Q: How can I start a business selling snake venom?
A: You probably can’t. The need for snake venom in research
and medicine is miniscule compared to the number of people who want to start
this business. Additionally, the equipment needed to properly collect and
prepare the venom (not to mention the large number of snakes that you would
need in order to get sufficient quantities of venom) would be prohibitively
expensive for most of us. There are a handful of professionals that have been
doing this since the beginning; they have a corner on the market.
Q: Which dealers are reputable?
A: This site does not recommend any dealer over another. In
this case we would suggest that you follow the old adage caveat emptor
(“buyer beware”). That is not to say that the dealers
on this site are shady. However, if you are going to buy a snake from a dealer
that you have never met, be sure to protect yourself. Develop a relationship
with the dealer first. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it
probably is. Always use a postal money order or a credit card to pay.
That way, you will have some recourse if you find yourself ripped off.
Q: How do you become a herpetologist?
A: In the broad sense, you already are. By coming to this
site you have begun your journey studying snakes (which is one of the things
that herpetologists do). However, most of us here have professions other than
working with snakes. If you would like to be a professional herpetologist, then
education is a must. Keep in mind that professional herpetologists are
typically scientists, and as such require an extensive background in biology.
Most universities offer undergraduate degrees in biology, which can then be
focused in Master’s degrees and Doctorates in zoology, herpetology, systematics, ecology, and many other fields that involve
the study of reptiles and amphibians. In the end, your life as a herpetologist
(whether ‘professional’ or ‘amateur’) should be spent as an advocate and
conservationist of this amazing (albeit maligned) group of organisms.
Q: Which venomous snake should I keep first?
A: Many people will tell you that there is only one species
of ‘hot’ that should be your first. Some will mention the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)
or the pigmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) as a first hot because of their mild venom
(remember that even ‘mild venom’ can cost you a finger and $10,000 in hospital
bills). Others may suggest that you start with a relatively mild rear-fanged colubrid, such as the mangrove snake (Boiga
dendrophilia) or false water cobra (Hydrodynastes gigas),
because the likelihood of suffering a serious envenomation
is lessened. Still others will suggest that you get an aggressive harmless
snake (such as a water snake – Nerodia ssp) as a “trainer”. In the end, it comes down to what
you are personally comfortable with. Look at all of the considerations involved
(federal, state and local laws, caging requirements, food requirements,
availability of antivenin, availability of a mentor, etc) and make a logical
choice (as much as keeping a venomous snake can be logical), based on your own
assessment. Nobody else can do that for you.
Q: What cage setup should I use?
A: This is a matter of different species needing different
setups. There is also a little room for personal preference. In the end you
should consider these factors:
- Safety (for both
yourself and the snake) – locking
cages are a must!
- Environmental factors (lighting,
humidity, temperature, hide boxes, and cleanliness of the cage/substrate)
- Affordability – If you
cannot afford safe, clean housing for your snake, then you cannot afford
Q: In the classified section, what do all of those
numbers separated by periods mean?
A: Those numbers quickly and easily tell you the
number and gender of available specimens. For example, 3.4.2 tells you that
there are 3 male, 4 female and 2 specimens of unknown gender.
Q: What do you keep?
here have everything from Asps to entire Zoos. Members fill
out profiles, and sometimes list what they keep. If you are interested in
specific species, you will likely find others who are working with that
species. Check your local laws before you keep venomous reptiles (and
certainly before you post what you have).
Q: Why do herpetologists use the scientific names?
A: Scientific names
are the most accurate way to identify a snake species when discussing snakes
with people from across the nation and around the world. Science is always
working on the most accurate database of all snake species, and common names
can be very misleading. For instance, both Australia and the US have a snake
commonly called the “copperhead”. But these are two very different species, and
in the case of the US, there are 5 subspecies. If herpetologists are discussing
one or the other, they will use the scientific names so they know exactly what
they are talking about. One word of caution: pronunciation of scientific names
can vary widely, and when in doubt, people will usually try to apply the rules
of pronunciation from their own language. Since the names are Latin however,
the Latin rules of pronunciation are the most appropriate. Remember, the first
name of a Scientific/Latin name is the genus, the second is the species, and if
there is a third name, that is the subspecies.
Q: What is your snakebite protocol?
A: Your protocol should be a WRITTEN document with all the
necessary information in case you get bitten. You should always assume that it
is only a matter of time before you get bitten and plan accordingly. Each
keeper’s protocol will vary slightly depending on medical conditions, antivenin
availability, and species kept. You should know how the venom of each of your
snakes is likely to affect your body (most of that information is readily
available on the web). Additional items that should be kept in most protocols:
- Emergency contact
numbers (include your doctor)
- Copies of important
medical documents (medical records, allergy information, insurance cards)
- Spare car keys (there is
nothing worse than trying to find your car keys under the coffee table
when you need to get to the ER)
- List of species kept
Remember that in an envenomation
emergency, you may not be able to communicate clearly. In addition, anxiety may
limit your ability to make rational decisions, so your protocol should be
structured accordingly. For more information on snakebite protocols, have a
look at the “Links” section of this website, and choose the search category
“Snake Bite Information”.
Q: Where can I get antivenin?
A: Antivenin is generally expensive, hard to get, dangerous
and illegal to self-administer, and has a finite shelf life. In general, zoos keep
antivenin on hand for any species that they keep, but they may be
understandably reluctant to share their resources, because it may leave their
own staff without protection. Most hospitals keep a trivial amount of antivenin
on hand for native species, but this is hardly helpful if you are keeping
exotic species. A number of companies sell antivenin for exotic species
overseas, but they are difficult to import, and are not approved by the FDA.
You will therefore need to apply for and get several permits before you are
able to import antivenom, as it is considered an
experimental drug by the FDA. As a keeper, it is your responsibility to
be aware of what resources are available to you and which are not. This
information is absolutely crucial to determine BEFORE you need it. The forms
and instructions on how to fill them out can be found in this site’s “File
Library” under “Permits and Applications”.
Q: Is it possible for me to cross these two species?
A: The reproductive biology behind this is complex, but
species within the same genus can often hybridize. For example, copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix)
and cottonmouths (A. piscivorus) occasionally
hybridize in captivity (resulting in what some people refer to as ‘cottonheads’). The same is true for many other crotalids (vipers and pit vipers). However, the more
distant the systematic relationships between two species of snakes are, the
less likely is the chance of the two species hybridizing. It is therefore
highly unlikely that you would able to cross a cobra with a rattlesnake.
Q: How do I identify this snake?
A: The best way to ID a snake is a good location-specific
field guide. If you have taken a picture of a snake and you want it identified
by our panel of experts, please upload it to our Photo Album under ‘Snakes for
Identification’, then post a topic in our ‘Experts’ forum to let us know where
it is. In your post, give as much information as you can (general location,
surrounding habitat, and behavior).
Q: What is the World’s deadliest snake?
A: Here we will rely on the expertise of our forum member
Dr. B.G. Fry. To paraphrase, the world’s deadliest snake is the one that just
bit you. Otherwise, you’re just arguing semantics. Our webmaster and founder
classifies this question in two different ways. If you’re asking what the most
toxic snake in the world is, that would be the Inland Taipan,
If you want to know what most herpetologists consider to be
the most dangerous snake to be in close proximity with, that would be the Black
mamba, Dendroaspis polylepis,
due to its speed, agility, temperament and venom toxicity. If you are talking
about the snake that kills the most people per year, that dubious distinction
would probably go to the Russell’s viper, Daboia russelli. For an
overview of this subject, visit Dr. Fry’s venom page HERE.
Q: How many people die from snakebites each year?
A: The real answer is that nobody knows for sure. You will
hear a lot of statistics quoted, but it is generally accepted that there are
roughly 8,000 venomous snakebites in the US annually. Fewer than 15 of those
are fatal. Worldwide the numbers are generally in the millions, with some
statisticians trying to account for remote villages in developing nations,
where snakebites often go unreported. The World Health Organization’s position
is that there are around 5 million bites per year worldwide, with roughly
Q: Is it legal to keep venomous snakes in my state?
A: You as a keeper need to research these laws yourself
while you are deciding to keep a venomous reptile. State and federal laws are
always changing, and local laws are at times stricter than state laws. Most
states provide copies of their current regulations online. Do your research up
front! It will save you (and this community) a lot of trouble later. Remember
that ignorance of the law will not protect you from prosecution, and it is
equally ineffective in protecting you from snakebite. Contact your State
Wildlife Dept. for the most up to date and accurate information.