Written by: Kai Cho
About 4 years ago, I was passing a football around with my friend in Osoyoos, B.C. I kicked the ball as high as I could, realizing my mistake when it fell in a bunch of tall grass and weeds. I crawled through to find it, acknowledging that it was my fault. However, just as I spotted it, a snake crawled by my foot and I ran. Screaming to my friend about it, we left the football and searched up “snakes in Osoyoos.” It came up with a list of 10 snakes, all of which were completely harmless.
What makes a snake deadly?
The main reason snakes are deadly is the fatal venom that they can deliver. While not all snakes are capable of this, approximately 600 out of 3000+ species are venomous. There are three main classifications for these snakes, known as the Elapidae (cobras), Viperidae (vipers), and the Hydrophidae (sea snakes). These snakes can kill up to 138,000 people a year. Within the venom, there are many different types of toxic proteins, polypeptides (amino acids) and enzymes.
There are also three main classifications for venom, known as cytotoxins, neurotoxins and hemotoxins. Cytotoxins can kill blood cells, which can result in necrosis, where tissue, muscles and organs can be destroyed. Neurotoxins harm the nervous system by poisoning and blocking human neurotransmitters. This causes paralysis of muscle movement and can cause difficulty breathing. Lastly, Hemotoxins poison blood and kill blood cells which disrupts blood coagulation (blood clotting) and can cause fatal internal bleeding. Hemotoxins generally harm the kidneys and the heart.
Most snakes are associated with the venom they typically hold but can vary. For example, the King Cobra holds neurotoxins and cytotoxins. The “garter snake” is the snake that I ran into. (Which is almost completely harmless, but it didn’t feel that way). While most snakes are in rural or tropic areas, they can often find their way into many different habitats.
How does a snake deliver venom?
A snake delivers its venom in two ways: It can either spray/spew its venom or use its fangs to sink into muscle to inject the venom. The venom is produced at the back of the snake’s mouth, in its “salivary glands”. These connect to the snake’s razor-sharp fangs, which inject the toxic venom. The injection is done when the snake bites, which causes muscles at the top of the snake’s head to push the salivary glands, sending the venom through its fangs.
Is there a treatment for snake bites?
Snake bites often occur in wild areas, away from populated cities and towns. This is the main reason why the death toll and permanent injury rate is very high, as rushing to the hospital and getting treatment takes a long time. The most common treatment is an anti-venom, which works similar to a vaccination. Although maybe not ethical, venom is injected into animals (sheep, cows) in a diluted amount. Antibodies are then created, and extracted and used as a cure. In some cases, venom is used to treat illnesses and research has developed a medicine from snake venom called captopril, which helps lower blood pressure.
Although dangerous, snakes are complex, creating many wonders for science. After reading this, you may be scared to visit places where snakes are found; don’t let this stop you from exploring, just tread with precaution and cover your legs. Nonetheless, it is always important to ask, “Where is the nearest hospital?”