What not to step on while ambling around Africa

Puff-Adder

How’s this for lethality? An African snake noted for its potent venom, aggressive behavior and ability to ambush its prey, also has the benefit of being able to camouflage its scent.

The puff adder, found from the Arabian Peninsula all the way across the continent to Gambia and Senegal, and down to the Cape of Good Hope, is capable of masking it sent from would-be predators, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“One of the reasons the snake so effective is that the animal has no observable scent, a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have discovered,” according to the website Red Orbit. “The study team said the snake uses a type of olfactory camouflage referred to as ‘chemical crypsis.’”

Scientists in the study trained both dogs and meerkats to identify the scent of various snakes. Both animals could differentiate between cloths that smelled like snakes and those that didn’t. The meerkats had been only exposed to brown snakes and puff adders – since those two snakes are the only ones that live in their habitat in the wild.

The two animals were actually equally incapable of selecting the scent of the puff adder.

The puff adder is a fairly thick snake that sits still and watches for prey, which includes mammals, birds, amphibians and lizards that happen by. But the adder’s scentless nature might not just serve its hunting game.

“While it’s extremely poisonous, it’s not very quick. The scientists noted that in previous reports that followed puff adders, the more mobile the snake was, the greater chance it would be caught by predators,” according to Red Orbit. “Scentlessness could be for the snake’s protection, the researchers said.”

Puff adders, normally about 3 to 4 feet in length, are a delightful species of snake; they have been known to bite humans multiple times in an attack, and half of serious untreated bites result in death.

Victims can experience pain, bleeding, renal failure and “compartment syndrome” – a condition where organs swell up to the point they restrict their own blood flow.

The snake is responsible for the most snakebite deaths in Africa due to a combination of factors, including wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom that is produced in large amounts, long fangs, their habit of basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached.

In addition, the relative lack of antivenin in rural Africa plays a role in the snake’s lethality.

While less than 5 percent of total puff adder bites result in death, that figure is higher than the overall death rate in Africa from snake bits, which is well below 2 percent. However, amputations and other surgeries are common in response to the bite of the snake, however.

(Top: Puff adder in action.)

Future Einsteins disappointed man not eaten by snake

anaconda

It’s not too much of a stretch to assert that the Discovery channel has declined in quality in recent years. Like many cable channels, Discovery has shifted its focus toward more reality-based programming in an effort to compete with networks and keep down costs.

Just how far the intellectual curiosity of some of Discovery’s viewers has slipped along with the channel was made evident when a recent program, titled Eaten Alive, purported to highlight an individual being swallowed by an anaconda – albeit one in a specially designed suit – apparently didn’t meet their “rigorous” entertainment standards.

When adventurer Paul Rosolie said “no mas” after the large snake had gotten halfway through his human meal, some Discovery viewers took umbrage, voicing their displeasure via social media that they’d been cheated out of seeing a man be wholly consumed by a reptile.

One individual commented on Twitter that, “The eaten alive guy didn’t get eaten alive,” followed by the hashtag : “Disappointed”; while another tweeted,  “This dude just wasted my life away.”

Newsflash for the above commenters: Methinks you two have been doing a fine job of being disappointing and wasting your lives all on your own.

For those who had the good fortune to miss the two-hour program, viewers saw a 20-foot anaconda attack Rosolie, coil around him, then start to eat his helmet.

“That’s when Rosolie opted to call in his team to rescue him, saying his arm was being crushed,” according to Time magazine. “’I started to feel the blood drain out of my hand and I felt the bone flex, and when I got to the point where I felt like it was going to snap I had to tap out.’”

Discovery has refused to say how far the snake got before Rosolie was rescued.

Rosolie said he spent months recovering from the encounter.

So, what was originally a program slammed by animal activists for animal cruelty is now being mocked on social media for not allowing the animal to go far enough in consuming a human being.

And the bread and circuses continue on.

(Top: Filmmaker Paul Rosolie with an anaconda.)

Puppies and kittens and rainbows …

puppies

Apparently, big black rat snakes aren’t everyone’s favorite creatures. Hence, the above photo of adorable puppies.

They’re not my puppies, mind you, as I have no puppies, nor even a dog.

It’s simply a way to put something on this blog so that yesterday’s image of a large black rat snake – which I personally found fascinating – would no longer be the first thing folks saw when they clicked on this site.

I sensed a tiny bit of negativity toward snakes after posting the image of a five-foot reptile (see comments in yesterday’s post) that I caught in Newberry County, SC.

Or perhaps it was Mrs. Cotton Boll’s reaction, via email: “You are nuts! I hope you put that yellow jacket and all clothing directly in the washing machine. This freaked me out!”

Of course, I had failed to inform Mrs. Cotton Boll of my success in the snake-catching department the previous day, knowing that she is deathly afraid of our no-legged friends.

She is a regular reader of this blog, but I had failed to anticipate her response to a seeing a large constricting snake, particularly one wrapped around her husband’s wrist and hand.

Needless to say, a Hazmat team was dispatched to decontaminate all clothing that may have come into contact with said black rat snake, and I was politely but firmly admonished.

Actually, Mrs. Cotton Boll is a pretty good sport, given my proclivity for capturing odd wild beasts and her distaste of same. Of course, she did know what she was getting herself into when she said “I do.”

Florida pythons getting bigger and bigger

usa-florida-python

If it’s true that fear of snakes is among the most common phobias known to humans – and personal experience would indicate this is the case among nearly every adult woman and most men – then the Greater Everglades Chamber of Commerce has some mighty big obstacles to overcome.

Earlier this week, officials in the Sunshine State said they shot and killed a Burmese python in the Everglades that stretched more than 18 feet and weighed 150 pounds.

If confirmed, it would make it the largest snake ever captured in the famed wetlands region of Florida, which is noted for its wildlife, particularly reptiles.

The Burmese python is able to thrive in the Everglades because it’s an invasive species with no natural predators in the area.

“The number of pythons has skyrocketed, with more than 300 pythons being removed from the Everglades every year since 2007,” according to the online publication LiveScience. “Researchers don’t know their true numbers but estimate at least tens of thousands of the giant snakes inhabit the National Everglades Park.”

Tens of thousands?!? Even non-herpetophobes get creeped out by those numbers.

The snakes are wiping out native wildlife like bobcats, foxes and raccoons, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Snake in the grass bites snake on foot

copperhead

Pity the poor Maryland woman who was hit with a $55,000 medical bill after being treated for a venomous snake bite.

Pity her not for being bitten – she was treated at a Bethesda, Md., hospital and is now doing fine – but for her apparent lack of common sense or, more likely, lack of gratitude.

Jules Weiss, according to a story aired on WRC-TV in Washington, DC, had stopped to take a photo at an overlook along the George Washington Parkway. On the way back to her car, she felt something bite her.

Turns out it was a Copperhead, although the story makes it sound as though Weiss wasn’t aware of being bitten by a venomous snake. (How she didn’t happen to see the snake after it bit her isn’t addressed in the story.)

“It felt just like a bee sting,” she told the station. “There were two fang marks with liquid coming out.”

So what did the former emergency medical technician do? Nothing, apparently. It was only an hour later that she noticed her foot had turned “grayish” and started to swell.

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There’s nothing like a pet that can kill you

gaboon viper fangs

A Utah man is in a bit of hot water after firefighters, responding to a report of a blaze, found half a dozen venomous snakes among 28 serpents in the individual’s home, located in Clearfield, north of Salt Lake City.

The unidentified individual did not have a permit for the venomous snakes, which were uninjured in the fire.

The vipers, which were kept in cages in a separate room, included five rattlesnakes, and, rather astonishingly, a gaboon viper, one of the most deadly snakes known to man.

Gaboon vipers, which grow up to six feet in length, are native to sub-Saharan Africa, have fangs up to two inches long and possess the highest venom yield of any snake in the world.

The snake’s bite can, not surprisingly, have a rather distasteful effect on humans, including: rapid and conspicuous swelling, intense pain, severe shock, defecation, urination, swelling of the tongue and eyelids, convulsions and unconsciousness. In addition, there may be sudden hypotension, heart damage and shortness of breath. The victim’s blood may become incoagulable with internal bleeding that may lead to vomiting of blood.

(I know what you’re thinking: Urination, defecation and vomiting of blood – now that’s a good time.)

Also, local tissue damage may require surgical excision and possibly amputation. Healing may be slow and fatalities during the recovery period are not uncommon.

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Where not to get a vacation timeshare

golden lancehead

Thirty miles off the coast of Brazil and less than 100 miles from São Paulo, one of the world’s largest and most congested cities, lies a 110-acre subtropical island called Ilha de Queimada Grande. Sounds perfect for an idyllic retreat, right?

No, not in this case. Ilha de Queimada Grande has a population of exactly zero. That would be because the Brazilian Navy prohibits anyone from landing on the island.

Even fans of limited government would have to agree that the reason is a good one: Ilha de Queimada Grande is literally infested with one of most venomous species of snakes known to man, the golden lancehead.

How infested, you ask? To the tune of one golden lancehead per square meter. For those of you who struggle with the metric system, that’s roughly one bad snake every 3-1/2 feet.

Some researchers have estimated that as many as five golden lancehead per square meter can be found on Ilha de Queimada Grande, according to Atlas Obscura. (The island, also known colloquially in English as Snake Island, is covered with jungle, hence the high density as the vipers  inhabit trees and the island floor.)

The lancehead genus of snakes is responsible for 90 percent of Brazilian snakebite-related fatalities.

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