Can Animals Eat Venomous Snakes Without Dying?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: June 11, 2022
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Snakes are one of the most commonly-seen and venomous animals. These reptiles have venom-producing glands and are known to have different venom compositions and toxicity levels. That being said, it is important to note that not all snakes are venomous

However, with venomous snakes, research shows that the primary reason for their venom is to capture and kill prey for feeding. This begs the question: Can animals eat venomous snakes without dying? The answer to this question might not be what you expect. This article considers snake venom as well as other interesting and thought-provoking questions on snake venom.

The Difference Between Venom and Poison

Mozambique spitting cobra - Close Up On Venom
If toxins are ingested, the carrier is poisonous. If toxins are injected, the carrier is venomous.

©Eugene Troskie/Shutterstock.com

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One major deciding factor concerning the answer to the question lies in the difference between venom and poison. Snakes are venomous animals- and not poisonous. The difference lies in how they pass toxins into their victims.

  • If toxins are ingested, the carrier is poisonous.
  • If toxins are injected, the carrier is venomous.

Do Snakes Inject Their Venom, or Do We Ingest It?

Snakes inject their venom into their victims through their fangs. The venom comes from their venom glands and is passed into their fangs, which work like hypodermic needles (the needles used in hospitals).

With spitting snakes, the venom is spat into the eye but does not penetrate the corneal stroma. There have been no reports of spitting cobra venom affecting any other part of the body or system except the eyes.

In simple terms, snakes inject their venom:

  • If you were to eat something and die, you were poisoned. Hence, what you ate was poisonous.
  • However, if you were to bite someone and they died, something in your bite was transferred into their blood and killed them, thus making you venomous.

What Parts of Snakes Contain Toxins?

Another important and deciding factor to consider is what parts of the snake are venomous.

Where Does Snake Venom Come From?

Snakes’ venoms come from the back of their salivary glands located in the back of their heads. After production, the venom is transferred to their venom glands called alveoli. When a snake bites, its fangs break through the skin. Next, the venom moves from the alveoli and through its injection-like fangs into the victim’s bloodstream. Remember that for venom to be fatal, it must be injected into the bloodstream.

In some cases, the victims are able to stop the venom before it is transmitted into the bloodstream. This is usually only possible with elapids like coral snakes who have to chew on their victims to get their venom in. In such cases, the damage of the venom can be treated without antivenom.

Can Animals Eat Venomous Snakes without Dying?

uinta ground squirrel eating blade of grass
Ground squirrels eat rattlesnakes and have been proven to have a bit of resistance to rattlesnake venom.

©iStock.com/Michael Chatt

Considering snake venom in its entirety, animals can indeed eat venomous snakes without dying. However, this is only if the animal has no wounds in their digestive tracts that could let the venom into the bloodstream.

Consequently, quite a number of animals and even humans eat snakes and go unharmed. However, if you’re not visiting a professional and licensed chef, eating a venomous snake isn’t advisable. It is also worth noting that most animals that eat snakes have a level of immunity to snake venom. Ground squirrels, for example, eat rattlesnakes and have been proven to have a bit of resistance to rattlesnake venom.

Another interesting aspect to consider is that some snakes possess cytotoxic venom. Cytotoxic venom is known to eat through skin cells and could possibly cause damage. However, this is only possible if the venom is consumed in large quantities. And since snakes do not possess large amounts of venom at a time, this is rather unlikely.

Will A Venomous Snake Die If It Bites Itself?

A snake could die from its own bite.

©iStock.com/Saddako

Snakes usually have a level of resistance to their own venom. However, they are not totally immune to it. This means snakes can envenom (poison) themselves, although it is rather rare. This is because most snakes do not inject large amounts of venom in their average bite.

It is more likely that a snake would accidentally bite itself too lightly to penetrate deeply enough to cause damage. The bite would result in a bit of an injury, but it would be fine in the end. However, snakes do not have resistance to the venom of other snake species. It is theorized that intra-species fights (which occur more frequently than interspecies fights) increased snakes’ resistance to venom from their own species.

Can Snakes Eat Themselves?

A snake can get confused or disoriented and then eat itself.

©Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com

Considering snake bodies, it is interesting to consider if they could bite their tails and then proceed to eat the rest of their bodies.

A snake can get confused or disoriented after coming across a snake-repelling plant, a chemical repellent, or other unfamiliar smells like citrus. This disorientation can cause it to begin to chew on its tail and, consequently, swallow it (remember that snakes mostly swallow their food whole after a few bites). This could happen without any venom being released.

Of course, the pain will begin to kick in. Apart from the pain of their bites and wounds, they will begin to feel the pain of the gastric acids eating at their flesh since their cells are not dead yet even if they are nonvenomous.

This will cause them to panic and bite more while wildly wiggling or shaking their tails. Not only may they envenom themselves in the process, but the frantic movements of their tails will result in damage to their insides.

Greeks discovered this phenomenon centuries ago and made it a symbol that they named ouroboros. It is represented by a serpent of ancient Greece and Egypt with its tail in its mouth. The symbol shows an endless cycle of self-devouring and rebirth, leading to self-devouring. Literally, “ouroboros” means “tail-eater.” The symbol stood for endlessness- or, more accurately, eternity after death. Scholars often argue if the symbol refers to the endlessness of eternity or the endlessness of life; one’s death leads to another’s birth.

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Black Mamba
The Black Mamba has the fastest trike of any snake.
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