Snakes are many people’s greatest fear and being attacked by one their worst nightmare. While genuine unprovoked attacks by snakes are rare, it is still a good idea to know how to behave should you encounter a snake, especially an aggressive one.
Do Snakes Attack Humans?
Very rarely. Snakes are generally shy, non-confrontational creatures who would always rather choose escape if given the choice. Like most wild animals, they will only attack if they are surprised or threatened. Left undisturbed, they will rarely attack humans – in fact, humans attack more snakes than the other way around! Most “attacks” are actually accidents where the snake is surprised into defensive aggression. On fact, the most common incidence of snake bites is with people who handle snakes on a regular basis, such as reptile handlers and reptile enthusiasts who keep snakes as pets. Remember, also that out of the 2,700 species of snakes around the world, only around 450 are venomous.
When Do Snakes Get Aggressive?
Snakes that are startled and threatened will react defensively – and it will usually be obvious! Rattlesnakes are renowned for announcing their displeasure with their telltale rattle. Other species will raise their heads and face you, perhaps hiss and in the case of cobras, raise their hoods. This is a clear signal that the snake is warning you to “Back off!” and it is always advisable to heed this warning.
Eek – There’s a Snake! What Do I Do?
First of all, don’t panic. If the snake has not reacted to you, the best thing is to either stand still and wait for the snake to move on or to back away very, very slowly. This gives the snake a chance to escape from you harmlessly, which is what it probably wants to do anyway. Remember, snakes do NOT want to attack us. Remember also that snakes are only aware of you as a threat if you are moving (this is why many people report snakes slithering unconcerned over their foot – it merely sees it as an obstacle on the ground) and they have very short memories, therefore if you startle a snake by putting your foot down next to it and it has not bitten you, then if you don’t move, the snake will soon forget that you are a threat and it will slither off.
Whatever you do, don’t try to attack the snake first, throw rocks at it or attempt to pick it up – this can provoke it and it can move much faster than you!
How to Avoid Snake Attacks
Taking a few simple precautions can help you avoid disturbing a snake and possibly putting it on the defensive. First, again, never provoke a snake by doing things such as throwing rocks at it – this is a common cause of many snake bites in the United States and reflects human stupidity with regards to snakes. Surely, nobody would throw rocks at a lion or a grizzly bear? Why at a snake then? Secondly, don’t try to be hero and attempt to capture a snake unless you are an experienced herpetologist. Thirdly, if you are out walking in an area known to have snakes, be aware of your surroundings and the ground you are walking on, especially if it is thick with undergrowth. Don’t lift any large stones or fallen tree trunks unless you really have to and do so with extreme caution. Take care about where you are treading and if you are unsure, go very slowly. If you are out at night in such an are, a torch is crucial – remember, many snakes are nocturnal hunters. Finally, remember to wear protective footgear when walking through snake-infested areas.