Edible snakes are not always ideal, but in a survival situation, food and drink are critical. 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.
Acquiring food will likely be a lot more difficult during a time of disaster. It is important to know how to source your own food to survive.
Snakes are abundant in the United States and are a good source of protein. Snakes may not sound all that appetizing, but they are a staple dish in other cultures worldwide.
The health benefits provided by snake meat far outweigh those of red meat, and 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 before hunting them in the wild.
Table of contents
- Information About Snakes
- More Ways to Identify Venomous Snakes
- Edible Snakes – The Benefits
- What’s the Best Edible Snake?
- Catching a Snake
- Preparing and Cooking Edible Snakes
- Final Thoughts
Information About Snakes
Before discussing the best ways to catch, prepare, cook and eat snakes, you should know the basics. There are over 100 species of snakes in the United States alone, of which 20 are venomous. Some species can kill in just one bite, so do your research before getting close to a snake in the wild.
The Deadly Four
There are four species of snakes in the States that can kill with their venom. They are categorized as Pit Vipers or Coral snakes. Even though some of these snakes are quite common, bites and deaths are rare.
Effects of these snakes’ venom can be devastating to human skin and cause nerve damage. It’s wise to avoid these four snake species if you can, but if your survival depends on catching and eating one, use caution.
Copperheads can be found in most areas of the United States. As the name suggests, they’re generally copper in color and can grow up to 30” long.
They live in various habitats, from deciduous woodland and swampy regions to deserts and rocky outcrops. Copperheads are mostly nocturnal during the summer months but are active during the day in the Spring and Fall.
With weaker venom than other pit vipers, a bite from a copperhead is rarely lethal. They are, however, responsible for most bites in the United States. Most of these bites are dry, warning bites that deliver little venom.
Regardless, they pack a punch and can be extremely painful. If bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Cottonmouth – This semiaquatic pit viper, also known as the “water moccasin,” enjoys a fearsome reputation!
I’ve been charged by one of these aggressive snakes and actually had them jump into my flat bottom boat when I was draining a pond. They are no joke!
They are black in color and often grow more than 35”, move quickly, and will stand their ground if approached. Cottonmouths rarely bite if left alone but are known to be aggressive.
Cottonmouths are most common in the southeastern States, near bodies of water. They are the only pit viper capable of swimming.
These snakes have sizeable venom glands and can inject a large amount of venom in one painful bite, where they chew or saw to insert the venom. The venom is destructive, and amputations are not unheard of. A bite will certainly leave scars!
This reclusive snake has the most toxic venom of all snake species found in the United States. They’re mostly found in the south and southeastern regions in various habitats, ranging from farmland to desert scrub.
Their powerful neurotoxin will shut down your nervous system quickly, and a bite without quick medical treatment can lead to death. Fortunately, fatal bites from these reclusive creatures are 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, a friend of Jack,” refers to the harmless King Snake.
By far the most well-known of the deadly snakes, rattlesnakes can be found all over the United States. 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 a 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 both night and day.
More Ways to Identify Venomous Snakes
There are several ways to identify venomous snakes.
- 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 can mimic the rattle sound. I’ve seen black snakes mimic rattlesnakes on many occasions
- Most venomous snakes have patterns on their skin. Solid-colored snakes are less likely to be venomous, but this is certainly not a foolproof identification method.
- 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.
Edible Snakes – The Benefits
Snake as a food source is popular world-wide. Eating snake meat has several benefits.
Popular Around the World
Outside of the western world, snake meat is often a staple. It appears on the menu in many cultures, and several traditions have sprung up around snake meat. In China, snake meat is considered a healthy food with medicinal properties.
Traditionally, South American medics use dried snake meat to cure a range of ailments. Snake wine is popular throughout Southeast Asia and China. A whole, preferably venomous snake is left to infuse in rice wine for several months to capture its essence.
Snake meat is a healthy, lean meat that outstrips traditional red meats in fat content, calorie count, and protein levels. Compared to a typical steak, snake meat has half the calories and a third of the fat. With up to 60% protein content, snake meat will provide you with enough energy to keep you going in a survival situation.
Snake meat is often compared to chicken, frog legs, and even fish with its taste and texture. As a general rule, season snake as you would chicken or fish.
What’s the Best Edible Snake?
Consider what type of snake you 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.
Venomous snakes can be consumed, but many people consider them not worth the risk. If you catch a venomous snake, remove the head where the venom glands are located.
Larger snakes are easier to prepare. Not only do they provide more meat, but the bones are more easily removed. It is more difficult to get the meat off smaller snake bones and can be tedious. If you capture a tiny snake, cook it until the bones break down into the meat.
Most regular snake eaters in the US agree that Rattlesnake meat is the best, and since they grow pretty big, you’ll get the most meat for your effort.
If you’d rather avoid venomous snakes, King snakes, Water snakes, and Garter snakes are also tasty. Much of the taste comes from how the meat is prepared.
Many snake eaters don’t give Cottonmouths and Copperheads good reviews.
Note that some snakes in the US are protected species, and killing them is illegal. This applies mainly to species of venomous snakes, though there are some non-venomous snakes on the list.
Catching a Snake
If you really want to, you can order snake meat online from the comfort of your own home. However, this won’t be an option in a survival situation, and you will have to catch your own snakes. If you can, try to avoid venomous snakes.
Regardless of what type of snake you’re trying to catch, care should always be taken.
When hunting snakes, ensure you wear thick, protective clothes. Gloves, a long shirt, and long pants are recommended, as well as heavy boots. Large Rattlesnakes have big fangs, but even they will struggle with thick, sturdy materials such as leather.
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 save your life.
Edible Snakes – 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 kill the snake. Of course, a gun or knife can also be used.
How to Catch and Kill a Snake
- Once you have located a snake, approach slowly. Many snake species will retreat quickly when they sense you, while others will stand their ground.
- With your stick ready, strike at the head area and attempt to drag the snake out into the open. If you can, pin it down with your stick.
- Throw a rock as hard as you can at the head. If this doesn’t kill it, it will 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.
With the snake dead, you may think you’re safe, but you are not. A 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 can see and sense you and lash out and bite if you get too close. It can take well over an hour for the snake to die fully.
For safety, burn the head or dispose of it as soon as the snake is decapitated. If you bury it, be sure to bury it deep, especially if you have pets or children.
Another option for capturing a snake is a trap, which can be purchased or constructed. Good bait includes 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.
Snakes play a big role in managing rodent populations. If you have Kingsnakes in your garden, it’s a good idea to leave them there as they feed on Rattlesnakes.
For Tips and Guidelines on how to Trap Snakes, see this article.
Preparing and Cooking Edible Snakes
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 pulling the skin off like a sock. Start from the top, where the head was severed, and roll it down.
- Next, remove the entrails. 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 large snake, cut the meat into smaller chunks. Make cuts between the ribs. If you cut through the ribs, they will be difficult to remove after cutting and will get lost in the meat.
Once the snake meat is prepared, you can either refrigerate it, freeze it, or cook it immediately. There are several different methods for 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.
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.
If you are not in the wild take a look at this interesting cookbook on Rattlesnake recipes.
Crispy Snake Strips
This is a simple but popular method for cooking snake. The result is like crispy chicken. Dip the meat in egg and cover with a seasoned bread crumb mix. Season however you like, although Cajun style is popular. Heat some oil and fry it until cooked through. These strips are great served with a variety of dips.
This slow-cooked soup will tenderize the meat. Put your snake meat into a pot, cover it with water and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for about five hours for best results. Drain the water and replace it with clean, boiling water. Add a selection of vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and beans, and season.
Curry powder works well with this soup, especially if sweetcorn is added. Leave to simmer until the vegetables are cooked and serve.
Roasted Over an Open Fire
Whether you’re out camping or hiking in the wilderness, this simple method of cooking your snake ensures that all parasites and harmful bacteria are killed before you eat it. It varies based on the snake you use.
In this case, skin and gut the snake leaving it whole to cook. It can be skewered for ease of cooking. Tiny snakes can be skinned, skewered, and well cooked before eating them whole, as the bones should be broken down.
Baked in a Wild Oven
This final method is useful in a survival situation. This method works particularly well for larger snakes.
- 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 entrails inside for additional protein.
- Bury the snake under the embers and let it cook.
- Depending on how big the snake is, it can take more than an hour to cook.
- Leaving the skin on protects the meat as it cooks.
- When it’s ready, peel the skin back with a knife and dig in.
Eating snake raw is not recommended. Snakes should be thoroughly cooked 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. The raw meat should be consumed immediately after killing the snake. If 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.
Gaston had no tools and had to hurl rocks at them to kill them. Other raw snake eaters have not been so fortunate, with some picking up parasitic infections. Raw snake should be eaten as 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 have healing properties. The lungs and intestines should be avoided, as well as the contents of the stomach.
The vast majority of snakes are edible. Learn about snakes before trying to hunt them. The ability to identify venomous snakes may save your life.
Never underestimate the speed and agility of a snake, and always keep your distance. Too many people are bitten by rattlesnakes because of the bravado involved with handling them bare-handed.
- Remove and dispose of the head as quickly as possible.
- Snake meat should ideally be thoroughly cooked to kill off any unwanted bugs or bacteria.
- Practice catching and killing snakes with a professional before the need arises.
- It’s not ideal to kill every snake you catch, as they play a crucial role in the environment and help keep pest populations down.
- National Geographic Pocket Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of North America
- Rattlesnake Recipes for the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook Full of Tasty Rattle Snake Recipes for the End of Days (Cooking Through the Zombie Apocalypse)
- Nature Guide: Snakes and Other Reptiles and Amphibians: The World in Your Hands (DK Nature Guide)