When Mica Craig reached down to brush what he thought was a stick off some mulch in the garden section of a Washington state Walmart, it turned around and sank its fangs into his hand.
The Friday encounter with a rattlesnake sent Craig, 47, to the hospital, where he said he remained in excruciating pain and may lose feeling in two fingers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc has apologized.
"I reached down to grab the stick to move it out of the way, and the snake stretched out, turned around and got its fangs in my right hand," he said. "I slung it off and I did a tap dance on it until it was dead."
Craig was rushed to the hospital by fellow customer Maria Geffre who said she saw him crumple to the ground after crying out that he had been bitten by a snake.
"He had punctures on his hand and there was the dead rattler he'd stomped on," Geffre said, describing the snake as at least a foot long with four buttons, or rattles.
Craig, a married father of two, said the mulch was for his marijuana plants, which he is licensed to grow for medical reasons. It was unclear whether the snake came from an adjacent field or arrived at the store along with garden supplies.
Craig said doctors who initially thought the snake had inflicted only a "dry bite" - or one that did not inject venom - treated him with six bags of anti-venom after his right hand swelled to the size of a melon.
A Walmart spokeswoman offered an apology to Craig and said the retailer was looking into how the incident could have happened at the store in Clarkston, in eastern Washington.
"At this point, it appears to be an isolated incident. We are working with a pest management team, which is conducting a sweep of the property to ensure there is no additional rattlesnake activity," Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling said.
Travis Taggart, director of the Center for North American Herpetology, said about half of documented rattlesnake bites, which are usually defensive when directed at humans, are "dry" but still cause severe pain.