an elapid bite (coral snakes are the only elapids in the U.S.) or a Mojave rattlesnake whose main venom components are neurotoxins, a crepe bandage covering the entire bitten limb is an effective first aid device to slow the venom dispersion. Again, it shouldn’t be so tight as to completely cut off blood flow.
As for allergic reactions to antivenins, it’s very common, and any doctor worth the paper his degree is printed on know this, and will have epinephrine on hand to be ready to counter any signs of anaphylaxis. A possible allergic reaction is no reason not to administer antivenin if it’s needed.

11 Mike July 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm

This is terrific advice, and useful since I’m outdoors a lot. I always learn something interesting on your site. Thanks, keep up the great work.

12 Israel July 16, 2008 at 8:11 pm

My advice: Bite the snake right back! Like that dude does on Man vs. Wild.

13 pg July 17, 2008 at 11:26 am

very cool, very creepy, very scary, but very cool place in wilmington NC

14 sh July 17, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Interesting that you say to “Clean the bite site with soap and water” – this is the opposite of the recommendation given in Australia, where we’re explicitly told in 1st aid courses *not to wash the surface*, as it makes it easier to rapidly get a sample of the venom and hence identify the snake.

Also interesting that your original article didn’t mention any Australian snakes, only American, Indian, African ones. Depending on who you believe, 7, 9, or 10 out of the 10 most deadly snakes in the world are Australian. For example

And then there’s the drop-bears…

15 ck July 18, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Ever heard that the best offense is a good defense? I’m from Northern California, and as an avid wilderness backpacker, I can’t count how many time the person leading the group has walked right past a rattlesnake coiled up on the side of the trail. PAY ATTENTION to your surroundings and you’ll avoid the situation entirely.

16 Alessandro July 19, 2008 at 5:54 am

Cool series.

17 impactednurse July 20, 2008 at 1:46 am

As an emergency department nurse living in the country that is home to 19 of the worlds top venomous snakes let me give you the good oil on what to do:
* As soon as possible identify the area bitten.
* Immobilize the victim.
* Cut clothing around the bite site rather than removing it, as increased activity only forces more venom into the bloodstream. If possible mark around the bite site with a pen.
* Do NOT wash or clean the site. Venom is not absorbed through the skin and any residue may be useful in venom identification. In Australia we have snakebite detection kits that quickly identify the type of venom so the correct antivenom can be administered.
* Apply a broad pressure bandage. You need to bandage upwards from the lower portion of the bitten limb. Include fingers or toes in the bandage. Make it as firm as you would for a sprained ankle and extend it the entire length of the affected limb.
Immobilize the limb (use a splint if possible) and then immobilize the patient. (Bring transport to the patient rather than trying to get them to transport.)
Bandages should NOT be removed or loosened until the patient has reached hospital and resuscitation and monitoring equipment is available.
* Do NOT apply a tourniquet.
* And do NOT attempt to capture or kill the snake and bring it into the ED and drop it in the face of the Triage nurse. You only increase the risk of getting yourself envenomated by the snake or beaten by the nurse. Probably both.

You can read the full advice here:
Stay safe people.

18 Chojiro July 21, 2008 at 9:08 am

You know what always pisses me off? Snake-bite treatment articles that remind us upteen-dozen times that we need to get to a hospital, but take some of the most minimalistic, emergency treatments, and reduce them to “DON’TS” bullet points. Seriously, you’re even too lazy to list any of “cutting” reasons besides “increase(s) the chances of causing an infection in the area.”. Oh my! Parish the thought of contracting a fever or bacterial necrosis! Such a horrid notion nearly caused me to forget there’s POISON, racing torwards my FREAKING HEART!

Stop being pansies and feverishly denying the possibility of cutting being the only measure. Take for instance. It might be a bit tl;dr and last updated in 1997, but at least it tells you how to do it properly after saying you shouldnt.

Man up and take responsibility.

19 Brett July 21, 2008 at 9:59 am

@ Chojiro- I don’t undestand the hostility. You could have made your suggestion to visit the site without the snarkiness. You only succeeded in making yourself look like a twit. Congratulations.

20 Chojiro July 21, 2008 at 11:07 am

Ah, insults. A true art adored by those without anything more constructive to say.

In before hypocrisy.

21 Supernetuser July 21, 2008 at 12:57 pm

This article marks the last time I will ever hike in tall grass or off trail. The importance of staying on the trail is something the article didn’t get into but getting off the trail increases your chances of running into snakes.

22 dha July 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Why didn’t you include anything about Australian snakes? We have some worlds most venomous snakes but you didn’t include any information about them.

23 Brett July 21, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Sorry dha-Well, first we started by only doing North American snakes. But then we didn’t want to leave our international readers out, so we threw in a handful from around the world. But we obviously couldn’t include all poisonous snakes, as the list would have been enormous. So it wasn’t a purposeful omission, the list just got too long before we got to your continent.

24 jeery August 9, 2008 at 9:52 pm

The free Snakes pictures,Snakes videos and more types of snakes About Us in the

25 Virilitas August 12, 2008 at 1:03 pm

I get a good laugh out of the (top) picture for this article every time I see it.

26 Gordon October 3, 2008 at 3:40 am

I live in Africa and have seen many Black Mambas, but there are many different types of venomous snake here and as a rule if some one is bitten we kill the snake this can be done very safely with a shot gun but in an emergency by other means (sticks, stones or whatever comes to hand). The reason we do this is so that the snake can be identified as the anti-venom must match the snake. Some species can be easily Identified like the Puff Adders and Black Mambas but unless you are herpetologist (snake nerd) you’d have a tough time and some ones life could depend upon you being 100%. Just off the top of my head there are at least 5 different kinds of cobra here and I wouldnt know one from another. Its best that the killing is done by someone else i.e. not the guy who got bitten as the bite victim must not exert themselves as this incresses heart rate make the venom work faster. Killing the snake allows it to be correctly identified at a later stage by snkake boffins so that the right anti-venom can be administered because the medical people will usually not give antivenom if they are not 100% sure what snake is the culprit. The reason for this is that the ani-venom is toxic and will not work if its the wrong one but will also make the victim a lot sicker. So by endangering yourself and killing the snake you can be saving your mates life and theres nothing more manly then that.

I would aslo like to add that there isnt enough info about other snake species in part one. Its the guys from Oz that i dont envy they have the top six most poisonous snakes in the world, but none of them can compete with the mamba for shear agression/toxicity/speed combo. Ive heard of them killing entire herds of cattle in one sitting. I seen them move and really you would have trouble out running one in the bush with a top speed of 20kmh/12mph. Fortunately if someone was bitten by one and you are in the middle of nowhere you can pretty much garentee that they will die, so in this case mambas are easy to identify (for me) and i wouldnt mess with the snake as there would be no point and the victim is gonna die anyway

27 Barry October 16, 2008 at 8:22 am

Based on lots of outdoors experience in North America, I’ll add or reinforce these points (may not apply in Oz or Africa):

Most snake bites happen when people are trying to catch, handle or harass snakes, so if you use common sense and stay clear of those few you encounter, it will be unlikely that you will ever be bitten. Don’t act like Steve Erwin. Snakes tend to move away from people if they have the option.

Remember that most snakes are non-poisonous and many strikes from venomous snakes fail to deliver venom. Just because you have encountered a snake is no reason to panic.

Simply wearing boots such as ordinary hiking boots as well as long pants will give you considerable protection against snakebite. Most boots provide total protection for the part of your body that is within about 6-8 inches of the ground and this is the area most likely to be struck. And while ordinary pants can be penetrated, the snake may well end up biting only fabric without getting any skin. If it does get skin, the penetration will be less.

The advice to stay on the trail is excellent. Not only will it tend to keep you away from snakes and other potentially dangerous animals such as bears, but it will also reduce your risk of coming into contact with poison ivy and parasites like ticks or chiggers. It is also much easier to keep from getting lost.

When boating on a river, be aware that snakes will sometimes sunbathe by hanging in low branches that overhang the water. If you let your boat get carried under these branches, you might find yourself face to face with a snake. A little panic on both sides can result in the branch being disturbed and the snake falling into your boat, which can get dangerous since the snake may feel cornered. Stay clear of overhanging branches and if you find yourself passing under a snake, just stay calm and motionless until you drift clear. The snake wants nothing to do with you.

Basically, don’t worry about snakes in the wilderness. But do remember to prepare yourself for more likely hazards by carrying a map, compass, flashlight, whistle, matches, knife, etc. even on short day hikes. A good prepackaged survival kit can be found here:

28 mumbaikar December 29, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Here is an article on poisonous snakes from Mumbai, India. Surprising to learn that such a huge mega city has its share of snakes. Thankfully, antivenin is available locally from Haffkine Institute.

29 Robb January 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm

As a fellow who has spent alot of time in the woods (logger), I add one more item for avoiding snakebites: When crossing a log or fallen tree, also step on top and look over the other side (also look on the front side as well). Snakes will often hide under a fallen tree to ambush animals that cross over. They will do this on trails. Your foot could either look like a an animal or startle the snake and make it think it is under attack.

Secondly, if you really take your time on a hike and notice your surroundings, you will probably discover that you pass 10 snakes for every 1 that you would normally notice.

Snakes are not out to get you. They must conserve energy to survive like any other animal. They don’t accomplish that task by attacking a creature several times their size.

30 Olivia April 21, 2009 at 6:50 pm

I am doing a report for school and this is very helpful for me! Thank you SOOO much!

31 ashleigh June 11, 2009 at 1:36 pm

i love snakes and just got one and this is asome and is really helpfull to me thans alot

32 reptiles101 June 16, 2009 at 6:29 am

Lucky i never got bitten before but i think every snake keeper must get bitten sometimes by some snake…. so far so good, part2 was good , goin on to part3.

this is my reptile blog,

33 Rebeca July 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm

this was good information and does this reply to all snake bites

34 ugg outlet December 3, 2009 at 4:21 am

Rebeca July 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm
this was good information and does this reply to all snake bites

35 baz January 5, 2010 at 3:16 am

Thanks for the great review. We provide lectures for scouts, cadets, and schools. Great informatiom

36 ED Hardy January 20, 2010 at 1:32 am
37 Nick April 1, 2010 at 8:11 am

Monvalent antivenin (specific to the snake spieces that caused the bite and the best chance for a full pt recovery if caught in time) can be administered within thirty minutes following a swab of the bitten area that you are advising people to wash with soap and water. It’s like washing away the DNA!!! Pressure immobilisation bandaging is considered the standard of care for snake bite first aid (W.H.O.) and wrap the whole limb from toes (or fingers) up not just a bit. immobilise the limb and limit movement as much as possible – completely if you can. Get the chopper or ambos to come to the pt then off to the ED The aim of the PIB is to slow drainage of the venom through the lymphatic system and into the circulatory system where systemic effects can then occur – thats the things like paralysis of the diaphragm, coagulopathy (blood won’t clot – so if you cut the limb “to drain the venom away” it will just keep bleeding), renal failure, rhabdomyalysis (muscle melt down), tissue necrosis etc etc. Pretty nasty stuff. As for shooting the snake for ID – dumb idea – the hospital can swab it and do that in <30mins. (I appreciate this might not be so easy in other countries with more limited medical resources. ANd let the snake move along – his bite wasn't personal just defensive – he's snake after all and most things that touch him usually want to eat him. No need to blow his head off with a shotgun for no reason if he's exiting the scene. And by going after the snake you are just putting yourself at risk for no reason. Suction devices? – well they suck. There is no evidence whatsoever they actually do anything. Good money spinners for someone. Type in A.V.R.U. into google and read away. Best site of its kind in the world for all things venomous.

Cheers. Go easy on the elapids – there's not many of them left!

38 Nick April 1, 2010 at 8:21 am

PS. The inland taipan of australia has the worlds most toxic venom with an LD50 from just 0.025mg of venom. So just to rub it in (or not rub it in as the case may be) washing the wound will not remove the venom – its been injected several millimeters into your flesh and this nasty little sucker above (not identified till the 1970′s) can kill with just 25mcg of venom 50% of the time. Stop the spread – get to the ED!!!

Cheers again.

39 emily April 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

get the hall to the docter

40 Micaiah May 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

One thing that I have noticed within these responses is that no one has brought up the conversation of a more common snake bite. What about those idiots that buy a cute, little snake from the pet store and then WHAM they suddenly have a 6 ft. python or boa that attacks them at feeding time and don’t know what to do. As a avid snake guy and own of numerous pythons and boas I have found that if a constrictor attacks a bottle of whiskey works well to get them to release their bite and grip. I keep a bottle of cheap Jack Daniels with a bar tenders pour spout right next to the cages incase one of them decides to bite and wrap. I try to educate all the people that I know who own these types of snakes.

41 James June 27, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I just read the article not bad but the picture of the Redtail Boa biting the hand may lead uneducated people to believe that snake is actually venomous. Which is obviously not the case. Now anyone who likes snakes knows it but someone who don’t collect them may not know that and may end up killing someones pet if they were bitten by it or even see it out.

The only treatment for that particular bite would simply be wash your hand and bandage. But decent article none the less.

42 Mabo84 October 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

Hello all, excellent accounts of snake bite treatment matched with interesting arguments on all accounts.

To get straight to the point, if any of you have seen Bear Grylls in Guatemala… Im doing a similar survival course in the Amazon segmented to time spent alone and with a tribe.

I can identify the snake or at least family, will be thousands of miles away from a hospital.

If a snake bites, I can assure you I will cut off the blood supply from the limb to the extent it turns blue, I would rather lose the limb than have poison in my heart/brain/blood circulation.

I will be wearing snake chaps with thick boots. This is a question to the experts- if you were in the Amazon and bitten in the arm, waist or shoulder. What would you do?

I’m thinking about arranging a hospital helicopter/contact in case of emergency, but in reality, I would have to make a smoke signal and prey that my mobile phone reception works.

Once again thank you for all of the constructive information.


43 Rebecca December 13, 2012 at 6:18 am

Just a pointer. You should never wash the bite area after being bitten. The reason being that when you get to a hospital they need to swab the area for venom residue to determine what type of snake bit you and, as such, what antivenom to use.

44 rocksonmorgan February 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

can you show me some herbs to make me survive snake bites quickly thanks for your advice

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