How do I clean a rattlesnake head?

For display, of course, not eating. We get several each year out here on the dry, rocky hillside we live on and while I bear no particular malice towards them, I do occasionally have to execute the ones that actually come into the yard to keep myself and the pets safe. I’ve been saving the tails for years, but lately my goal has been to get a rattlesnake skull cleaned and displayable.

How does one go about cleaning delicate bones? I’ve had two basic suggestions; either boiling it, possibly with a little bit of bleach to get it extra-clean, or else staking it out underneath a screen of some kind so that bugs will pick it clean without it being stolen by birds. Does anyone know the proper way to go about this?

There is a special shampoo for cleaning snake heads… its called “Head and no Shoulders”

In all seriousness, if you are patient, the best way is the bug method. when bones are 90% “clean” brush off the worst of the remaining meat and pack them in Borax for a few weeks… They should come out nice and white (Borax reacts with the oils, moisture still in the bones, whitening and nutralizing them). This method also helps prevent the smaller bones from curling and distorting as they dry.
Important note: be real careful or get someone you are not fond of to handle the dead snake head… there is still venom in them there fangs…
Best of luck



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Find the biggest anthill you can. Place the head on top and shovel part of the anthill on top.

The Borax idea sounds good as well.

I’ll second the anthill suggestion. That’s the popular method for insect collectors. Or was at one time.

Be very careful. Rattlesnake heads have been known to reflexively bite several hours after being removed from the body and simply handling the head can result in envenomation.

I also want to add that you can still get venom in you from the head, so don’t get poisoned pissing around with the head.

Can the heads really bite for hours afterward? I mean, I’ve heard that before too, but I’ve never seen a good cite for it.

I’ve seen warnings of the venom still in the tooth, and I’m not talking about a head biting you. The hollow in the tooth still has remnants.


About 3/4 of the way down the page.

Indeed! Well, should I manage to get the one that’s been hanging around, I’ll be extra careful. Also, this area is so dry that I’m having trouble locating an anthill, but it occurs to me that yellowjackets might do almost as good a job. I’ll let you know how it works.

I shot a watermoccasin several times, cut its head off and left it overnight in a bucket. The next day, part way through skinning it, I realized its heart was still beating.

Not a rattlesnake, not a head either but them things… they ain’t normal!

Huh??? On the list of things not to do if one gets bitten, it says “Don’t use ice or electricity.” What on earth would one do with electricity on a snake bite? Or should one be careful not to use electrical appliances immediately following the aforementioned bite?

“Sorry, honey, can’t vacuum right now - I’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake.” Like I haven’t heard that excuse before.

The OP specifies “skull” meaning, I presume, the bones and teeth. Just putting the decapitated head on an ant pile (or in a box of museum beetles) will not usually result in a skeletonized mount. The skin is quite tough; if it dessicates before the bugs remove all of it (and that is the common experience) then the result will not be a cleaned skull. Some preparatory work is required.

The head should be skinned and as much tissue as possible removed. Then consign it to your favorite or most available hungry bugs.

CAREFUL!!! (sorry, caps seem required)

Reflexive biting isn’t the only danger. You will also be removing two quite large venom sacs, these being in the big bulges on each side of the head. The venom remains active. It will cause you serious distress, potentially even cause your death, if any of it gets into a break in your skin or into your eyes. (You could though drink it-- unless you have open sores in your mouth. It is highly modified saliva, after all. But this is NOT RECOMMENDED!!) Gloves and extreme caution are required.

Boiling the head is useful. It will help to break down the skin and other tissue, facilitating removal. And it may also denature (inactivate) some of the lethal proteins in the venom. Do NOT though assume total safety even with a boiled head. Great care is still required. But this will result in a much better presentation mount.

I do NOT recommend that an amateur or a clumsy individual attempt this. Cleaning venomous snake heads is best left to professionals or people with a death wish. But if you want a quality mount, this is the technique.

If you try it, and you notice any unusual physical symptoms in yourself, seek immediate treatment for envenomation, exactly the same as if you were bitten.

Point of information: I have been handling venomous snakes (meaning live ones) for more than 40 years, without being bitten. I did though once manage to envenomate myself with a dead snake. Take it for what it’s worth…

Now there is a sentence that was never on the radar of what I thought I would hear in my lifetime, ever.

Cripes! It sure does read badly, doesn’t it? :smack:

(So many words, so few brain cells…)

What I meant to say, is that I once managed to envenomate myself through careless handling of a dead snake.


Not sure that’s any better. Well… Maybe I’d better explain.

One night on a drive through Everglades National Park we encountered a diamond backed rattlesnake that had been killed on the roadway. We stopped, and I picked it up to show details to my out of town visitors. I even pried open the mouth with my pocket knife, and showed off the huge, folding fangs. Then I tossed it off the road, so vultures would not be attracted into the path of traffic.

Back in the car and a dozen miles down the road I noticed that my hand was burning. Then I also noticed the minor cut I had accidentally gotten on my palm earlier that day. Evidently the crushed head of the rattler was dripping venom, right into this wound. It was sufficient to cause a local reaction-- swelling up to my wrist.

Luckily that was the extent of it. Reminded me that I know better!

An urban myth was that electricity could neutralize venom. It has even appeared in a few movies where a person bitten has short circuited a live wire on the bite in an attempt to treat it. The site is just trying to debunk that particular myth.

I’ve never heard the electricity thing before, though it would have occurred to me to use ice in an attempt to slow circulation and damage from the poison. Ignorance fought. I’ll let y’all know how it turns out if I can catch the bugger soon.