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How to prevent a snake bite and what to do if you do get bit.

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Hi.  I'm Jessi and I'm the director of an exotic animal outreach organization.  I've worked with dozens of snakes in my professional career and I've been bit a few times as well.  When you get close to a snake, there's a chance that you might get bit, so how do you make sure that they don't bite you and what should you do if they do?


For some people, the idea of being bit by a snake doesn't bother them too much, but for others, it can cause intense nervousness and fear.  When I'm scared of something, I found that the more I know about whatever is scaring me, the better I am at being scared for the right reasons and not just because I'm scared of the unknown.  If you're nervous around snakes or if you're just curious, I'd like to share how you can prevent a snake from biting you when you're working closely with them.  For this video, I'm not going to discuss venomous snakes since they're not a suitable pet.  That's a strong statement, but I'm sticking to it, and if you're bit by a wild snake, you should always seek medical attention immediately.

Okay, the first thing you should know about snakes is that they can and do communicate.  All animals do, but because they have no facial muscles, eyebrows, or even eyelids, they use their body and sound to communicate, so let me show you some snake body language so you can tell what they're communicating. 

First, let's look at relaxed snake behavior.  They could be curled under a hide-out, like the corn snakes usually do.  Look how cozy they are, or they could have a soft lounging body.  I call it soft because her muscles are nice and relaxed and she's not tensed up, or they could be exploring with their head outstretched, often flicking their tongue in and out.  

Now let's talk about nervous snake behavior.  They can look similar to a relaxed snake if they're curled under a hideout, but their curls will be tighter and often bundled on top of their head.  Some snakes will use their body to protect their head or they could have their head pulled back over their body with an 'S' shape in their neck, or they could be making quick movements, like slithering away or jerking their head or body away from touch.

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Once you've looked at their body language, if you're still unsure about how the snake is feeling, you should listen to see if they're communicating with their voice.  Most snakes will hiss if they're feeling threatened and want you to get out of their space.  What I tell the kids I teach is that when a snake hisses, it's not because they're mean.  It's because they're scared and they're saying, ssssstay away, so if a snake is pulled into a tight ball has their neck in the shape of an 'S' and their hissing, it's a sure sign that they are nervous and you should not engage with them.  Sssstay away.

Okay, so if a snake is relaxed, is there still a chance that they might bite you?  Well, yes, and the reason for that is because they're hungry and they think you're food.  When I've been bitten before, it was because I was just handling rats and so I smelled like their prey. 

So how do you prevent a snakebite?  Watch their body language, listen for their sssstay away, and don't smell like their food.

So, what happens if you do get bit?  There are several different kinds of bites.  A defensive bite will happen if the snake is nervous and it's usually a strike and release.  It's so quick that there's usually not much time to react,  but it's best not to pull away because their teeth are curved and they could break off into your skin if you pulled back quickly, and then there's a feeding response bite, which happens when they think you're their food.  This can also be a strike and release.

Once they realize you're not a mouse or a rat, they'll let go pretty quickly, but because they struck with the intent to eat, their teeth might get stuck so be calm and let them pull their teeth out on their own.

The third kind of bite is also a feeding response, but they could strike and then constrict.  If the snake is a constrictor like C.S. the corn snake, they'll bite their prey and then wrap their body around it.  

So what do you do if this happens?  The best practice is to not pull back.  This could actually cause them to constrict harder, and then relax and figure out what your next step is. 

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If there's another person nearby, that's good, but it's not necessary.  You can do this on your own.  First, try putting the snake's head under a stream of cold water.  This can disrupt their feeding response without causing harm.  If this doesn't work, try spraying ammonia or alcohol near their face.  It can hurt them, so don't get it on them unless they haven't released yet.  If they can't or won't remove their teeth on their own, use a credit card or something similar to help guide and push their teeth out of your skin.  Once you get the snake off of you, put them back into their enclosure and tend to your wound.

Flush the punctures with running water for a minimum of 15 minutes.  You can also apply an antiseptic if the punctures are deep.  Lightly apply a bandage and ice the area since it will be bruised and start to swell, and then use your judgment to decide if you need to see a doctor.

For example, I've been bit by the corn snakes during feeding time and the little bite wound was sore, but only needed a small band-aid and healed up in about a week.  Another example is when Carlos the Sinaloan milksnake bit me.  It bled a lot but with a few changes of my bandage, it never became infected so I didn't need to see a doctor and it healed in about a week.  

A bad bite that would likely need to be seen by a doctor would involve a small snake bite that became infected or a very large snake, like a Burmese python, which could cause serious damage with the length of their teeth and their powerful muscles.  

Most pet snake owners will never need advice on what to do if they're bit, especially if they have good interaction practices, preventing a bite from happening in the first place.  When I first started handling snakes, I was a little bit nervous about reading their communications wrong, but after talking with a few snake experts and honing my skills on reading their body language, come here, you, I felt more and more comfortable working with them.

An important part of my job is assessing snakes that we rescue as adults and learning what kind of interaction they tolerate.  If a snake is nervous or uncomfortable with me, then I'll know it and I can adjust my behavior in response.  I hope this video helped you understand snakes a bit more and the next time you're near a snake, you can look at their body language and know if they're relaxed and are safe to touch and hold or if you should sssstay away.

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Thanks for joining me and Daisy and all our snake friends.  If you would like to go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel AnimalWondersMontana.  Thanks, guys.