We are often asked if we have King Cobras on display and at present, we don't....the reason for this is simple. They are eat other snakes, and this is a difficult dietary requirement to fulfil. Some keepers force-feed their "Kings" with chicken necks, but we feel this presents an unacceptable risk to our keepers, particularly as there is no anti-venom in the country should a bite occur. However that doesn't mean they aren't fascinating creatures (especially given that they aren't actually a cobra!) hence the following fact file:
Species: King Cobra
What does the name mean? The word "Ophiophagus" means "snake-eater". The definition of "Hannah" is not well documented, but believed to have its origin in Greek mythology which refers to wood, or tree nymphs. Possibly derived from the word "Hamadryas" (the oak tree nymph and mother to all hamadryad nymphs of lesser forest trees). This snake is also referred to as "Hamadryad".The best definition forOphiophagus hannah would be "Snake-eating tree dweller".
Description: This is the longest venomous snake in the world.
A truly magnificent snake. Despite its name, this is not a true cobra. All true cobras belong to the genusNaja. The king cobra however belongs to its very own genus Ophiophagus. No other snake shares this genus. It does however belong to the family Elapidae which it shares with all proteroglyphs (fixed front fanged snakes). This includes Cobras and Mambas.
This snake can attain 5.5m (18ft) although the average length is about 3.9m (12.8ft). The average weight for these snakes is around 6kg (13.2lbs), but individuals weighing an incredible 9kg (19.8lbs) have been recorded.
Males are generally larger and thicker than the female of the species.
The Black Mamba, (Dendroaspis polylepis) is the second longest venomous snake in the world.
The colour of this snake is variable depending on its geographical location. Their colours range from an olive green, brown,black, or yellow with faint yellow or white cross bands down the entire length of the body. The belly is usually a lighter creamier colour interspersed with darker bars.
Like all elapids, it is able to spread an impressive hood. When disturbed this snake may rear its head 1.8m(5.9ft).
This is one snake that can look at you eye-to-eye.
Venom: Classified as highly venomous. The venom is primarily Neurotoxic which attacks the central nervous system. Death results due to respiratory failure.
Distribution: Present throughout South-East Asia, Malaysia, India, Southern China, Indonesia, and the Phillippines.
Habitat: Although not common, the king cobra is widespread throughout its distribution area. Habitats include dense rainforest, savannahs, and highland forests. Other areas include Mangroves, grasslands, bamboo thickets and even human settlements.
Habits: Despite its fearsome reputation this snake will avoid confrontation wherever possible. It is shy and leads a predominantly solitary existence. It is generally reluctant to bite, even when confronted. When disturbed it will rear up, spread an impressive hood and hiss loudly. It may even feign a few strikes with its mouth closed.
It is generally active during the day, and therefore has good eyesight. They are excellent swimmers, and as the name implies, they are adept climbers.
They are intelligent snakes capable of recognising their handlers when in captivity.They are not aggressive, and therefore generally tame well in captivity, even to the point of being handled freely (not recommended). That being said, some never tame and remain absolute nightmares throughout their lives.
Reproduction: King cobras are Oviparous (lay eggs). January signals the begining of the mating season, although this may vary depending on locality.
Approximately two months after breeding (April) the female will deposit between 20-50 eggs in a nest which she has built. This is the only species of snake that is known to actively build a nest site. The female uses her coils to gather a mound of leaf-litter in which she deposits the eggs.
During the incubation period (60-70 days), the female guards the nest tenaciously from any would-be predator, including humans.
As soon as the eggs begin to hatch, the female leaves the nest site and no further parental care is offered. The juveniles measure between 30-63cm (12-25inches) at birth. Unlike the adults the neonates are a glossy jet-black in colour with bright yellow bands.
Sexual maturity is reached at 5-6 years of age.
Diet: King cobras are active hunters, and as the name suggests, their diet consists mainly of snakes. Both venomous and non-venomous snakes are taken. Their preferred diet may explain why the female leaves her nest as soon as the eggs begin to hatch. Perhaps the temptation would be just too much. Cannibalism has been recorded on several occasions.
Other prey items recorded include birds, lizards, and rodents.Following envenomation prey is swallowed head first as with most other snakes.
Subspecies: There are no subspecies.
Conservation statusIUCN Red LIst : Not evaluated.
CITES : Appendix II
It has been a very long time since I blogged, as we have literally been snowed under - between wonderful school bookings last year, and a crazy festive season, we are just now
able to stop and come up for air - and some new developments! We have re-designed and landscaped our grounds and they are truly starting to look wonderful....lovely green lawns
flow into pretty garden beds thanks to our new and talented gardener, Solly. As our big dam fills with water irises and reeds, it can only enhance the appearance of
Hazyview's main road as we strive to add to our little town's appeal. We are so fortunate to be located where we are - not only are there lots of other things to do in the area
which makes a trip from Nelspruit or surrounds a whole day affair, but wildlife abounds - we are not just reptile people, but animal people so we were thrilled to bits when we
found not just one, but two, genets hiding in the tree above our tortoises! Guinea Fowl over the fence, loads of birdlife, all of this enhances our appeal as an attraction which
you really shouldn't miss!
We have added new show times (see on the website under "visitor info"), and are in the process of having our well received app translated into other languages - I think that will make us the
most accessible reptile park in the country, and hopefully the most educational as well! Additional information panels to add to your understanding of the mysterious creatures
in our care will be on the forefront of technology as they incorporate QR codes to give the tech savvy visitor access to a whole new world of information! So don't forget to download
the app via the website (see our homepage) prior to your visit, and make sure you have a QR reader (available free from ALL app stores) installed and ready to go - you just need
to be linked to the internet with your smart device.
If you have visited us over this last couple of months and enjoyed your visit please stop by Tripadvisor and write us a review! So many people tell us how much they love the park,
but we are sitting with only 47 reviews - the more we get, the further we move up the list and the more people that will visit, making it possible for us to continue growing. So don't just tell US how good you think we are, tell the world! Our dream is to be not only the biggest reptile park in the country (which we believe we are) but the benchmark for all other reptile parks to aim for!
Formerly fondly referred to as "the frog house", these days "gogo house" seems more appropriate - with a collection of frogs, spiders, geckos and even scorpions to amaze you!
With beautiful new cages from Repti-Zoo, we have been able to create beautiful micro eco-systems for these incredible creatures, and we cannot wait until we are finished - as I write it is a work in progress, as we await the arrival of fixtures imported from the US. We suspect we may be among the first, if not THE FIRST, in South Africa to make use of "Magnaturals" from Pet-tech to enhance our enclosures, both to make them more visually appealing AND to make them comfortable homes for their inhabitants. Our Firebelly Toad enclosure, below, shows how these clever creations allow great flexibility in the creation of environments by using magnets to hold ledges and planters in place on the glass.
One of the most frequently asked questions is what do snakes eat?
A broad general answer would suggest that firstly, snakes eat anything they can overpower. And secondly, snakes will eat anything they can swallow.
This is a fair comment, but not entirely correct.
The problem lies not in the answer, but rather in the question itself... To provide a definitive answer it is important to know which species is being discussed.
For example: Stating that peolpe eat meat is only partly true, there are of course vegetarians. Similarly, some people may eat all types of meat whilst others may only eat selected meats.
This applies for snakes too.
What do snakes eat? Well, to begin with all snakes are predatorsirrespective of their environment, whether it be terrestrial, or aquatic. They are experts at taking advantage of any prey resource within their habitat. Prey resources include "warm-blooded" vertebrates(birds, or mammals), "cold-blooded" vertebrates (amphibians, fish, and other reptiles), and "invertebrates" (Insects, spiders, crustaceans,snails, and worms). Some snakes will also eat eggs.
There is one particular snake, the tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculum) which also eats aquatic plants. This is the only known snake to eat vegetation.
There are two factors that determine what a snake eats: the environment (habitat) the animal lives in, and the size of the animal.
The habitat will determine the availability (abundance) and selected types of prey. Generally, the preferred prey for any particular species coincides with the abundance of that particular prey species within that habitat.
It is understandable that the prey species of a Western Diamond-back Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) living close to suburbia will differ greatly to one living in the desert miles away from civilization.
The size of the snake also determines the prey item. It is quite common for young snakes to ingest completley different prey items to that of the adults of that species. This is usually the case where there is a significant difference in size between young and adult snakes of the same species.
Conversely, if there is little difference in size between young and adult snakes then the prey items are the same.
In some species, both males and females will have different preferences of prey species.
As with all life on earth, at some point in the evolutionary process, species either became specialists, or generalists. Snakes are no exception.
The 'Choice' is not an easy one to make.
Becoming a specialist means that a species may need to undergo certain behavioural as well as morphological changes in order to successfully exploit a certain food type. It is also important to specialise in a food item that is not already exploited by generalists. To become a specialist it is imperative to 'know' that there is an abundance of that certain food type, and more importantly, that it will remain available throughout the year.
As a result of this, there are far more generalists in the snake world than there are specialists.
Being a generalist however, means that a species may need to compete with other species, not only snakes, for the same prey or food item.
Specialists are more vulnerable to climatic and ecological changes that may affect a certain food supply, however, they are usually better equipped to deal with a particular type of prey than a generalist would be.
So, what do snakes eat?
Listed below are a few unusual species with specific dietary requirements:
The Slug-eater (Duberria lutrix) feeds almost exclusively on snails and slugs.
The Spine-tailed seasnake (Aipysurus eydouxii) only eats fish eggs.
The Common Egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra) eats only birds' eggs.
Oddly enough there are also records of snakes eating themselves. The term used to describe this strange behaviour is "Autophagy".
So, next time somebody asks you "What do snakes eat?"
Fix yourself a drink...pull up a chair...sit down...smile, and ask "How much time have you got?"
We often talk about the LD50 when discussing venom toxicity. This is a brief explanation of the test, and the reasons why it can't always be used as an indicator.....
The LD50 is a standard laboratory test recognised by the World Health Organisation, and invloves injecting a certain amount of 20g mice with a certain dosage of a particular snake species' venom. The mouse LD50 is a figure indicated by the dosage that will kill 50% of the mice injected within a 24 hour period.
These figures are then used to indicate the toxicity value of each particular snake venom.
Therein lies the first of the many flaws with this test.
Based on this, it is clear that these figures cannot be accurate when trying to estimate how lethal a particular bite would be to a human. We are after all not mice!
It is also a known fact that snake venoms vary within a single species. Factors that can influence snake venom are:
4. Prey species
In order to truly obtain an accurate comparison between species one would need snakes of the same age,size, gender, and obtain these species from the same locality...Highly unlikely!
Another flaw is the average venom yield. All yields obtained for this test are achieved by milking the snake for its venom. This does not indicate that a snake will inject all the venom in a single bite.
We also know that venomous snakes may bite without injecting any venom. This is known as a "dry" bite. Based on that it is clear that snakes are able to regulate the amount of venom they inject.
The venom yield from a defensive bite from a Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) taken by surprise in the early morning of a cold winters day, and the venom yield from an angry Mamba that has been cornered, threatened, and is just going into the "blue" in the middle of summer at 14:00.
Which scenario do you think would yield the most venom?
Another flaw, and this is only my opinion, is the use of mice to determine the LD50 of sea snakes.
Quite often you will see the Beaked sea snake (Enhydrina schistosa) listed as the most venomous...What percentage of its diet consists of mice?
Different types of venom and varying toxicity within similar types of venom, have evolved to ensure the survival of any particular species. The toxicity of venom would be better assessed based on the resistance of the target prey.
This test has in the past been dubbed as "Crude and unscientific"
A bit harsh perhaps, but consider this....
Adult mice were unaffected when injected with the venom of the Sydney Funnelweb Spider (Atrax robusuts).
Bear in mind that bites from this spider have resulted in several human fatalities. However, based on the LD50 this spider should be regarded as nothing more than a harmless itsy-bitsy spider.
Jokes aside, the test does not, or rather cannot, cover all variables. It does however provide a baseline comparison between venoms, and does have some merit.
Why should it be important anyway?
A choice of death by Black Mamba or Inland Taipan?
Neither, Thank you.
We are often asked "what is the deadliest snake in the world" - it is such a difficult question to answer because there are SO many factors to take into account, and so any such characterisation is inherently flawed.....this list, however, should give an indication as to some of the contenders!
First and foremost it is important to understand that the most venomous snakes are not necessarily the most dangerous snakes, nor the deadliest.
Secondly, it is also important to understand the method used to gauge any inviduals' venom toxicity. Snake venom , and other toxins, are measured using the LD50 test.
The LD50 test has several flaws and any list published (including this one) should not be taken as absolute rankings.
(the next post will discuss WHY the LD 50 is not definitive)
There are four methods in which the LD50 test is measured :
Subcutaneous : Venom is injected into the fatty layer beneath the skin.
Intravenous : Venom is injected directly into a vein.
Intramuscular : Venom is injected into a muscle.
Intraperitoneal : Venom is injected into the abdominal cavity.
It is interesting to note that, depending on the method used, LD50 results vary greatly for a single species.
For example the Balck Mamba Balck Mamba (Dendroaspis ploylepis) has a LD50 of 0.25(mg/kg) when measured intravenously, 0.32(mg/kg) and 0.941(mg/kg) when measured subcutaneously and intraperitoneally respectively.
It is important to realise that most snakebite envenomations occur subcutaneously and intravenously.
There are a few cases of intramuscular envenomations, particularly within the Bitis group (Gaboon adder,puff adder ). There are no records (obviously) regarding intraperitoneal envenomations.
The lists below indicate the 10 most venomous species within each category. They do not however take into consideration the venom yield.
Sub-cutaneous LD50s (mg/kg)
1. Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) 0.025
2. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) 0.036
3. Dubois's Sea Snake (Aipysurus duboisii) 0.044
4. Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platurus) 0.067
5. Horned Sea Snake (Acalyptophis peronii) 0.079
6. Coastal Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) 0.106
7. Many Banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus) 0.108
8. Black Banded Sea Snake (Hydrophis melanosoma) 0.111
9. Beaked Sea Snake (Enhydrina schistosa) 0.112
10.Congo Water Cobra (Boulengeria christyi) 0.12
Other noteworthy contenders:
13.Saw-Scaled Viper (Echis carinatus) 0.151
24. Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) 0.32
47. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) 1.7
Intravenous LD50s (mg/kg)
1. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) 0.01
2. Coastal Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) 0.013
3. Mainlaind Tiger Snake (Notechis sctulatus) 0.04
4. Tiger Rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris) 0.056
5. Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) 0.071
6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis concolor) 0.082
7. Many Banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus) 0.113
8. Russels Viper (Daboia russelli russelli) 0.133
9. Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda laticauda) 0.163
10.Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) 0.169
Other noteworthy contenders:
13.Horned adder (Bitis caudalis) 0.2
31.White-lipped Viper (Trimeresurus alblolabris) 0.37
42.Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) 0.57
Intra-muscular LD50s (mg/kg)
1. Black Banded Sea Snake (Hydrophis melanosoma) 0.082
2. Olive Sea Snake (Aipysurus laevi) 0.09
3. Reef Sea Snake (Hydrophis ornatus) 0.12
4. Faint-banded Sea Snake (Hydrophis belcheri) 0.155
5. Elegant Sea Snake (Hydrophis elegans) 0.21
6. San Lucan Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli mitchelli) 0.3
7. Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis) 0.44
8. Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) 2.0
9. Lower California Rattlesnake (Crotalus enyo enyo) 4.6
10.Aspic Viper (Vipera aspis) 4.7
Other noteworthy contenders:
11.Gaboon Adder (Bitis gabonica) 5.2
19.Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) 20.
In establishing which are the most venomous snakes it is important to note that not all species have been LD50 tested. These numbers are averages taken from different laboratories conducting similar tests on on specific species.
To establish the most venomous snakes one must also take into consideration the venom yield. However, by combining the above lists, it is possible to get a general overview, or indication as to the most venomous snakes on earth.
I have been fortunate to spend the last few days on the Nelspruit/Sabie/Graskop route, dropping off our own brochures and forging relationships with the other attraction operators and accomodation facilities in this beautiful area. It has really opened my eyes - after nearly 13 years of living in the Lowveld, I didn't realise just how many amazing things there are to do, and beautiful attractions there are to experience, all so close to Nelspruit!
Some of them I have driven past almost daily - how many of you knew we had a waterpark at Riverside mall, built by the same guys who did U-Shaka? A bit smaller in scale, for sure, but what a fun way to keep the kids busy on a hot Lowveld day after vising Perry's Bridge Reptile Park in Hazyview - (and a great excuse for mum and dad to keep cool too!). Visit Mafunyane.com for all the details!
Closer to home, right beside Perry's Bridge Reptile Park in the Perry's Bridge Centre, is Skyway Trails treetop challenge, a short rope course built to European standards, and designed to provide fun and build confidence - great for the kids, but great for teambuilding as well! Skyway Trails also offers a full length canopy tour which is well worth the time - drive through from Nelspruit, visit us, then pop on over and say hello to the guys there! And enjoy lunch at Spur, Kuka or Topolinos as well!
Chimp Eden is one of Nelspruit's wildlife attractions, just out of town on the Barberton Road. Make sure you visit their website first, as their tours operate at scheduled times and you don't want to be disappointed by arriving too late. The chimps are amazing, and the stories behind their arrival at the sanctuary may just break your heart a little....but it will be warmed by the care and compassion they so visibly receive today.
Heading out of Nelspruit and up to Graskop, stop off at the tripsza office to catch up on all of the opportunities available to you. Pilgrim's Rest is, of course, just up the road, and you can experience yesteryear by hiring costumes and enjoying a photoshoot at Kuzzulo's Emporium!
Graskop itself is the "hop-off" point for the stunning Panorama Route - the waterfalls of Sabie, God's Window, The Pinnacle, Bourke's Luck Potholes, and the Blyde Viewpoint are all just a short drive from the busy little town (with it's amazing curio shops!), and is just up the road from Hazyview where you will, of course, find us!.
Do you know of any "local secrets" to the best things to see and do around Nelspruit, Sabie and Graskop? If so, please let us know in the comments section below, we love to be able to give our guests great advice!
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
Species: Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
What does the name mean? I have been unable to find the origin, or meaning, of the term "Bitis" except that it used to describe the African vipers that have a common threat display that involves hissing loudly whilst inflating and deflating their bodies, keeled scales, and a distinctive triangular head. The Puff adder (Bitis arietans) was the first to be described (type species) by German naturalist Blasius Merrem in 1820. All subsequent adders found in Africa with similar characteristics have been placed in this genus.
The first description the species was Clotho arietans. "Clotho" was the Greek Goddess of fate, the spinner of the thread of destiny.
The word "arietans" is also quite vague in its origin but more than likely is derived from the Latin words "arieto","arietare", and "arietatus" which when translated means "to strike violently"
Description: This is a thick robust heavily built snake. It has the distinctive triangular head normally associated with the genus.
The average length for these snakes is 90cm-1.1m (2.95ft-3.28ft). There are however records of specimens exceeding 1.9m (6.23ft) although this is rare. What these snakes lack in length, they make up in bulk. Specimens exceeding 4kg (8.8 lbs) are not uncommon.
The puff adder (like most members of the Viperidae family), is an ambush predator and thus colours vary greatly depending on the geographic location. It is also not uncommon to find a variation in colour within a relatively small area.
Dorsally, colours range from yellow,light brown, dark brown, orange, ochre, tan, beige overlaid with black lighter edged chevron shaped bands on the body and black cross-bands on the tail. Typically there are between 16-23 chevron shaped markings. The belly is white or yellow with several dark blotches randomly scattered along the length of the body.
The markings on the head consist of two oblique dark bands that extend from the eye to the supralabials, and dark blotches on the crown and between the eyes.
The term "cryptic colouration" is often used to describe the appearance of puff adders.
The colouration and heavily keeled scales give this species a generally dull appearance, although there have been some particularly bright specimens recorded from some regions (Eastern Cape). A striped phase of the species has also been recorded.
These snakes have "front-hinged" fangs situated at the front of the mouth which fold into the roof of the mouth within a protective sheath when the mouth is closed. When the mouth opens the fangs unfold outwards, similar to the action of a "switch-blade".
Venom: The venom is cytotoxic (tissue destroying). This species is responsible for more fatalaties than any other African snake, including the Black Mamba . This statistic is slightly misleading and bears no relevance to the potency of the venom itself. Although the puff adder is classified as the most dangerous snake in Africa, it is neither the deadliest, nor the most venomous snake in Africa.
Although bites are common, only a small proportion results in human fatality.
This may seem confusing at first, but the answer lies in the statistics. In South Africa alone the puff adder is responsible for 60% of all recorded snakebites, the remaining 40% can be divided between the other venomous snakes found in the region which includes the cobras, mambas and other members of the genusBitis.
The average venom yield per bite is between 100-300mg with the maximum yield of around 700mg.100mg is fatal in humans. A bite from this snake may result in death after 26 hours if treatment is not received.
Deep necrosis may result in severe cases which may lead to the amputation of the affected limb, and extensive reconstructive surgery is often needed.
Death usually results from kidney failure and other complications as a result of extensive swelling.
Check out this photo of a puff adder bite
Distribution: This species is the most common and widespread venomous snake in Africa. It's geographic range includes: South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Democratic republic of Congo (Zaire), Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen.
Habitat: The Puff adder is found in all habitats except for true deserts and rain forests and mountain tops. The preferred habitat for the species includes open grassland, savanna, open woodlands and rocky outcrops.
Habits: Puff adders are described as being both diurnal and nocturnal although they are mostly active at night.
This species "willingness to bite" is greatly exaggerated. As with all snakes, it is reluctant to bite unless provoked. Although I do not reccomend this, it is quite possible to stand next to a puff adder without enticing a bite.
The species is quite sluggish preferring to rely on its cryptic colouration and patterns for camouflage, and will only bite if trodden on, or surprised.
Despite its "sluggish" behaviour, this is arguably the fastest striking snake in the world. It can strike within.25 of a second both forward and to the side. Stories of them being able to strike backwards are unfounded and untrue.
These snakes are predominantly terrestrial although they have been observed climbing shrubs and small bushes.
As a result of this most bites from this species occur below the knee.
This snake is fond of swimming, and can often be found on roads at night.
When disturbed these snakes will coil themselves into a defensive posture and hiss loudly, hence its common name "Puff adder". It is a warning best heeded!
Reproduction: Puff adders are ovoviviparous. Ovoviviparity means that the young develop within an egg, and are nourished by the egg yolk, but instead of being incubated externally, the eggs are retained within the organisms body until they are ready to hatch. The average litter size is between 20-50 young. Litters of80 young have been recorded on several occasions. The record size of a litter was recorded by a large female which had a litter of 156 young.
The young measure between 13-20cm (5.1-7.87in).
The gestation period in this species is between 7-9 months although some records show a gestation period over 12 months.
Mating usually occurs in spring.
Diet: Prey items usually consist of rodents and sometimes birds.
This species does not actively hunt, but rather lies in ambush and waits for prey to come within striking distance. Prey items are seldom gripped, instead, once envenomated, the prey is released and later"tracked" by smell.
Subspecies: Two races are recognised:
Bitis arietans arietans, the common widespread puff adder.
Bitis arietans somalica found in Somalia and northern Kenya.
A third subspecies was proposed, namely Bitis arietans peghullae, but has been rejected.
Conservation StatusICUN Red List: Not evaluated
CITES: Not Listed
Snake venom can be best described as highly modified saliva that is produced by the parotid salivary gland. In snakes these glands are situated on either side of the head below and slightly behind the eyes.
It is important to note that snakes are venomous, and not poisonous as they are so often described.
So what is the difference between the two?
Venom needs to be injected either by a sting (insects), or in the case of snakes, a bite. This means that venomous animals have specific highly evolved delivery apparatus with which to inject venom.
In addition to specialised delivery methods, venomous animals also need to have specialised organs specifically designed for that purpose.
Poison needs to be ingested, or touched. Poison is generally distributed over a greater area, and generally secreted.
For example: It is possible to touch, even eat, a venomous snake and suffer no ill effects. The opposite is true for a poison dart frog (Dendrobates).
Conversely, you may allow a poison frog to bite you, not so a venomous snake.
So what is the difference? Well although both venomous and poisonous organisms may contain identical toxins, it is the delivery method of those toxins, and the way it is transported, or abosrobed in the body that differentiates between the two.
What is venom?
It is a cocktail, consisting of hundreds of different proteins and enzymes. Its proteinaceous nature was first established back in 1843 by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the nephew of emperor Napoleon.
A vast majority of these proteins and enzymes are completely harmless to man. However, a tiny percentage of those enzymes present are considered toxins.
There are roughly 20 types of toxic enzymes present in venomous snakes. Each of these enzymes serve a specific function. The majority of venomous snakes only employ 6-12 of these toxins. No single venomous species employs all 20 toxins.
An enzyme can be described as a biological catalyst. In snakes, the enzymes speed up the chemical reaction within the afflicted organism to such an extent that the organism either dies or is immobilised.
Here are a couple of examples of the enzymes. This information was sourced from www.chm.bris.ac.uk A more detailed explanation can be found at this site.
Cholinesterase : Present in Mambas (Dendroaspis) this attacks the nervous system.
Adenosine triphosphatase : Present in most snakes and believed to be the central agents resulting in shock.
Polypeptide toxins : Disrupt the nerve-impulse transmission causing heart or respiratory failure.
There are three distinct types of venom:
Nuerotoxic : A fast acting toxin responsible for attacking the nervous system. Results in paralysis, seizures, incoherence, respiratory failure and eventually death. eg Mambas, and non-spitting cobras.
Cytotoxic : This causes immense tissue damage, and necrosis. eg Puff-adder
Haemotoxic : Responsible for attacking the cardio-vascular system causing eventual organ failure. This process is slower than aforementioned toxins. eg Pit vipers, Boomslang, and vine snake.
Choosing a snake as a pet may prove more difficult than it seems.
Almost everything and anything is available in the pet trade these days, and snakes are no exception.Common sense must prevail and it is important to make the right choice.
The following guidelines are primarily aimed at those of you out there who have decided to purchase your first snake.
It is also important to note that if you already own a snake, even a venomous one, it unfortunately does not make you an expert, and these guidelines may also assist you in re-evaluating your choice. I do not mean this in a derogatory sense, and if I offend anyone, I apologise.
I do not classify myself as an expert, even though I have several hundred snakes and other reptiles in my collection and have kept snakes for many years there is always something new to be learned.
Choosing the right species
The best advice that I can offer to anyone wishing to purchase their first snake is to keep it simple. Choose a "hardy" species. Something that will be easier to care for without too much fuss.
Do not, no matter how tempting it may be, decide on a species that requires specialised care or dietary requirements as your first choice.
This may be frustrating at first, especially if your best friend has a king cobra , but you will benefit from this in the long run.
Remember, you learn to crawl before you can walk, and learn to walk before you can run.
Choosing a snake that is "hardy" will give you the time to build up confidence and knowledge and also allow room for errors without affecting the wellbeing of the snake. Your first snake should ideally be one of the following species:
Your first snake should be one that you can handle with confidence.
Choosing a snake that you can handle is extremely important. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but by being able to handle your pet snake routine chores like cleaning the enclosure or replacing the water bowl becomes easy and less stressful for both you and your pet.
Never purchase a snake that intimidates you. Remember that you are now responsible for the wellbeing and health of your snake.
Your first snake should be small and manageable.
This may sound silly, but the advantage of a small snake is that it allows you to "grow" with your new pet. By doing so you will pick up on certain behaviour traits, personality, and quirks, in other words you begin to build a relationship with your snake.
Size does matter
Your first priority when choosing a snake should be the wellbeing of your snake.
Do not purchase a baby python if you do not have the facility to care for it once it has reached adulthood.
Do your research before you buy.
Baby pythons may only need a mouse at first, but as adults they require more substantial prey items which may affect your budget.
Big snakes may well become a handful, and as a result often end up being neglected (or dumped) because their owners become intimidated by their sheer size. And where/how are you going to house a 4 metre python?
Someone once said that the only certainty in life is death and taxes. If you own a snake then the only certainty in life is death, taxes, and snakebite.
Be prepared, if you own a snake, or snakes,at some point you will get a bite.
That's a good thing! You'll learn a lot from that, and hopefully not make the same mistake twice.
Bear this in mind when choosing a snake. Some species are quite nippy at first but are easily habituated with the correct handling. Other species remain psychotic throughout their lives.
It is for this reason that I strongly advise a non-venomous species as opposed to venomous for any beginner or inexperienced snake owner.
By now you should have a clear indication whether a pet snake is the right option for you. If so, then let the journey begin!
Carolyn Budai, owner and passionate animal person.