Chances of Dying from a Snake Bite May Be Greater Than You Think
Once snake bitten...what are the odds?
According to a 2018 article in Wilderness & Environmental Medicide, your chances of dying from a snake bite in the United States may be greater than you think...but for that to be the case, you would have to think that the chances are essentially zero. According to data pulled from the Center for Disease Control from 2008-2015, there were a total of 48 snake (and/or lizard) bite deaths during that 8 year period, an average of 6 per year. So if you were to round up 54 million or so fellow random Americans and put them in a room (yes, that would need to be a room of ample breadth and girth), you could estimate that one of you is probably going to die this year from a snake bite. (If you're wondering, an estimated 8,000 or so people get bitten by venomous snakes each year). All in all, not terribly concerning odds. Some of the additional comparisons from the study are included in the table below:
What Venomous Snakes are Found in the United States?
Venomous snakes in this country predominantly fall into one of the following four categories:
Rattlesnakes: There are many, many species of rattlesnakes in the United States, each with their own set of behaviors and habitats. The largest of the
venomous snakes in the U.S., rattlesnakes have the capacity to efficiently and accurately strike from distances up to one-third their body length. According to the CDC, rattlesnakes use their rattles or tails as a warning when they feel threatened, and may be found sunning themselves near logs, boulders, or open areas. These snakes may be found in most work habitats including the mountains, prairies, deserts, and beaches.
Copperhead snakes: Copperhead snakes are some of the more commonly encountered snakes in the
United States, and among the most likely to bite. Fortunately their venom is comparatively mild causing their bites to be seldom fatal for humans. Although commonly mistaken for other non-venomous snakes due to similarities in coloration and size, copperheads have a unique and distinct pattern on their bodies that makes them easily distinguishable.
Cottonmouth Snakes: Cottonmouths, also known as Water Moccasins, are a dark brown or black snake averaging 4-5 feet long. There are many harmless
water snakes that are commonly mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth Snake. According to the University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, venomous water moccasins tend to have thick, heavy bodies with thick, short tails and a large, blocky head, whereas the body of non-venomous water snakes tends to be longer, more slender, and more flattened, along with a more slender head. Their table below highlights some of the identifiable differences between a venomous water moccasin and a harmless water snake:
Coral Snakes: Coral snakes may be found in some southern states in sandy, marshy, or heavily-wooded areas and are known for their colorful red and yellow bands on their bodies. Although smaller than other
venomous snakes (usually around 20 inches) coral snakes are among the most venomous snakes in the world. Because of their relatively inefficient poison delivery system, however, they are generally considered less dangerous than other venomous snakes in the United States. Often misidentified as a non-venomous king snake, a popular rhyme makes it easy to determine a coral snake from a similar looking non-venomous one: Red on black, safe for Jack. Red on yellow, kills a fellow. The coral snake will have bands of red touching smaller bands of yellow.
So What Have We Learned? In the United States, snake bites from venomous snakes do happen with some regularity. 8,000 or so instances equates to odds of getting bitten by a venomous snake of about 1 in 41,000. Still not likely, but certainly within the realm of reasonable possibility. The chances of dying from a snake bite, however, are much, much lower. Certain areas of the United States play host to higher populations of venomous snakes, and before venturing out into the wilderness, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the risks associated with potential snake encounters in your area.