Are You Afraid of Snakes?

Julie Weber Trending Topics

QUICK FACTS

    • The majority of snakes in Missouri are non-venomous.
    • Some snake bites can be severe, but death is rare.
    • Program the Poison Help number into your phone for immediate assistance: 1-800-222-1222.

The fear of snakes (also known as ophidiophobia) is very common…but should native snakes in Missouri be our biggest fear? Keep reading and you just may realize snakes aren’t all that bad!

There are 47 native species and subspecies of snakes that call Missouri home. The majority of these snakes are harmless, and are actually very good for the environment – some even eat venomous snakes! There are five species which are venomous. Venomous and poisonous are often interchanged when talking about snakes with venom. Venomous is the more precise term, while poisonous is the more general word indicating that the venom can be harmful to a person.

The copperhead is the most common venomous snake in Missouri followed by the cottonmouth, and three different rattlesnakes. Snake bites are uncommon and death is very rare. Even across the entire United States, about 7,000-8,000 people are bit by venomous snakes each year, but only about five of those end in death. Many bites are actually “dry bites” meaning venom was never injected.

HOW DO YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?

A good motto to follow is, “if you see a snake, leave it alone”. It can be difficult to identify with certainty a venomous vs. nonvenomous snake. Here’s how to tell the difference:

Venomous

Non-venomous

Triangle-shaped head Smooth, rounded head
Slit-like pupils Round pupils
Fangs that fold to the roof of the mouth Upper and lower row of tiny teeth
Pits below the eyes that sense heat No pit
Bite has fang marks/punctures Bite looks similar to a human bite
May have a rattle No rattle


It might be surprising, but snakes aren’t actually out to attack us as we explore the outdoors. Most snakes will avoid humans if they can. For venomous snakes, there are two main reasons why they strike:

  1. Self Defense: When they feel threatened, snakes will strike to let you know to back off. Most often, this is the kind of snake bite that a human will get. Sometimes, they won’t even inject venom – 20-25% of bites are called dry bites. They are merely trying to protect themselves, much like how a dog snaps.
  2. Immobilize Prey: Snakes help keep critters in check. They eat small animals such as rodents, frogs, and even other snakes. They use their tongue and heat-sensing pit to determine the type and size of prey, and then strike to inject venom. Their sensory organs are very good – they know humans are much too large for them to eat!

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF BITTEN BY A SNAKE?

If you, or someone you know, is bitten by a snake – remain calm! Call the poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222 for instructions on all snake bites.

DO

DO NOT

  • Leave it alone. 
  • Note time of the bite.
  • Remove all tight clothing or jewelry.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • Hold the limb or body part in a position at the level of the heart.
  • Transport the person to the closest hospital.
  • DO NOT try to catch or kill the snake.
  • DO NOT use ice.
  • DO NOT apply a tourniquet.
  • DO NOT cut over the fang marks and try to suck out the venom.
  • DO NOT apply heat, cold, electricity or any substance to the bite.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A SNAKE BITE?

Non-venomous snake bites usually cause only scratch-like teeth marks & minor irritation, redness, or swelling at the bite site. Symptoms resolve quickly and can be managed with good wound care.

Venomous snakes inflict distinct fang marks. These bites will cause bee-sting-like pain within 5-30 minutes after the venom is injected. Swelling and redness will start at the bite site; there may be a blister and bruising. Envenomated bites require evaluation in a hospital. In severe bites, the swelling can spread up the limb and the venom may cause changes to the blood clotting system. Several lab values may be checked and antivenom is available as needed, depending on the severity of symptoms. 

Note: For all snake bites, it is important to be up to date on the tetanus vaccine.

For any questions or concerns about snakes, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.

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