TDA – Article about venomous snakes

Do Not Disturb – Beware of Snakes

By Clint Pustejovsky

Venom—just the word makes you shiver and think “danger.” Venomous snakes are found in every county in Texas, but they are not the threat that most people believe they are. Out of the 15 species of venomous snakes found in Texas, none will strike or bite unless disturbed (whether accidentally or not), provoked or intentionally handled.

Venomous snakes have venom to immobilize their prey and begin the digestive process before swallowing their food.  Once the animal or prey is injected with venom (we’ll use a mouse for illustrative purposes), it will begin to lose control of its ability to move. This can happen rapidly, depending on the type of venom, volume of venom injected, depth of fangs and if any venom entered a major artery. One mouse may only take a few steps and fall over, just kicking its legs and never moving again. Another one may hop and run around, making the snake follow its trail.

The snake uses its exceptionally sensitive tongue to track wounded and dying prey.  The tongue will go out and move up and down collecting molecules and then the two tips of the forked tongue will go into the Jacobson organ in the roof of its mouth, which allows the snake to analyze the tiniest of molecules left behind by the prey. The snake can then enjoy its meal.

CAUTION:  If you see a squirrel or any other rodent losing control and having difficulty moving, there is probably a pit viper close by following its trail.  Timber/Canebrake rattlesnakes will bite a rat or squirrel once or twice and then follow it, and your eyes noticing the rodent and looking for the snake are your defense for preventing an envenomation.

The two major types of venom found in Texas snakes are hemotoxin and neurotoxin.  The venoms of the pit viper, for example, rattlesnake, cottonmouth and copperhead, are known as hemotoxins, which attacks skin and muscle tissue, which can cause extensive tissue damage due to necrosis.

The venom of the Texas coral snake is known as a neurotoxin, which attacks the central nervous system and usually attacks the respiratory system first. The coral snake is an elapid and has similar venom to the cobras of Africa and Asia.

Some snakes, such as the Mojave rattlesnake found in Brewster County, contain a great deal of neurotoxin within its hemotoxin. The Mojave is considered one of our most dangerous snakes due its immediate strike when accosted and the seriousness of its toxins. A bite from this species usually requires quick action to monitor the patient and prepare for a medical helicopter ride to the closest hospital with CroFab (anti-venom) available. The Timber/Canebrake also has a great deal of neurotoxin in its venom, but is unlikely to strike and bite due to its more docile nature.

Snake venoms are currently used in laboratories and hospitals to help with human blood clots, strokes and cancer.  A venomous snake is NOT an animal to kill or fear but to respect for its contribution to medicine and rodent control.  For more information on toxins, see the Natural Toxins Research Center’s Web site

Remember, if you leave a snake alone, it will leave you alone! A venomous snake can still strike and bite after being decapitated because its brain stays alive for up to two hours. Handling, killing or attempting to kill a venomous snake is dangerous and never a good idea.