A snake milker is a specialist zoologist who is able to extract venom from snakes and other venomous reptiles for the purpose of creating anti-venom or for medical research.
What Does a Snake Milker Do?
A snake milker is a type of herpetologist which in turn is a type of zoologist. People who work in this highly specialized area extract venom from snakes and other reptiles which produce venom that could cause illness and death. They are specially trained in handling these sensitive and protected animals which often have legal protection. To become a snake milker requires many years of education. There are two main purposes for the extraction of venom.
The first is that such venom has potential research properties. Biological scientists may be looking for specific genetic markers or attributes of the venom to test in a range of medical applications. Treatments and cures can often come from the most surprising of places. Specifically, venoms have been used to treat blood clots, combat blood pressure and reduce heart attack risk.
The second main reason for extracting venom is for emergency procedures. When bitten by a snake, a patient could potentially have just a couple of hours to live without treatment. Snake milkers remove the venom so that medical professionals can create anti-venom to treat the affected person.
Where Does a Snake Milker Work?
A snake milker who works in the field will find employment at a “serpentarium”. This is a type of lab that houses and researches snakes and other related venomous reptiles. The lab itself may also have other duties such as conservation, breeding, research, rehabilitation and veterinarian services. The snake milker may have more than one responsibility with the lab. Some of these specialist labs will be at zoos, some will be at universities and some will be small, independent facilities offering services on a contract basis. This is a small and niche area with little actual data. We do know that they spend their time tending to snakes, extracting the venom and freeze-drying it for sale to researchers, hospitals, animal charities and anybody else who might have a legal and genuine requirement for the snake venom.
What Is the Average Snake Milker Salary?
This is a small and heavily regulated industry. Due to the amount of training required and the need for the services, snake milking can pay rather well. Most of these jobs are paid by the hour. According to the BLS, the median salary for snake millers, who fall under the broader BLS category of zoologists and wildlife biologists, earned a median salary of $66,350 as of May 2020. With little option of career progression into senior roles (due to the limited employee population numbers) this is likely to be the average and near the limit of earning potential.*
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Snake milking is a highly specialized and niche career category within the zoology industry. Most snake milkers work in a laboratory setting extracting venom for use in medical research or treatments. Job responsibilities for snake milkers generally include:
- Use specialized laboratory equipment to extract venom from living snakes
- Calibrate and maintain laboratory equipment
- Become knowledgeable in the safe handling of venomous snakes, as well as medical treatment procedures in the event of a snake bite
- Handle, label, catalog and store snake venom after extraction
- Perform care tasks for snake specimens as needed, including feeding, administering medications and documenting health, diet or behavior
What Is the Job Demand for Snake Milkers?
The BLS does not have individual statistics for this type of role, but the job demand for zoologists is expected to grow just 5% between 2020 and 2030.* Demand for snake milking could be in line with this. However, students looking for a career in this area should be advised that there are few openings each year. Even growing at a normal rate of 7-8% each year, this could be just a handful of new job roles annually.
What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Snake Milker?
Snake milking is a niche area but one with clear education path. High school students will need strong grades in math and biology. Chemistry will be helpful too to understand the chemical properties of the venom. Your aptitude in the biological sciences will provide most of the background you need for your degree in a related field. Students should pursue hard science degrees, preferably in biology with minors in related fields as chemistry. We strongly recommend that the student pursues a degree in zoology though; this will allow you to focus your studies on animals, removing elements of a biology degree that will not be relevant to your intended career. Fish and wildlife degrees may also be a possible point of entry.
Further study will be required to enter into this niche career. The best course of study would be an MSc in herpetology and attempt to focus your core projects and courses on snake biology. Anything related to toxicology may also be useful, especially if taken as a minor at the undergraduate level. A doctorate should not be required in most cases unless the student wishes to enter into a career in teaching at the university level or in direct research of snake venom. For public education and outreach, a master's degree is usually sufficient.
Following the completion of your studies, you may require certification or license. This may vary by state; check local government regulations for further details.
Snake Milking - Related Degrees
What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Snake Milkers Have?
The small industry of snake milking has now specific organizations but there are many global herpetology research and conservation bodies.
- American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists: The is the premier organization for research, conservation of fish, amphibians and reptiles in the USA for academic and public interest
- Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles: Founded in 1958, they are one of the world's largest organizations to advance research, education and conservation of reptiles and amphibians
*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for zoologists and wildlife biologists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.