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Stiletto Snakes: Clever Biters with Nasty Venom
Horrifying shots of Necrosis after Stiletto bitesClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Frightening Effects of Necrotic Venom
Hubbers and researchers who have followed some of my articles for the last 3 years will know that I specialize - or used to - in writing about snakes and arachnids - spiders and scorpions, etc., creatures that give many of us goose-bumps and the shudders.
The subject seemed pretty much exhausted, especially with so much information on wildlife TV programs and the Internet, but very occasionally, a creature pops-up of which I have heard little: such is the protagonist of this small treatise, the Stiletto Snake, or snakes, as these are around 60 species which this sometimes deadly little snake can call its extended family.
One of the reason I had not heard of the Stiletto - or Atractaspididae as it is properly called, is that herpetologists have been struggling to correctly classify the reptile for some years. Only recently has the large genera been identified and arguments still persist as to where the individual species still belong.
The Stiletto and its fellows are nearly all confined to Africa, spilling over into the neighboring Middle Eastern countries.
Some are tiny insect eating snakes, while others are the approximate size of Kraits and can grow to 2 or 3 feet in length.
The Stiletto, variously known as the Mole Viper, Burrowing Asp, Stabbing Snake, Side Biter, etc., is the one we are looking at today as it is the member of the species which has caused the worst problems to man.
It has a very nasty venom indeed and one that is principally necrotic in nature. That is, like the feared Brown Recluse Spider it’s venom attacks the area it is injected and proceeds to destroy tissue and even bone, achieving in spectacular fashion what the substance does in its prey, a small mammal or bird. That is, it begins to digest the flesh of its victim to help in its own internal process, once devoured. It also possesses the ability to paralyze muscles and can cause people to have difficulty breathing as well as heart problems.
It is because the snake’s venom has such a profound effect on small mammals, such as mice, that is it predisposed to affect all mammals, even large ones like us.
The Stiletto Snake has another alarming characteristic and one that has caused the quite high incidence of bites on humans. It can fool even experienced snake handlers by still being able to sink its long fangs into an uninformed hand with its mouth still closed! And it can still bite from the sides of its mouth even when gripped from behind the head, the grip that negates most snake’s ability to use their fangs! It has a nasty temper, too, and will continue to “slash” with its “stilettos” as long as it is restrained…which we don’t imagine would be for very long.
Most snakes have the ability to - and do - inject as much venom as they think a situation demands. Which is why many people have survived attacks from even the most feared of snakes, like Taipans, Mambas, Cobras and the rest. Venomous snakes in the main aren’t interested in killing their human molesters but merely escaping their attentions, they rarely try to expel all their potent charge of venom which would leave them defenseless for a time. So they give you a jolt or two with the accompanying pain and shock in the hope you piss off. Holding on tight to them, though, or following close behind an escaping snake and trying to tread on its undulation body is likely to get you a much greater volume of venom injected the second time when it turns on you, and the deaths we are all familiar with…good, you are too macho, cruel and/or stupid to live!
To digress for a moment, we have all read these “Which is the worst” lists of snakes and spiders, etc. None are truly accurate because of variables such as the amount of venom injected, the size of the species, the kind of venom, (neurotoxin, etc), whether allergies are considered, the site of the bite, number of bites, the size and age of the victim, the time between the attack and receiving treatment, whether an antivenin is available and several more considerations. The “worst” species mentioned above are not the snakes which have caused the most deaths, which honor might belong to the Krait and other small species which inhabit towns and cities in India, etc.
The Stiletto Snake attacks are often spectacular, as is the Recluse Spider, because of the horrifying after-effects of the necrosis which can spread from a thumb, say, all the way up the arm, take years to resolve and involve major surgery and plastic surgery. (See photos).
As there is no antivenin for Atractaspididae venom, (and often accompanying bacterial infection common with many snake attacks) a small bite on the hand can result in weeks of hospitalization and months of follow-up surgery and therapy.
Hey-ho. Why oh why do people mess with snakes who are minding their own humble business and moving around territory that has been theirs for millions of years before man was a gleam in some monkeys eye!
At least the little yellow people don’t make snake soup or they wouldn’t last very long - like the sharks, which poor creatures the Chinese are hounding into early extinction by encouraging the capture of millions each month. Just so their wealthy citizens can enjoy cachet by serving shark-fin soup to their impressed neighbors.
The fisherman just cut the fins off and leave the rest to rot! Disgusting and wanton (wonton?) cruelty. The new great consumers, the Chinese are trouble with a big T for the world’s wildlife…and don’t try to fool us by cuddling bloody Pandas!!
Readers. Please read Christopher Rex' comment below on my article as he adds vital information.