Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flying Snake

Chrysopelea, or more commonly known as the flying snakes, is a genus that belongs to the family Colubridae. Flying snakes are mildly venomous, though they are considered harmless because their toxicity is not dangerous to humans.[citation needed] Their range of habitat is mostly concentrated in Southeast Asia, the Melanesian islands, and India.


Chrysopelea are called "flying snakes", though this is misleading, as they actually glide instead of flying. This is done by flattening their bodies to up to twice their width from the back of the head to the vent. These snakes can glide better in comparison to flying squirrels and other gliding animals, despite lacking any limbs, wings or wing-like projections.[citation needed] Their destination is mostly predicted by ballistics; however, they can exercise some in-flight attitude control by "slithering" in the air. Their ability to glide has been an object of interest for physicists in recent years,[citation needed] and studies continue to be made on what other, more subtle factors contribute to their flight. According to recent research conducted by the University of Chicago, scientists discovered a co-relation between size and gliding ability, in which smaller flying snakes were able to glide longer distances horizontally.


There are five recognised species under the genus Chrysopelea. Of these five, the following three are the most well-recognised.[citation needed]

Golden Tree Snake or Ornate Flying Snake, Chrysopelea ornata (Shaw, 1802): This is the largest species of flying snake, reaching up to four feet in length. Though it is called the Golden Tree Snake, there are other colour variations; for example, some phases tend to lean towards lime green in colour rather than pure yellow, while in India, the Golden Tree Snake has orange to red markings and small black bars on the dorsum, almost as rich in colouration with the Paradise Tree Snake. Due to their size, their gliding ability is considered weak.

Paradise Tree Snake, Chrysopelea paradisi (Boie & Boie, 1827): This flying snake species reaches up to three feet in length and is popular in the European pet trade. Their body is black but covered in rich green scales. Clusters of red, orange and yellow-coloured scales in the shape of flower petals lines the dorsal area from the base of the neck till the tail. This is the most well-known colouration, but some specimens may exhibit fully-green colouration without any bright dorsal markings. Their gliding ability is considered one of the best among the flying snakes.[citation needed]

Twin-Barred Tree Snake or Banded Flying Snake,
Chrysopelea pelias (Linnaeus, 1758): This is the smallest flying snake species, reaching up to two feet in length. It base colour is black or dark grey, and the entire body is covered with thick red and thin yellow with black bands. They also have creamish ventrolateral lines while the ventrals are pale green. While it is tiny, it is undoubtedly one of the rarest flying snake species within its range. It is also, quite possibly, the best glider among all the flying snakes.[citation needed]

Lesser studied species are:

* Moluccan Flying Snake, Chrysopelia rhodopleuron (Boie, 1827)
* Indian Flying Snake, Chrysopelia taprobanica (Smith, 1943)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Largest Spitting Cobra Discovered

Africa's Naja ashei snake (pictured) is not only the world's newest snake species—it's also the largest spitting cobra, scientists with the conservation nonprofit WildlifeDirect announced today.

Blood and tissue samples helped confirm what some snake experts have long believed: that these massive, aggressive, extremely venomous snakes—which can grow to more than 9 feet (274 centimeters) long—form a separate species.

Commonly known as Ashe's spitting cobra, the new species is named after one such expert: the late James Ashe, the founder of the Bio-Ken Snake Farm research center in Watamu, Kenya. Ashe believed that this coastal snake was different from any other.

Naja ashei takes its place among the 30 or so known cobra species, including the king cobra, which is the world's largest venomous snake.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Captive breeding of cobras at Pilikula Nisargadhma-Jaideep Shenoy

MANGALORE: In a bid to increase the tribe of endangered king cobras, the Central Zoo Authority, New Delhi, has asked the city-based biological park to breed the venomous reptile in captivity.

Dr. Shivaram Karanth of Pilikula Nisargadhama (Biological Park) at Moodushedde near here has already started the preliminary work to take up captive breeding of Ophiophagus Hannah.

Importantly, this would be a totally in-house effort. H. Jayaprakash Bhandary, Director of the Park told The Hindu here that the Park here has five king cobras, including two females, at present. It had released two of them into the wild recently.

“We need to create a special environment for the king cobras to breed including keeping the pair selected in isolation. king cobras normally breed during December and we will set up necessary conditions with the help and expertise of our Park staff in this regard.”

The then Deputy Commissioner, Arvind Shrivastava, had exchanged documents on the memorandum of understanding with herpetologist Romolus Whittaker on February 15, 2004 to start India’s first scientific captive breeding centre for king cobras at the Park. However, it was never implemented for various reasons. “It is only of late that the Authority on its own accorded permission to start the activity,” Mr. Bhandary says.

On reasons for the Authority to select the Park, Mr. Bhandary says king cobras are commonly found in the Western Ghat region and efforts to breed them here at the Park, which falls in the foot of the Ghats, was expected to yield positive results.

The purpose is to conserve the species and to aid their lateral spread, he adds. This would also help the zoological parks in the country to procure them without disturbing their habitat, he notes.

The Central Zoo Authority has selected a few leading zoos across India to take up captive breeding of endangered species.

“A zoo in north India has been permitted to breed Snow Bear just as they have allowed us to breed king cobras,” said Mr. Bhandary.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Bushmaster (Lachesis muta muta) - The Largest Pit Viper

The Bushmaster, lachesis muta muta is the largest Pit Viper in the world with a nasty reputation as a "cruel dude". The Bushmaster is a huge, thick-bodied and highly venomous snake with a triangularly shaped head, one of nature's warning signs that a snake is poisonous and potentially deadly. Bushmasters live in remote, heavily forested tropical jungle terrain. Isolated in their jungle environment, envenomation by a Bushmaster is very serious, sometimes fatal and particularly dangerous to humans. It is important to familiarize yourself with wilderness survival before entering Bushmaster territory because often snake bite victims are miles and miles away from any traditional medical help. The Bushmaster is the largest venomous snake in the New World, often reaching lengths in excess of 6 feet with a maximum recorded length reaching an amazing 14 feet! The Bushmaster has a prominent dorsal ridge and an upturned snout with well defined body scales, keeled and extremely rough. Identifying Bushmaster body color hues range from light brown to shades of pale pink with a series of dark brown or black blotches markings running the entire length of the body including the tail.

In homeopathic terms, fresh L. mutus venom was "proved" as a remedy by Constantine Hering around 1830. Although born in what is now Germany, Hering is considered to be the founder of American homeopathy. In 1827 he went to Surinam, South America, to conduct biological research for his government. In experimenting with lachesis venom in an attempt to find a homeopathic inoculation for smallpox, he accidentally poisoned himself with a small amount of venom. This led him to his "proof" that lachesis was a homeopathic remedy. Ever the curious scientist, Hering later accidentally paralyzed his right side by continuing to test higher and higher doses of lachesis on himself.

Lachesis is used in homeopathy to treat a wide range of symptoms. These fall into the following general categories of:

* menstrual and menopausal complaints
* throat and mouth complaints
* fear, paranoia, and associated mental complaints
* nervous system complaints
* circulatory complaints

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Medicine from TAIPAN's Venom

A venom compound from one of the world’s deadliest snakes, the Taipan, is being developed by Brisbane biotechnology company ElaCor, as a new drug to treat heart failure.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) claims the lives of over 3,000 Australians each year with a further 300,000 people affected by the disease. The project’s principal researcher, University of Queensland’s (UQ) Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s (IMB) Professor Paul Alewood, said current treatments for CHF had serious side effects and rarely combated the progression of the disease. “The team has isolated a unique set of active molecules from Taipan venom and research shows they are extremely effective at easing the heart’s workload,” he said. “Not only are these molecules very effective, tests have shown that they are also extremely stable, which is an attractive feature for new drugs. “The human body naturally produces similar types of molecules in response to heart failure but these break down too quickly to have a lasting effect, making them inappropriate as a long term treatment,” he said.

CHF is an often-fatal disease in which the heart is weakened and lacks the strength to adequately pump blood around the body. ElaCor was recently awarded a $250,000 AusIndustry Biotechnology Innovation Fund Grant enabling optimisation of the molecules to develop a superior drug candidate to treat the multiple symptoms of CHF.

Established by IMBcom, the commercialisation company for UQ’s IMB, in collaboration with the Baker Heart Research Institute (BHRI) in Melbourne, ElaCor is the result of an extensive research collaboration between Professor Alewood and Associate Professor Geoff Head from the BHRI. The BHRI’s Head of Commercialisation Ms Tina Rankovic said ElaCor provided a unique opportunity to leverage the skills and synergies of two prestigious Australian research organisations. “By combining the research expertise from these groups we hope to advance discovery in one of medicine’s greatest remaining challenges - preventing heart failure.”

IMBcom CEO Dr Peter Isdale said he was extremely pleased with the development of ElaCor and was gratified the Australian Government remained committed to the development and excellence of Australian science and innovation, by supporting the science of today for the business of tomorrow.

TAIPAN, the most deadliest of the snakes:
Australia has 30 different kinds of venomous (poisonous) snakes. The largest and most poisonous of them is the taipan (say tie-pan). It is in fact considered to be possibly the most venomous snake in the world.

The taipan grows to over 2.5 metres in length. There are two species, or kinds, of taipan. The more common one found in the far north of Australia, in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia where winter temperatures are above 18ºC.

The inland taipan (left) lives in a very remote part of Australia, in the centre, and is rarely seen, so little is known about it.

The taipan is a pale creamy colour on the head. The body is light brown, dark brown, copper or olive in colour.

The taipan has excellent senses of smell and eyesight. It quickly moves in on its prey, strikes fast, draws back and waits for the poison to work. As soon as the poison has worked, the snake eats the prey. Their preferred food is rats, and so taipans are often found in the Queensland cane fields where rats are plentiful. Taipans also eat birds, mice, lizards and small marsupials.

The female taipan lays 10-20 eggs after mating.

Taipans are the most intelligent, nervous and alert of the Australian venomous snakes. They generally stay away from humans, escaping before they are noticed. However, the taipan will defend itself fiercely if it is cornered or threatened, often delivering several bites.

Taipans are 'milked' of their venom by getting them to inject venom into a jar through a rubber cover. The venom is used to make medicine to help save people who are bitten by a taipan.

Like all snakes, the taipan has its place in the environment.
Snakes generally avoid people, rarely strike unless threatened, and should not be hunted out and killed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cobra Venom

Among snakes, cobras and coral snakes may be singled out as having a particularly neurotoxic venom; among other animals, the venom of arachnids also falls into the neurotoxic category. The spitting cobra can spray its venom from a distance of about 2.4 (about 8 ft) into the eyes of its victims, causing temporary blindness and great pain. Venom coming in contact with human eyes causes an immediate and severe irritation of the conjunctiva and cornea that, if untreated, may result in permanent blindness. The venom of cobras, a neurotoxin, acts powerfully on the nervous system. With effective serum more available, however, the high death rate from cobra bites in some areas of Asia has decreased. Cobra venom has been used for many years in medical research because it has an enzyme, lecithinase, that dissolves cell walls as well as membranes surrounding viruses.

A common misconception is that baby snake are deadlier than adults. While not proven scientifically, it would seem that an adult cobra can control the the amount of venom delivered, if any, with each bite, depending on the threat it feels. A baby snake has no control over the amount of venom delivered by its bite, thus always giving a full dose. A baby cobra is fully able to defend itself in as little as three hours after entering the world. Cobras are completely immune to the venom produced by their species.

Venom: poison of animal origin, usually restricted to poisons that are administered by biting or stinging and used to capture—and, sometimes, aid in digesting—prey, or for defense. Thus the poisons secreted by the skin of some toads, or accumulated in the bodies of numerous inedible animals, are ordinarily not considered venoms. The most familiar venomous animals are certain snakes and insects and the spiders and other arachnids. Venomous species occur throughout the animal kingdom, however, including the mammals. Some shrews, for example, have venomous saliva, and the platypus bears poison spurs on its hind legs. The severity of a venom's effects depends on several factors, such as its chemical nature, the stinging or biting mechanism involved, the amount of venom delivered, and the size and condition of the victim. For example, all spiders are venomous, but the venoms of most are too weak or minute in quantity to have noticeable effects on humans; in addition, many spiders cannot even puncture human skin. Thus, few of them are poisonous to humans, but their venoms are quite effective on insect prey. Chemically, venoms vary greatly across the animal kingdom and are not readily defined. Snake venoms, for example, are complex mixtures of enzymatic proteins and different toxins. In terms of their effects, however, they may be broadly categorized as hemotoxic (damaging blood vessels and causing hemorrhage) or neurotoxic (paralyzing nerve centers that control respiration and heart action); they may also contain agents that promote or prevent blood clotting. Sometimes a combination of these effects is involved, however, and variations may occur within genera or even within species. The effects of insect stings are usually the result of histamines that produce local irritation and swelling. Serums against various venoms can be produced by injecting animals such as horses with sublethal doses and extracting the immune serum, or antivenin, that the animal body produces. Venoms themselves have occasional medicinal uses; for example, some are used as painkillers in cases of arthritis or cancer, and some serve as coagulants for people with hemophilia.

Note the distinction between venomous and poisonous: venomous refers to a creature that has the ability to secrete or utilize it's venom externally, while poisonous includes creatures that contain a poison substance. Often poisonous creatures are harmless unless eaten. Venomous creatures can often use their poison as a weapon. Cobras are all venomous, yet most are not poisonous, so long as the venom glands are not eaten.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Authorities give clean chit to Whitaker

(Maneka Gandhi had accused Whitaker of exporting king cobra venom Permission for project on conservation of king cobra was withdrawn in April)

BANGALORE: Allegations of extraction and export of the venom of king cobras against noted herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, levelled by the former Union Minister and animal activist Maneka Gandhi, have been proved baseless in the inquiry conducted by the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Shimoga Wildlife Division.

According to reliable sources in the Forest Department, the officials did not find any prima-facie evidence to prove that Mr. Whitaker and his research group extracted venom in the Agumbe research station.

“Venom extraction and storage is a complex procedure that requires certain equipment. During the inquiry, officials did not find anything that could prove this,” the sources said.

Pending inquiry, the department had in April withdrawn permission for an ambitious project by Mr. Whitaker on the conservation of the king cobra in the rainforests of Agumbe in the Western Ghats.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) I.B. Srivastava told The Hindu that he had received a report in this regard from the DCF during the last week of August. “After studying the report, I have asked for some clarifications from the DCF, and a final decision on the issue will be taken shortly,” he added.

The report submitted by the DCF, it is learnt, suggests that Mr. Whitaker should be allowed to continue his research after being issued a warning.

Forest Department sources said that Mr. Whittaker and his associates had given live demonstrations of king cobras in a few educational institutions, for which the departmental permission had not been obtained. “He (Mr. Whitaker) has stated that the awareness programmes had been conducted following a request from the Range Forest Officer. But we feel that he should have sought permission from the higher authorities before he conducted those demonstrations,” sources said.

Founder of the Snake Park and Crocodile Bank in Chennai, Mr. Whitaker entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Karnataka Forest Department this year for setting the king cobra telemetry project.

The five-year research project on the largest venomous snake of India was initiated to study the king cobras’ unique nesting behaviour, breeding biology and conservation through telemetric tracking.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Snakes eat poisonous toads and steal their venom

22:00 29 January 2007 news service
Rowan Hooper

Toads on the Japanese island of Ishima seem to be losing their evolutionary battle with snakes. Most snakes, and indeed most other animals, avoid eating toads because of the toxins in their skin. Rhabdophis tigrinus snakes, however, not only tolerate the toxins, they store the chemicals for their own defensive arsenal.

Deborah Hutchinson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, US, and colleagues, found that snakes on Ishima had bufadienolide compounds – toad toxins – in their neck glands, while those snakes living on the toad-free island of Kinkazan had none.

The snakes are unable to synthesise their own toxins, so they can only have derived bufadienolide compounds from their diet. Hutchinson’s team confirmed this by feeding snake hatchlings either a toad-rich or a toad-free diet. Toad-fed snakes accumulated toad-toxins in the nuchal glands on the back of the neck; snakes on a toad-free diet did not.

“Rhabdophis tigrinus is the first species known to use these dietary toxins for its own defence,” says Hutchinson.

Fight or flight
What is more, when attacked, snakes on different islands react differently. On Ishima, snakes stand their ground and rely on the toxins in their nuchal glands to repel the predator. On Kinkazan, the snakes flee.

“Snakes on Kinkazan have evolved to use their nuchal glands in defence less often than other populations of snakes, presumably due to their lack of defensive compounds,” says Hutchinson.

Moreover, baby snakes benefit too. The team showed that snake mothers with high toxin levels pass on the compounds to their offspring. Snake hatchlings thus also enjoy the toad-derived protection.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas0610785104)

Monday, September 10, 2007

two-headed snake

The six-year-old snake came to the The World Aquarium in St Louis attention when its previous owner offered it for sale days after its birth.The aquarium paid $US15,000 ($A20,514), knowing full well that most two-headed snakes don't live more than a few months.

But she has survived and thrived. Two-and-a-half centimetres thick and 1.2 metres long, she is a healthy size for a rat snake. While her body is white, the heads have a reddish appearance.she has survived because, unlike some two-headed animals, both mouths are connected to the same stomach, Sonnenschein said.Van Wallach of Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology said she should live an additional 10 to 15 years. And Sonnenschein said it's at a ripe age for breeding.The snake has been in the spotlight before.In 2004, a disgruntled City Museum worker stole We. Authorities found the snake in the garage of the man's home in Illinois.
This is the only one of its kind in the world as recorded up to date.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sexing Snakes Takes a Bit of Experience

Sometimes owners are curious if their snake is a male or female, but telling the difference is not a simple matter as male and female snakes look similar externally. However, with a bit of experience there are ways to tell, but these methods should be done by experienced keepers only. If you are a beginner and want to know the sex of your snake, please find an experienced keeper or vet to demonstrate for you, as the methods carry a risk of injury if done incorrectly.

Relevant Male Snake Anatomy:

Male snakes have a pair of hemipenes (sex organs) that normally sit (inverted) inside the snake from the cloaca down along the tail on either side of the snake's midline.

Visual Clues:

Since the sex organs are held internally, sexing visually is difficult, but there are visible clues. Because of the presence of the hemipenes, these visual clues relate to the shape and lenght of the tail:

* Male: tail thicker and longer than in females, and also tapers less evenly to the tip (thicker for a bit then suddenly thinning).
* Females: tail thinner and shorter than in males, and tapers smoothly, evenly and more quickly.

While the differences can be fairly notable when comparing snakes, it is more difficult if you don't have males and females side by side.

Probing a snake involves inserting a thin metal rod (probe) into the vent or cloaca. The probe can be inserted further in males due to the presence of the spaces in which the hemipenes sit. A visual demonstration of the method is shown nicely at PetClubUK. This method is best left to the pros because inserting the probe incorrectly can badly injure the snake.

In very young snakes, the hemipenes can often be visualized with a fairly simple maneuver called popping. A visual demonstration of popping can also be found at PetClubUK. It is recommended that you do not try this yourself either, though; if done incorrectly, the snake could be injured (or at best you might just get the sex wrong).

The correct identification of the sex of your snakes will play a key role if you wish to breed them. An experienced keeper will have more of an idea on what exactly to look for when determining the sex, however with the help of photographs I aim to give you a good idea on how to do this yourself.
Visual Identification

The first method is to visually see a difference in tail size and structure. Males have two hemipenes which are stored next to each other at the base of the tail. Each hemipene is tucked into its own 'pocket'. The effect of this is quite simple, it makes the tail appear fatter for a longer distance, generally making the overall tail length longer also. A female's tail narrows right from the base, making it almost 'carrot' shaped. The exact shape and length varies from species to species, but generally, the male has a longer tail.

Some species of snake are even easier to identify the sex. In some boas and pythons, males have prominent 'spurs' either side of their cloaca. This however, is not a guaranteed method in many species, as females too have spurs.

The second method is by use of a probe. A small, rounded metal rod can be inserted into the tail through the cloaca into the two 'pockets' either side of the base of the tail. The probe will penetrate farther into the male, whereas the female will only probe just a few scale lengths. This method should be carried out only by experienced keepers; it is a dangerous task if wrongly executed. Minimal force is needed for the probe to penetrate, yet it is a known mistake for people to apply too much pressure, resulting in the rupture of a female's scent glands. A lubricant must be used on the probe, Vaseline or KY Jelly are common substances to be used in this manner.


Popping a juvenile corn snake.The third method can be used on juvenile snakes. It is referred to as 'popping', which involves manually manipulating the hemipenes out of the male snake, while a female will slightly evert her scent glands. This method works better with younger snakes, directly after hatching is the time to obtain best results. At this age, the snake has not developed much muscle tone, making it relatively easy to force the hemipenes from the pockets.

Right Picture: Author 'popping' a male juvenile corn snake. The hemipenes are clearly visible.

I will explain how to do this if you are right handed like me. With your left hand, hold the body of the snake upside down in such a manner that the cloaca is held above the level of the rest of the body. With your right hand, pull the tail downwards slightly, and have your thumb resting approximately 2cm away from the cloaca. Gently roll and push your thumb down and across towards the cloaca, while at the same time bringing the tail upwards. This whole process sounds very complicated on paper, but I assure you it's easy once you get the hang of it. I highly recommend you to be taught this method by an experienced keeper before giving it a go yourself.

By Chris Jones
Director of PetClub UK Ltd.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Snake-Ridden Florida Island Provides Unlikely Haven for Birds(Nat Geo News)

On a remote Florida island crawling with venomous snakes, a scientist believes he has discovered an unusual truce between predator and prey.

The tiny island of Seahorse Key on the central Gulf Coast is renowned among researchers for its teeming numbers of poisonous cottonmouth snakes.

"The population of cottonmouths on Seahorse Key is large and dense—I mean a lot of snakes," said Harvey Lillywhite, a University of Florida biologist who has been studying the island.

About 600 vipers slither around the 165-acre (67-hectare) island, Lillywhite estimates—in some areas with an average of 22 cottonmouths on every palm tree-covered acre. (See photos of the island's snakes.)

Scientists have long puzzled over how so many snakes can thrive on an island with no fresh water and only a scant number of mammals to prey upon.

The secret to the snakes' success, Lillywhite believes, is Seahorse Key's other inhabitants—tens of thousands of seabirds that nest there from spring to fall.

But the snakes aren't eating the birds, the scientist says—instead they live almost exclusively on the huge amounts of dead fish that the birds drop, vomit, and excrete every year.

"There's this disgusting carrion of fish that falls down for the snakes, and the snakes essentially scavenge on it," Lillywhite said.

In return for this fishy bounty, the cottonmouths not only refrain from eating the birds, the scientist added, they also seem to deter other would-be predators from raiding the nests.

The result is a win-win for both predator and prey that Lillywhite said he has not seen on any other island.

"There are a lot of island systems where there are birds and snakes. Of all the cases I know, the snakes are predators on the birds," he said. "At Seahorse Key, it's totally different. Here the snakes do not eat the birds, and the birds are providing food for [the snakes]. So it's a pretty cool system."

Seahorse Key is a centerpiece of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge, a network of protected islands near the mouth of the Suwannee River (see an interactive map of the Suwannee River region).

The island is home to one of central Florida's biggest rookeries—a nesting site for more than a hundred bird species, including pelicans, ibis, and egrets.

Lillywhite believes it's no accident that the birds prefer this dry, viper-ridden island to other, more hospitable sites in the refuge.

"There's a lot of other nesting habitats for the birds, but the birds don't use them," he said. "They come to Seahorse Key. Why is that? We think the key is the snakes."

To examine this theory, Lillywhite and colleagues began by mapping the locations of both bird nests and snakes. Results showed that most cottonmouths stayed close to the rookery, often directly under nests.

Even without the maps, the team was usually able to tell where snakes had been, Lillywhite said.

"The snakes, which are normally almost jet black, can be almost white, because they curl up under the bird rookery and get pooped on."

A coating of excrement may be a small price to pay, he added, because research so far has revealed that the snakes are getting a steady diet of predigested fish.

Lillywhite has seen cottonmouths foraging for fish firsthand, and has even seen baby snakes taking part in the regurgitated feast.

"I was with a faculty member showing him around [the island], and there was this wonderful example of a plop of half-digested fish," he said. "There were two babies and about four or five other [snakes] … that had been attracted to it. So babies actually may get into this system fairly early."

In addition to field observations, Lillywhite's team is studying chemical signals called isotopes in cottonmouth tissue to find clues to what the snakes are eating.

"We haven't analyzed all the data yet, but based on our observations and limited isotope data, we know that [the snakes] have been largely feeding on fish," Lillywhite said.

What his team has not found, he added, is any sign—from the field or in the lab—that the cottonmouths are preying on birds, no matter how young or defenseless.

"Sometimes chicks fall out of the nests for various reasons, so we see chicks on the ground. But the snakes aren't eating them," he said.

"I think [that's] probably [because the snakes] are full on fish. It's a simple way to look at it, but that seems to be the key."


Lillywhite stressed that his research is ongoing and his findings are "a progress report."

One of the remaining issues to explore, he said, is the degree of mutualism—or shared benefit—that the cottonmouths and seabirds derive from this distinctive dynamic.

Here, Lillywhite suggested, the key may be one of the island's smallest players: the brown rat.

The rats are an invasive species and are "notorious bird-nest predators," he said.

His team has found that cottonmouths near the rookery—while presumably full on fish—are eating enough of the rats to keep them at bay.

"What we have found is, where the cottonmouths are dense, there are fewer rats. And the snakes are largest in numbers where the birds are," he said. "So that's part of the mutualism."

Alan Savitzky is a snake biologist at Virginia's Old Dominion University who is not involved with Lillywhite's research.

"The association between cottonmouths and bird rookeries is unusual but not unique," he said.

"But the situation at Seahorse Key is very interesting because [there's] the deterrence of predators. So you have a mutualism of sorts in which there's a benefit to both species."

He and Lillywhite agreed that the findings on Seahorse Key, preliminary as they are, help burnish the cottonmouths' image as an indiscriminate predator.

"I think the real strength [of the research] is in revealing the flexibility of what we normally regard as rather stereotyped predators," Savitzky said.

"It also suggests that there's probably a greater diversity of interactions between predator and prey across the landscape than we normally recognize."

For Lillywhite, the findings highlight the snakes' crucial role in a vital Gulf Coast ecosystem.

"[The cottonmouths] actually are an important, integral part of the system and probably are the reason that the birds keep nesting—and do so successfully—on Seahorse Key," he said.

"This is unusual, but kind of cool, PR for the lowly snake."

Snakes as Scavengers

In the picture you can see a Sea snake scavenging on dead fish, the most unusual behavior of the snakes. Although it is widely known that most species of snakes readily accept carrion in captivity, the notion of scavenging by wild snakes historically has been rejected or ignored. Herein, we review the literature describing instances of scavenging by snakes and consider the implications of carrion use on their ecology. Thirty-nine published accounts yielded 50 observations of scavenging by snakes (43 from field observations and seven from laboratory studies). Thirty-five species from five families were represented, but pitvipers and piscivorous snakes were represented more frequently than other groups. Scavenged material varied widely and included rodents, birds, fish, frogs, and snakes. Olfaction appears to be the overriding sensory modality used for carrion detection. Some species may use scavenging as a deliberate feeding strategy that supplements their regular modes of prey acquisition. Additional knowledge of the scavenging behavior of snakes should provide new insights into the fundamentals of the ecology of snakes.

Learning About Snake Facts And Behaviors

Snakes are probably the most misunderstood, and most illogically feared creatures on the planet. Of the 2,200-plus species of snakes in the world, fewer than 20 percent are venomous. People have an instinctual fear of snakes that stems back for thousands of years. It probably started out as a survival instinct, when there was no literature or way of telling which snakes were harmful or not. On the other hand, biblical literature has encouraged us to fear snakes for an entirely different reason. Other people simply misunderstand snakes, thinking that they are slimy, nasty creatures.

The first thing to know about snakes is that any non-venomous snake will only bite you for 3 reasons. First, if you smell like food. If you have recently handled a warm-blooded animal, such as mice, guinea pigs, even cats, the snake may smell that on you and mistake you for something edible. Second, if the snake feels you are a predator that is trying to harm it. Especially when reaching down towards a snake, the snake can misinterpret you for something trying to eat it. Thirdly, and the most likely reason non-venomous snakes bite, is simply because they are afraid. When given the choice between biting at you (the 5-6 foot tall giant that just stepped into it�s territory) or running away as fast as it can possibly slither�it will choose running away every time. If the snake however, feels cornered, or for whatever reason unable to hide, it will strike out at you, more as a warning to leave it alone than to actually do any damage.

Non-venomous snakes are usually very safe to handle, especially pet snakes or snakes that are used to being handled. Even most species of wild snakes that are non-venomous are perfectly able to be handled without fear of bites (the exception being water snakes and other naturally aggressive species). If you do try to handle a snake, be sure to move slowly, and edge your hand under the belly of the snake near the tail area. If you move suddenly, or from the top, it may mistake you for a predator. Once you have actually lifted the snake and are holding it, do not hold it by the tail, rather support it�s body loosely with your hands (keep a loose but firm grip, if you squeeze too hard it will likely injure the snake), and let the snake explore it�s way around your hands and arms. If the snake seems agitated, or goes into a strike position, it is best to slowly, but gently put the snake back.

You will find that snakes are not slimy, nor nasty in any way. However if they get frightened, they may defecate on you as a way of showing fear. If this happens, be sure to wash the area thoroughly with soap and hot water, as snakes do carry salmonella bacteria in their feces. You must also remember that snakes, while being beautiful and interesting to watch, simply aren�t the brightest creatures in the world, and have about the same thinking power as your average goldfish. Remember when you are holding a snake that it likely sees you as a very odd tree, and does not recognize you as a human being. Snakes react by instinct rather than thought, and as long as you keep this in mind, being around snakes is very easy to do as well as being interesting.

So how do you tell venomous and non-venomous snakes apart? There are several ways to tell, although some species of non-venomous snakes have adapted to be able to look like venomous snakes when they are afraid. If you are ever even slightly in doubt, leave the snake alone! As a general rule, venomous snakes have diamond or triangle shaped heads, instead of rounded heads that most non-venomous snakes have. Also, their eyes are elliptical like a cat�s eye instead of being round as well. Pit vipers have a telltale pit between the eye and the mouth. The pit, a heat-sensing organ, makes it possible for the snake to accurately strike a warm-blooded victim, even if the snake cannot see the victim. Of course rattlesnakes usually rattle, but this is not always the case. Some species of rattlesnakes have evolved without a rattle!

So now that you know more about snake behaviors and facts, I hope you will give snakes a chance. Not only are they fascinating to watch, but they serve a vital function in our ecosystem.

An American Almost Not Seen- Rare Snake Info

The North American racer snakes is commonly known as northern black racer. The scientific name of these snakes is coluber constrictor constrictor. Coluber is the Latin word and the meaning of the same is snake. Constrictor is again the Latin name which means together, or with. The other vernacular names of these snakes are plenty and are listed as follows. They are black runner, black racer, chicken snake, blue racer, hoop snake, green snake, black slick snake, horse racer, black true snake, white throat racer, and cow sucker.

The average length of the snake racer reptile will be from 35 inch to 60 inch. These snakes are relatively larger snakes and are black in color. The belly will be grey in color and the chin of the snake will be white. The body of the snake will be round and the scales that are found on the body will be smooth. The males and the females look alike and are very difficult to differentiate them by the appearance. The young ones will be dark grey patter against the brown body. The color of the Venter will be cream and can have black dots that are irregular. Brown or black dots that are small can be seen on the lateral to the dorsum.

Racer American snakes are often confused with rat snake. But the rat snake body will have bread loaf shape in cross section. The rat snakes have keeled scales which is absent in such snake that is found in most states in North America. The juvenile rat snakes will have pattern that resembles the checker board and eye jaw stripe on the belly portion. The juvenile rat snakes will have blotches that are irregular with posterior and anterior projections. Hog nosed snake black phase is also confused with the racer snake. But these hog nosed snakes are stocky and short when compared to black racer snakes.

The distribution of such wildly popular American snake are found in the Virginia and west part of the Blue Ridge Mountain. Other than southwest part of America, these snakes can be found in all other northern parts of America and south Canada. Relating food, these North American racer snakes are carnivores. These snake feed on frogs, skinks, chipmunks, small birds, squirrels, butterfly, larva of moth, mice etc. the juveniles feed on invertebrates while the adults feed on reptiles and rodents. North American racer snakes hold the prey tightly in the body loops and swallow them alive.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Majestic King cobra

Mr. Krishna Ghule handled a "King Cobra ".
He is Master in Snake Handling.
King Cobra of Wt - 16 Kg, length - 12' - 3", Seized in Goa .

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus) venom: in vitro effect on platelets, fibrinolysis, and fibrinogen clotting

Corrigan JJ Jr, Jeter MA.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, Tucson 85724.

Rattlesnake envenomation commonly produce defects in the hemostatic mechanism. However, Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus) envenomation has been reported not to cause a systemic bleeding diathesis. In this study, whole venom from the Mojave rattlesnake was tested in vitro for fibrinogen clotting activity, ability to induce platelet aggregation, and for fibrinolytic activity. The Mojave venom caused no fibrinogen clotting and it displayed very weak ability to cause platelet aggregation and fibrinolytic activity. These in vitro studies support the clinical observation that Mojave envenomation does not cause a coagulopathy.

PMID: 2238441 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus) identification
Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus) identification has important diagnostic and therapeutic implications. Envenomation by certain populations of Mojave rattlesnakes may cause a different clinical presentation than that caused by other rattlesnakes. Specifically, Mojave rattlesnake envenomation may cause fewer local effects and more neurologic effects (including respiratory difficulty) than are typically seen after bites from other types of rattlesnake. Thus, it is useful for clinicians to distinguish the Mojave rattlesnake from other rattlesnakes in order to prevent underestimation of severe envenomation because of the lack of local tissue injury. Patients suspected to have been bitten by Mojave rattlesnakes may need more aggressive treatment with antivenin as well as more intensive supportive care. In addition, patients suspected to have been bitten by Mojave rattlesnakes should be closely monitored for an extended observation period, as venom effects may be delayed or prolonged. Mojave rattlesnakes may be particularly difficult to distinguish from Western Diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) because of their similarity in appearance and overlapping ranges. The purpose of this report is to provide clinicians with key characteristics which may assist in distinguishing Mojave rattlesnakes from Western Diamondback and other rattlesnakes.

PMID: 10347672 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Ajolote: Mexican reptile of the genus Bipes. It and several other tropical burrowing species are placed in the Amphisbaenia, a group separate from lizards and snakes among the Squamata. Unlike the others, however, which have no legs, it has a pair of short but well-developed front legs. In line with its burrowing habits, the skull is very solid, the eyes small, and external ears absent.

How Snakes Survive Starvation

Science Daily — Starving snakes employ novel survival strategies not seen before in vertebrates, according to research conducted by a University of Arkansas biologist.
“These animals take energy reduction to a whole new level,” said Marshall McCue, a graduate student in biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. He reported his findings in the journal Zoology.

While scientists knew that some snake species could survive for up to two years without a meal, no studies have examined the physiological changes that take place when a snake goes for prolonged periods without food. McCue examined three snake species – the ball python, the ratsnake and the western diamondback rattlesnake – to study their responses to prolonged periods without food.

The 62 snakes studied went about six months without eating – a time period that could well be duplicated in the wild, where food supplies can be scarce. McCue then looked at physiological, compositional and morphological changes in the snakes.

The results showed that the snakes could lower their standard metabolic rates, some by up to 72 percent.

“Snakes already had low energy demands. We didn’t know they could go lower,” McCue said.

Another surprising finding: The snakes continued to grow despite the lack of food – a counterintuitive finding, but a measurement that again does not appear in the research literature.

“To me, this suggests that there must be a strong selective advantage to growing longer,” McCue said. It also means the snakes have become extremely efficient in their ability to use available resources.

To illustrate the strategies employed by snakes to combat starvation, McCue uses an economic analogy of supply and demand.

“When you’re cut off from resources, you are an organism that still needs to expend energy,” he said. The “demand” end is met by decreasing their metabolic rate. The “supply” end must be met by frugal use of resources they have at hand for energy, which comes from within.

The body composition of snakes includes water, ash, protein, fats and carbohydrates. McCue found that the snakes used up selected fat stores first during starvation, but he also found crucial differences between the snake species. The ratsnakes, which typically have a more abundant rodent supply in their natural environment, began to break down proteins faster than the pythons or rattlesnakes.

“The protein use was higher in the snakes less well adapted to starvation,” McCue said.

Snakes are relatively new on the world scene, having been around for about 100 million years. Yet they currently comprise about half of all reptile species.

“Snakes are very evolutionarily successful,” McCue said. Understanding the physiology that allows them to succeed in low-energy environments will help scientists further their understanding of the snakes’ evolution and their adaptation to their current ecosystems.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Friday, August 24, 2007

King cobra Antivenin in India

Two Kinds of King cobra Antivenin is available. Red cross in Thailand manufactures one, and the Central Research Institute, Himachal Pradesh in India manufactures another.

Central Research Institute

[ TOC ]
Distt. Solan
Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, India 173 204
Antivenoms equine derived; liquid (2-year shelf life) and lyophilized (5-year shelf life).
Dr. Rakesh Sehgal, Director
91-1-792-272114, 91-1-792-272046
91-1-792-272016, 91-1-792-272049

Ophiophagus hannah Antivenom

[ TOC ]
Venom Research Unit (Vietnam)
Antivenom Notes
F(ab')2 - immunoglobin. Production status unclear; the director left the organization in 2004.
Printed Notes
Equine-derived, liquid, 10 ml vials, 5-year shelf life. Initial recommended dose: 60 ml i.v. Cost (local) was US$20.00 ca. 2001.
Effective Against
Scientific Names:
Ophiophagus hannah,

King Cobra antivenin

[ TOC ]
Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute
Antivenom Notes
Producer also known as "Science Division, Thai Red Cross Society ."
Printed Notes
Equine-derived, lyophilized, 10 ml vials; five-year shelf life. Cost (local) was US$40.00/10 ml. vial in 2000. Initial recommended dose: 20-40 ml i.v.
Effective Against
Scientific Names:
Ophiophagus hannah,
SII Polyvalent Antisnake Venom Serum
[ TOC ]
Serum Institute of India
Antivenom Notes
Found efficacious in vivo against venoms of Echis leucogaster, E. occelatus, and Naja melanoleuca. Claimed effective for Indian Trimeresurus spp. and "Expected to cover Hypnale spp."
Printed Notes
Equine-derived, lyophilized, 10 ml. vials, five-year shelf life. Recommended initial dose: 20 ml, i.v. or i.m. List price est. at US$11.30/vial ca. 2004. Also known as "Anti Snake Venom Serum (Asia)"
Effective Against
Scientific Names:
Bungarus caeruleus, Bungarus ceylonicus, Bungarus fasciatus, Daboia russelii, Echis carinatus multisquamatus, Naja naja, Ophiophagus hannah,

Types of Venomous Snakes

There are three types of venomous snakes:

Opisthoglyph: These are the rear-fanged snakes, the fangs are enlarged rear teeth with a 'groove' that venom flows down while they are swallowing the prey item. They are mostly harmless or mildly venomous but there are two BIG exceptions. The Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) and the Twig snake (Thelotornis kirtlandi) have killed humans before. Other good examples of this type of snake are the Mangrove (B. dendrophila) and Hognose snakes (Heterodon ssp.)

Proteroglyphs: These are the fixed front fang snakes. These snakes have small non-movable front fangs. When they bite they hang on and 'chew' to envenomate the prey. Obvious examples of this type of snake are the cobras (Naja), kraits (Bungarus), mambas (Dendroaspis), and coral (Micrurus) snakes. These are some of the deadliest snakes in the world.

Solenoglyph: These snakes have movable front fangs. The fangs fold back into the mouth until they are needed. This is what makes these snakes more dangerous work with. They can grab on to your hand like a cobra would but they can also open their mouth almost 180 degrees with the fangs extended straight out. This enables them to strike at any portion of your body because it is more of a 'stab' than a bite. Examples include rattlesnakes (Crotalus), eyelash vipers (Bothriechis), gaboon vipers (Bitis), cottonmouths and copperheads (Agkistrodon)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Snake Venom:Bungarotoxins

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Abandoned Eggs of King cobra preserved

KalingaTimes Correspondent
Kendrapara (Orissa), Aug 22: The forest personnel have preserved 'abandoned' eggs of a rare king cobra in the wildlife museum after the reptile recently nested along the swampy patches of Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary.

For the first time, wildlife researchers had spotted the nest of a king cobra in the mangrove forest area.

The reptile had abandoned two eggs that were later collected and preserved in the local museum after being chemically treated.

"The king cobra eggs have found a pride of place in the museum. Reptile researchers are taking care for its prolonged preservation," said forest officials.

Though venomous king cobras abound in the mangrove forest region, never before cobras' nest had been sighted.

The forest protection staff while on duty had stumbled upon a 12-foot-long female king cobra in dense mangrove cover.

The reptile was on vigil protecting the nest from natural predators like estuarine crocodiles.

Later, after having received the good news, the forest staffs were asked to keep watch on the nest and ensure its safety.

Babies had emerged from the nest. The mother tended to the babies for about an hour. Later it swiftly disappeared into the forest taking the babies in tow, according to forest staffs who witnessed the rare

Initially, the mother was scared of human interference and had become restless. But later the reptile regained composure after it found that there was no threat to the nest from the forest staff.

Two of the eggs that did not hatch were left behind in the nest by the mother.

Monday, August 20, 2007

When Cobras Spit, There's Not A Dry Eye In The House

Science Daily — The red Mozambique spitting cobra stiffens, fixing its gaze on the victim's face, which is moving backwards and forwards in front of it. For several seconds it remains erect like this; then its head flashes forwards. For an instant the fangs in front of its pale pink throat are visible in its wide-open mouth, as they squirt the venom at high pressure towards the victim. On the plastic visor two red spiral patterns appear. The eyes behind it look surprisingly unperturbed. "I sprayed the visor beforehand with rhodamine," Katja Tzschätzsch calmly explains, "It's a pigment which dyes liquids red. This makes the traces of venom easier to see."
In her undergraduate dissertation the trainee teacher investigated what spitting cobras aim at when spitting. "In the literature it often says: they aim at the eyes," her supervisor Dr. Guido Westhoff, junior lecturer in Professor Horst Bleckmann's team, explains. "However, up to now nobody has investigated it." The cocktail of toxins partly consists of nerve poisons, but also contains components which are harmful to tissue. Through a narrow channel in their fangs the snakes can spray the liquid at high pressure similar to a bullet in the barrel of a gun. If they manage to hit an eye, the sensitive cornea reacts with severe stinging pain. In the worst case these burns can ultimately lead to blindness.

As guinea pigs Katja Tzschätzsch used four Mozambique and six black-necked spitting cobras from the animal house in Schloss Poppelsdorf. In her experiments she either stood face to face with them herself protected only by a plastic visor or she used photos. In addition, for both species she recorded the spitting process using a high-speed video camera. "The snakes really do spit only at moving faces," was her first finding; "movements involving the hand elicited no response from any of the snakes." Only two cobras reacted to the photos. These even spat when Katja touched up the photo, taking out one eye. And even when both eyes were removed, one of the black-necked cobras still remained aggressive. The conclusion: "For really reliable results we would need a larger sample."

Always straight at the eyes

The evaluation of the traces of venom on the photos and the visor revealed how accurate the aim of both species of snake was: the black-necked spitting cobras hit at least one eye eight out of ten times, with the red Mozambique spitting cobras even reaching the target in 100 per cent of cases. However, there was a clear difference in the traces left by the two species: whereas the black-necked cobra sprayed its venom, the attack by the red Mozambique cobra is reminiscent of something shot from a double-barrelled water pistol.

What is decisive for the high degree of accuracy is a pattern of behaviour which researchers were able to observe in both species. "In super slow motion it is clearly visible that the snakes move their heads rapidly when squirting the toxin," Dr. Westhoff explains. "Rather like we do when we wish to use a garden hosepipe to water the flowers of an entire flowerbed." In this way the venom is spread out over a larger area; the chance that it will hit one eye increases.

However, Dr. Westhoff would like to scotch one prejudice: "Cobras only spit when they feel threatened, not to kill their prey," he says; "anything else is a myth." They kill their prey like other poisonous snakes do, by biting them and thereby injecting the venom into their bloodstream, which then proves fatal. Human beings are not on their list of potential prey; even so, these snakes are dangerous even when they are still very young. Dr. Westhoff reveals, "I was once attacked by a spitting cobra which had just emerged from its shell it practically spat at me out of its shell."

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of Bonn.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rattlesnake Country(animal planet)

Loma Linda is an expanding Southern Californian town on the cusp of two harsh worlds. It occupies a scorched hinterland where the urban sprawl of Los Angeles ends and the great South Western deserts begin.

This is rattlesnake country – home to two separate species: the Southern Pacific rattlesnake, and the Red Diamond rattler - with Loma Linda representing the northern perimeter of its range.

Both are capable of causing agonising pain, permanent disability, and the need for amputation with even the most casual strike. In extreme cases - without correct medical attention - they are quite capable of killing a man.

Within a few hours drive of Loma Linda are four other species of rattlers - Mojave, Sidewinder, Speckled, and Western Diamondback…. not forgetting the other potentially lethal creatures that lurk in these parts, like black widow spiders and scorpions.

Where a burgeoning human population encroaches on the natural habitat of deadly predators that have been around these parts for millions of years there’s bound to be problems…

Rescue Team
Loma Linda’s University Medical Centre is home to Venom ER – a unit dedicated to saving the lives of snake bit victims and other poisonous creature-related crises.

The envenomation specialist here is Dr Sean Bush – a pony-tailed professor who speeds between shifts in his vintage Mustang muscle car. But that’s where the fun ends and the serious stuff begins.

With the local population growing by 6% a year and rattlesnakes already in their back gardens, Venom ER isn’t a place for relaxation.

Unfortunately, snakebites don’t always happen at the most convenient moments - the snake rescue team covers over 100,000 sq km – most of it wilderness. Wasted time is perhaps the biggest threat to a victim’s life.

Over 100 paramedics and fire department operatives are on hand to rush the victims to Loma Linda Venom ER. And the quickest way is by helicopter. In fact, Venom ER’s chopper crew are so in demand, they cover on average 50,000 miles every year flying life saving missions.

Strike Out
Fortunately, not all snake strikes are emergencies – in many cases the snake may not puncture the skin. Even when it does it may not release any venom at all. This is known as a dry bite.

All too often, though, the fangs do the job for which they were intended. In an instant the snake injects a lethal cocktail of proteins and enzymes straight into the victim’s bloodstream like a hypodermic syringe.

With a Southern Pacific rattler bite, huge amounts of swelling forms almost immediately around the bite. A wounded limb gradually turns a stomach-churning shade of black as the venom destroys tissue and begins killing the victim; essentially digesting it from within.

DR Bush explains the subsequent deadly pattern: “Creatine kinase (CK) is an enzyme molecule that’s inside the muscle cell. And as the muscle cells are destroyed and they rupture the CK leaks out into the blood stream and flood the kidney and clogs them up.”

In the treatment room Dr Bush flushes the patient’s body with fluids and keeping the vital organs working. The patient is also administered with antivenom – antibodies that are harvested from animals like horses, rabbits and goats that have an immune response to venom.

Disaster Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, antivenins aren’t a miracle cure. For a start it’s hard to predict the impact of a bite from the snake’s size – as even the venom effects for bites of individuals the same each species can vary.

Because all our metabolisms are different, we all have a different reaction to the venom - making the effects on victims almost impossible to predict.

Scientists now believe that venom is far more complex than first imagined – essentially, it seeks out a weakness in the victim’s constitution which the venom can exploit.

One of Dr Bush’s most memorable cases was a patient who was bitten by an escaped ‘pet’ Southern Pacific rattlesnake. It began with an agonising 15 second bite that almost cost him his life.

After 70 hours on the critical list and a week in intensive care, the patient’s body was still suffering violent tremors, as if it was possessed by a demon - five days after the man had been bitten. He was given 58 vials of the Crofab antivenin; to Dr. Bush's knowledge, a world record.

It can be a long and agonising road to recovery after a rattle snake bite – providing the victim is lucky enough to make it to Venom ER, that is.

Venom ER (animal

Snakes have symbolised all that is bad on this planet of ours since the dawn of humanity – they’re the original bête noir. These reptiles slither and slide, hide in holes and peer out with glassy, unblinking eyes. Then there’s the forked tongues flicking between a pair of sharp fangs.

But is this a good enough reason for our primeval fear and loathing? The experts don’t think so.

But the facts remain: venomous snakes are amongst the deadliest animals on earth. They can strike without warning – some with bites so noxious they dissolve human skin on contact. They kill over 100,000 people worldwide each year - more than are killed from all other animal attacks combined.

…And still the experts tell us we’re over reacting. How can this be?

Well for starters, the majority of snakes catch their prey and suffocate it by means of constriction. Out of approximately 2500 species of snake, less than a quarter are actually venomous.

Armed Response
Mike Cardwell is a Deputy Chief Sheriff who works closely with the Loma Linda’s Venom ER. He’s conducted a long term study of over 1,200 Mojave rattlesnakes - arguably, one of the world’s most infamous reptile families. Their fearsome reputation for aggression, he says is misplaced. Rattlesnakes have relatively weak venom when compared to the world's other vipers and cobras.

“These snakes never show any aggression to us. They usually sit still; they occasionally rattle or crawl away, and sometimes they come over and sniff our equipment or sniff our feet without showing any aggression.”

Rattlesnakes strike fast but don’t have more than a metre range. Outside their striking distance, we’re quite safe.

According to the University of Florida, 7000 venomous snake bites are reported annually in the United States. Out of those unfortunates, just 2 in every thousand prove to be fatal – more Americans die being struck by lightning. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as half the attacks are ‘dry bites’ – where no venom is transmitted.

Less than one percent of properly-treated snake bites in developed countries actually results in death.

Scientists believe that snakes produce venom with a voluntary action. So strikes against humans – which, they say, are too large to be legitimate prey - are likely to be a defensive reaction. It’s a warning an intimidating and superior threat to back off.

Cardwell agrees. He can’t imagine why anything that’s that close to the ground would pick a fight with another animal over 5 feet tall.

Lethal Injection
Snakes in the deserts of South Western America are essentially ambush specialists. They prey on lizards and small mammals that burrow into the sandy desert to escape from the heat of the sun.

All snakes have very strong saliva – this common trait allows them to swallow their prey whole and digest it chemically as it passes through their limbless bodies. But venomous snakes have another trick up their sleeves – or more accurately, their fangs.

A dedicated supply of proteins and enzymes is efficiently injected using their needle-like teeth, right into the bloodstream of their prey. The venom destroys tissue to kill the prey and starts the digestion before their quarry hits the ground. In fact, death doesn’t come immediately.

The snake’s victim will try to make its escape once it has been bitten - its progress hampered, however, by the debilitating and ultimately fatal dose of poison.

The snake simply follows the powerful scent of its own saliva. It finally catches its prey, devouring it whole without suffering any injuries that other predators frequently face from a meal that puts up too much of a fight.

What’s your Poison?
Snake venoms can be roughly divided into three types: hemotoxic and neurotoxic, and haemolytic. They are classified essentially by their effects on the victim’s body.

• Haemotoxins - breaks down vessels, and causes bleeding into internal body cavities.

• Neurotoxins - act on the nervous system; primarily effecting muscle reactions, digestion, sight, and breathing.

• Haemolysins – dissolve red blood cells and prevent their ability to clot.

However, venom is more complex than scientists had first imagined. Some snakes have a cocktail of two or more of these deadly ingredients.

It was initially thought that only a special group of Mojave rattlesnakes had neurotoxin venom. But then a different species presented itself to Venom ER with the same symptoms.

At first, the experts didn’t know whether the snakes were interbreeding or evolving. Though scientists haven’t mapped snake venom perfectly, they now believe venom properties are flexible – they can change daily; as a snake gets older; even depending on its last meal.

And so, the mysterious serpent saga continues…

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How snakes starve to live

New York, Aug 17 (IANS) Mystery shrouding a snake's ability to go without food for nearly two years may have been finally uncovered with researchers claiming to have cracked the mechanism behind their survival despite starvation.

The research, which reveals some previously unknown serpentine tricks, sheds light on how serpents managed to drag on since before the days of the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex, biologists were quoted as saying in the Nature magazine.

Biologist Marshall McCue at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, kept ratsnakes, pythons, and rattlesnakes in cages where they could not alter their activity levels - they were forced to be inactive.

They were also unable to reduce body temperature, stuck with the laboratory temperature of a steady 27C. The animals were then starved for a period of up to 168 days.

McCue measured the animals' oxygen consumption and found that they had somehow managed to reduce their resting metabolic demands by up to 72 percent.

'We had no idea that these animals could reduce their metabolic rates lower than their standard resting rate,' says McCue. 'It would seem that their pilot light, which we already thought to be as low as possible, actually goes much lower.

'In most starving animals, allowing lipid (the compound that make up fat) levels to fall below 10 percent body mass is a death sentence,' says McCue. But snakes were able to go down to five percent body fat before making a switch to protein consumption, he found, letting them hold on for longer without food.

'Even then, consuming their own proteins had little effect on their health because they had slowed down their metabolism so drastically,' he says. 'The ability to selectively utilise lipids at low levels, thereby conserving structural proteins, could be a key breakthrough in understanding starvation survival,' says physiologist Anthony Steyermark of the University of St Thomas, Minnesota.

How the snakes were lowering their metabolic rates, without lowering their temperature - and while staying alert enough to attempt to bite their captor - is a mystery.

McCue thinks the snakes may be reducing the density of energy-generating cell machinery called mitochondria in highly active tissues such as those in the liver and heart.

In addition, the snakes had a cunning way to stretch out their resources while enduring starvation.

All animals burn lipids - the compounds that make up fat - for energy when they run out of food.

But lipids have some essential functions in the body, forming crucial parts of cells and organs needed for nutrient transfer, for example. So as starvation progresses and fat reserves run low, most animals turn to protein in the body and begin using that as an energy resource instead. This essentially means that they begin to digest themselves - a process that can only be tolerated for a short while before resulting in death.

Biologists have long argued that there are two main tactics used by animals to weather a period of starvation.

The core body temperature can be reduced, as is the case in penguins that go through torpor to reduce their calorie use during the winter. Hibernating animals such as hedgehogs utilise another method - they stock up on food and then reduce activity levels. Some species, including polar bears, do both.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Scientist Discovers Why Cobra Venom Can't Kill Other Cobras(Tha National Georgraphic News)

Zoltan Istvan
National Geographic Channel
February 20, 2004

In a cobra hunt, every move counts.

Zoltan Takacs, a herpetologist and toxinologist (natural-toxins scientist), lunges at a 5-foot long (1.5-meter) Egyptian cobra slithering away in the dry East African grassland of Tanzania.

The cobra opens its hood—kicking up dust and hissing—and strikes, narrowly missing Takacs's right hand. Takacs jumps away, gathers himself, then quickly moves in and snares the cobra's head with a wooden stick.

In his field lab the Hungarian-born Takacs, who's been fascinated by snakes since childhood, extracts tissue samples from the cobra for genetic analysis. Based at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, Takacs has developed an international reputation for unlocking secrets of venom that promise to have significant medical potential.

But Takacs must endure tremendous risks in the field. "I have to be extremely careful in this tropical wilderness—because I'm far from any hospitals," Takacs said. "Over the years I've lost three good friends and colleagues to snakebites."

Since high school, Takacs, who holds a doctorate in molecular pharmacology from Columbia University in New York, has traveled to more than a hundred countries to collect venomous snakes.

Animal neurotoxins are nature's deadliest weapons. Nearly all creatures, except cobras, die in minutes when cobra venom enters their bloodstreams. At his Yale lab, Takacs explores why.

Cobra Venom

"Neurotoxin is the main lethal component of the cobra venom," Takacs said. "It binds to a receptor on the muscle, therefore preventing the nerve impulses to induce muscle contraction, leading to the cessation of breathing, and death."

The target of cobra neurotoxin, called the acetylcholine receptor, appears to play a role in Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and myasthenia gravis, which debilitates the muscles.

"Snake venoms are extraordinary biological products, with importance in many different fields," said Rick Shine, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. "Understanding their mechanisms of action can help us to design better drugs—as well as to reduce the immense suffering and mortality from bites to humans."

Venomous snakes come in two main families: vipers, such as rattlesnakes, and cobras, such as kraits, mambas, and sea snakes. During the 1970s scientists discovered that vipers' bloodstreams contain molecules that neutralize the lethal components of their own venom.
Cobras deal with their venom differently from vipers, the scientists suspected. During the 1990s studies were launched to find out why.

Snake venoms are complex mixtures of peptides, enzymes, and other toxins that target the nerves, muscles, and blood circulation and coagulation. A key to the research was finding how the toxins reacted with muscle receptors.

Lock and Key

Takacs cloned a cobra's acetylcholine receptor and compared it to acetylcholine receptors from other vertebrates (animals with spinal columns). At the molecular level this cobra receptor looked the same as those in the rest of the vertebrates—except for a single different amino acid.

Takacs' experiments showed that this single difference introduces a bulky sugar molecule onto the cobra receptor. The sugar masks the so-called binding site on the receptor surface—which prevents the neurotoxin from attaching.

"If the sugar is removed, then the cobra receptor will become sensitive to its own neurotoxin, just as other animals are," Takacs explained.

To prove his theory, Takacs and his colleagues engineered a mouse muscle receptor with a sugar molecule attached—and thus created a mouse receptor that resists cobra neurotoxin.

"Like a keyhole and a key—if you change the keyhole, the key will no longer fit into it," Takacs said. That's the secret to how the cobra avoids its own venom.

"These same venom [and receptor] molecules, once purified, characterized, redesigned, and cloned, can be used in medical research as possible drugs for treating strokes, heart attacks, and metastasis as well," said John C. Perez, a professor at the Natural Toxins Research Center at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

"These venom and receptor molecules all have important biomedical applications, making Takacs's work much more than just studying snake venom," he added.

Postsynaptic α-Neurotoxin Gene of the Spitting Cobra, Naja naja sputatrix: Structure, Organization, and Phylogenetic Analysis

Fatemeh Afifiyan, Arunmoziarasi Armugam, Chee Hong Tan, Ponnampalam Gopalakrishnakone, and Kandiah Jeyaseelan1
Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore, 119260 Singapore
1Corresponding author.
Received November 2, 1998; Accepted January 19, 1999.

The venom of the spitting cobra, Naja naja sputatrix contains highly potent α-neurotoxins (NTXs) in addition to phospholipase A2 (PLA2) and cardiotoxin (CTX). In this study, we report the complete characterization of three genes that are responsible for the synthesis of three isoforms of α-NTX in the venom of a single spitting cobra. DNA amplification by long-distance polymerase chain reaction (LD-PCR) and genome walking have provided information on the gene structure including their promoter and 5′ and 3′ UTRs. Each NTX isoform is ~4 kb in size and contains three exons and two introns. The sequence homology among these isoforms was found to be 99%. Two possible transcription sites were identified by primer extension analysis and they corresponded to the adenine (A) nucleotide at positions +1 and −45. The promoter also contains two TATA boxes and a CCAAT box. Putative binding sites for transcriptional factors AP-2 and GATA are also present. The high percentage of similarity observed among the NTX gene isoforms of N. n. sputatrix as well as with the α-NTX and κ-NTX genes from other land snakes suggests that the NTX gene has probably evolved from a common ancestral gene.
[The genomic DNA sequences reported in this paper have been submitted to GenBank databases under accession nos. AF096999 toAF097001.]

Monday, August 6, 2007

Neurotoxins affecting neuroexocytosis

G Schiavo, M Matteoli, C Montecucco
Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, United Kingdom.

Nerve terminals are specific sites of action of a very large number of toxins produced by many different organisms. The mechanism of action of three groups of presynaptic neurotoxins that interfere directly with the process of neurotransmitter release is reviewed, whereas presynaptic neurotoxins acting on ion channels are not dealt with here. These neurotoxins can be grouped in three large families: 1) the clostridial neurotoxins that act inside nerves and block neurotransmitter release via their metalloproteolytic activity directed specifically on SNARE proteins; 2) the snake presynaptic neurotoxins with phospholipase A(2) activity, whose site of action is still undefined and which induce the release of acethylcholine followed by impairment of synaptic functions; and 3) the excitatory latrotoxin-like neurotoxins that induce a massive release of neurotransmitter at peripheral and central synapses. Their modes of binding, sites of action, and biochemical activities are discussed in relation to the symptoms of the diseases they cause. The use of these toxins in cell biology and neuroscience is considered as well as the therapeutic utilization of the botulinum neurotoxins in human diseases characterized by hyperfunction of cholinergic terminals.

Pathophysiology of Snake Venom

Snake venoms are complex substances, chiefly proteins, with enzymatic activity. Although enzymes play an important role, lethal properties of venom can be due to certain smaller polypeptides. Most venom components appear to bind to multiple physiologic receptors, and attempts to classify venom as toxic to a specific system (eg, neurotoxin, hemotoxin, cardiotoxin, myotoxin) are misleading and can lead to errors in clinical judgment.

The venom of most North American pit vipers produces local effects and coagulopathy and other systemic effects. Results may include local tissue damage; vascular defects; hemolysis; a disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)–like (defibrination) syndrome; and pulmonary, cardiac, renal, and neurologic defects. Venom alters capillary membrane permeability, causing extravasation of electrolytes, albumin, and RBCs through vessel walls into the envenomated site. This process may occur in the lungs, myocardium, kidneys, peritoneum, and, rarely, the CNS. Initially, edema, hypoalbuminemia, and hemoconcentration occur. Later, blood and fluids pool in the microcirculation, causing hypotension, lactic acidemia, shock, and, in severe cases, multisystem organ failure. Effective circulating blood volume falls and may contribute to cardiac and renal failure. Clinically significant thrombocytopenia (platelet count < 20,000/μL) is common in severe rattlesnake bites and may occur alone or in combination with other coagulopathies. Venom-induced intravascular clotting may trigger defibrination syndrome, resulting in epistaxis, gingival bleeding, hematemesis, hematuria, internal hemorrhage, as well as spontaneous bleeding at the bite site and venipuncture sites. Renal failure may result from severe hypotension, hemolysis, rhabdomyolysis, nephrotoxic venom effects, or a DIC-like syndrome. Proteinuria, hemoglobinuria, and myoglobinuria may occur in severe rattlesnake bites. The venom of most North American pit vipers produces very minor changes in neuromuscular conduction, except for Mojave and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake venom, which may cause serious neurologic deficits.

Coral snake venom contains primarily neurotoxic components, which result in a presynaptic neuromuscular blockade, potentially causing respiratory paralysis. The lack of significant proteolytic enzyme activity accounts for the paucity of symptoms and signs at the bite site.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

General Do's And Don'ts of a Snake Bite


Remove everyone from risk.

Calm the patient. This is far more important than you may think! Nearly all snakebites are successfully treated in the US. Most poisonous snake bites are not fatal. Panic only increases danger to the victim by increasing heart rate, and it spurs carelessness among everyone.

Use your snakebite kit immediately. The first few minutes are the most effective for venom removal. Follow the instructions provided in the kit.

Seek medical help at once. Recent studies indicate the single most effective thing you can do is calmly transport the victim to a medical facility. In most cases, severe complications DO NOT occur until several hours after the bite. If you're deep in the wild, make wise use of your time, but don't rush.

Remove tight watches, sleeves, jewelry, etc. Cut these items off if you have to. Note that rings and bracelets are especially hazardous as they will severely restrict blood flow to their particular extremity once swelling begins. Amputation is a likely outcome if these items are not removed.

While enroute to a hospital, apply a loose yet constricting band between the bite and the heart. This is NOT a tourniquet and should not be any tighter than a semi-tight watch band.

Keep the patient still if possible and immobilize the injured limb with a splint.

Treat the site like a puncture wound. If possible, wash the wound with copious amounts of soap and water. Once at the hospital, a doctor will likely give the patient a tetanus shot in addition to other treatments.

Keep the affected extremity at heart level or lower.

Avoid alcohol. It only increases metabolism and impairs judgment.

DO NOT GIVE ANTIVENIN IN THE FIELD! Many snakebite victims experience allergic reactions to antivenin and this potential requires that the person giving the antivenin must be ready and able to provide advanced heart and lung support -- something only available at a hospital via trained medical personnel, sophisticated machines, and powerful drugs. Further, more than six vials are often needed to treat one bite. More drawbacks come into play when the detrimental effects of heat and agitation (due to carrying the vials in a backpack) are considered.

Don't kill the snake! It was only defending itself and such an attempt may produce yet another bite.

Don't try to capture the snake -- it's not necessary. There are only two types of venom -- neurotoxin and hemotoxin (antivenin for pit viper bites is the same for all species). Based on the geographic area and the patient's symptoms, a doctor will usually know which type of antivenin to use.

NEVER cut an "X" at the bite site. This is ineffective and increases trauma in the area of the wound.

NEVER suck out venom with the mouth. The person sucking poison from the wound with his/her mouth will absorb the poison through his/her gums the same way a person absorbs nicotine from chewing tobacco. Further, the human mouth carries at least 42 species of pathogen† and this action could give the snakebite victim a major infection.

Don't excite the victim or allow him/her to walk if avoidable. Doing so will increase venom circulation.

Never apply a tourniquet, constricting band, or "Australian Wrap," unless you are well-trained in its use. As with snakebite kits, recent studies suggest this is of no help and even detrimental. (If, for some reason you do apply one, write a capital T (for tourniquet) on the victim's forehead AND the TIME you applied it. Relax it for 1 minute every 15 minutes.)

Do not apply ice, a cold pack, or freon spray to the wound. This does not retard the spread of venom.

Never apply electrical stimulation from any device in an attempt to retard or reverse venom spread. Studies show this does NOT retard or reverse the spread of venom.