What to do if you're bitten by a snake in NC

Posted May 5
Updated May 6

— Thirty-seven snake species call the Tar Heel State home, but only five of them are venomous.

Copperheads, cottonmouths, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, pigmy rattlesnakes and timber rattlesnakes can all deliver bites that leave victims with one or two puncture wounds.

Serious symptoms from venomous snake bites can include weakness, increased heart rate, confusion, trouble breathing, numbness, vomiting and low blood pressure.

The Carolinas Poison Center helps treat about 500 snake bites each year in North Carolina.

The copperhead is by far the most common venomous snake in North Carolina.

Experts at the center say they receive 10 times the number of calls about copperhead bites than all other snake species combined.

Copperhead are normally dark brown with an hour-glass pattern.They grow to 2 to 3 feet in length and are found in all of North Carolina's 100 counties.

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There are several things people can do to lessen their chance of being bitten.

Phil Bradley, a snake expert at the North Carolina Museum of Life Sciences, said copperheads are equally at home hiding in pine straw or under a shrub, so he recommended that people wear closed shoes and long pants when working outside and to use a grabber tool to pick up sticks and other yard debris.


"It might be slower or less efficient at first, but I promise you that this will keep you out of strike range of a small copperhead and does increase your safety," Bradley said.

Anyone planning to work in a garden or flowerbed should rake the area first to scare away any snakes, he said.

The Carolinas Poison Center also recommends to check boots and shoes that are in garages or outside before putting them on.

If you see a snake, back away slowly. Do not attempt to pick it up or move it.

"I know that doesn't sound right – you feel like you need to deal with this potential threat," Bradley said. "The reality is that the (copperhead) population numbers are such that any one that you might dispatch is not going to negatively affect the population numbers in your neighborhood and does increase your chance of being bit considerably."

But what should you do if you're bitten? According to the Carolinas Poison Center, you should:

  • Sit down and stay calm
  • Gently wash the area with warm, soapy water
  • Remove any jewelry or tight clothing near the bite site
  • Keep the bitten area still, if possible, and raise it to heart level
  • Call the Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222
  • If a snake bite victim is having chest pain, difficulty breathing, face swelling or has lost consciousness, call 911 immediately

Snake bites: Do the following

"Calm down, and if you have any jewelry on, particularly if you have bites to the extremities, you want to remove that because the swelling can cause some severe issues," Bradley said.

Copperhead bites are rarely fatal, he said.

"But they are serious, and there's a lot of pain associated with these bites," he said. "We do not recommend trying to ride out the bite at home without the consultation of a professional."

Poison Center officials say you should not:

  • Cut the bitten area to try to drain the venom - this can worsen the injury
  • Ice the area, because it can cause additional tissue damage
  • Make and apply a tourniquet or any tight bandage, because it's better for the venom to flow through the body than for it to stay in one area
  • Suck or use a suction device to remove the venom
  • Attempt to catch or kill the snake involved

Snake bites: Do not do the following

"A western or something else in which you restrain the bite victim and make some cuts over the bite and then suck out the venom, none of those things you should do," Bradley said.

Most non-venomous snakes in North Carolina are actually good to have around, such as rat snakes, grass snakes and black racers, he said.

Editor's note: The coral snake is known to live in North Carolina, but it is extremely rare. The Poison Center says it hasn't received calls about a coral snake bite in more than 20 years.


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  • Fred Neopolitano May 5, 6:29 p.m.
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    If a snake bites me, I will bite him back.

  • Sean Reid May 5, 11:30 a.m.
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    @Rodney, You are correct, however, coral snake bites are extremely rare. they are by nature reclusive and have short rear positioned fangs and neurotoxic venom. All of the "Pit Vipers" in NC have similar characteristics: Diamond-shaped head, Vertical slit pupils, large fangs that retract in the upper mouth, hemotoxic venom.

  • Rodney McGee May 5, 11:29 a.m.
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    And the article doesnt even mention the coral snake as being a NC venomous snake. We actually 6 poisonous snake counting the coral snake.

  • Rodney McGee May 5, 11:16 a.m.
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    This story is not accurate. There is no truth to all venomous snakes having elliptical shaped pupils. NC 's coral snakes actually have round pupils.