snake bite protection gloves

More than three decades ago when I first got venomous snakes to keep in a terrarium the only available tools were very basic hooks we made ourselves of iron wire. When I and my fellow herpers had to catch a wild snake we just took a twig from a nearby tree and made a stick of it. Of course, snakes didn't appreciate such rough treatment and usually were furiously biting everything they could reach. For any routine care measure on a snake, such as medical treatment or artificial feeding, we had to take it with bare hand at the head. Overall, working with snakes was much more dangerous than today: Almost all snake keepers and catchers whom I knew personally were bitten now and then, some got serious injuries, or even died. That I was never bitten by those highly dangerous snakes that I kept at home looks like a miracle. I am sure that only my great fear that let to extreme cautiousness saved me.

Fortunately, much has changed positively since then, and there is no need anymore to handle a venomous snake with bare hands or with a stick in most cases. A variety of professional tools for snake handling and personal protection is offered by many small and large manufacturers. Some of them, such as snake hooks and tongs, are being developed extra, while some, such as gloves, herpetologists and snake keepers choose and adapt for their needs.

The risk of injuries for both, the handler and the snake, decreased in recent years particularly due to use of snake bite resistant gloves. Most snakes are not aggressive by nature and do not bite unless they are very harsh treated, hurt or in other way very strongly irritated. Venomous snakes in general are not more aggressive than non-venomous. The main reason why they may bite more often is that people fear them and tend to treat more offensively thus provoking a reaction. A snake almost never would bite a hook that is lifting it. This is because, when they are gently raised by a hook, they do not perceive it as a source of discomfort or danger. In many cases the same can be done just with hands. Indeed, many people readily take with bare hands colubrids, boas and pythons and usually do not get bitten. However, a rare person would be so brave (or stupid?) to grasp a venomous or unknown snake by a hand. Still, if someone would dare to take a venomous snake carefully with hands, very likely it would not bite. Of course, it is not certain, and nobody should be encouraged to try it unless his hands are well protected.

The idea to take snakes with hands in some kind of bite proof gloves is old. Actually, I heard about such practice already in the 1980-s, but certainly it had existed long before. Of course, no specialised gloves for this purpose were available, and the materials used in making working or military gloves were not as good as today. People were just more or less successfully experimenting with rough leather or thick fabric working gloves with small species. Such gloves were difficult to get and not popular mainly because they were too large and too hard for manipulating small animals but at the same time not safe with large snakes. Here are two examples of typical old-fassioned gloves that still can be purchased and are of limited use for handling of venomous snakes:

Soft leather welder gloves
Soft leather welder gloves
Rough leather welder gloves
Rough leather gloves

The welder gloves shown in the left picture are made of soft leather and thus are nicer to use but can be punctured by teeth even of small snakes because the leather they are made of is soft. The gloves in the right picture are made of very hard leather. They are “needle proof” and, in theory, may protect even from bites of larger snakes. However, they are extremely rough, and therefore not good for small and medium sized snakes.

Also leather relatively quickly gets worn and becomes thinner due to abrasion. This is a continuing process, and there is a high risk that the moment when the protection is lost remains unnoticed.

These days, with new types of hi-tech fabric, a very high safety level of handling dangerous snakes with hands in gloves can be achieved, although no manufacturer will claim that his gloves provide 100% protection. The best and now de-facto standard snake bite protection gloves are made of material called SuperFabric®, and are of brand HexArmor. They became first known in 2007-2008 and since then were many times a topic of discussions in various herpetological communities. Although it seems to be common sense that HexArmor Hercules gloves are the best protection against bites, now and then rumours about accidents are circulating that fuel new discussions and doubts.

Handling a Puff Adder with HexArmor Hercules gloves. Photo from: Handling a Puff Adder with HexArmor Hercules gloves. (Click on the picture to view it in large size.) Source:

I am not going to show here photos of me putting fingers into the mouth of king cobras, rattle snakes and puff adders. First, because I will not do such demonstrations even when my hand is in the best glove. Second, because there are plenty of such pictures and videos in the Internet you can look at and get a sense of what I am discussing here. For instance, you see here on the right one of the first photos of use of HexArmor gloves with a puff adder that went around in snake keepers' forums almost eight years ago. Impressive, isn't it? Dealing with such powerful snakes it is hard to always remain absolutely cool, but these are the only gloves that give at least some confidence.

SuperFabric® is a range of innovative materials that were invented and are being further developed by a US company HDM, Inc.. There are many types of it, with different qualities and purposes. In the picture below you see some examples. The black fabric in the right circle is used for puncture protection clothing, such as gloves, gauntlets, jackets, etc., intended for use by police, customs and various other professionals who are under risk of injuries from sharp or cutting objects.

Examples of SuperFabric. The one that is snake bite resistant is shown in the right cirtle. Source:

HexArmor was the first brand that offered products with SuperFabric® for the mass market. Because SuperFabric® is expensive and difficult to work with, there are many models of gloves that contain different amounts of it and not just one that protects against everything. For instance, there are gloves that have only one layer of puncture resistant fabric on the palm sides. They do not protect the back of the hand at all. Other gloves protect both sides of the hand but with varying level – the back and the side of the fingers less than the palm.

SuperFabric® is a synthetic fabric that contains a shield of tiny armour plates. It is highly abrasion and, to various extent, cut and puncture resistant. Puncture resistance is what particularly matters for protection against snake bites. The smaller and the more dense the armour plates are to each other the better the is protection against punctures. No type of SuperFarbic® has plates without spaces in-between because otherwise it would not be flexible. Therefore, a possibility is always exists that the needle (or the snake tooth) comes between the plates, hence gets through the fabric. In puncture resistant type of SuperFabric® the armour particles are so tight to each other that the needle has to be very thin to go through. The entry of a snake tooth through a single level of such fabric may be possible, but a long tooth would be most probably too thick to get through it completely. It would get stuck at a certain length. Thin teeth of small snakes may go through but may be too short to reach and to puncture the hand inside the glove. In both cases the tooth would first need to hit not an armour plate but the space near it. Therefore even a single layer of SuperFabric® offers quite much bite protection. It should be sufficient against claws and teeth of small mammals as well as claws and bills of birds. The effectiveness against bites of snakes is uncertain, and may be not much better than of gloves that are simply made of rough leather. For protection against needles, thus against snake teeth, more than one layer of SuperFabric® is required. Gloves with two layers of SuperFabric® are declared by the manufacturer as cut and even as puncture resistant, but not as needle stick resistant. A special model of HexArmor Hercules gloves for protection against spines and teeth of animals is entirely made of three layers of SuperFabric® that are according to manufacturer offset against each other as shown in the picture below.

Structure of needle stick resistant SuperFabric

These gloves became known as “venom defenders” and are the premium snake handling gloves worldwide. Although they have been around for many years and many people have successfully used them, rumours and myths about them keep circulating among herpetologists and snake keepers. Since I am a user of HexArmor Hercules gloves too, such discussions always draw my attention because they are about safety, so I take them serious. The things that I heard and read were so controversial that I began to suspect that people are talking not always about the same gloves. Indeed, it looks like they mix at least two models of HexArmor Hercules and add some scary stories about accidents when other gloves were used. Therefore, I decided to write this review to clarify this issue here because I own both models of Hercules gloves that people so often confuse.

I found out that not only the information from dealers but even from the manufacturer are the cause of this confusion. The following pictures are screenshots from the online catalog of HexArmor (see where two models of Hercules gloves are presented. The first, called R8E, is cut, puncture and also needle stick resistant, the second – 400R6E — is only cut and puncture resistant.

The original “venom defender” gloves by HexArmor, USA (Screenshot from
The current model of gloves with long gauntlets by HexArmor is not needle puncture resistant. (Screenshot from

Not only the product image is the same but also the use purpose: Both these gloves are recommended for use in animal handling. The flyer about HexArmour Hercules 400R6E is telling us: “These gloves are no stranger to dangerous applications such as handling razorwire or protecting from animal bites.” (see it here). Indeed, the 400R6E seems to be more popular because it does what the manufacturer promises in most use situations and costs less than a half of the cost of the other model. According to the product flyer, the gloves R8E are designed for use in animal handling and veterinary as well (see here). The only difference is the needle stick resistance. Apparently, the R8E gloves were not so frequently ordered as 400R6E, and HexArmor stopped their regular production a couple of years ago. Now, they are distributed by the UK company Polyco and manufactured in small quantities on request.

HexArmor Hercules R8E (or model 3180) were those gloves that became famous as snake bite resistant. They were the gloves that king cobras, puff adders, black mambas and many other highly dangerous snakes are biting and chewing on hundreds of photographs and videos throughout the Internet. Hercules R8E are now rare and very expensive. I do not know exactly how their production and distribution is organised. The gloves are still labeled as HexArmor but it looks like Polyco (that distributes many kinds of protection wear and even has own brands) currently has exclusive rights for their worldwide distribution. Therefore HexArmor is saying on the website that the interested buyers should contact Polyco for pricing and availability. Apparently zoos are the main market niche for the R8E gloves. Another UK company 121 Animal Handling Products supplies them to end customers and sells online via the website as "Venom Defender Gloves". There is a number of small dealers in other countries who resell the gloves to a little higher prices. For instance, in Germany it is

The so often rising question about the “right” gloves, quality concerns, and even rumours about accidents may indicate that some people bought and keep buying wrong gloves, i.e. the model 400R6E. Not only the manufacturer who stopped production of R8E (3180) but also the dealers do not sufficiently explain the differences and never point at a possibility of a mistake. Some newer dealers may even not know that another very similar looking model of gloves has been produced and sold some time ago and that it was so different. They just praise the 400R6E as protection from almost everything without any warning that they are not designed for use with venomous snakes. Even some specialised suppliers of tools for reptile keepers and herpetologists were offering 400R6E gloves. When I bought mine in 2010, the same gloves could be ordered in the online shop of Midwest Tongs, in and even on shows in Hamm and Hauten. Priced at 180 – 220€, even these, “cheaper”, gloves were expensive in Europe. I got my 400R6E gloves from a supplier of industrial protection wear. I knew that they were not needle stick resistant. However, no better options were around, and I even did not know that better gloves may exist. Apparently many reptile keepers did not know it too and were buying 400R6E gloves regarding they as a better protection than welder gloves anyway.

I used my 400R6E gloves with viperids up to 60–70 cm long. The snakes were biting the gloves but the teeth were never getting through or even into the fabric. I suppose that the teeth never got in the spaces between armour plates. A 400R6E glove is very well lined and padded inside, hence a short tooth may even not reach the hand if it gets through the SuperFarbirc® layer. When I was holding a large and 15 kg heavy cactus Carnegia gigantea some of its long and hard needles got through the glove and pricked my hands a little but did not puncture the skin. I assume that a 400R6E glove would prevent a snake tooth from sticking into the hand as well. However, there is, of course, not so strong confidence in that as with a glove that is designed for needle stick protection.

Meanwhile, Midwest Tongs stopped selling 400R6E gloves and seems not offer any bite protection gloves at the moment. Some other suppliers of herpetological and reptile keeping tools still sell 400R6E. The prices in Europe increased to as much as 360 € in some shops. The cheapest offer that have I recently saw in one online shop was for 170 €. The price increase can be explained by currently low exchange rate of the euro, but also by the offers of much more expensive R8E (3180) gloves that appeared recently again. It seems like some dealers are again trying to sell their 400R6E for the price of R8E (3180) making use of confusion of buyers and not emphasising the difference.

Of course, 400R6E are great gloves. They provide adequate protection for handling of small mammals, birds with sharp claws, small crocodiles, monitors and other large lizards, as well as most snakes. However, the users should be expect from them as high level of protection as from R8E (3180) gloves. This should be always clear to everyone. Someone who buys 400R6E should know all the limitations and try not to go beyond particularly when handling large and aggressive venomous snakes. He or she should not be mislead by pictures of snakes viciously biting HexArmor gloves because those gloves are different! Unfortunately too few people seem to know this. Thus, every new bite accident or just a report of someone whose glove, but not hand(!), was punctured by a snake tooth causes a next wave of discussions and doubts in usefulness of gloves.

It is strange to see how the policy of the manufacturer and the dealers who do not sufficiently inform the customers harms the image of a product. HexArmor knows, of course, that the Hercules R8E became standard gloves for snake handling and that they are often confused with Hercules 400R6E. To see this, you need just to search the Internet for "HexArmor Hercules R8E": At least a half of search results would be showing HexArmor 400R6E. Yet HexArmor could avoid this confusion if they would make one of these models look clearly different than the other: It may be colour, overall design, labels, product name, etc. This would not only further improve the image the product but also prevent potentially life threatening accidents. It surprises me that HexArmor has not done it in so many years.

For me it was also difficult to distinguish the two Hexarmor Hercules models till I got both and could compare them side by side. By the way, my confusion and poor availability of better alternatives on the market made me purchase Hercules 400R6E in 2010.

The best way to ensure that you have got real HexArmor Hercules R8E (3180) is to order them from Currently they sell the gloves for 249 £ plus shipment under the name Venom Defender Animal Handling Gloves (Hercules™ 3180 R8E) Most probably you won't find a lower price for new gloves elsewhere because 121 Animal Handling Products and are the primary retailer of this product. The prices in other stores are at least the same, but often even higher.

If you come across a good offer elsewhere, first you should ensure that what you are buying are really the gloves R8E (a.k.a 3180). The seller may even not know the difference himself and have just Hercules 400R6E. I have seen offers of 400R6E gloves on Amazon and eBay for 500 $! To distinguish between these two models, look at the description of the offer and find the following information:

  1. The model name should contain the code R8E and 3180, or at least one of both.
  2. The description should contain the statement that the gloves are “needle stick resistant”
  3. If it is an official HexArmour dealer, there may be one of these pictures:
The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E
The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E
The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E
The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E

“Orange” means “very good”. “Blue” is still “good”, but it means that the gloves are Hercules 400R6E, and you should not pay more than 200–250 euros for a pair. Someone who is requesting more wants to cheat you.

If the description reads like of real venom defenders, take a look at the gloves. Even if it is a photograph, you should recognise that they are black and not dark grey. See a comparison on these pictures:

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - palm side compared
HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - back side compared.
HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - back side compared.

In older versions of both models the cuffs had a blue border, and the HexArmor label was hexagonal. Now, the company has a different design of the logo, and the label is rectangular, as shown on the pictures below. The border of the cuffs is now black (at least in R8E): Even if it is shown as blue on product photographs, it will be most probably black in the gloves that you receive, unless you have purchased an older model. Note also the difference in the fabric structure that is clearly recognisable in the photographs below.

Label on a Hercules R8E glove. Label on a Hercules R8E glove.
Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove. Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove.

The model name can be found on tags inside the gloves. The information that the tag provides is also different in each of two models.

Tag inside a Hercules R8E glove. The tag inside a R8E glove.
Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove. Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove.

Even if the first HexArmor Hercules gloves might be manufactured in the USA, all other were in Asia. The tag in my older 400R6E is telling that they were manufactured in China. The newer R8E are from Pakistan.

There is another model of Hexarmor Hercules gloves that is much better available for purchase everywhere in the world than even Hercules 400R6E. It is Hercules NSR – short gloves that cover the hand and the lower one third to half of the forearm. They are very good, and HexArmor claims that they provide needle stick protection although three layers of SuperFabric® are only on palms; the back of the glove has only two layers, just like in 400R6E. Hercules NSR may be a premium kind of gloves to protect from bites of small and medium sized snakes. They are small, compact and comfortable to wear.

The currently offered by HexArmor model of needle puncture resistant gloves is shorter and offers a protection level that is between 400R6E and R8E. (Screenshot from

In combination with needle resistant (however, also two-layered) gauntlets protection from bites extends over the entire forearm. These gauntlets are also better available that full gloves, and you can find a Hercules NSR + Arm Guard combo in Europe for around 200 €. However, this is quite much money for moderate protection, therefore I would recommend it only as alternative to Hercules 400R6E, and anyway not to R8E.

Needle resistant gauntlets are offered by HexArmor separately. (Screenshot from

As low-budget options the following two kinds of gloves may be considered:

Basic welder gloves
Basic welder gloves

Puncture resistant Wastemaster® gloves

Very basic and cheap welder gloves found in any hardware store may be completely adequate for handling small species of venomous snakes, such as Eurasian adders. Although I have HexArmor gloves, I use welder gloves quite often when I know that it wouldn't be anything larger than Vipera berus. I like them because they are compact, softer and feel more nice on hands.

However, not all welder gloves are equally good. I mentioned already at the beginning of this article gloves that are made of very soft leather. The material of the gloves should be sufficiently rough and thick but still elastic so that you can close the hand and feel what you are holding. The glove should be lined because lining provides some additional protection. Beside rather weak protection from punctures, welder gloves have another disadvantage: They are typically of only one size – “10”, hence may be extremely inconvenient to use by people with small hands.

The Wastemaster® gloves supplied by Polyco (UK) look very promising and could be worth a try. At cost of a little more than 100 € they are relatively inexpensive, but nevertheless made completely of double layered Super Fabric and should be needle stick resistant according to the manufacturer. They do not look as well designed and crafted as the expensive HexArmor counterpart, however, but may do the same service. Anyway, the Wastemaster® gloves are a better alternative to cheap welder gloves for those people who work with larger snakes.

Inexpensive alternative to pricy HexArmor products: Wastemaster® gloves by Polyco (UK) (Screenshot from

No matter which gloves we use, we should always remember the following:

  1. A hand even in simple welder gloves is better protected than without any.
  2. Some gloves are more, some are less bite resistant but no gloves are completely bite proof.
  3. The fabric of the gloves, just like any material, gradually looses its qualities due to wear and aging.
  4. Even with the best gloves bites particularly of large snakes should be avoided by all means.
April, 2016