Sunday, October 19, 2014

"You Have to Suck the Venom Out!"

It’s a beautiful day: the sun is out, the trees are green, there’s a nice breeze, and the only sounds are the singing birds in the trees and the crunching of leaves under your boots. Hiking in the woods of the Great Basin with a friend in the late afternoon provides a sense of peace and happiness that only comes when the beauty of the world surrounds you. You look up at your friend as you walk, conversing about anything, when all of the sudden, you feel a sharp pain on your calf that convinces you to look down. Rattlesnake. Amidst the conversation and the distractions of the forest, you didn’t hear the warning of its rattle, you didn’t see the venomous snake, and you didn’t have a clue what to do next.
“You have to suck the venom out!”
A common misconception surrounding venomous snake bites is that it’s a good idea to suck the venom out of the wound. For our purposes, the properties of rattlesnake venom will be discussed in specificity (there are multiple effects of venom depending on the snake). Rattlesnakes belong to the family Viperidae and the subfamily crotalinae. Crotalinae produce hemotoxic venom, which create hemorrhaging by blocking the paths of the red blood cells through blood vessels and damage tissue. With these effects, sucking the venom out would be extremely dangerous. In order to suck out venom, one would have to cut the punctures open wider, though it is virtually impossible to suck it out hard enough to get all the venom out. Even so, if venom were to be sucked out of the wound, there would be a chance of spreading the venom throughout the body of the person sucking the venom through his or her saliva as well as irritate the wound site on the bite victim. There are many misconceptions surrounding what one should do in the event of a venomous snake bite, namely using tourniquets, opening the wound, and applying ice or electrically shocking the wound, but the only safe way to treat a snake bite is through antivenom.
For a rattlesnake, the antivenom would be a crotalinae polyvalent substance, which would counteract the hemotoxin. This is created by extracting venom from a member of the crotalinae subfamily, injecting small dosages of it into an animal for several weeks (usually a horse, sheep, or goat) in order to create antibodies, then extracting the animal’s blood and centrifuging it to separate the antibodies in the serum from the blood. This serum is what is used as antivenom, and though it can be very expensive, it is completely and absolutely necessary to successfully treat a venomous snake bite.

So next time you’re bitten by a venomous snake, PLEASE do not try to suck the venom out or have your buddy suck the venom out, but remain calm, call an ambulance, pay attention to the way the snake looked (if you don’t know what kind of snake it is), and be treated with antivenom. 


  1. This is really cool!! I'm a runner and do probably 99% of my running on trails, which in Utah and Idaho means seeing snakes. Not all of them rattlesnakes but I've definitely seen them more than once. I guess my primary concern hasn't been so much for myself but for my dog. She weighs 105 pounds, so I don't think I'd be able to carry her out in time. I'm not sure I would have tried to actually suck the venom out myself per se but I was under the impression it needed to come out as soon as possible and might have tried to squeeze it out or use a tourniquet, which apparently is also a misconception. So now I'm wondering where the misdirection to suck the venom out originally came from? And if someone did try to do this (not knowing better), could they possibly ingest enough for it to be fatal? Assuming they were spitting out as much as possible and only swallowing trace amounts. Is rattlesnake antivenom available for purchase in a size that a runner could carry?

  2. I love snakes so I was really excited to see this topic! I have always found venom to be quite interesting, especially in regards to drug development. After caring for and rehabilitating reptiles at a wildlife sanctuary, I really got a taste for peoples' hatred of snakes. Snakes are so unique and special, yet so often misunderstood.

    I find this blog to be especially timely after the death of that copperhead victim this past summer. I'll summarize for those who are not familiar with this story. For some unknown reason, Timothy Levins picked up a copperhead while on a camping trip in Missouri. He was bit three times and died shortly thereafter from anaphylactic shock. This was a shock because the chance of receiving a fatal copperhead bite is actually extremely low.

    I'm not sure if this blog post would have helped Levine, but if you are going to get bit by a venomous snake in the US- please let it be a copperhead! Now that we know we can't suck the venom out, I suppose we should at least be thankful that we don't live in Australia! If we did, I would be curious to know if the advantages still outweighed the disadvantages.

  3. It is very interesting topic. Actually I have never thought about this before and what to do in case I get bitten by a snake. I never happened to me or anyone that I know, but it is good to know now and get some idea. I like the idea of controlling the fear after bite with being calm and relax. I have always been fascinated by snakes and curious about there life but unfortunately I did not get a chance to have one or be very close to them. I do not know if snakes behave in a way that we can understand. Since you know a lot about snakes and have some, are you able to understand their behavior and what they need ? I can understand a god, cat , or a cow behavior but when it comes to reptiles it seems hard, I guess because we do not see them around a lot and we do not have a chance to interact with them closely.

  4. It's interesting that this is such a common thing. I remember as a kid being told that if I was every bit by a snake I needed to suck the venom out and that was where I left it. Being someone who is terrified of snakes I never thought much about it and figured that I would just avoid them anyway. Hearing from you about how that doesn't work completely makes sense, but I was still surprised. Although I don't imagine myself being bit by a venomous snake, you never know what could happen, especially since I spend a lot of time outside. I'm glad I know what to do and what not to do when it comes to situations like this