What Happens When a Ball Python Bites?

Have you ever wondered what you should do if a snake bites you? Usually, the number one reason the keeps people from getting a pet snake is the fact that snakes can bite. The great thing is ball pythons aren’t venomous, so you are not in too much danger.

What does happen when a ball python bites you? Honestly, not much. Sure, you’ll have a few puncture marks, but those will probably be gone the next day, and you’ll forget all about it.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. There are some pretty cool mechanics at work when a snake bites something. And of course, I’ll walk you through what to do if you get bitten and how to avoid getting bitten.

The Scene of the Crime

If you’re handling your ball python and they take the opportunity to sink their teeth into your hand or arm, there are a few things you can expect.

The first thing: it might hurt a little. But don’t worry! It’s usually more surprising than painful. It’ll probably feel about the same as if you had just scratched yourself on those random, hidden, sharp spots on your walls that you can never pinpoint, or as if you had jabbed yourself with a sewing needle (probably more like a dozen, tiny sewing needles).

A snake can act faster than a human can react. Scientists did a study on just how fast a snake’s reaction time was, and they found that snakes can move from a coiled position to a strike, back to a coiled position in less than one-fourth of a second.

Even fighter pilots’ brains take a full fourth of a second to react to things like gunfire, missiles, and other situations where a fast reaction time directly translates to staying alive. I want you to read this word: SUBDERMATOGLYPHIC. That took you roughly a fourth of a second. If you were a fighter pilot, you’d be dead. And if you were holding a snake, you could have been bitten.

What all this means, is that if your ball python bites you, you probably won’t see it coming unless you possess the kind of vision or reaction time never before seen by man. Perhaps you’re an alien, and that’s pretty cool.

The most important thing is that you don’t try and snatch your hand away. I know that when you’re panicking, the last you want to hear is: “don’t panic.” However, as is common in most situations like this, freaking out doesn’t really help.

Jerking back can lead to a possibility of two things happening, and neither of them is preferable. Possibility number one is that you jerk your snake right out of their enclosure. If you’re already having to deal with a snake bite, you certainly don’t want to also have to deal with a loose, angry snake. Possibility number two is that you cause more injury to yourself.

Snakes’ teeth grow at an angle that points inwards. This means that if you try to tear your hand away from their jaws when they already have their teeth in you, the only thing that you’ll succeed in tearing is your skin. That’s no fun. So no jerking, deal?

Snakes usually bite because you’re bugging them and they would very much like you to stop. Once they bite, they will typically just sit back, coil up, and watch you closely, trying to determine if you are going to take the hint. They rarely hang on to you once they’ve sunk their fangs in. So if you just remain calm, set down your snake, and vacate the premises, I think you will find that everything will turn out alright.

The second thing you can expect: blood. If you get a little pale and “fainty” around blood, I recommend you immediately find a way to get over it. Either that, or you could just avoid going outside for the rest of your life, and never, under any circumstance, should you walk by coffee tables that are shin height, cook, or own a pet snake.

About a half dozen sharp teeth are going to sink into your skin about an eighth of an inch. Again, unless you are an alien, there will be blood. However, these little puncture wounds will not bleed profusely (unless, of course, you are an alien). They should stop bleeding pretty much immediately after the initial blood you see.

Complete Medical Guide…

…kind of. Keep in mind, I am a blogger, not a doctor. If you have concerns about the bite area, I do recommend seeking professional advice (yes, that means you have to go to someone other than your mother and WebMD). That being said, I am fairly confident that this is a pretty accurate, helpful, and complete list of the steps to follow immediately following a bite.

Don’t Freak Out

I know I’ve already mentioned this (multiple times), but I think it warrants mentioning again.

First of all, there is no reason to freak out anyway, so you might as well save that energy for something more worthwhile, like yelling at the TV during Thursday night football, or chasing a mashed potato wielding toddler around the house (I speak from experience on that one, and trust me, you are going to need to save your energy for that impending catastrophe).

Just remain calm, calmly place your snake back in their enclosure, calmly leave, and set about taking care of the bite. Calmly. Clear as mud? Okay, number two.

Wash the Bite Area With Antiseptic Soap

Lots of it. Antiseptic soap is ideal, as it inhibits the growth of bacteria cultures from the very beginning before they even start. Of course, you can really use any soap. Dish soap, antibacterial soap, hand soap, bar soap, liquid soap, organic soap, soap that smells so good you have a ridiculously strong desire to take a bite out of it.

The point is to clean the wound and keep it clean to prevent infection and flush out bacteria. Because unless you’ve been brushing your snake’s teeth (which, by the way, I strongly discourage), their mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

You want to wash for a while. Sing the happy birthday song at the tempo of a funeral march. Turn on a show. Call your girlfriend. Read that self-help book your brother in law got you for Christmas that you’ve left on the shelf still in the packaging.

By the time you’re done, I want your fingertips to be reduced to nothing more than little raisins. The more you wash, the better chance you have of avoiding complications further down the road.

Did I Mention Rinsing?

Identify any areas where the skin is broken, and run them under water. Usually, your insides are nice and protected by your skin, but once that skin is broken, your insides are susceptible to all sorts of nasty stuff floating in the air (remember the mashed potato wielding toddler?). So just pay extra attention to those areas and rinse like your life depends on it.

Put Pressure on the Wound

You shouldn’t be bleeding heavily at all, but just do it anyway. This will promote clotting, and you’ll heal faster if you have a good scab.

Bandage It

Johnson and Johnson have suddenly become your best friends. Cover the area with a band-aid or bandage. Change these out regularly, and keep them clean.

Call Your Doctor

I know that ball python bites aren’t poisonous, but even nonvenomous snake bites can carry diseases like Salmonella. Or you might be allergic to snake bites and not know it. Just let your doctor know the situation, and they can give you more specialized advice.

Here is another article completely focused on all kinds of snake bites.

Evasive Maneuvers: How to Avoid Being Bitten

The easiest thing to do to ensure that you never get bitten it to just never annoy your snake. Obviously, you can’t always control how your snake feels, so, luckily for you, I prepared another list. Yay!

Keep Your Snake Well Fed

This is common sense. If my parents didn’t feed me, I might feel like biting them too. The bottom line is, the hungrier the snake is, the more everything starts to look like food. Ball pythons eat every seven to ten days, so just find a schedule and stick to it.

Don’t Feed Your Snake by Hand

Hand-feeding might sound like a good idea in fairy tales and movies with SGI, but in real life, it doesn’t work that way. If you feed your snake by hand, they’re going to start attributing your hand with food, and one day, they might get too excited and try to take a bit out of you instead of the mouse.

If you just place the mouse at the opposite end of the enclosure from your snake every time, then you can be pretty positive that your fingers aren’t on the menu.

Easy Does It

Always approach your snake slowly. If you go too fast, they’re going to think that you’re attacking them, and they’ll strike back.

When you do pick up your snake, handle it gently. Don’t squeeze it or restrict its movements. You want your snake to feel relaxed in your hands. Let them slither a little and allow them to explore. They’ll enjoy the exercise, and happy snakes just don’t bite people.

Don’t Handle Your Snake Right After a Feed or When They’re Shedding

Have you ever had somebody give you a bear hug after a big meal? Perhaps your great-aunt Becky has a nasty habit of doing just that right after Thanksgiving dinner? It hurts, doesn’t it? Kind of makes you want to hurl? Well, that’s how a snake feels when you hold it right after it’s eaten.

The same thing applies when your snake is mid-shed. Imagine you’ve just received the sunburn to trump all sunburns, and then there’s Great-Aunt Becky again, ready for her once a year hug. Just the thought makes me shiver in sympathetic pain. Like I said, just don’t do it.

Never French Kiss a Ball Python

A snake’s mouth is probably the most complex thing about a snake. The upper jaw bone is called the maxilla bone, and the lower jaw bone is called the mandible.

The mandible is split right down the middle, so technically it is made up of two bones. This allows the snake’s mouth to widen slightly when it eats, since it swallows its prey whole.

In a non-venomous snake, like a ball python, there are four rows of teeth lining the maxilla bone. There are two rows set in the outer, maxilliary, section of the maxilla bone, and two rows set in the inner bones. Those bones are called palatine and pterygoid bones.

In a venomous snake, these upper rows of teeth are replaced by fangs. The fangs can either be in the front of the mouth, like in a rattlesnake, or the fangs can be in the back of the mouth, like in a boomslang snake.

The teeth are angled inwards, towards the snake’s throat, much like the teeth of a great white shark. This is to prevent their prey from escaping. When snakes sink their teeth into their prey, the prey can try to escape by wiggling out backward, but that only makes the teeth of the snake sink further and further into the prey’s skin.

All snakes have two rows of teeth on the bottom of their jaw, lining the mandible. Each section of the mandible gets one row of teeth.

Only venomous snakes have the classic, terrifying fangs. Snakes that aren’t poisonous, like ball pythons, just have normal teeth, although those teeth are still extremely sharp because they don’t have the wonderful benefit of forks and knives to slice their food for them, and have to do all the work “on site,” so to speak.

Is it common?

Ball pythons are commonly considered among the best snake breeds to keep as pets.

First of all, they aren’t venomous, which makes getting bit so much simpler. They are typically mild-mannered and difficult to antagonize. They adapt well and seem to appear to actually enjoy being held, something that most snakes aren’t as fond of.

If they do attack, they usually strike with a closed mouth, since they don’t have fangs. Being bit by a ball python is just about as rare as clean dishes in a college dorm kitchen.

Venomous Snake Bites

Even though they sound scary, venomous snake bites rarely end up being fatal. Only about six people every year die from complications resulting from a venomous snake bite. That being said, venomous snake bites hurt a lot more. A lot. Victims experience debilitating pain, which only worsens as the venom travel through their blood.

Fangs are hollow or grooved, allowing the venom to travel down them and into the prey. Poisonous snakes have a venom sack that holds all the venom and then releases it when a snake bites down.

The venom starts acting immediately and can lead to swelling, pain, respiratory difficulty, nausea, vision loss, sweat and salivating, or numbness.

In a tiny mouse body, death is pretty quick, but in a big human body, the effects develop slower, and, as mentioned before, are usually non-fatal (you should still definitely go to the hospital as soon as possible).

Snakes are actually “milked” for their venom. This is done by holding a snake right behind their jaw, squeezing to force their jaw open, and applying pressure on the venom sack to make the venom stream into a prepared container. This venom is used to make antivenom to treat bites from that snake.

Unlike bees and their stingers, snakes do not lose their fangs after biting something. Fangs can fall out or break, and if that happens, snakes just grown another one. The fangs can actually grow so long that they have to start curving in on themselves so snakes don’t accidentally bite themselves.

If you are bitten by a venomous snake, you will know, trust me. So the next step is, once again, to not freak out (I’m sensing a pattern here). The faster your heart pumps, the faster the venom can move through your blood, and the more it’s going to hurt.

So just stay calm, stay still, and call 911. If you’re in the mountains with no service, hopefully you brought a snake bite kit with you. And if you didn’t do that, send someone to get help, and proceed with the next few steps.

Actually, before I list those steps, I’m going to make this warning its own paragraph, because it is so, so important:

Do not try to suck out the venom by mouth.

 

Please, for heaven’s sake, do not make the assumption that what happens on TV is actually real. Just don’t put your mouth anywhere near that snake bite. Ever. Okay, on with the list.

  1. Remove any constricting clothing around the area of the bite because the area is going to swell, and you want to let it swell. That’s your body trying to fight. 
  2. Note the time of the bite. This will give the doctors a better idea of how to treat you and gives them something to gauge how bad the bite has gotten.
  3. If you can do so safely and without moving too much, try and figure out what kind of snake bit you. Take a picture, or mentally jot down some characteristics. In order to administer the antivenom that will work the best, doctors need an idea of what kind of snake bit you.
  4. Just stay still and calm until help arrives.

If you are a healthy, normal person, your outlook is really good! As I said before, snake bites are rarely life-threatening (although they have been known to severely damage the odd bank account). Oftentimes, doctors don’t even need to administer the antivenom, and can safely discharge you with just a tetanus vaccine, pain medication, and a slap on the wrist.

Related Questions

What snakes don’t bite? Corn snakes, California king snakes, rosy boas, gopher snakes, and ball pythons are the popularly accepted as the best snakes to own if you’re worried about being bitten. They are all non-venomous and docile.

Can you defang a snake? You can defang a snake and you can remove the venom sack. If you do defang a snake, you render it unable to eat, and it will die in a month or two, so please never do that. If you just remove the venom sack, it just renders the snake nonvenomous, and anytime they bite, no venom will transfer to the wound.

Can you keep poisonous snakes as pets? You have to have a permit to keep a poisonous snake as a pet. They can be dangerous, and can rarely be fatal if they bite you. There are plenty of non-venomous snakes you can keep as pets without a permit.

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