Updated 06 August 2013

7 snake facts

Myths, misinformation and mystery tend to proliferate around snakes. See how your knowledge stacks up.

Myths, misinformation and mystery tend to proliferate around snakes. Even if you think you know a thing or two about these amazing creatures, you might not know it all - yet.

Here are a few useful facts to store in the memory banks:

Pressure bandages. You probably know that as regards snakebite, the following are all wrong: tourniquets, cutting the bite, and trying to suck and spit out the venom like in the westerns.

The way to go is to calm everyone down, call emergency services asap, and apply a pressure bandage - but not for all snakes. It's the right approach for snakes like cobra and boomslang, where you want to firmly wrap the entire limb to prevent the venom spreading from the bite site, but it's not advised for cytotoxic snakes like puffadders.

Don't hold snakes behind the head. Even if you’ve seen people do this on TV, rather don't try it. “People who milk snakes do hold them behind the head every day. But for anyone with less experience, this is a bad idea – you’ve got about a 50% chance of getting bitten”, says Tony Phelps, Director of the Cape Reptile Institute.

Snakes are never poisonous. “When people ask me if a snake’s poisonous I say ‘I don’t know, I’ve never eaten one!’”. Don't make this uncool mistake in the presence of herpetologists: the correct term is venomous.

Non-venomous snakes can bite. One tends to forget this, but of course most of them can – if not fatally, then potentially still fairly seriously. In fact, if a big mole snake takes a nip, you’ll probably need stitches.

Baby snakes can be highly venomous. A mature snake doesn’t like to waste its venom, whereas the juveniles don’t know better and are more inclined to squander theirs.

There is no anti-venom for some snakes. And some snakes, like the boomslang, require a specific anti-venom which is not always easily available. Another reason not to get bitten in the first place.

Snakes love a nice warm engine. Cobras, particularly, like getting into engines and can be very difficult to remove. They also like a nice warm mammalian body in a sleeping bag, which is a good motivation to take the trouble to set up a tent.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth, Health24, updated August 2013 by Health24

Information sources:
Cape Reptile Institute, 2008.Snake Identification, Awareness and Handling course manual
Tony Phelps, pers.comm. June 2008.



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