Snakes do not ordinarily prey on humans, and most will not attack humans unless the snake is startled or injured, preferring instead to avoid contact. With the exception of large constrictors, nonvenomous snakes are not a threat to humans. The bite of nonvenomous snakes is usually harmless because their teeth are designed for grabbing and holding, rather than tearing or inflicting a deep puncture wound. Although the possibility of an infection and tissue damage is present in the bite of a nonvenomous snake, venomous snakes present far greater hazard to humans.:209
Documented deaths resulting from snake bites are uncommon. Nonfatal bites from venomous snakes may result in the need for amputation of a limb or part thereof. Of the roughly 725 species of venomous snakes worldwide, only 250 are able to kill a human with one bite. Australia averages only one fatal snake bite per year. In India, 250,000 snakebites are recorded in a single year, with as many as 50,000 recorded initial deaths.
The treatment for a snakebite is as variable as the bite itself. The most common and effective method is through antivenom (or antivenin), a serum made from the venom of the snake. Some antivenom is species specific (monovalent) while some is made for use with multiple species in mind (polyvalent). In the United States for example, all species of venomous snakes are pit vipers, with the exception of the coral snake. To produce antivenom, a mixture of the venoms of the different species of rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths is injected into the body of a horse in ever-increasing dosages until the horse is immunized. Blood is then extracted from the immunized horse; the serum is separated and further purified and freeze-dried. It is reconstituted with sterile water and becomes antivenom. For this reason, people who are allergic to horses are more likely to suffer an allergic reaction to antivenom. Antivenom for the more dangerous species (such as mambas, taipans, and cobras) is made in a similar manner in India, South Africa, and Australia, although these antivenoms are species-specific.
In some parts of the world, especially in India, snake charming is a roadside show performed by a charmer. In such a show, the snake charmer carries a basket that contains a snake that he seemingly charms by playing tunes from his flutelike musical instrument, to which the snake responds. Snakes lack external ears, though they do have internal ears, and respond to the movement of the flute, not the actual noise.
The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 in India technically proscribes snake charming on grounds of reducing animal cruelty. Other snake charmers also have a snake and mongoose show, where both the animals have a mock fight; however, this is not very common, as the snakes, as well as the mongooses, may be seriously injured or killed. Snake charming as a profession is dying out in India because of competition from modern forms of entertainment and environment laws proscribing the practice.
The Irulas tribe of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in India have been hunter-gatherers in the hot, dry plains forests, and have practiced the art of snake catching for generations. They have a vast knowledge of snakes in the field. They generally catch the snakes with the help of a simple stick. Earlier, the Irulas caught thousands of snakes for the snake-skin industry. After the complete ban of the snake-skin industry in India and protection of all snakes under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, they formed the Irula Snake Catcher's Cooperative and switched to catching snakes for removal of venom, releasing them in the wild after four extractions. The venom so collected is used for producing life-saving antivenom, biomedical research and for other medicinal products. The Irulas are also known to eat some of the snakes they catch and are very useful in rat extermination in the villages.
Despite the existence of snake charmers, there have also been professional snake catchers or wranglers. Modern-day snake trapping involves a herpetologist using a long stick with a V- shaped end. Some television show hosts, like Bill Haast, Austin Stevens, Steve Irwin, and Jeff Corwin, prefer to catch them using bare hands.
While not commonly thought of as food in most cultures, in some cultures, the consumption of snakes is acceptable, or even considered a delicacy, prized for its alleged pharmaceutical effect of warming the heart. Snake soup of Cantonese cuisine is consumed by local people in autumn, to warm up their body. Western cultures document the consumption of snakes under extreme circumstances of hunger. Cooked rattlesnake meat is an exception, which is commonly consumed in parts of the Midwestern United States. In Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, drinking the blood of snakes—particularly the cobra—is believed to increase sexual virility. The blood is drained while the cobra is still alive when possible, and is usually mixed with some form of liquor to improve the taste.
In some Asian countries, the use of snakes in alcohol is also accepted. In such cases, the body of a snake or several snakes is left to steep in a jar or container of liquor. It is claimed that this makes the liquor stronger (as well as more expensive). One example of this is the Habu snake sometimes placed in the Okinawan liquor Awamori also known as "Habu Sake."
U.S. Army Special Forces trainees are taught to catch, kill, and eat snakes during their survival course; this has earned them the nickname "snake eaters," which the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater may be inferred to draw from.
Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty and considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine.
In the Western world, some snakes (especially docile species such as the ball python and corn snake) are kept as pets. To meet this demand a captive breeding industry has developed. Snakes bred in captivity tend to make better pets and are considered preferable to wild caught specimens. Snakes can be very low maintenance pets, especially compared to more traditional species. They require minimal space, as most common species do not exceed five feet in length. Pet snakes can be fed relatively infrequently, usually once every 5–14 days. Certain snakes have a lifespan of more than 40 years if given proper care.
In Egyptian history, the snake occupies a primary role with the Nile cobra adorning the crown of the pharaoh in ancient times. It was worshipped as one of the gods and was also used for sinister purposes: murder of an adversary and ritual suicide (Cleopatra).
In Greek mythology snakes are often associated with deadly and dangerous antagonists, but this is not to say that snakes are symbolic of evil; in fact, snakes are a chthonic symbol, roughly translated as 'earthbound'. The nine-headed Lernaean Hydra that Hercules defeated and the three Gorgon sisters are children of Gaia, the earth. Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters who Perseus defeated. Medusa is described as a hideous mortal, with snakes instead of hair and the power to turn men to stone with her gaze. After killing her, Perseus gave her head to Athena who fixed it to her shield called the Aegis. The Titans are also depicted in art with snakes instead of legs and feet for the same reason—they are children of Gaia and Ouranos (Uranus), so they are bound to the earth.
The legendary account of the foundation of Thebes mentioned a monster snake guarding the spring from which the new settlement was to draw its water. In fighting and killing the snake, the companions of the founder Cadmus all perished - leading to the term "Cadmean victory" (i.e. a victory involving one's own ruin).
Three medical symbols involving snakes that are still used today are Bowl of Hygieia, symbolizing pharmacy, and the Caduceus and Rod of Asclepius, which are symbols denoting medicine in general.
India is often called the land of snakes and is steeped in tradition regarding snakes. Snakes are worshipped as gods even today with many women pouring milk on snake pits (despite snakes' aversion for milk). The cobra is seen on the neck of Shiva and Vishnu is depicted often as sleeping on a seven-headed snake or within the coils of a serpent. There are also several temples in India solely for cobras sometimes called Nagraj (King of Snakes) and it is believed that snakes are symbols of fertility. There is a Hindu festival called Nag Panchami each year on which day snakes are venerated and prayed to. See also Nāga.
In India there is another mythology about snakes. Commonly known in Hindi as "Ichchhadhari" snakes. Such snakes can take the form of any living creature, but prefer human form. These mythical snakes possess a valuable gem called "Mani", which is more brilliant than diamond. There are many stories in India about greedy people trying to possess this gem and ending up getting killed.
The Ouroboros is a symbol associated with many different religions and customs, and is claimed to be related to Alchemy. The Ouroboros or Oroboros is a snake eating its own tail in a clock-wise direction (from the head to the tail) in the shape of a circle, representing manifestation of one's own life and rebirth, leading to immortality.
The snake is one of the 12 celestial animals of Chinese Zodiac, in the Chinese calendar.
Many ancient Peruvian cultures worshipped nature. They emphasized animals and often depicted snakes in their art.
Snakes are a part of Hindu worship. A festival Nag Panchami is celebrated every year on snakes. Most images of Lord Shiva depict snake around his neck. Puranas have various stories associated with Snakes. In the Puranas, Shesha is said to hold all the planets of the Universe on his hoods and to constantly sing the glories of Vishnu from all his mouths. He is sometimes referred to as "Ananta-Shesha," which means "Endless Shesha." Other notable snakes in Hinduism are Ananta, Vasuki, Taxak, Karkotaka and Pingala. The term Nāga is used to refer to entities that take the form of large snakes in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Snakes have also been widely revered, such as in ancient Greece, where the serpent was seen as a healer, and Asclepius carried two intertwined on his wand, a symbol seen today on many ambulances.
In religious terms, the snake is arguably the most important animal in ancient Mesoamerica. “In states of ecstasy, lords dance a serpent dance; great descending snakes adorn and support buildings from Chichen Itza to Tenochtitlan, and the Nahuatl word coatl meaning serpent or twin, forms part of primary deities such as Mixcoatl, Quetzalcoatl, and Coatlicue.” In both Maya and Aztec calendars, the fifth day of the week was known as Snake Day.
In Judaism, the snake of brass is also a symbol of healing, of one's life being saved from imminent death (Book of Numbers 21:6–9).
In Christianity, Christ's redemptive work is compared to saving one's life through beholding the Nehushtan (serpent of brass) (Gospel of John 3:14). Snake handlers use snakes as an integral part of church worship in order to exhibit their faith in divine protection. However, more commonly in Christianity, the serpent has been seen as a representative of evil and sly plotting, which can be seen in the description in Genesis chapter 3 of a snake in the Garden of Eden tempting Eve. Saint Patrick is reputed to have expelled all snakes from Ireland while Christianising the country in the 5th century, thus explaining the absence of snakes there.
In Christianity and Judaism, the snake makes its infamous appearance in the first book (Genesis 3:1) of the Bible when a serpent appears before the first couple Adam and Eve and tempts them with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The snake returns in Exodus when Moses, as a sign of God's power, turns his staff into a snake and when Moses made the Nehushtan, a bronze snake on a pole that when looked at cured the people of bites from the snakes that plagued them in the desert. The serpent makes its final appearance symbolizing Satan in the Book of Revelation: "And he laid hold on the dragon the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:2)
In Neo-Paganism and Wicca, the snake is seen as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.