Oklahoma’s 3 Most Notable Snake Bite Incidents This Year

Closeup of the "Brake for Snakes" sign at the Toronto Zoo
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Written by Tina Page

Published: November 20, 2023

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In the United States, you are more likely to be killed by a lightning strike or a fireworks accident than by a snake. Even using the highest estimate of 8,000 snake bites per year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds of a snake biting you are 40,965 to one. That’s an incidence rate of 3.74 bites per 100,000 people. If you happen to be in Oklahoma, however, your chances of a snake sinking its fangs into you climb to 8.85 per 100,000. Let’s take a look at Oklahoma’s three most notable snake bite incidents this year. 

Snake Bites in the United States

From 1989-2018, a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine identified 101 fatal bites from snakes native to the United States. Rattlesnakes accounted for 90.2 percent of the 82 deaths in which they identified the species. There were five fatalities attributed to copperheads, two from cottonmouths, and one caused by an eastern coral snake.

The country is home to about 30 species of venomous snakes. These include 23 species of rattlesnakes, three species of coral snakes, two species of copperhead, and two species of cottonmouth. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest of its species and the most venomous snake in North America.

Each year, the United States sees an average of 30 snake bites per million people. Out of all the snake bite victims in the country, almost five people die. Only one in 500 venomous snake bites, however, results in death.

Poor Decisions Cause the Most Bites

Rhombic egg-eater snake trying to bite a person

Many snake bites occur when someone is trying to catch or kill a snake.

Snake bites are divided into two categories — legitimate and illegitimate. A bite is considered legitimate if the person wasn’t aware of the snake or was trying to move away from it when he or she was bitten. If the person recognized the snake but did not try to move away, it is termed illegitimate. Some studies found up to 67 percent of all snake bites were illegitimate. This means they involved people handling or harassing the snake. 

Many illegitimate bites occur while trying to catch or kill a snake. This puts a person at a much higher risk of being harmed by a snake. Other instances of illegitimate bites include people keeping venomous pet snakes, religious snake handlers, and professional snake handlers. Unfortunately for the snakes, they are often blamed for people’s poor decisions. 

Oklahoma’s 3 Most Notable Snake Bite Incidents This Year

Oklahoma on the map of USA

Oklahoma ranks as the state with the fourth most snake bites in the country.

The majority of Oklahoma’s 46 species of snakes are nonvenomous. According to Oklahoma State University, the state is home to five species of rattlesnake. These include the timber, western diamond-backed, prairie, western massasauga, and western pygmy. The copperhead is a common venomous snake in the eastern half of Oklahoma. While there are several species of water snakes in the state, only one, the western cottonmouth, is venomous.

Watch the terrifying moment when a snake bites an Oklahoma man in the face when opening a front door in 2019.

1. 17-Year-Old Lucky to Be Alive

While cases of illegitimate bites abound, Johnathan Church’s ordeal at his family farm near Prague, OK, is a perfect example of a legitimate snake bite. On July 26, 2023, 17-year-old Church was getting out of bed to grab a drink of water. He had no idea that a pygmy rattlesnake had slithered into his room. As he stepped toward his door, the snake sunk one of its fangs into Church’s foot.

“It was shocking and terrifying,” Church said. “The pain at first was like a five out of 10.”

Because the rattlesnake was only able to get Church with one fang, doctors said the situation was not as bad as it could have been. They were able to treat the bite and prevent it from getting worse.

2. Boaters Surprised by Snake

A couple was enjoying a day out on the water in their pontoon boat on Okemah Lake in June 2023 when a pygmy rattlesnake swam up to them and bit one of them. The person called for help and an ambulance took him to the hospital for treatment. Officials at Okemah Lake said that it was unusual for a snake to bite someone in the middle of the lake.

Snake bites often occur near lakes as snakes need water just like humans.

Check out the most snake-infested lakes in Oklahoma.

3. Cat-Eating Albino Python Terrorizes Trailer Park

A 13-foot, yellow-colored reticulated python spent six months wreaking havoc inside a southeast Oklahoma City trailer park, terrifying residents and their pets. The abandoned pet snake avoided capture by three different experts and two dogs for months before being wrangled by a trailer park resident.

Reticulated pythons are the longest snakes in the world, and are native to South and Southeast Asia. While not venomous, these huge snakes kill their prey by suffocation when they wind their bodies around their victims. Reptile experts reported that the escaped pet would not be as dangerous to humans as a wild python would have been.

As far as the neighborhood cats go, that’s a different story. Residents reported a spate of missing felines during the python’s months-long caper, so while he might not have bitten any humans, the runaway snake left its mark on the resident cat population. We’re giving the cats a vote this time and including this snake on the run in Oklahoma’s three most notable snake bite incidents this year.

“We’re talking, that thing has been eating opossums, foot-long rats, and cats,” one of the professionals hired to catch the snake told the local news. “The mouth on that thing is the size of your foot and when it opens up you’re going to be able to fit something pretty large in there.” 

What to Do If a Snake Bites Someone

Fear of Animals: Ophidiophobia

Experts insist that common misunderstandings around snake bites, like trying to suck out the venom, cause more harm than good.

According to CDC recommendations, anyone bitten by a snake should immediately call 911 or poison control. Additionally, the Oklahoma Poison Center urges residents to remember that snake bites are treatable, and anyone bitten by a snake should sit down and stay calm. If possible, wash the wound with soap and water and remove tight clothing and jewelry as swelling is likely. Keep the bitten area still and rise to heart level. The most important goal, however, is to get the victim to a healthcare facility.

What Not to Do When a Snake Bites

Snake-bite experts insist that many common misconceptions about what to do after a snake bite can actually cause more harm. The Oklahoma Poison Center warns against any of the following actions:

  • Do not use any form of suction.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet. It is better for the venom to flow through the body than stay in one area.
  • Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake. 
  • Do not apply ice. Ice may cause additional tissue damage.
  • Do not cut the wound.
  • Do not give the victims sedatives or alcohol.

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About the Author

Tina Page is a journalist and teacher from Los Angeles with more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. She runs an animal rescue that's changed the lives of all kinds of creatures. From dogs and cats to hawks, skunks, racoons, opossums, sea gulls, and lizards, no animal is left behind. Along with her many animals, Tina is a homeschool mom to three kids that are just as passionate about helping animals. If they are not rescuing animals, they are surfing at their local beach or hiking in nature.

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