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When it comes to phobias ophidiophobia is one of the most common. The fear of snakes may be unfortunate for a good number of species that do not possess the ability or desire to take on a human being; however, there are a small number of species for which phobia is warranted. Some of these commonly recognized groups of poisonous snakes include members of the Elapidae, Viperidae, Hydrophiidae and Actractaspididae families. In this article we will cover some of the world’s most recognized poisonous snakes including how to identify them and where in the world they can be located. Read on to find out if one of these venomous serpents lives in your backyard!
What Exactly is Venom?
The common characteristic of all poisonous snakes is the presence of venom glands in addition to specialized fangs designed in inject this venom in to prey. While many are familiar with this idea of envenomation, not many people actually understand what venom is. Venom is a type of saliva that has been modified to include toxins designed to immobilize prey items or to protect the snake in confrontation. Snakes that are not considered to be venomous may also be dangerous; however, they rely upon other means to bring down their prey including constriction such as is found in boa constrictors.
Not All Venom is Alike
While poisonous snakes all rely upon the presence of venom to bring down their prey, not all venom is alike which is what makes certain snakes significantly more poisonous than others. Technically those familiar with snakes argue that snakes are not considered to be poisonous because there is a difference between the terms venomous and poisonous. Poisons are considered to be toxins that are absorbed in to the body through some means such as through the skin, whereas venoms must be taken in to the body through the tissues or bloodstream directly. This definition means that unless snake venom is introduced in to the bloodstream or tissues of the body, then it is not considered to be fatal (however, we do NOT recommend that you try testing this theory at home as a small cut or nick can quickly introduce the venom in to the bloodstream.) For the purpose of this article; however, we will use the terms poisonous and venomous interchangeably.
What Percentage of the Snake Population is Considered to be Poisonous?
A question commonly asked by those who are concerned about just how many poisonous snakes there are out there is: what percentage of the snake population is considered to be venomous? This is a somewhat tricky question due to the fact that it is believed that not all varieties of venomous snakes have been discovered yet. To date, however, it is known that 600 species, or twenty five percent of all snake species are poisonous. While not all of these poisonous snakes can be lumped together in to a single family, there are a number of individual species within each family that prove to be venomous. In the section below we will cover a number of these snakes.
The Jararacussu is otherwise known as Bothrops jararacussu and is a member of the Bothrops genus of snakes. The Bothrops snakes belong in the subfamily Crotalinae and are found within the viper family. The Jararacussu is a snake native to Eastern Brazil, northeastern Agentina, Paraguay and southeastern Bolivia. This poisonous snake is like most other snakes in that the underbelly is a much lighter color than the rest of the body, appearing almost yellow. The body of the Jararacussu can vary depending upon the sex, the females are black and yellow in color and the males which are smaller and thinner are a brown or black color and both have a deep black head. The Jararacussu feeds on small rodents that are easily found in the preferred habitat of these snakes – land close to lakes and rivers.
The venom of this poisonous snake is particularly dangerous for a number of reasons, first off the amount of venom that is injected with a single bite is staggering. With one bite the Jararacussu can inject as much as 800 mg of venom which is enough to kill 32 people if antivenom is not received in a timely manner. The venom injected by the Jararacussu is particularly dangerous because of its anti-clotting properties. Peptides that are found within the venom are known to inhibit angiotensin-converting enzymes and as such they possess an ability to control blood pressure. Jaracussu venom is identified as being proteolytic, or a substance which degrades proteins known as proteases within the body.
The tiger snake is otherwise known as the Notechis scutatus and is a member of the Notechis genus in the Elapidae family. The Elapidae family is a large family of poisonous snakes which includes the Egyptian cobra. The tiger snake lives only in Australia in subtropical and temperate regions and within the genus there is quite a lot of diversity. Although there is a significant amount of diversity in the Notechis genus it is important to know that these snakes tend to live within distinct populations that, depending upon the different populations, may be completely isolated from other tiger snakes or may live in overlapping geographical areas. The tiger snake can grow as long as seven feet long and are recognized by their orange, orange-brown, black and yellow coloration with darker bands of color along the body. The underside of the tiger snake, like that of many snakes is much lighter in color and appears to be yellow to orange in color. The tiger snake can tolerate lower temperatures; however, it is much more likely to be active on warmer nights and prefers to live in costal environments.
The venom of the tiger snake, while generally used to kill prey, is extremely poisonous and can kill humans. This particular poisonous snake’s toxin is extremely dangerous in that it is not only a neurotoxin (meaning that it attacks nerve cells) but it is also a coagulant (meaning that it clots blood), a myotoxin (meaning that it attacks and kills muscle tissue) and a haemolysin (meaning that it breaks down red blood cells.) The venom of the tiger snake is injected in the average quantity of 35mg per single bite; however, it has been known to inject as much as 180 mg per single bite.
The common krait is otherwise known as the Bungarus caeruleus and is a member of the Bungarus genus in the Elapidae family. The common krait is known for being one of the four most poisonous snakes in India and is native to the Indian sub-continent, particularly in South India and Sri Lanka. This extremely poisonous snake is known for its ability to live in a wide variety of locations including fields, scrub jungles, termite mounds, people’s houses, rat holes and termite mounds. One key factor that these snakes seek when establishing a “home” is the presence of water. This snake, like many snakes, varies in color but is most commonly a dark blue-black color or a pale blue-grey color with white cross bands and a lighter underbelly. The common krait is a nocturnal snake and is rarely spotted during daylight. This snake feeds on other snakes for the most part but will also feed on small mammals, lizards and frogs. The common krait prefers not to bite when not subduing prey; however, if adequately agitated it will bite and hold on for a significant period of time which allows for a large amount of venom to be injected with a single bite making it one of the most poisonous snakes in the world.
The venom of the common krait contains neurotoxins which paralyze muscles. Once injected, the venom of this snake can take a long period of time to take effect and often it does so without any pain in the local area of the bite. Unfortunately for victims of the bite the lack of pain at the bite site often leads to a false reassurance that they are uninjured from the bite. Once the venom starts to take effect however, and muscle paralysis takes effect it is important to issue anti-venom immediately in order to prevent death. During the paralysis that takes effect as the result of a common krait bite, a bite victim may lose the ability to breath and require artificial respiration. While not everyone seeks treatment for a bite from this snake, the mortality rate from untreated bites is extremely high and it is recommended that any bite from this snake is treated immediately. Death can result from an untreated common krait bite; death is usually a result of suffocation by respiratory failure.
The Philippine cobra is otherwise known as the Naja philippinensis and is a member of the Naja genus in the Elapidae family. The Philippine cobra is a spitting cobra averages around five and a half feet long; however, they have known to be as long as six and a half feet long. This highly venomous snake is dark in color when young and a mid-brown color when fully grown. The Philippine cobra can be found on the islands of Masbate, Eastern Samar, Southern Leyte, Luzon, Catanduanes, Samar and Mindoro. Unfortunately for the people of these areas these snakes like to live in human settlements in addition to the dense jungle and open fields. The natural diet of this snake is small mammals, rodents, lizards, eggs, small birds and frogs. The Philippine Cobra is recognized by biologists and herpetologists for being the most venomous of all of the Naja genus of snake because of the sheer potency of their venom.
The venom of the Philippine cobra has a neurotoxin that directly affects the functioning of the respiratory system as well as the cardiac system. The most common indications of poisoning by this snake is the presence of neurotoxicity and or respiratory paralysis. The venom of the Philippine cobra is particularly fast acting and within minutes of envenomation the bite victim experiences respiratory failure and then death. The fastest recorded case of death by Philippine cobra poisoning took place over thirty seconds after the initial bite incident. The venom of this extremely dangerous snake is also known for causing permanent blindness when a victim gets venom in to their eyes. Unfortunately for those faced with this cobra, the spitting distance is some ten feet so it is important to keep a significant distance from this member of the Naja genus.
The king cobra is otherwise known as the Ophiophagus Hannah and is a member of the Ophiophagus genus in the Elapidae family. The king cobra is found throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, and southern areas of East Asia. This snake prefers to live in areas close to water bodies in dense forest areas. The king cobra is the most recognizable cobra for many people and is known for being the world’s longest venomous snake. Combinations of other factors add to the incredible length of this snake to make it the most dangerous of all Asiatic snakes. The king cobra can grow to be as long as eighteen and a half feet, an incredible length which gives these snakes an advantage over any competitor. This amazing length and the agility that it gives the king cobra in addition to its highly aggressive nature makes this snake a force to be reckoned with. The average snake of this species weighs in at just over thirteen pounds and is olive-green, tan or black in color and has light yellow bands crossing the body that go all the way down it’s length. The hood of the king cobra which expands is one of the biggest identifying factors of this snake. A second common identifying factor is the presence of two large scales on the top of the head; these large scales are called occipitals. When biting prey or creatures seen as a potential threat, the king cobra uses two fixed fangs that sit at the front of its mouth and inject venom. The king cobra is a natural snake eater and commonly feeds upon rat snakes, pythons, cobras, small king cobras and kraits. The slow rate of metabolism means that this snake can go for months without another meal.
The venom of the king cobra contains a couple of components: neurotoxins and cardiotoxic compounds. The main toxic compounds in the venom are made from proteins and polypeptides. The venom of this snake is injected in to a victim quickly and immediately goes to work attacking the central nervous system. The venom quickly leads to cardiovascular failure which puts the victim in to a coma which is soon followed by complete respiratory failure and then death. The mortality rate for a king cobra bite can be over 75% but this may vary depending upon how quickly a bite is treated as well as the demographics of the individual who was bitten.
The Russell’s viper is otherwise known as the Vipera Russelli and is a member of the Daboia genus in the Viperinae subfamily of the Viperidae family. The Russell’s Viper is also known as the chain viper and the Indian Russell’s viper. This species of viper can be found in Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent , Southeast Asia, Taiwan and southern China. Most commonly this snake species prefers to live in open areas rather than in densely populated forests. The chain viper is known for being one of the four most poisonous snakes found throughout India and is recognized by ophiologists as being the species of snake that causes the most cases of snake bites and the most deaths from snake bites worldwide. The Russell’s viper can grow up to five and a half feet but the average of the species is four feet long and is a rather slim snake. The nose of the Russell’s viper is flat and raised and the head is flat and triangular in shape. The color of this snake is most frequently tan, brown or dark yellow and features deep brown spots that can be found all the way down the body. This particular viper has anywhere from two to siz pairs of fangs at any given time with the two front fangs being used to inject venom and the posterior fangs serving as replacements for the originals. This variety of viper feeds mostly on rodents which often lead them in to highly populated areas, but they also feed on small land mammals and arthropods. Smaller Russell’s vipers have been known to cannibalize others of the same species. The Russell’s viper is a particularly aggressive snake and will bite when someone attempts to pick them up.
The venom of the Russell’s viper is significant for this particular snake species because of the amount of venom that can be injected with a single bite. Where most snakes of this species inject somewhere between 130 to 250 mg of venom per single bite, there have known to be cases where as much as 268 mg of venom has been injected with a single bite. It takes only around 40 – 70 mg of venom to kill a human adult. Side effects of a bite from the Russell’s viper include bleeding from the mouth and blood in the urine, a drop in heart rate and a drop in blood pressure, localized necrosis of muscle tissue, disseminated intravascular coagulation and renal failure. Early exposure to treatment is the key in reducing the amount of damage caused by a bite from a Russell’s viper. Death from a bite from this variety of viper can occur anywhere from one to fourteen days after the initial biting incident.
The Variety in Poisonous Snake Species is Amazing
The variety in poisonous snake species and the potency of their venom is simply amazing. Whether or not you are afraid of snakes or a lover of snakes, there is no denying that the venom of these poisonous snakes is something to be respected. Poisonous snake venom should be respected not only because of the devastating effect it can have on those bitten but also because of the amazing applications that many of these toxins have in medical research. If it weren’t for the poisons found in a number of these dangerous snake venoms many drugs today would not exist and a number of medical conditions like hemophilia would have much higher incidences of fatalities.