How to Hold a Venomous Snake (And Not Get Bitten!)

Demonstration of Snake Poisoning by Experts

Holding a venomous snake is something I never hope to do, but we all need a little excitement from time to time.  There are those who truly enjoy putting their very lives in danger, and what better way to do that than to get your hands on a writhing, angry, poisonous lasso with fangs? In reality, you may find a time where this certain skill set will come in handy, or it may just be something interesting to tell at your next party. 

How do you hold a venomous snake? Wear gloves and never handle one alone. Venomous snakes are typically stronger than other snakes, so you will want multiple hands helping you. Snake tongs and hooks are helpful in the process. You need to pick up the snake in its middle to avoid hurting it.

Some people ride roller coasters. Others jump out of airplanes for the adrenaline rush. I personally find plenty of thrill in a good Stephen King book. These are all, however, simulated perils. I know your concerns probably extend far beyond sheer amusement. This article is simply a reference for curious web-searchers. If you’re planning on spending some tactile time with a venomous snake, consult with a verified snake expert first. Better yet, invite the expert to join you in your parlous adventure.

Handling Venomous Snakes

I know you’re all dying to read more of my facetious prose. Regardless—and much to your dismay, I’m sure—this article is about to get real serious. There’s no sense in playing around with deadly reptiles. Due to the potentially lethal implications of handling venomous snakes, I’m going to rely heavily on the words of seasoned professionals and snake specialists.

If you plan to hold a poisonous snake sometime in the near future, understanding the following details will be absolutely vital to your safety:

  • When handling any snake (even if you know it’s not venomous), wear gloves and long sleeves to protect any vulnerable skin. 
  • Be aware that snakes are made of mostly muscle and are incredibly strong. If you are holding an especially large snake, don’t try to pin it down on your own. Four—or, better yet, six—hands are better than two.
  • You’ll want to acquire the necessary snake handling equipment, just in case things get out of hand. Click here to learn about the five best snake tongs on the market, here for a selection of affordable snake hooks, and here for a sturdy and reasonably-priced snake bag.

Don’t ever approach a venomous snake without adequate knowledge of and precautions against its behavior.

There are also certain rules of conduct that you’ll need to adhere to if you truly want to evade a toxic snake bite. 

  1. Snakes are very skeptical animals, so you shouldn’t try to touch one until it trusts you. You’ll want to establish an emotional connection before a physical one. The snake needs to recognize you and your scent before it can feel totally comfortable in your hands. This faith-building process will take some time. Don’t expect to hold a snake right off the bat, unless you’re willing to risk serious injury.
  2. (You might feel tempted to sweet-talk a snake into letting you hold it. While that’s a nice sentiment, snakes can’t always hear human speech, so you’re better off waiting for it adjust to your smell and touch.)
  3. Move slowly, so as to avoid surprising or agitating the snake. Even trained snakes are skittish when threatened, and they might bite if afraid. 
  4. Approach the snake from the side, rather than from above. Approaching from above may trigger a defensive response, as predators in the wild often attack from overhead. 
  5. If the snake is hissing—or rattling if you’re daring enough to come within a thirty-mile radius of a rattlesnake (I’m not)—leave it be until it calms down. Aggravated snakes are all the more likely to bite.
  6. You’ll have the most success handling a tired snake, but that doesn’t mean you should pick one up while it’s sleeping. Waking a snake up might induce its panic response, and you’re more likely to sustain an injury. Wait until the after the snake has eaten, when it’s more docile and open to being touched.
  7. Keep track of the snake’s shedding patterns. Don’t hold it when it’s about to shed, as snakes are drastically more irritable during this period.
  8. Pick the snake up by its middle. Avoid its head and its tail. While holding the snake, support it with both hands, one on the upper third of its body, and the other on its end quarter.
  9. Some constricting snakes may wrap themselves around your hand or your forearm. Don’t panic. This is just an adjustment tactic.
  10. Be careful when you lower the snake back into its tank. Don’t just drop it in. Place it gently on the cage floor. An abrupt or frightening ending to the snake’s experience might breach the trust you so carefully built. 

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Jim Harrison, professional venom extractor and snake-whisperer extraordinaire, exposes the finer tips and tricks of snake-holding:

“Approach swiftly from the rear and, barehanded (gloves make you clumsy), squeeze just behind the snake’s jawbone using your thumb and forefinger.”

Jim Harrison

“Don’t pick up a snake with your hands.”

“You have to know that you’re human and things can go wrong.’’

Harrison recommends an “empty mind,” as “following your thoughts will dull your attentiveness.” He also offers a profound warning to squeamish readers: “The snake will defecate on you.” (In other words: Keep some hand sanitizer nearby.)

(Read more from Harrison here.)

Home to more than one hundred species of venomous snakes, Australia is more equipped to dole snake-related words of wisdom than any other country or continent on the planet.

The Australian government has some further guidance for all those who intend to handle these reptiles (some of these points may be similar to what I’ve already said, but, considering the grave risk of holding venomous snakes, it really can’t hurt you to read it again):

“You must handle snakes correctly to reduce the chance of injury to you and the snake.

Clean your hands before handling snakes, especially if you have been holding food such as mice.

Consider all of the following below before handling a venomous snake:

  • look at the behaviour of your snake as you may avoid injury by recognising that your snake is stressed, anxious or poised to strike
  • only handle snakes when you really need to
  • always have someone else there when you handle venomous snakes in case you need help
  • if you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately – stay calm, sit quietly and wait for an ambulance
  • always wash your hands after handling snakes.”

(Click here to view the article or for information regarding feeding, housing, and transporting venomous snakes.)

Holding Venomous Snakes in Nature

In nature, I recommend avoiding snakes altogether, if possible. Under no circumstances should you ever pick one up, even if you’re pretty sure it’s not venomous.

Wild snakes aren’t so comfortable around humans as their domesticated counterparts. But if you happen to step in a snake hole—or, worse, an entire serpentine urban complex (my recurring nightmare)—the best thing you can do is stay cool and walk away.

Snakes aren’t generally hostile creatures; they’re merely defensive of their environment. If you remain calm, the snake will sense no threat, and you’re unlikely to be bitten.

What if My Home is Infested?

If you’re one of those poor souls handling venomous snakes against your will, the smart thing to do is, of course, call an exterminator. Having said that, there are some steps to take for your own well-being until Pest Control can resolve the issue professionally.

  1. Buy a snake trap. If you’re unsure of what might be the right snare for your situation, peststrategies.com just released a great article about the best snake traps of 2018
  2. Know the species of the snakes in question. Different snakes have different tendencies, and you’ll need to respond accordingly. For instance, if you’re plagued by a slew of Spitting Cobras (surprisingly common pests in the suburban United States), you’ll want to protect your eyes, as these snakes see them as perfect targets. Make sure to do your research so you can take the appropriate safety measures.
  3. Wear protective gear. No one likes to feel like a S.W.A.T. responder in their own home. Nevertheless, in the interest of safety, you always need to wear gloves and snake gaiters (shin and calf guards) when there are snakes nearby—even if “nearby” means “in the guest bathroom.”
  4. Don’t try to get rid of the snakes yourself. Only experienced personnel should intentionally come into contact with venomous wild snakes. You might think you can handle the situation yourself, but snake infestations are very serious and always require professional expertise.

Snake Bite Statistics

These are just a few interesting facts about snake bites and venom:

  • Snake venom is only toxic if injected into the skin. You shouldn’t swallow it anyway (that’s just common sense), but if you did, you probably wouldn’t die. 
  • The size of snakes’ venom glands, located just below the eyes, depends completely on the size of the snake. Varying glands can hold anywhere from one to eight hundred milligrams of venom.
  • According to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, “The most toxic venom of U.S. species belongs to the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), although this snake is only ranked #23 on the list of most toxic venoms.”
  • Snakes inject venom on a completely voluntary basis. Even poisonous snakes sometimes bite purely as a fear tactic, rather than to kill.

Seven to eight thousand people in the United States are bitten by venomous snakes each year. While U.S. citizens typically have easy access to antivenom (more commonly known as antivenom), victims in other parts of the world are not always so lucky.

Don’t become a statistic. You’ve heard this trope before, I’m sure, but clichés are cliché for a reason. Safety should always be foremost on your list of priorities—way above holding a snake.

(Read more snake bite facts and statistics here.)

Related Questions

Where can I go to hold a snake? If you’re interested in holding a snake, your local pet store should allow you to do so with the proper supervision. Whatever snake you hold probably won’t be venomous, but it’ll still be a cool experience. Keep updated on events in your area. There might be a reptile show or sale nearby, during which you’ll be able to hold all the creepy crawlers you could possibly dream of. For more information, consult this Reptile Events Calendar (I can’t believe it exists, either).

Can I catch a venomous snake? I don’t suggest pursuing any wild snake—especially not a venomous one. However, there are some experienced snake hunters out there (emphasis on the word “experienced”). You shouldn’t hunt any dangerous animal without the proper training, but if you’re eager to learn about snake-catching as a profession, feel free to surf through snake-removal.com. (This website also contains plenty of information about safety in the instance of a snake infestation, if you’d like to read more about that.)

What do venom harvesters do? You may recall Jim Harrison, this article’s guest of honor, so to speak. As a venom harvester, or “snake milker,” Harrison extracts the venom from snakes’ teeth to create antivenin for deadly snake bites. If you’re going to hold a venomous snake, it’s always wise to keep some of this antivenin on hand.

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