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Snake and Lizard Bites - Topic Overview

Poisonous snake or lizard bite  

A bite from a poisonous (venomous) snake or lizard requires emergency care. If you have been bitten by a snake or lizard that you know or think might be poisonous, call911or other emergency services immediately.

Do not wait for symptoms to develop.

If you are not sure what type of snake or lizard bit you, call the Poison Control Center immediately to help identify the snake or lizard and find out what to do next. Medicine to counteract the effects of the poison (antivenom) can save a limb or your life.

It is important to stay calm.

Poisonous snakes or lizards found in North America include:

Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only states that don't have at least one poisonous snake species in the wild.

Poisonous snakebite

Symptoms of a pit viper snakebite often appear from minutes to hours after a bite. Severe burning pain at the site usually begins within minutes, and then swelling starts spreading out from the bite.

Things that affect the severity of a poisonous snake or lizard bite include the:

  • Type and size of the snake or lizard.
  • Amount of venom injected (if any).
  • Potency of the venom injected.
  • Location and depth of the bite.
  • Number of bites and where they occurred on the body.
  • Age, size, and health of the person who was bitten.

If you do not develop symptoms within 8 to 12 hours, it is possible that no venom was injected; this is called a dry bite. At least 25%, and perhaps up to 50%, of bites are dry. If poison is released in the bite, about 35% of the bites have mild injections of poison (envenomations), 25% are moderate, and 10% to 15% are severe.

It is important to remember that a snake only injects part of its venom with each bite, so it is still dangerous after the first strike. A bite from a young snake can be serious. And a dead snake, even one with a severed head, can still bite and release venom by reflex action for up to 90 minutes after it dies.

Even if you do not develop symptoms within 8 hours, continue to watch for symptoms for 2 weeks or more.

Nonpoisonous snake or lizard bite

Most snakes and lizards in North America are not poisonous. Bites may be frightening, but most do not cause serious health problems. A bite from a small nonpoisonous snake might leave teeth marks, a minor scrape, or a puncture wound without other symptoms.

Home treatment often relieves symptoms and helps prevent infection.

Although most nonpoisonous snakebites can be treated at home, a bite from a large nonpoisonous snake (such as a boa constrictor, python, or anaconda) can be more serious. In North America, these snakes are often found in zoos, but they may also be kept as exotic pets. The force of the bite can injure the skin, muscles, joints, or bones. Other problems can occur with a nonpoisonous snake or lizard bite even if the reptile is small. A snake or lizard's tooth may break off in a wound or a skin infection may develop at the site of the bite.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 18, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

DR DAVID CLEVELAND 508-487-1956  or  508-487-1981
poisonous Lizards


Images for PICTURE OF GILA MONSTER - Report images

Gila monster
Heloderma suspectum

Description: Robust, with a large head and a heavy tail. Its body is covered with beadlike scales. It is capable of storing fat against lean times when food is scarce. Its color is striking in rich blacks laced with yellow or pinkish scales.

Characteristics: Not an aggressive lizard, but it is ready to defend itself when provoked. If approached too closely, it will turn toward the intruder with its mouth open. If it bites, it hangs on tenaciously and must be pried off. Its venom glands and grooved teeth are on its bottom jaw.

Habitat: Found in arid areas, coming out at night or early morning hours in search of small rodents and bird eggs. During the heat of the day it stays under brush or rocks.

Length: Average 30 centimeters, maximum 50 centimeters.

Distribution: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, northern Mexico, and extreme corner of southeast California.

Mexican beaded lizard
Heloderma horridum

Description: Less colorful than its cousin, the gila monster. It has black or pale yellow bands or is entirely black.

Characteristics: Very strong legs let this lizard crawl over rocks and dig burrows. It is short-tempered. It will turn and open its mouth in a threatening manner when molested. Its venom is hemotoxic and potentially dangerous to man.

Habitat: Found in arid or desert areas, often in rocky hillsides, coming out during evening and early morning hours.

Length: Average 60 centimeters, maximum 90 centimeters.

Distribution: Mexico through Central America.