West-Central Africa is, herpetologically, a little known region of the world, although the herp biodiversity there is high. My friend Kate Jackson is one of the few herpetologists to have worked in the region, which you can read all about in her book Mean and Lowly Things. Recently I learned that, in the course of her fieldwork in the Congo, Kate was the first person to photograph a live Bothrolycus ater (Günther’s Black Snake), a rare species of lamprophiid known from only a few specimens collected in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and Gabon. I was all ready to do a whole post about Bothrolycus when I learned that Darren Naish over at the wonderful blog Tetrapod Zoology had scooped me! This is the first time this has happened because, as Darren has repeatedly pointed out, there are far too few popular snake articles out there.
|Kate's Bothrolycus ater picture|
Snakebite is a serious health issue in parts of the developing world, but in North America, it's really a very minor issue. Treatment has advanced to the point where a venomous snakebite, while unpleasant and to be avoided at all costs, is no longer life-threatening unless you are immune compromised. About 5 people a year are killed by venomous snakes in North America, on the order of the same number killed by fireworks. Far more people are killed each year by almost any other cause of death you care to name. Snakes bite people in defense, not in offense. Experiments have shown that venomous snakes 'meter' their venom, often electing not to inject any when biting defensively, and that they often don't bite at all unless severely harassed first. This makes sense, since snakes need their venom to incapacitate their prey and don't want to waste it on predators. The best way to avoid venomous snakebite is to avoid initiating contact venomous snakes. You can be sure that they will avoid you. In case you're afraid of snakes, check out this PSA from The Orianne Society highlighting the many ways snake venom is used to make pharmaceuticals and treat heart attacks, strokes, and cancer; it might make you feel differently.
Today only, donations to the Orianne Society will be matched.
For more on African snakes (man-eating pythons this time), see Emily Taylor's latest post at Ophidiophilia.
Thanks to Kate Jackson for her photos.
Clarke, DN, Kunkel, W, Chippaux, JP, and Jackson, K. 2012. Online multivariate key to the snake genera of Western and Central Africa. http://people.whitman.edu/~clarkedn/
Life is Short, but Snakes are Long by Andrew M. Durso is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.