What Happens When a Rattlesnake Bites? (With Pictures and Facts)

Rattlesnakes tend to hide and if you aren’t careful, you can get bitten by this notoriously venomous snake. I am here to walk you through exactly what you will need to do and exactly what happens so you are prepared in case this happens to you or someone you are with.

What happens when you get bitten by a rattlesnake? The snake’s fangs unfold from the palate when they are ready to be used and when the snake bites, the venom glands contract, injecting the toxin into the snake’s prey. This type of snake bite requires immediate medical assistance, including antivenom. 

Though this situation sound daunting and terrifying, don’t panic. Everything will be just fine! I will explain everything that happens and everything you must do for yourself or the victim.

How Are Rattlesnakes Venomous?

First thing’s first, rattlesnakes are venomous. That is a fact that is widely understood and must continue to be understood clearly. They have venom glands located at the back of their skull that contract when the snake bites its prey. These venom glands sit on the outer side of the outer jaw near the back of the snakes head.

When the rattlesnake bites its prey and the venom glands contract, the venom travels through venom ducts from the gland and through the teeth releasing venom through the ends of the snake’s teeth in into the flesh where the snake is biting into.

This venom is a hemotoxic compound, which destroys tissue cells and causes necrosis, premature death of cells, and coagulopathy, the lack of blood clotting properly.

This venom immobilizes the rattlesnake’s prey or causes severe paralysis, which makes it much easier for the snake to eat its new meal.

This venom toxicity level is generally low compared to other snakes but is one of the most toxic in the western hemisphere, where the rattlesnake is generally located.

Rattlesnakes, from birth, have these viable venom ducts and can use them from day one. Both the venom glands and the fangs are 100% fully functional from the moment they are born.

Therefore, a snake can kill its prey from day one, and finding a baby rattlesnake in the wild does not mean it is less dangerous than its mature rattlesnake friends.

The rattlesnakes’ venom ducts can hold a higher volume of the hemotoxin as the snake grows bigger. This makes the older the snake, the more toxic and harmful a bite can be.

The venom also gets more potent as the snake ages. Another interesting note is that a rattlesnake’s venom can last years in storage without losing its toxicity.

What are the Symptoms That Come From a Rattlesnake Bite?

Rattlesnakes and particularly Diamondbacks are very venomous snakes. If you are bitten by a species of rattlesnake, you may expect to experience a mixture of the following:

There are a lot of possible symptoms that can occur with a rattlesnake bite. Some of them are not so bad, but others are not good at all. These symptoms include the following:

  • numbness in the face or limbs
  • lightheadedness
  • weakness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sweating
  • salivating
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty breathing
  • bleeding
  • blurred vision
  • eyelid drooping
  • low blood pressure
  • paralysis
  • rapid pulse
  • change in skin color
  • swelling
  • tingling
  • tissue damage
  • thirst
  • tiredness
  • weak pulse
  • other symptoms which may not always be uniform

These symptoms will start to show immediately after bitten. This is because of the rapid spread and affects of the components in the toxin that the snake injects in the bite wound as it bites you or the victim you happen to be with.

Make sure not to panic! An increase in movement or breathing rate results in higher blood pressure and increased risk that the venom will cause more damage and even, in rare and severe cases, may cause death. 

Remaining calm is the first step to remedying the situation. For the next step, read on.

What Do You Do if Bitten by a Rattlesnake?

First thing is to immediately call 911!

Rattlesnakes, as I have mentioned, are one of the most poisonous snakes to get bit by in the western hemisphere. The symptoms are no fun either.

This type of bite will need professional medical attention ASAP to make sure the symptoms are stopped in time to prevent any bad damage. The sooner the bite, venom spreading, and symptoms are caught and put to a stop, the better the result will be for the victim.

You should reach medical help within thirty minutes for the best results.

The next thing you should do is just symptom control.

You will need to keep the victim as immobile as possible. The more the person moves and panics, the faster the blood circulates through the body which results in the venom reaching the heart sooner.

You need to keep the person as calm and still as possible. If you have to move them, try your best to carry them to limit their movements.

Another thing you will need to do is keep the bite wound lower than the level of the victim’s heart. If the wound is raised above the level of the heart, the faster the blood will flow and circulate straight to the heart in which the venom would also reach the heart faster, which (again) is the last thing you want to happen.

You will need to loosely wrap the wound as well. The wound needs to be able to bleed freely so that some of the venoms can come out on its own. Wrapping it will contain the bleeding so it doesn’t get all over the place and will also prevent the wound from getting any more dirt or bacteria in it which will help it to not get infected later on.

Don’t clean the wound before bandaging it. Just cover it loosely. By not washing it, this helps the medical professionals figure out what specific type of venom it is so that they can sooner identify it and know exactly how to treat it.

You should also immediately remove any jewelry or tight clothing near the wound site to prevent cutting circulation when the area swells.

Other things to avoid doing to try and “treat” the wound is to avoid trying to suck the venom out of the wound, trying to apply a cold compress or tourniquet, or cutting the wound. Sucking the venom out of the wound will only infect your mouth as well which is never a good situation.

Be patient and get to professional medical attention as soon as possible and they can handle the job fine. Applying a tourniquet or ice will only slow blood flow which you want to keep in order for some of the venom to flow out on its own. Also, cutting the wound will only cause a greater wound site to treat and risk more infection.

If bitten, simply wrap up the wound loosely, stay as calm and still as possible, and get to medical attention as soon as possible and you should be just fine.

Do Rattlesnake Fangs Break Off When They Bite You?

To answer this question, yes, sometimes rattlesnake fangs break off. The rattlesnake sheds its teeth roughly every six to ten weeks so that new, sharp ones can replace the old and dull ones.

If the instance of the snake biting you happens around that time when the snake was getting ready to shed its old tooth, the tooth may get stuck in the flesh. A very convenient last use for the tooth, at least for the rattlesnake.

You don’t have to worry about this happening because it is a very simple fix. If this happens, remember not to freak out, once again.

If you can easily remove the fang without further damage, then do so, but don’t agitate the wound more trying to get the fang out because that will only cause more venom to be released into your bloodstream and your blood to flow quicker which you don’t want.

A rattlesnake’s fang can hold the venom even if it is broken off. Like I stated earlier, a rattlesnake’s venom can be in storage for years and not lose any toxicity as it had when still in the snake’s venom glands. This is why if easily removable, you should carefully remove the fang.

However, if you can’t easily remove the snake’s venom-filled fang without hurting yourself more, then you will need to seek professional medical help to remove the fang. That is okay to do! It is much better to be safe and have the professional do the job correctly and safely than hurt yourself even more.

Another thing to note is if the fang is embedded in a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes, you must remove it from them as well. Though it may seem like the fang can’t affect you anymore, it can still contain venom in the venom ducts in the snake’s fang.

This can still scratch and poison you without you even realizing it! Make sure to examine your clothing and shoes after getting bit and even wash them well to ensure that there is no fang or venom left to hurt you again.

How Many Teeth Do Rattlesnakes Have?

Rattlesnakes have a set of venomous fangs in the top front of their mouths. As I stated earlier, these fangs are connected to the venom ducts located near the back of the snake’s head.

When the snake bites something with its fangs, its venom ducts contract, which then pushes the venom through the ducts. The venom travels into the bitten flesh through the ends of the fangs and then works its way into the bloodstream to do as much damage as possible with the amount of venom deployed.

When a rattlesnake isn’t biting a victim, these fangs retract and fold against the palate so they are out of the way. These fangs will shed every six to ten weeks and new ones move up from right behind the old ones.

The rattlesnake has at least three spare sets of fangs lined up behind the initial set at the front of the mouth as backups when the main ones break off.

What Percentage of People Die From a Rattlesnake Bite Every Year?

On average, about 7,000 to 8,000 people get bitten by rattlesnakes per year. However, only about five people out of 7,000 to 8,000 die from these bites.

These deaths only occur because the victim couldn’t get the necessary medical attention in time, they had an allergic reaction that could not be prevented past the normal bite symptoms or was in poor health before the incident.

This is why it is so very important for you to get to professional medical help as soon as possible after being bitten! Without that medical attention and within the thirty-minute grace period after being bitten, it is very hard to treat a patient without further complications from the venom flowing through the bloodstream and spreading too far into their body.

Timeline for Rattlesnake Bites

After being bitten, you should get to professional medical attention within the first thirty minutes. This is so that the medical team has enough time, before the symptoms set in too severely, to treat your wound and get the Antivenin (also known as antivenom) pumping through your system.

This is how the venom will be stopped before reaching your heart or worsening your conditions.

If your bite goes untreated, your conditions will continue to worsen and worsen until you could possibly die about 48 to 72 hours later, or until you are left with severe organ damage and nerve issues.

Your symptoms will worsen and your organs will start to shut down until they can fail, resulting in death and paralysis.

After you have been bitten and have sought out medical attention to avoid the unwanted side effects of venom, they will also give you pain medications to take and will (hopefully) direct you to lay low until you are feeling completely better.

You should not wait until you feel the pain to take these medications, but take them as directed by medical professionals until you are completely better. Always listen to and seek your doctor’s help and advice when you need help or have questions about your condition or care.

Make sure you also go to all of your follow up appointments. This is important so that the professionals can make sure your conditions are in fact improving, and you will be safe to continue your daily life.

Is it Possible to Defang a Rattlesnake?

It is possible to remove the fangs from a rattlesnake, or from any snake, for that matter. However, it’s not all clear skies from there.

If you are asking this question in hopes that you will be able to completely de-fang a rattlesnake and keep it as an awesome, completely rare pet snake that all your friends can awe at, think again.

Rattlesnakes (and snakes, in general) can regenerate their teeth and their fangs. Their teeth grow back quickly and are replaced every 6-10 weeks so in the event of their breaking off a fang or two on something or someone they bit, the next tooth in line will quickly grow in.

It is rare for a snake to go long at all without both fangs intact. If you come across a rattlesnake but heard about your neighbor getting bitten by one and finding a tooth embedded, don’t assume it was the same rattlesnake and run the risk of suffering the same injury as that neighbor.

Is it Possible to Stop a Rattlesnake from Being Poisonous?

Again, if you’re looking for a pet rattlesnake, I would not recommend it.

It is possible to remove the venomous glands from a rattlesnake, or any other venomous species of snake, in which case they would be called a “venemoid” or “devenomized” snake.

However, many argue that this falls under animal cruelty and there is a lot of debate and controversy over devenomization of snakes. There is some evidence which suggests the venom glands can regenerate, as well, and that supposedly “safe” pet snakes have bitten owners.

If you are interested in reading more, here is one of the only summaries of “venemoids” that I could find, along with sources for further reading.

In the end, there are so many amazing pet snakes out there, so is there really a reason to try to cut out a rattlesnake’s identity and keep this aggressive snake in captivity?

Rattlesnake Bite Stories

If you’re wondering exactly what a rattlesnake bite would be like and how those stories would go down, here are three rattlesnake bite stories gone wrong, and four gone right.

  1. Gas Station Venomation: A man named George Yancy went to use a gas station bathroom in Smithville, Texas. Due to the low lighting, he didn’t have a chance to see the rattlesnake curled below his feet, and it bit his hand when he went to pull up his pants. Since he didn’t get medical attention fast enough, the venom spread too far and he passed away.
  2. Anomaly Hohs: Apparently, anomalies are still possible. Daniel Hohs, bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in Colorado, was administered medical assistance within the necessary timeframe after the incident. He passed away despite the help, leaving medical authorities scratching their heads. They wonder if his psychological condition may have been a part of how the venom affected him.
  3. Oklahoma Fatality, 2018: When he was trying to move a rattlesnake from the road, as he had apparently done many times before, one Barry Lester was unfortunately bitten once on both hands. This bite took effect very quickly, as well, and though Barry Lester was trying to get home so an ambulance could take him to a hospital, he passed away and could not be revived.
  4. Memory-less Bite: This guy, Jerome Roddenberry, was bitten by a rattlesnake which had been shot and which he had supposed to be dead. After about thirty seconds after the bite happened, he remembers nothing at all, until waking up in the hospital. They used thirty-two vials of antivenom on him, and he’s grateful he survived to tell the tale, even with the little memory of it that he has.
  5. A Close Call: A woman named Lorainne Jonsson was hiking in Franklin Canyon Park when before she knew it, a rattlesnake bit her twice in quick succession. She was on the border of cell phone range, and the venom acted quickly in her body. Luckily, a couple driving by put her in the back seat and took her to a ranger, who got her to a hospital. It took 116 vials of antivenom, in her case, which was very extreme.
  6. A Long Ordeal: Ken wasn’t afraid of snakes until he was bitten by a Prairie rattlesnake while hiking in (again) Colorado. He ties a tourniquet around the bitten arm and hurried down the mountain he was on, feeling the venom’s effects immediately. He was admitted to a hospital that hadn’t dealt with a venomous snake mite before, but they did eventually treat him with antivenom. It took days for the swelling to go down in his arm, though the pain diminished quicker than that.
  7. A Detailed Story: One man decided to deal with stress in his life in a healthy way: by going off to the mountains with friends and cliff-jumping. He got bitten by a rattlesnake before he could jump off a cliff, and immediately tried to make it to medical help, later finding out neither the ambulance nor the hospital had antivenom immediately ready. He shares a detailed account of how he survived this terrifying situation here. 

If these stories have piqued your interest about antivenom or states where rattlesnakes bite the most, read on.

Which State has the Most Recorded Rattlesnake Bites?

It is difficult to pin down exactly what snake is biting you, so a lot of the time the statistics for which snake is biting the most in which state can be a little confusing. However, I have lined up some information that can help answer this question as best as I can.

Rattlesnakes are mostly in the southwestern U.S., stretching from California to Texas and then some. There are thirteen recognized species of rattlesnakes in Arizona alone. While there aren’t too many fatal rattlesnake bites in general, there are more rattlesnake bites in these southwestern states than in any other. 

According to Dr. Joann Schulte, a professional medical epidemiologist, states that seem to have more snake bites in general (including every kind of long, slithering snaky friend) are mostly Texas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Oklahoma.

How Much Does Antivenom for Rattlesnakes Cost?

Antivenom saves lives. Without it, we would have many, many more cases of fatal rattlesnake and other venomous snake bites. 

Knowing this, you may wonder, like me, how much does rattlesnake antivenom cost?

First of all, you may need to know that one vial of antivenom is not sufficient for a snake bite. It usually requires several to cure the bite, and in extreme cases (such as Lorainne Jonsson’s), you can need over a hundred of these vials to save your life.

A vial of antivenom is created oftentimes by harvesting antibodies from other mammals, such as sheep, that have been bitten by rattlesnakes or other venomous reptiles. This may seem cruel to some, but it is saving lives.

A vial of rattlesnake antivenom usually costs between $1,500 and $2,200.

So if you’re lucky and you only need about twenty vials to fight off a mild snake bite, it will cost around $35,000 to save your life.

In severe cases, such as Lorainne’s, you may need 100 vials or more, which can add up to over $150,000. It may seem expensive, but think about it: that’s basically the cost of a small, decent home. And it’s paying for you to survive. Seems worth it to me.

In any case, getting bitten by any snake is no fun, be it a corn snake or a reticulated python. Being aware of the snakes in your area and knowing how to properly care for a snake bite immediately after it happens to when medical assistance can help you out is vital in keeping yourself safe.

Related Questions:

Are baby rattlesnakes more lethal than adult rattlesnakes? It is true that baby rattlesnakes can’t control how much venom they inject, which is often why people assume they are more lethal than an adult rattlesnake, but it is not true that baby rattlesnakes are more lethal.

Though baby rattlesnakes may inject everything they have due to lack of control, they don’t have nearly the amount of venom that an adult rattlesnake has and due to their smaller mouths and venom glands, they will probably inject less.

How far can a rattlesnake strike? A rattlesnake can strike as far as about two feet. However, a rattlesnake won’t bite or strike unless it feels threatened. Most rattlesnake bites happen because they are accidentally stepped on or too close to.

So, make sure you pay attention to your surroundings and where you are stepping in order to prevent getting bitten.

How fast can a rattlesnake strike?A rattlesnake’s rate of speed for striking is at an average of 2.98 meters per second. This is very fast, so be careful to not disturb these snakes when playing in rattlesnake country.

Danielle Newsom

Hey guys! I am an English major studying in Southeastern Idaho and loving every second of it. I love blogging and strive to help others with my colleagues to have ease of access in one place to anything they may want to know about snakes. I have some experience with snakes and have done crazy amounts of research in the areas I lack to help you guys get the best quality answers possible.

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