The snake

The snake is part of the Ophidian order

Venomous snakes are found all over the world.

Viperidae thrive in Europe, South-East Asia and Africa.

Crotalidae (rattlesnakes) live in North and South America and in Asia.

One encounters Elapidae in Africa (cobras, mambas), in Asia (Cobras, bungars), in Australia (cobras), and in America (coral snakes).

Finally, Hydophiidae (water snakes), of which most have adapted to aquatic life, live in tropical seas.

The most dangerous snake in the world is the Taipan, in Australia.

In Europe we are mostly concerned with the viper. Of an average size of 50 to 60 cm with a triangular head, the viper is stocky, brown or grey, with a zigzag black dorsal marking. Their life cycle is mainly from May to September, from feeding and molting to reproduction. They hibernate in winter by burying themselves to varying depths.

Vipers are not agressive but will attack if they feel threatened. Most bites happen in the summer during the warm hours between 11am and 3 pm. Their great jaw-opening ability allows them to bite any part of the body.

Emergency measures

Viper bites in France are dangerous even though most don’t have serious consequences and deaths are few.

In any event, stay calm :

  • Phone or have someone phone emergency help by dialling 15 for the “SAMU” paramedics or 18 for the Fire Brigade (in France).
  • Don’t open up the wound or “bleed” it, don’t try to suck it by mouth and don’t apply a tourniquet on the affected limb.
  • Clean the wound with an antiseptic (preferably colourless so as to not complicate the doctor’s examination) or with soap and water.
  • Apply a clean, dry compress onto the wound and hold it there with a slightly firm bandage (be careful not to stop blood flow to the affected limb !)
  • Immobilize the affected limb with a strap (for an arm) or a splint (for a leg).
  • If you have some, refresh the wound area with ice cubes in a plastic bag or a folded towel. Be careful not to put the ice in direct contact with the wound.
  • Stay near the victim while awaiting help and reassure him or her. You may administer paracetamol or other pain reliever to relieve the pain, but don’t give aspirin.
  • If you are in the middle of nowhere and help has not arrived, avoid strenuous effort and stop walking every 500 meters. Do not run! Falls on mountain trails are statistically more deadly than viper bites.
  • In any case, if you have any, don’t use anti-viper serum on yourself as this is very allergenic and can be more dangerous than most viper bites. Anti-viper serum is used only in very special cases by intensive care medical specialists and not by non-qualified people.