Demystifying the fangs of death – Snake venoms

SCIENCE FOR YOUTH
– BY HIYA ISLAM

 

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Slithering its way across naked blades of grass, the snake opens its mouth. In the blink of an eye, the fangs sink into the flesh of the prey. Within minutes, the rat dies. Of course, the venom kills the rat and what’s left now is simply swallowing. Not all snakes are venomous. However, Mambas both black and green, Rattlesnake, Viper, Blue Krait, Boomslang, Cobra are some names to watch out for.

The venom is akin to saliva in humans and is a very useful weapon against defense and for killing prey. Roughly, there are three types of venom. First of all, hemotoxic venom affects the blood and other tissues. Once in the body, it coagulates your blood into a jelly. That is blood-clotting. This prevents the flow of blood to various parts of the body. Tissues die due to lack of oxygen and other nutrients carried by the blood. Then comes the neurotoxic venom. This kind attacks the nervous system and our brain. We already know, electric impulses are carried by nerves in order to contract muscles. This venom eagerly hinders the connection between the two resulting in paralysis or loss of movement. If by any chance, the paralysis spreads to the lungs, breathing will be impaired. Death will be caused by asphyxiation or suffocation. Lastly there’s cytotoxic venom which contains a number of digestive enzymes. These help to eat away your tissues. If the damage is too extensive, victim may require an amputation! So, if you’re still not considering these guys to be dangerous, you might want to think again.

Once bitten by a snake, the area is very likely to swell up and change into a ghastly color. It is best to not tamper with the punctured wound and seek medical help immediately. Common myths like tying a tourniquet, sucking out the venom etc. do more harm than good. The victim should not move at all and remain as calm as possible. Anxiety and fear will only increase heart rate due to adrenaline release. Hence, it will increase the blood flow and the spread of venom in the body eventually more quickly. More importantly, the snake must be identified. It is not possible for common men to recognise one and yell names like Daboia russelii (Russell Viper) to the doctor. And so, the color  size and patterns should be noted. Because, venom is often a cocktail of toxins and varied species have varying amounts of it. There is specific anti-venoms for specific snakes that needs to be administered.

Surprisingly, these scaly reptiles are not afflicted with such trauma despite being carriers. The venom is produced and stored in a gland behind the head. The only way out is through narrow tubules down the fangs and into something that’s not a part of the snake. But then it finds a way back to the stomach along with the killed prey; the prey’s meat is infused with venom. Venom as a matter of fact is altogether made up of proteins. Proteins are readily digested in stomach making it safe once again.

The same venom is used to make its antivenin or antivenom. When harvested and processed, the venom can have great medicinal effects.

 

 

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