Fishing, Hunting, & Trapping

Edible Snakes: Is It Safe to Eat?

Blue and Red Snake
Andrew McKay
Written by Andrew McKay

In a survival situation, food and drink are critical. Without them, you will soon weaken and eventually die. While water should be the number one priority, don’t neglect food. Food is all around us, though it may not be recognizable at first glance. A lot of people these days rely almost entirely on shops when considering food.

During a time of disaster, this avenue may not be open to you, so it is important to know a little bit about sourcing your own food. For a decent dose of protein, it is worth looking to those creatures that are abundant in the States, such as edible snakes. Snakes may not sound all that appetizing, but in other cultures around the world, they are a staple dish.

The health benefits provided from snake meat far outweighs those of red meats and the good news is that they’re nearly all edible. Snakes come in various shapes, sizes, and temperaments and it’s a good idea to know how to identify the more dangerous.

Rattlesnake

With a little bit of know-how, you’ll be far more qualified to first identify a snake, then safely catch it and prepare it for cooking. Read on to find out more.

A bit about snakes

Before discussing the best ways to catch, prepare, cook and eat snakes, it’s worth knowing the basics. There are over 100 species of snakes in the States alone, of which around 20 are venomous. Some species can kill in just one deadly bite, so it is worth knowing which to be aware of.

The deadly four

There are four species of snakes in the States that are able to kill with their venom. They can be categorized as either pit vipers or coral snakes. Even though some of these snakes are quite common, bites are rare and deaths even more so.

Adult Copperhead Snake

Having said that, some of the other effects of certain snake venom can be devastating to skin and cause nerve damage. Knowing these four snake species will keep you safe when looking for snakes to eat. It’s wise to avoid these if you can, but if your survival depends on catching and eating one, take extreme caution.

  • Copperhead – With weaker venom than other pit vipers, a bite from a copperhead is rarely lethal. They are, however, responsible for most bites in the States, though most of these are dry, warning bites that deliver little venom. They still pack a punch and can be extremely painful. If bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible. They’re widespread and can be found in most States. As the name suggests, they’re generally copper in color and can grow up to 30” long. They can be found in a variety of habitats, from deciduous woodland, swampy regions, deserts and rock outcrops. During Summer they’re mostly nocturnal but are active during the day in Spring and Fall.
  • Cottonmouth – This semiaquatic pit viper, also known as the “water moccasin”, enjoys a fearsome reputation. Considered aggressive, with a great many folk stories surrounding it, it also packs a horrendous punch. It has large venom glands and is able to inject a large amount in one painful bite. The venom is destructive and while amputations are not unheard of, a bite will certainly leave scars. Fatalities are rare but do occur and medical attention should be sought quickly. This bulky, normal black viper grows in excess of 35”, moves fast and will stand its ground if approached. They rarely bite if left alone, They are most common in the southeastern States, near bodies of water. They are the only pit viper capable of swimming.
  • Coral Snake: This, fortunately, reclusive snake has the most toxic venom of all snake species found in the States. The powerful neurotoxin will shut down your nervous system in no time and a bite without quick medical treatment will almost certainly lead to death. Fortunately, fatal bites from these reclusive creatures are very rare. They’re identifiable by their vibrant coloring. Bands of black, yellow and red easily mark this snake, as well as the black snout. Red never touches black, unlike the similar-looking King Snake that has a red snout. Remember this simple rhyme to tell them apart. “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow” refers to a coral snake. “Red touch black, friend of Jack” refers to the harmless King Snake. They’re mostly found in the south and southeastern States in a variety of habitats, ranging from farmland to desert-scrub.
  • Rattlesnake: By far the most well known of the deadly snakes, Rattlesnakes can be found all over the US. There are many subspecies, some more dangerous than others, but they all have the iconic rattle on their tail. Widely considered the most dangerous, the Eastern Diamondback is the largest Rattlesnake, with large venom glands and toxic venom. They’re likely to stand their ground rather than flee, so it’s best to back off. Rattlesnake venom can be extremely toxic and without medical treatment, mortality rates are high. Tissue and nerve damage quickly occur, with heart failure coming in the next few hours. Texas and Arizona play host to the largest variety of Rattlesnakes. They can be found in more or less every habitat, though they tend to avoid wide open spaces. They are active during both night and day.

Other ways to identify venomous snakes include looking at their heads. Because of the venom glands, a venomous snake typically has an arrowhead or triangular shaped head. Non-venomous snakes typically have a round spoon-like head. If it has a rattle, it’s venomous, though other snakes are capable of mimicking the rattle sound.

Coral Snake

With the exception of the Cottonmouth, most other venomous snakes have patterns on their skin. Solid colored snakes are less likely to be venomous, but this is certainly not a foolproof method of identification. Pit vipers typically have a thicker body than non-venomous snakes.

The most common, harmless snakes in the US include the Common Garter Snake and the Eastern Ribbon Snake. These two similar snakes can be recognized by their slender bodies and yellow stripes running lengthwise. They can be found in wetlands, such as swamps, the edges of ponds or near streams.

The benefits of eating snake

With a good idea of how to recognize a venomous snake and what to avoid if possible, you are better able to avoid danger when attempting to collect snakes to eat. If you’re not yet convinced with regards to eating snakes, have a look at some of the benefits.

Popular around the world

Outside of the western world, snake meat is frequently consumed. It appears on the menu in many cultures and several traditions have sprung up around its consumption. In China, snake meat is consumed and considered a healthy, warming food. It’s also considered to be medicinal, with the blood typically being mixed with strong liquor.

Snake Liquor

Traditionally, South American medics used dried snake meat to cure a range of ailments. Snake wine is a popular tipple throughout Southeast Asia and China. A whole, preferably venomous snake is left to infuse in rice wine for several months, in order to capture its essence

Nutritious

Snake meat is a healthy, lean meat that outstrips traditional red meats in terms of fat content, calorie count and protein levels. Compared to a typical steak, snake meat has half the calories and a third of the fat. It’s great for dieters, but with up to 60% protein content, it’ll provide you with enough energy to keep you going out in the wild.

Delicious

Snake meat is often likened to chicken, frogs legs and even fish, with regards to taste and texture. There are several ways of eating snake, but a general rule of thumb is to season it as you would chicken or fish.

What’s the best snake to eat?

Now that you’re convinced, you can consider what type of snake you might want to try. The vast majority of snake species are edible, regardless of whether they are venomous or not. The venom of most snakes is only harmful when it’s injected into your bloodstream.

California King Snake

Still, while it can be consumed, it’s not really worth the risk. Even if you catch a venomous snake, it’s worth removing the head, within which the venom glands are located.

In terms of preparation, larger snakes are the best. Not only do they provide more meat, but the bones are more easily navigated. It can be more difficult to get the meat off smaller snake bones and can become a rather tedious task. For very small snakes, if cooked long enough the bones should break down enough to become edible, much like eating small fish.

Most regular snake eaters in the US agree that Rattlesnake meat is the best and since they grow pretty big, you get the most for your effort.

If you’d rather avoid venomous snakes, King snakes, Water snakes, and Garter snakes are all said to be tasty. A lot of the taste comes from how the meat is prepared of course. It can be prepared and seasoned like chicken or fish for great results.

Garter Snake

Many snake eaters don’t give Cottonmouths and Copperheads rave reviews. Whether this is due to poor preparation or if the meat simply isn’t very tasty is unknown.

Beware that some snakes in the US are protected species and killing – and presumably eating – them is illegal. This applies mainly to species of venomous snakes, though there are some non-venomous snakes on the list.

Catching a snake

From the comfort of your home, you can actually order snake meat online these days, or buy it in certain stores. However, this isn’t always an option and you may have to resort to catching your own. If you can, try to avoid venomous snakes.

Man Catching Snake

The risk of a bite rapidly increases when you antagonize a snake and nothing irks a snake more than someone trying to catch it and eat it. Regardless of what type of snake you’re trying to catch, care should always be taken.

Staying safe

When hunting snakes, ensure you’re wearing thick, protective clothes. Gloves, a long shirt and long pants are recommended, as well as heavy boots. Larger Rattlesnakes have huge fangs, but even they might struggle with thick, sturdy materials such as leather.

Snake Tongs

Don’t get too close to the snake until it is immobilized and even then care should be taken. It’s good practice to carry a snake venom extractor with you while hunting snakes. These small devices can be used one handed to suck venom from a wound and might just save your life.

Tools of the trade

A long, sturdy stick is essential to keep the snakes head as far away from you as possible. Ideally, this should have a forked top, so that the snake’s head can be kept down. A large, heavy rock or another blunt instrument will be necessary to make the kill. Finally, a good sharp knife will also help.

How to catch and kill a snake

Once you have located a snake, approach slowly. How the snake reacts will depend on the species. Many will retreat as quickly as they sense you, while others will stand their ground. With your stick ready, strike at the head area and attempt to drag it out into the open. If you can, pin it down with your stick.

Big Snake

Throw your rock as hard as you can at the head. If this doesn’t kill it, it will certainly stun it. Finish it off with a few strikes to the head with your stick or rock. Hold its head down with the stick and quickly cut the head off. The general rule of thumb is to cut at least two inches below the head to be sure to remove the venom glands.

Beware

With the snake dead, you may think you’re safe but beware. The venomous snake remains a danger for hours, even days later, as the venom is still active. Rattlesnakes are particularly dangerous. Even after decapitation, the head is able to see and sense you and will lash out and bite if you get too close. It can take well over an hour for the snake to die fully.

Some people report being bitten by a decapitated head several hours after killing the snake. They’re still every bit as deadly as well. For safety, as soon as the head is removed either bury it, burn it or dispose of it another way. If you bury it, be sure to bury it deep, especially if you have pets or children.

Snake traps

If you’re catching snakes around the home, traps can be bought, or you can make your own. Good bait includes the frozen mice you can pick up at the pet store. It’s not wise to trap too many snakes around your home, unless they’re becoming a problem.

Snake Trap

They play a huge role in keeping rodent populations down. If you have King snakes in your garden, it’s a good idea to leave them there as they feed on Rattlesnakes.

Preparing and cooking snake

Once you’ve caught a snake and safely removed the head, it’s best to prepare it as soon as possible. If you have access to a fridge or freezer, the meat can safely be stored, though it’s best to prepare it first.

  • First, remove the skin. This is done by simply pulling the skin off like a sock. Start from the top, where the head was severed and roll it down.
  • Next, remove the innards. With some snakes, this can smell quite potent. Be prepared to hold your breath and your nose. Take care not to burst the stomach or gall bladder, as the contents can spoil the meat, especially in larger snakes.
  • If you’re preparing a larger snake, you’ll most likely want to cut the meat into smaller chunks. Make cuts between the ribs. If you cut through the ribs, they’re going to be difficult to remove after cutting and will get lost within the meat.

Once the snake meat is prepared, you can either refrigerate it, freeze it, or cook it there and then. There are several different methods of cooking snake meat. If you have the tools at your disposal, choose any method you prefer. In the wild your choices are somewhat more limited.

Girl is Cutting Snake

Be aware that in snakes it takes a long time for rigor mortis to set in. Expect the snake to continue to twitch and thrash for up to an hour after killing it. The heart also continues to pump for around 30 minutes.

Crispy snake strips

This is a simple, but popular method of cooking snake. The end result is like crispy chicken. Simply dip them in beaten egg and cover with a seasoned bread crumb mix. Season however you like, although Cajun style is popular. Heat up some oil and fry them up until cooked through. These are great served with a variety of dips.

Snake soup

This slow cooked soup will really tenderize the meat. Simply put your snake meat into a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for about five hours for best results. Drain out the water and replace it with clean, boiling water. Add a selection of vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and beans and season.

Snake Soup

Curry powder works well with this soup, especially if sweetcorn is added as well. Leave to simmer until the vegetables are cooked and serve.

Roasted over an open fire

Whether you’re out camping or stuck in the wilderness, this simple method of cooking your snake ensures that all parasites and harmful bacteria are killed before you eat it. The taste depends on the snake you use.

In this case, it’s worth skinning and gutting the snake, but leaving it whole to cook. It can be skewered for ease of cooking. Very small snakes can simply be skinned, skewered and well cooked. Eat them whole as the bones should be broken down.

Baked in a wild oven

This final method is an alternative when out and about and can be useful in a survival situation. First build a fire and let it burn down to embers. The snake need not be prepared, other than having its head removed. Keep the skin on and the innards inside for additional protein. Bury the snake under the embers and let it cook.

Cooking Snake

Depending on how big the snake is, it can take in excess of an hour to cook, enjoy the sound it makes as it sizzles away. Leaving the skin on protects the meat as it cooks. When it’s ready, peel the skin back with a knife and tuck in. This method works particularly well for larger snakes.

Raw snake?

Eating snake raw is not recommended, they really should be thoroughly cooked in order to kill off any parasites or harmful bacteria they may be carrying. However, in a survival situation you may not have the means to make a fire. It is not unheard of, though the raw meat should be consumed immediately after killing the snake. If it’s possible, it should also be washed.

Grady Gaston was a pilot during the second world war. After returning from Japan, his plane crashed over the Australian outback. He survived for 130 days, living off snakes that he consumed raw.

California Rattlesnake

He had no tools and simply had to hurl rocks at them to kill them. Others raw snake eaters have not been so fortunate, with some picking up parasitic infections. It should only ever be a last resort.

The organs of a snake can be eaten, but vary in taste. The heart and gallbladder are commonly eaten raw in China, where they are said to have healing properties. Feel free to try, although the lungs and intestines should be avoided, as well as the contents of the stomach.

Wrapping up

To round up, the vast majority of snakes are edible, but they can differ in flavor. Being so widespread in the US you’re likely to come across them fairly easily. It’s worth knowing a little bit about snakes before trying to hunt them. Being able to identify deadly snakes is a useful skill and one that may save your life.

Never underestimate the speed and agility of a snake and always keep your distance. There is a lot of bravado about grabbing Rattlesnakes and strangling them bare handed. For the most part, such tales should be taken with a veritable handful of salt.

Brown Watersnake

Ensure your safety by removing and disposing of the head as quickly as possible and beware of bites from beyond the grave. Snake meat should ideally be thoroughly cooked to kill off any unwanted bugs or bacteria. For anyone serious about prepping for a survival situation, it’s a great idea to get some practice in on your own terms.

Practice capturing snakes first of all and immobilizing them. It’s not the best idea to kill every snake you catch, as they play a crucial role in the environment, and help keep pest populations down.

Have you tried snake? Share your experiences in the comments!

About the Author
Andrew McKay
Andrew McKay

Andrew McKay is a seasoned hunter and fisherman from Anchorage, Alaska. Andrew thinks that he is the luckiest person in the world, as he lives in the most gorgeous place in United States and does what he loves to do. As a member of Alaska Professional Hunters Association and International Hunter Education Association, he is always looking for the ways to improve his skills and to teach people around him.

  • Clint

    I’m surrounded by snakes. Thanks for the information. I also consider myself a conservationist, so I’m happy you noted the Benefits of leaving snakes alone. I want to supliment my diet without damaging my food source.

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