Monday, May 16, 2011

Snake Bite

At almost every presentation I do someone asks if I've ever been bitten. My answer: yes, many times. 
I thought I'd share these pics of a snake bite I received today. This is from a 3-4 foot California king. This snake is tame, but, like most king snakes, he has a voracious appetite. Sometimes his appetite gets the best of him and he decides to try and take a bite out of me. Today, he must have been really hungry. When I took him out to handle him, he explored my hand for a bit, then slowly opened his mouth and clamped down, promptly throwing his coils around my hand and wrist and constricting. I was surprised, because a hungry snake will usually let go instantly when it realizes it's made a mistake. Not today. He chewed and pulled as hard as he could. After about a minute, I had to hold him under running water (for another whole minute) before he let go. As soon as I took him out of the water he started looking to get another grip on me. I put him back in his cage and have some mice thawing out for him.

So did it hurt? Not at all. But it itches like crazy! Like a mosquito bite or a cat scratch. I was a little worried that he would tear the skin, but even pulling as hard as he could I ended up with nothing but numerous little pin-prick marks.

The first pic above is right after he bit me and the second is a few minutes later after I washed the blood off. You can see the bite is of no consequence.

The important thing to remember is never to panic and try to pull the snake off. You'll hurt yourself and the snake. If it bits your finger, you can PUSH your finger into the snakes mouth to make it release. And sometimes a little rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer on the snake's nose will make it release, but not always (it didn't work today; he just sneezed on me while he continued chewing). The best bet is to submerge the snake's head in running water and be patient. For big snakes, you may need a helper to pry off the snake's mouth.


  1. California King snakes have acidic saliva that starts to digest the prey in its mouth and that is probably why it is itchy

  2. also, mouth wash on their nose works to get them off

  3. Not sure about acid in the saliva (maybe amino acids), but, like most vertebrates the enzymes in their saliva helps to begin the digestion process. Bites from our Honduran milk snakes are particularly itchy!
    Some of the sensation also probably comes from contaminants in the snakes' mouths; foreign matter, bacteria, etc.
    Although I've been bitten hundreds of times by both wild and captive bred reptiles, no bite has ever been infected and none has ever hurt as bad as a papercut.


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