One of the many worries people have when they think about encountering snakes in or around their homes is how to tell when a snake is venomous and when it is harmless. The United States is home to a wide variety of different species of snakes. Thankfully, most of them are harmless, with only 4 species of snakes in the U.S. being fatally venomous. But how is a homeowner supposed to be able to tell when a snake is venomous or not?
The first thing to look at to see if a snake is venomous or not is the shape of its pupils. A venomous snake will typically have elliptical pupils like a cat while non-venomous snakes will have rounded pupils.
The next thing to look, or in this case listen, for is if you see a snake and hear a rattling noise accompanying it, then it is always best to leave the immediate area. Some harmless snakes have learned to drag their tails along the ground or on leaves to mimic the sound of a venomous snake’s rattle; but it is always better to not take any chances and leave immediately.
You can also look at the shape of their head. While most snakes have a triangular head, venomous snakes will have a more bulging look to them, especially along their jaws, because of their venomous sacks. Harmless snakes will have a skinnier head because of their lack of venomous sacks.
Lastly, you can look at the color of the snake. Generally, the more colorful and patterned a snake is, the more dangerous it is. Most solid colored snakes are relatively harmless; though there are always exceptions to this rule.
It can be very difficult to determine whether a snake is venomous without getting too close. And it is important to also remember that snakes will generally keep to themselves and not attack unless they feel threatened. So, whenever you find yourself or a family member face to face with one, it’s always better to just get away from it quickly – no matter if it is venomous or not. The more important thing, arguably, to know is what to do if you, a family member, or a pet is bitten by a snake.
In the event of any kind of snake bite, you should seek medical attention immediately. While waiting for help, there are some things you can do to minimize the damage until you can get medical treatment:
- Immobilize the infected area.
Keeping the area as still as possible will keep the venom from spreading further throughout your body, therefore minimizing the damage.
- Remove any jewelry or accessories
Removing any accessories around the infected area before the swelling starts can help reduce risk of circulation loss.
- Position the bite so that it is at or below your heart
Positioning the bite lower than your heart slows blood flow to the area, which can help slow the spreading of the venom.
- Clean the wound and cover it with a clean, dry bandage
Cleaning with soap and water will help prevent infection, but make sure not to wash under running water.
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake
Remembering the color and shape will help the medical professionals later when they are trying to determine treatment.
- Do not use a tourniquet or ice
While it seems backwards to not cut off the blood flow to stop the spreading of the venom, venom that stays concentrated near the source of the bite will rapidly destroy cells; while allowing it to spread will dilute it enough to reduce tissue damage.
- Do not cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom yourself
Since a snake’s fangs are curved, the location of the venom isn’t easy to get to. Also, the venom of a snake bite will spread quickly, making the possibility of sucking out the venom very low.