Is a rattlesnake bite always/usually fatal?

Inspired by the dead snake-handler pastor thread…

I spend time in a rural area and have never been bitten by a poisonous snake, but have heard of the deadliness of them. But how deadly are they?

Let’s say I get bitten by a rattler and just decide to sleep it off. What are my chances of dying? 100%? 50%? 10%? Less? Let’s say I’m a 200 lb. 35 year old man and it’s an average sized rattler. Any difference with a copperhead?

Do I need to go to the hospital? Is there over the counter anti-venom I can keep at home to treat it?

*Not a need answer fast. :slight_smile:

While it will vary with the species of rattler, rattlesnake bites in the US are very rarely fatal. This articlegives a rate of no more than 12 fatalities out of 8000 bites per year between 1960 and 1980 (not all of them rattlesnakes), or a fatality rate of 0.15%. Most fatalities are probably going to involve smaller, weaker individuals and larger snakes, so if you are a large healthy male who’s bitten by an average snake your odds will be even better. On the other hand, most of these cases would have received medical treatment, so if you just “went home to sleep it off” you would be more likely to die. However, even in such circumstances I doubt the odds reach 1%.

The fatality rate from copperheads is even lower. This site gives the rate as 0.01%.

You have to be fairly unlucky to die of the bite of a poisonous snake, even if you are bitten. The big problem can be necrosis and neurological effects. You can easily lose a limb, so you definitely want to seek medical treatment.

My understanding is that a great deal depends on how much venom the snake releases during the bite. To illustrate the extremes, I’ve heard of a full-grown man being dead within an hour; at the other extreme, sometimes it’s nothing more than just localized bite trauma, if there’s no venom released at all, a ‘dry bite’.

Copperheads aren’t nearly as dangerous as rattlers. Not even close.

Copperheads are not particularly bad - fatalities are quite rare.

With rattlesnakes, it depends on the species ( and many other factors including bite location, venom load, individual reactions, health and size of the victim, etc. ) or even the population. The worst is probably most populations of the Mojave Rattlesnake, that have an unusually potent neurotoxic venom formed by the combination of two different toxins that synergize nastily with each other. Populations that lack one of those components are far less dangerous.

At any rate it seems the untreated morbidity is hard to pin down, but one reference claimed in the pre-antivenom days it was anywhere from 5-35% for pitvipers, which is a pretty huge range and probably reflects both the grab bag of confounding factors I listed above and lumping together pretty mild critters like the Copperhead with somewhat nastier ones like the Mojave Rattlesnake.

It is very painful, and the wound is very nasty. You really do need to go get antivenom.

But unless you are a small child or have a poor constitution, you’re not going to die of it.

Colibri’s post is 100% spot on.

I have read that bites from juvenile snakes are more dangerous as they have not learned how to regulate the amount of venom they inject, so they tend to dump it ALL in one bite.

What about cobras and other Asian snakes?

Again, it will vary with the species. But Asia and Africa have it much worse than North America. At its worst an untreated Black Mamba bite is basically 100% fatal, both because of toxicity and the average amount injected - it’s the only snake ever to be recorded to have taken down an adult elephant ;).

Depends. I got nailed by a pencil sized baby that wandered into the house one spring and other than being pissed off I had no ill effects - when they are really baby they don’t have venom yet because they are still in the insect eating phase of babydom. A little swearing, and an airborn baby rattler later, back to watching tv. [The larger ones I kill because they can kill my baby chickens and guineas, or hurt one of the outside cats.]

How deadly
80% of snakebite fatalities in North America are rattler
chances of dying
Hard to say, 20 % of bites are ‘dry’, others vary in the venom load.
OTC antivenon

I think the numbers hereare pretty rough, but if you use the low and high estimates worldwide, it looks like around 5% of snakebites are fatal.

We have taipans where the untreated mortality rate is (or can be- no idea how they work that out) is 100%. I would not frig around if I was bitten by one.

Locally we have dugites which are again no laughing matter.

Back to your topic, and in the 70’s or 80’s I saw a very bad porno movie where the Lone Ranger was bitten on the end of his cock by a rattlesnake and Tonto refused to suck the venom out. The movie was so bad it was funny.


Snakes are not poisonous, they are venomous. Poison is ingested/absorbed/inhaled, while venom is injected via bite or sting.


Why does this nonsense come up in every single thread about poisonous animals? I assume it is some sort of nonsense taught in US elementary schools. I seem to debunk it at least a dozen times a year.

No, this isn’t true. Poisonous means “produces poison”. The manner of delivery of that poison is utterly irrelevant to the descriptor. So snakes are poisonous, a fact that you an confirm for yourself via the CDC, CSL, “The Lancet”, “Nature” or the OED. That has been standard and continuous English usage for at least 900 years.

Venomous means “produces venom”. Once again, the mode of delivery of the venom is utterly irrelevant. While you could make fairly weak claim that “venom” refers to poison delivered through force, there is an unbroken chain of usage to refer to passive envenomation going back at least as far as Shakespeare, who referred to the toad as venomous. So while you might be able to argue pedantically that “venom” is forcefully delivered poison, anyone using it to refer to something that poisonous when eaten is perfectly correct.

In short snakes are poisonous. They are also venomous.

In all fairness, by being bitten by a venomous snake you’ve pretty well demonstrated that you’re unlucky. No reason to assume that will change after the bite.

To be fair, most of the people I know of who have been bitten by snakes were not unlucky. They were just very stupid.

I wonder if these snakehandling preachers may have discovered something-maybe the movements of the “handler” provoke a kind of non-aggressiveness in the snakes? And maybe, the majority of the bites are “dry”-perhaps that explains the success of these guys. They may also be feeding the snakes just before the handling ceremonies-such a snake might well be reluctant to bite.
The articles mention that snakehandling is going out of style-maybe the people of these congregations are wising up.

I always heard that they milked the snakes of venom right before each church service.

Even if you felt like the venom wasn’t causing you any distress, you shouldn’t just try to walk it off without at LEAST getting some antibiotics. Snake mouths are full of bacteria. Snake fangs can puncture all the way into the fascia, which is an ideal place for bacteria to raise hell.

I have some snake handlers in my family. I have been to one service where snakes were passed around. At least in this case a few good ole boys rounded up 3 sack fulls of snakes, mostly rattlers but a few copperheads the day before the service. No one fed them, no one milked them and they were used within 24 hours of gathering them up.

Not everyone participates, I didn’t, in fact I left when the snakes hit the floor but no one was injured that day.

I was instructed to lift them up gently, hold it for awhile and pass it to the next person, I did not follow instructions and just left.