— -- A Florida man was bitten in the face by a venomous snake after trying to kiss it, authorities told ABC Tampa affiliate WFTS-TV.
Austin Hatfield, 18, of Wimauma, told his friends he took a liking to the snake and decided to keep it as a pet, Robin Belcher, the mother of his best friend, Jason Belcher, told ABC News.
“It was a cottonmouth snake, 4 foot, and he pulled it out of pillow case and laid it on his chest and it ended up striking him on the face,” Belcher said.
The teenager, who is reportedly in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. Family members reportedly killed the reptile and brought it to the hospital.
Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are a common snake in the southeast, according to Terry Phillip, the curator of reptiles for Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Phillip, who is a professional herpetologist, said about 3,500 people in the United States are bitten each year by venomous snakes, leading to as many as four fatalities. About 70 percent of the victims are men between the ages of 16 and 25 and alcohol is usually involved, he said.
“The vast majority of men are bitten in the upper extremities, forearms and face,” Phillip said. “Testosterone and snake venom don’t mix real well.”
Cottonmouth bites are rarely deadly but are among the most excruciatingly painful of snake bites, Phillip said. Their venom attacks the red blood cells causing an immediate burning sensation, swelling and redness. If improperly treated, a bite can lead to permanent damage of the nerves, kidneys and heart.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident because Hatfield allegedly did not have a permit to have the snake. He faces possible charges, according to WFTS.
Florida requires 1,000 hours of training under the guidance of a licensed expert in order to obtain a permit to handle poisonous snakes, Phillip noted.