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Venomous snakes in captivity

Recommended Book :


It is highly recommended to read this book befor you plan to keep venom snakes ..

Handling Snakes That Are Venomous


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John Klein NOTE: The following posts are a very informative series about handling snakes that are venomous, written by an online friend and extremely knowledgeable hot keeper…Allen Hunter. He has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce this series as part of the Cobra Information Series. Allen is solely responsible for the content and information presented on the next three pages. Thanks Allen! Cobra Master


HOTS 101: Pt.1- The Golden Rules


By Allen Hunter


The keeping of venomous snakes by private individuals is illegal in most urban areas, and is generally held in dim view by society as a whole. I will not delve into the moralities of this issue, but we must understand that there are serious people out there who keep and love these fascinating and misunderstood reptiles.

The captive maintenance of “hot” snakes and Heloderma lizards is certainly not without risk, and it cannot be stressed strongly enough that there is NO ROOM FOR ERROR! A bite or an escape by a captive venomous snake is a matter of grave concern and can create numerous problems like: embarrassing press and legalities, “witch hunting” of fellow herp keepers by public authorities and hospitals that are without proper antivenin and inexperienced with the relatively uncommon occurrence of venomous snakebite, especially by exotic species.


To some herpers already well-experienced with harmless species, the allure of keeping a hot reptile and handling snakes that are venomous can be a strong one. Venomous reptiles are truly facinating and present habits, behavior and challenges not often found in their non-venomous brethren. Most species display an attitude and confidence which suggests that they are fully aware of their damaging capabilities and are fully prepared to use their “guns” if hard pressed. But even large or particularly aggressive species like Taipans, Mambas, cobras, saw-scaled or Russell’s vipers will seek escape if given the opportunity.

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We must remember always that SAFETY COMES FIRST! Much the same as driving a car, it’s only as safe as you make it.

For those of you who are considering adding a venomous snake to your existing collection, I would strongly recommend that you have AT LEAST 5-8yrs. experience with various non-venomous snakes (especially aggressive specimens) under your belt before even contemplating venomous snake husbandry. Also, you should read everything you can get your hands on about venomous snakes and their captive maintenance. In the bibliography I’ve included books which I feel are the “Bibles” on the care of venomous snakes and bite toxicology.


It may help to discreetly inquire as to who keeps hot stuff and see if they might “show you the ropes”. This how I learned years ago, and most experienced hot keepers can tell if you’re genuinely serious or not. Almost all hot keepers are understandably secretive, but love to “talk hot stuff” and share information about their care if you’re serious and pose no threat to them or their animals.


For those with a hankerin’ for something hot, I’ve compiled a list from various sources and personal experience, of management and safety measures for the responsible keeping of venomous reptiles:

  • Label all cages with species and # of specimens. Such labels should contain the scientific name, as common names can be misleading to a toxicologist treating an exotic snakebite; e.g. 1.1 Saw-scale viper-Echis carinatus pyramidium

  • DO keep a posted list of emergency numbers in case of an accident. If possible, have a phone installed in your snake room.

  • NEVER pick up (freehandle) a venomous snake with your bare hands.

  • NEVER work with hot reptiles while drunk, high on drugs or feeling unwell. 80% of captive bites occur when someone who’s hammered goofs-up.

  • ALWAYS keep cages and room door locked when not in immediate use. And never leave your keys out or loan them. Hide a spare set.

  • DON’T involve inexperienced persons in handling snakes that are venomous.

  • BE DISCREET! Be selective who you speak to about them.



  • Venomous reptiles should be housed in solid, secure, locked cages within a locked room.

  • Cages should be constructed of strong, quality materials (1/2″ plywood min.) with no gaps or cracks large enough for newborn snakes to escape from. A good rule of thumb here is, any crack or hole large enough for the snake to put his snout in up to the eyes, is NOT secure. If it can do this, it’s gone- GUARANTEED!

  • No cracked glass, bricks or lid weights, screen front cages or duct tape. Ask me about the horrors of using duct tape in or on cages, including what was probably the worst misjudgment mistake I’ve ever made. Besides, it looks cheesy and doesn’t impress anyone!

  • The room itself MUST be absolutely sealed. You can’t scrimp here folks! This means using fine screening over air ducts and cracks along the baseboards, sealing the bottom of room doors (incl. closets) and making sure that windows fit snugly and are lockable. IT IS VITAL THAT THERE ARE NO HOLES INTO THE WALLS OR BUILDING STRUCTURE!!

  • Venomous snake rooms should be free of clutter and large immovable cages should have the back end sealed against the wall so that fast and/or agile species cannot run and hide behind them. Have as much floor area as possible when working with hot snakes. Just try handling a cobra with junk around your feet or getting a boomslang out from behind a 400lb. cage. Fun? I think not!

  • A good policy is to keep your tools for handling snakes and room light switch on the wall just inside the door. You don’t want to cross the room in the dark to turn the lights on, and then step on something (alive) that wasn’t supposed to be there!




  • Phelps, T.- Poisonous Snakes.(1981) Blandford Press, London. (A novice’s Bible. A must, excellent!)

  • Mehrtens, J.M.- Living Snakes of the World-In Colour (1987) Sterling Publishing, New York (As above, with lots of Photos)

  • Spawls, S.& Branch, B.- Dangerous Snakes of Africa (1995) Ralph Curtis Books, Florida. (If you love African hot snakes, this is THE book!)

  • Russell, F.E.,Phd.- Snake Venom Poisoning (1980) Scholium Int. Inc., New York

  • Visser, J.& Chapman,D.S.-Snakes and Snakebite (1978) Purnell, Johannesburg, S.A.

(These last two books are sure to cure a case of complacency. Real eye openers with excellent text, complete with graphic bite photos to make you think!)

Other and Recommended websites :

Videos :

Good first pet venomous snake part one.

Good first pet venomous snake part two.

Venomous Reptile Keeping Introduction Part 1

tom crutchfield part 2 cobras cobras cobras !!!!!!!​

The Tale of Tom Crutchfield - HerpersTV S2:Ep21

Frequently Asked Questions

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Business :


Q: How can I start a business selling snake venom?


A: You probably can’t. The need for snake venom in research and medicine is miniscule compared to the number of people who want to start this business. Additionally, the equipment needed to properly collect and prepare the venom (not to mention the large number of snakes that you would need in order to get sufficient quantities of venom) would be prohibitively expensive for most of us. There are a handful of professionals that have been doing this since the beginning; they have a corner on the market.


Q: Which dealers are reputable?


A: This site does not recommend any dealer over another. In this case we would suggest that you follow the old adage caveat emptor (“buyer beware”). That is not to say that the dealers on this site are shady. However, if you are going to buy a snake from a dealer that you have never met, be sure to protect yourself. Develop a relationship with the dealer first. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Always use a postal money order or a credit card to pay. That way, you will have some recourse if you find yourself ripped off.


Education :


Q: How do you become a herpetologist?


A: In the broad sense, you already are. By coming to this site you have begun your journey studying snakes (which is one of the things that herpetologists do). However, most of us here have professions other than working with snakes. If you would like to be a professional herpetologist, then education is a must. Keep in mind that professional herpetologists are typically scientists, and as such require an extensive background in biology. Most universities offer undergraduate degrees in biology, which can then be focused in Master’s degrees and Doctorates in zoology, herpetology, systematics, ecology, and many other fields that involve the study of reptiles and amphibians. In the end, your life as a herpetologist (whether ‘professional’ or ‘amateur’) should be spent as an advocate and conservationist of this amazing (albeit maligned) group of organisms.


Captive Husbandry :


Q: Which venomous snake should I keep first?


A: Many people will tell you that there is only one species of ‘hot’ that should be your first. Some will mention the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) or the pigmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius) as a first hot because of their mild venom (remember that even ‘mild venom’ can cost you a finger and $10,000 in hospital bills). Others may suggest that you start with a relatively mild rear-fanged colubrid, such as the mangrove snake (Boiga dendrophilia) or false water cobra (Hydrodynastes gigas), because the likelihood of suffering a seriousenvenomation is lessened. Still others will suggest that you get an aggressive harmless snake (such as a water snake – Nerodia ssp) as a “trainer”. In the end, it comes down to what you are personally comfortable with. Look at all of the considerations involved (federal, state and local laws, caging requirements, food requirements, availability of antivenin, availability of a mentor, etc) and make a logical choice (as much as keeping a venomous snake can be logical), based on your own assessment. Nobody else can do that for you.


Q: What cage setup should I use?


A: This is a matter of different species needing different setups. There is also a little room for personal preference. In the end you should consider these factors:

  • Safety (for both yourself and the snake) – LOCKING CAGES ARE A MUST!

  • Environmental factors (lighting, humidity, temperature, hide boxes, and cleanliness of the cage/substrate)

  • Affordability – If you cannot afford safe, clean housing for your snake, then you cannot afford your snake.

Q: In the classified section, what do all of those numbers separated by periods mean?


A:  Those numbers quickly and easily tell you the number and gender of available specimens. For example, 3.4.2 tells you that there are 3 male, 4 female and 2 specimens of unknown gender.


Q: What do you keep?


A.    Members here have everything from Asps to entire Zoos.  Members fill out profiles, and sometimes list what they keep. If you are interested in specific species, you will likely find others who are working with that species. Check your local laws before you keep venomous reptiles (and certainly before you post what you have).


 Q: Why do herpetologists use the scientific names?


A: Scientific names are the most accurate way to identify a snake species when discussing snakes with people from across the nation and around the world. Science is always working on the most accurate database of all snake species, and common names can be very misleading. For instance, both Australia and the US have a snake commonly called the “copperhead”. But these are two very different species, and in the case of the US, there are 5 subspecies. If herpetologists are discussing one or the other, they will use the scientific names so they know exactly what they are talking about. One word of caution: pronunciation of scientific names can vary widely, and when in doubt, people will usually try to apply the rules of pronunciation from their own language. Since the names are Latin however, the Latin rules of pronunciation are the most appropriate. Remember, the first name of a Scientific/Latin name is the genus, the second is the species, and if there is a third name, that is the subspecies.



Safety :


Q: What is your snakebite protocol?


A: Your protocol should be a WRITTEN document with all the necessary information in case you get bitten. You should always assume that it is only a matter of time before you get bitten and plan accordingly. Each keeper’s protocol will vary slightly depending on medical conditions, antivenin availability, and species kept. You should know how the venom of each of your snakes is likely to affect your body (most of that information is readily available on the web). Additional items that should be kept in most protocols:

  • Emergency contact numbers (include your doctor)

  • Copies of important medical documents (medical records, allergy information, insurance cards)

  • Spare car keys (there is nothing worse than trying to find your car keys under the coffee table when you need to get to the ER)

  • List of species kept

Remember that in an envenomation emergency, you may not be able to communicate clearly. In addition, anxiety may limit your ability to make rational decisions, so your protocol should be structured accordingly. For more information on snakebite protocols, have a look at the “Links” section of this website, and choose the search category “Snake Bite Information”.


Q: Where can I get antivenin?


A: Antivenin is generally expensive, hard to get, dangerous and illegal to self-administer, and has a finite shelf life. In general, zoos keep antivenin on hand for any species that they keep, but they may be understandably reluctant to share their resources, because it may leave their own staff without protection. Most hospitals keep a trivial amount of antivenin on hand for native species, but this is hardly helpful if you are keeping exotic species. A number of companies sell antivenin for exotic species overseas, but they are difficult to import, and are not approved by the FDA. You will therefore need to apply for and get several permits before you are able to import antivenom, as it is considered an experimental drug by the FDA.  As a keeper, it is your responsibility to be aware of what resources are available to you and which are not. This information is absolutely crucial to determine BEFORE you need it. The forms and instructions on how to fill them out can be found in this site’s “File Library” under “Permits and Applications”.


Biology :


Q: Is it possible for me to cross these two species?


A: The reproductive biology behind this is complex, but species within the same genus can often hybridize. For example, copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) and cottonmouths (A.piscivorus) occasionally hybridize in captivity (resulting in what some people refer to as ‘cottonheads’). The same is true for many other crotalids (vipers and pit vipers). However, the more distant the systematic relationships between two species of snakes are, the less likely is the chance of the two species hybridizing. It is therefore highly unlikely that you would able to cross a cobra with a rattlesnake.




Q: How do I identify this snake?


A: The best way to ID a snake is a good location-specific field guide. If you have taken a picture of a snake and you want it identified by our panel of experts, please upload it to our Photo Album under ‘Snakes for Identification’, then post a topic in our ‘Experts’ forum to let us know where it is. In your post, give as much information as you can (general location, surrounding habitat, and behavior).


Q: What is the World’s deadliest snake?


A: Here we will rely on the expertise of our forum member Dr. B.G. Fry. To paraphrase, the world’s deadliest snake is the one that just bit you. Otherwise, you’re just arguing semantics. Our webmaster and founder classifies this question in two different ways. If you’re asking what the most toxic snake in the world is, that would be the Inland Taipan,Oxyuranus microlepidotus. If you want to know what most herpetologists consider to be the most dangerous snake to be in close proximity with, that would be the Black mamba,Dendroaspis polylepis, due to its speed, agility, temperament and venom toxicity. If you are talking about the snake that kills the most people per year, that dubious distinction would probably go to the Russell’s viper, Daboia russelli. For an overview of this subject, visit Dr. Fry’s venom page HERE.

Q: How many people die from snakebites each year?


A: The real answer is that nobody knows for sure. You will hear a lot of statistics quoted, but it is generally accepted that there are roughly 8,000 venomous snakebites in the US annually. Fewer than 15 of those are fatal. Worldwide the numbers are generally in the millions, with some statisticians trying to account for remote villages in developing nations, where snakebites often go unreported. The World Health Organization’s position is that there are around 5 million bites per year worldwide, with roughly 125,000 deaths.


Q: Is it legal to keep venomous snakes in my state?


A: You as a keeper need to research these laws yourself while you are deciding to keep a venomous reptile. State and federal laws are always changing, and local laws are at times stricter than state laws. Most states provide copies of their current regulations online. Do your research up front! It will save you (and this community) a lot of trouble later. Remember that ignorance of the law will not protect you from prosecution, and it is equally ineffective in protecting you from snakebite. Contact your State Wildlife Dept. for the most up to date and accurate information.

Further Reading :

 - Venomous Snakes of the World: A Manual for Use by U.S. AmphibiousForces 1st Edition


By Department of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (Author), Scott Shupe (Editor)

- Snake Venom Poisoning 


by Findlay E. Russell  (Author)

-Venomous Snakes of the World 1St Edition Edition


by Mark O'Shea  (Author)

Many   books you can find in the  Internet based libraries and bookshops like ( Click Here ) ..


But first look for the best prices at Book 

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