Non-venomous snakes: Do they have fangs?

A guy from work was telling me how they neighborhood gathered around and killed a black snake last night. He was afraid it would bite one of the neighborhood children.

I used to catch all kinds of non-venomous snakes growing up. Some times one would bite - which I don’t recall ever breaking skin.

He claims that even non-venomous snakes have fangs and it really really hurts when they bite.

I don’t buy it. But I’m no snake expert.

Do they have fangs? Can you provide a site that shows they don’t?

No, they don’t have fangs, but the teeth are backward-curving.
Anyone who kills a blacksnake is an idiot.

Fangs, as in elongated front teeth designed to transfer venom ( or just particularly elongated front teeth )? No.

Sharp teeth that can pierce skin? Of course. What, did you think they hold onto their prey with their gums? :smiley:

Seriously though I’ve been bitten by dozens of snakes, including one shot to the eyeball that caused me to bleed like a stuck pig. My buddy got whapped in the chin by a large wild Boa and said it was like getting hit in the face with a bunch of roofing nails. I’ve even had baby king snakes pentrate the skin.

And of course some traditionally “non-venomous” snakes actually ARE mildly venomous and have a crude transfer system consisting of enlarged, often grooved rear teeth. The Lyre snake of the American Southwest for example.

edited to add: But I think your buddies justification is nonsense. Most non-venomous snake bites are nothing at all significant. Pinpricks, basically. Only a very large snake like the one that hit my friend would really hurt and even then it wouldn’t do significant damage.

Black snakes (racers or black rat snakes) in your area do not have fangs. They have sharp, back-curved teeth, as beowulff said. Getting bitten by a black snake is mildly painful and might scare a child, but that doesn’t warrant a death sentence.

This site has a brief description of snake dentition that supports the idea that non-poisonous snakes lack fangs.

Thanks that looks like a site I can use.

From his story I got the impression that most of the adults were more afraid than any of the children. The whole freaking neighborhood came out and one man even called (can you believe it) the police. The police man came, several people got involved in catching the snake and once caught, he said he would not be taking it with him. He would either release it somewhere else in the area or kill it. They (as a group) decided to kill it. One of the men told how very very painful it was to get bitten by one. They seemed to think that all snakes have fangs.

I am 46 and haven’t caught a snake in 27 years but I never saw a non-venomous snake with fangs (And for those who wondered, when I say fangs, I mean fangs. Having been bitten - as I made clear in my first post - I’m aware of their teeth). The last one I caught bit me. It left a scratch. It wasn’t that painful even.

Had I been there I would have told them to all go home, I would catch the snake. Then I would probably have left it alone. But if no one went home, I would have simply caught it and took it to my back yard…

Anyway, now I can show him that they don’t have fangs, and hopefully convince him not to be killing them willy-nilly.

Good luck convincing him.

Luckily their overall stupidity didn’t reach this level:

I hate people who kill what they don’t understand.

I would like to thank the OP for using the word “venomous” instead of “poisonous.”

I don’t know why. Any snake that is venomous is by definition also poisonous. Venomous is very slightly more accurate but even the pedants here at SDMB wouldn’t quibble over the difference.

Has he cleared the neighborhood of dogs yet?

Correct me if I’m being dense, but you got bitten in the eye? By a motherfucking snake? Did the doctors give you the Chuck Norris medal?

Allow this pedant to quibble. In regard to snakes, “poisonous” refers to substances that cause acute symptoms of at least distress upon ingestion. No snakes are “poisonous” in this way. Even snake venom can be swallowed, providing it does not encounter an open cut or wound. Many toads and salamanders though are poisonous.

“Venomous” refers to the ability to project a poison in such a manner as to damage another animal. “Venomous” snakes may bite to inject venom, bite to drip venom into the wound channel, or spit venom (often at a victim’s eyes).

“Fangs” refers to the modified dental equipment used to deliver venom. Some venomous snakes have long fangs (relative to the length of their other teeth) e.g., vipers and pit vipers. Others have short fangs (hardly longer than their other teeth) e.g., cobras.

Some non-venomous snakes have a mouthful of really lo-o-o-n-n-g teeth, e.g., tree boas. Try really hard not to be bitten by a large one!

Lots of variation. Some bites from non-venomous snakes are extremely ugly (e.g., aforesaid tree boas, Indigo snakes). Bites from “black snakes” (regionally, many different snakes bear this common vernacular) are usually among the less noteworthy.

Idiots persist in their own mythologies of snake “lore”, which leads to far too many unnecessary snake deaths. Case in point-- the OP.

I was going to jump all over your case, but while trying to find a cite, I stumbled upon something peculiar. Every nature site I look at makes the distinction: venomous=injects venom into tissue, poisonous=dangerous to ingest. The AHD and the OED clearly make the words synonyms. Check out definition 2 of “venom”. I find it strange that an entire list of experts make them distinct but authoritative dictionaries make them the same. Hmmm…

Hemlock, or arsenic, e.g., is poisonous; snakes are venomous.

However, this distinction is not really supported by most dictionaries. Some may make such a distinction in a subset of definitions, but most also regard venomous as being synonymous with poisonous.

e.g. Merriam-Webster:

In scientific usage, there may be a distinction; but in popular usage, a poisonous snake is the same as a venomous one. This is not incorrect.

To continue the hijack briefly: dictionaries report usage, and obviously many people use “poisonous” to mean “venomous.” Therefore, it’s a lexicographer’s duty to report that usage in his dictionary. However, an expert in a particular field is less likely to be interested in general (lay) usage, and more interested in the precise language of his field.

Again, a dictionary will be reporting lay usage. In this regard, of course, everyone knows what you mean when you say “poisonous snake.” The usage is common enough, in fact, that I was pleasantly *surprised *to see the OP use the technically correct usage, so I tossed him a kudo. (Please remember that this hijack, such as it was, began with a compliment, not a correction.)

This is something like the distinction between monkeys and apes: scientists have come to make an a posteriori distinction between words that were formerly synonymous, and which still are synonyms in popular usage. While herpetologists make make the distinction in order to be precise, there is no reason to reject the popular usage either. (I note that Crotalus, who knows a few things about snakes, used “non-poisonous” in his post #3.)

Perhaps your friend really likes rats, and wants to protect the ones near his house.


It’s now thought that all snakes are venomous, the “non-venomous” ones just lack a delivery system: