(Don't) bite me - poisonous snake capture.
June 18, 2012 8:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I -- or more accurately, one of my fictional characters -- grab a poisonous snake without getting bitten?

So my (ancient Egyptian) character is trapped in a room with a young spitting cobra. He knows it will attack or spray him if he makes threatening moves. The way I see it, his only option is to charm the snake, and grab it under the head so that it can't bite him. He sits on the floor and very slowly moves his arms to attract the snake's attention. Making somewhat more obvious movements with his left hand, he slowly moves the right one closer, closer -- then grabs the snake.

posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Once, when I was a kid, a garbage man grabbed a rattlesnake from just behind the head, then he twirled it over his head and flung it.

I'm still traumatized.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:22 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

He holds out a rag - shirt of something and feints with it. The cobra strikes at the rag and gets hooked in the fabric, giving the hero just enough time to grab it safely behind the head. Bonus - having struck once, there's less venom available.

(not a herpetologist)
posted by jquinby at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

..."shirt or something"....
posted by jquinby at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2012

If you're concerned about realism, is the "charming" part even real? I don't know that cobras behave that way outside cartoons....though I don't know much about cobras.

I've picked up a lot of snakes, none more poisionous than a Northern Water snake, fortunately. The general method is you grasp them just behind the head and hold them at arm's length, leaving them no room to flex the head around to bite you. And yes, if there is a concern about being bitten, it is wise to give them a little fling as you cast them away.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on June 18, 2012

You may want to look up old Crocodile Hunter videos; Steve Irwin grabbed poisonous snakes a lot. He didn't grab them by the head -- he grabbed them by the tail.

Whether or not this was an overall good idea, it did work repeatedly, sufficiently to make it plausible for a one-off event in a fictional narrative.
posted by endless_forms at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, grab right behind the "head" -- really you just kind of look for where the jaws end and grab there. they don't need much "neck" to turn around and bite you, so as close to the jaws as possible. If you can get a whole fist around there, do it; it might feel strange not to just grab with the tips of the fingers, but you need a strong hold; a snake is a tube of muscle who use those muscles to move very fast, so don't underestimate them. Cobras make this complicated by having a hood, though, so you might need to talk to someone specifically about grabbing cobras.

Also, for realism, when a snake is grabbed in a way to eliminate a bite response, it can do several things:
1. wrap its body around your arm to get leverage to try and pull its head away
2. flail its body to try and 'whip' itself out of your hand
3. urinate/defecate/spray defensively in hoping you get too grossed out to stay close. Garter snakes do this.

On preview: I believe Steve Irwin picks up snakes by the tail because a snake isn't able to lift its whole body from the muscles at the tail to turn around and bite....but it's still a bit of a fool's game and asking to get bitten on the leg if the snake can swing a little. Also he's generally grabbing an *escaping* snake, rather than one poised to strike defensively.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The old "grab it by the head" trick does indeed work, and if you hold on will prevent the snake from biting. It should be noted, however, that spitting cobras zero in on the eyes of whatever they think is threatening them (and are pretty good at identifying them, at that). Your hand/shirt, while distracting, does not have eyes, and the snake will probably not keep its attention on the item long enough for the "inch your hand slowly closer" approach.

If the character has a beaded necklace to dangle, that might work while also introducing some nifty behavior realism.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:14 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your hand/shirt, while distracting, does not have eyes, and the snake will probably not keep its attention on the item long enough for the "inch your hand slowly closer" approach.

I'm suddenly remembering seeing someone on TV years ago distract/incite a spitting cobra by dangling a pair of binoculars in front of it. I'm almost certain it was for some nature show back in the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom days, so I've just dated myself. Maybe your hero can use a pair of sunglasses for the same effect.
posted by jquinby at 10:48 AM on June 18, 2012


Also some half-remembered tidbit from scouts: forked stick, break off excess on the tines, come in from the side and pin the snake to the ground underneath its neck, sliding the tines up the body to that point if necessary... if your character has no stick, throw a shirt on it and hope for the best, snakes are still pretty dumb and the residual heat / smell on the shirt will be confusing for it
posted by MangyCarface at 12:52 PM on June 18, 2012

This page has links to a lot of info on snake handling. Here is a story about how one person handled a spitting cobra that crawled into his empty swimming pool.
posted by flug at 12:57 PM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: I think Urban Winter has it. Thank you! I can work with that info.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:45 PM on June 18, 2012

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