Decoding Snake Venoms
Tuesday, October 24th, 2023
Snakes have been the subject of conjectures, causing many humans to fear them. But if we have to explore the root cause of the fear of these reptiles (Ophidiophobia), it will eventually narrow down to just one: the venom. Attempting to understand what basically the snake venoms are, and what role they play in the lives of snakes can aid us in overcoming the pointless fear and antipathy directed toward snakes.
Snake Venom and its Types
Snake venom is just another toxin. Distinct venoms contain distinct combinations of enzymes triggering a deadlier effect than any of the individual ones. 25 different enzymes are present in various venoms, out of which 10 show up in most of them. The most common types of enzymes present in venoms are hyaluronidases, proteolytic and phospholipases, which serve distinct purposes. For example, hyaluronidase enables spread of the venom throughout the body, proteolytic enzymes have digestive properties and phospholipase degrades lipids.
Snake venom can be classified into three main categories – neurotoxic, cytotoxic and hemotoxic. These venoms effect specific regions and functions of the victim’s body. Neurotoxic venom damages the brain and nervous system, and very little pain is felt in its delivery. Majority of people do not even become conscious they have been bitten until the symptoms start to show up. Neurotoxic venom is regarded as the deadliest one and can kill within 30 minutes. The Black Mamba injects this particular variant and its bite has a fatality rate of 100%, making it the deadliest snake on the earth.
Hemotoxic venom interrupts blood clotting, thereby effecting the cardiovascular system. It also causes degeneration of organs, massive internal bleeding and tissue damage throughout the body. Lastly, cytotoxic venom impairs the tissues on a molecular level causing severe pain, ultimately leading to cell death. A fourth type of venom known as myotoxic exists in sea snakes. It causes severe and instant muscular paralysis.
Usage of the Venom
The snake’s venom is primarily meant to kill, incapacitate and paralyse the prey such as birds, mammals and even other snakes. The venom also acts as a protection against predator species. Venom is nature’s gift for snakes and for millions of years snakes have survived and advanced their species by virtue of the venom.
People have been dying due to snake bites globally since time immemorial. This inspired development of different anti-venom. Monovalent and polyvalent are two types of anti-venom. Monovalent anti-venom can be used against a given species venom only while polyvalent anti-venom can be used against venom from number of species.