green tree viper, venomous snakes
Photo by David Clode
Appearances may be deceiving, this green tree viper is non-venomous

One of the most important aspects to escaping the fangs of a venomous snake is a person’s ability to identify them from their non-lethal counterparts. The difference between a painful bite and one that can have long term, detrimental effects or at the very worst, near instant death lies in the physical characteristics of the snake’s body. In particularly, the snake’s head and color pattern. The most obvious “giveaway” that a snake is venomous is by looking at the shape of its head.

Venomous Snake

A venomous snake will have a rough triangle-shaped head. It is designed by nature to allow the venom glands to sit just behind the eyes and towards the back of the head. The gland releases venom. This travels through an accessory gland and is delivered to the unlucky recipient through needle-like fangs. Non-venomous snakes, though perhaps similar in other bodily characteristics, can be identified by their slender head. It is free of the deadly venom sacks that identify their deadly cousins. However, this type of classification is not always foolproof. Some venomous snakes, like the sea snake or coral snake, exhibit a slender head. While some harmless snakes “puff” up their heads to mimic the look of venomous vipers.

Body markings and other physical characteristics can also help to identify deadly snakes. The rattler at the tip of the tale of a rattlesnake offers a warning to anyone nearby that they should stay away. Certain color patterns also give a person warning that a snake is venomous. The coral snake has patterns similar to a milk snake. So these common rhymes can help, “Red to yellow, kill a fellow. Red to black, friend of Jack.” Another variation is “Red on black, venom lack; red on yellow, deadly fellow”.

There can always be mistakes made in snake identification. It is always best to know what species are at home in the environment that you choose to explore. Many books and guides are available to help identify snakes. Having a pocket edition in your pack or supply bag is a great way to research when “out in the field.”

Venomous Oddities

A snake’s shape isn’t the only oddity exhibited by the slithering reptile. Below are some lesser known facts about snakes.

  1. Many people use the words poisonous when describing dangerous snakes. Actually the correct word is venomous. A “poisonous” snake wouldn’t be edible because the poison would be found throughout their body. Venomous snakes can be eaten, however, once the head has been cut away from its body.
  2. Due to what’s called the bite reflex, a venomous snake’s head can bite down and actually inject venom into someone who picks up the severed head or accidentally steps on it with bare feet.
  3. Some species of cobra can spit their venom nearly two meters at their intended target. Hitting their mark, the eyes of the victim, nearly eighty percent of the time can cause extreme injury to the target’s eyes including permanent blindness.
  4. The deadliest land snake in the world, the Inland Taipan snake, has enough venom in one bite to kill nearly one hundred humans or an incredible 250,000 mice, and interesting enough, no human deaths by this snake, have ever been recorded.
  5. A snake milker is a person that is employed to remove the venom from snakes for the creation of anti-venom for hospitals throughout the world. The milker either manually induces the snake to bite down and inject the venom into a containment vessel or uses electrical stimulators to induce the venom glades to secrete the toxic material.

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