How snake venom works ?
In the common belief, Snakes frighten because they can be very dangerous ⚠️. Snake venom can indeed be lethal to humans in case of a bite. But have you ever wondered why snakes have venom, and how it works?
In this article, we are going to introduce you to the Origin of Snake Venom 📖 and how it works. Then you will discover its effect on medicine, and the unexpected virtues it can have!
1. SNAKE VENOM
A. WHAT IS SNAKE VENOM?
A question that may seem silly, but it's not stupid!
In snakes, venom is a yellow toxic liquid ☣️, produced in a gland attached to each fang. The composition of Snake Venom is as follows: a complex mixture of proteins, peptides, and other organic and inorganic molecules. These molecules have evolved to harm, immobilize, or kill. The venom is primarily used to aid in the digestion of the prey.
Each species of Venomous Snake produces a particular venom. Although these venoms are composed of a complex mixture of molecules, they have always been classified into three main types:
- Cytotoxic: destroys cells in the body 💀. Cytotoxins cause most or all of the cells in a tissue or organ to die, with an abnormality called necrosis.
- Neurotoxic: a chemical substance that is toxic to the nervous system. Neurotoxins act by disrupting chemical signals called neurotransmitters, which transmit information between neurons. Neurotoxins cause muscle paralysis, which can also lead to breathing difficulties and death.
- Hemotoxic: a blood poison that has cytotoxic effects, and also disrupts normal blood coagulation processes by destroying red blood cells. Hemotoxins can cause severe bleeding 🩸. The accumulation of dead red blood cells in the body can also interfere with the proper functioning of the kidneys.
There are also additional types of molecules, present in all snake venoms but smaller quantities, which target specific cells:
- Cardiotoxicity: damages the cells of the heart and can cause cardiac arrest.
Myotoxin: dissolves muscle cells
- Nephrotoxic: destroys kidney cells
B. VENOM INJECTION
The majority of poisonous snakes deliver poison to their prey with their fangs. The fangs are very effective in delivering venom by piercing the skin tissue and allowing the poison to flow into the wound. Some snakes are also capable of spitting venom like the Philippine Cobra 🐍. Venom injection systems contain four main elements:
- Venom Glands: These are located behind the snake's head. That is where the venom is produced and stored.
- Muscles: Muscles behind the glands will act to help the snake inject the venom.
- Duct: they are used to transport the venom from the glands to the fangs
- Fangs: Sharp teeth with a duct that allows the snake to inject the venom into the victim.
In general, snakes are not vulnerable to their venom 😅. This is due to various mechanisms that prevent the toxins in their venom from attaching to their cells, or due to the structure of their venom gland that prevents the substance from returning to the snake's mouth when it bites.
However, although venomous snakes are not vulnerable to their venom, they are vulnerable to the venom of other venomous snakes.
You too can show your passion for these beautiful and deadly creatures with our beautiful Snakes T-Shirts!
2. THE ORIGINS OF SNAKE VENOM
A. WHY ARE SNAKES VENOMOUS?
Some snakes can use the venom to attack their prey or defend themselves against predators. Venom production is a capability that has developed over millions of years of evolution.
Snakes have existed for 54 million years and are present in ecosystems around the world 🌏. Today there are 200 different species of venomous snakes. The ability of some snakes to produce venom is the result of Random Mutations that have emerged through evolution and adaptations to the environment. These mutations have been retained because they represented a major advantage!
It is believed that snake venom evolved by copying certain harmless genes that were originally present in the species. Over time these new copies acquired unique mutations, which gave them a High Toxicity ☠️.
B. ADAPTATION TO THE VENOM
These new genes give the snake a survival advantage, so they are conserved over time 🕰️.
But when a species of the snake becomes venomous (which takes millions of years), it does not hit the jackpot. The prey and predators of this snake will over time develop a resistance against the venom. This can take the form of better reflexes to dodge venomous animals 💨, better camouflage, and even Genetic Resistance to venom. So venomous snakes cannot afford to stop adapting.
Prey and predators confront each other in a never-ending struggle, a kind of "biological arms race" 🔫. And this with small adjustments at the individual level, which allows the selection of the animals most likely to survive a venomous bite.
If by some bad luck an animal is bitten by a poisonous snake and survives. The snake will have a better chance of passing on its gene pool to its offspring. This will result in animals that are more resistant to the venom. 👨🏻🔬
C. HUMANS AND SNAKES
Humans now have a major influence on the evolution of the venom of all snake species. This evolution is largely due to climate change and human activity 🏭. These two factors are continually modifying the ecosystems in which snakes live.
Snakes stay in their natural habitat. It has also been observed that snakes migrate further north as the world warms.
These developments could lead to an increased risk of Snake Attacks and Snake Bites in the future, as evidenced by accidents with Reticulated Pythons devouring a man in South-Asia 😱
This adaptation will result in future changes to the snakes. Like for example more venomous species or others that will lose their poison.
3. VENOMOUS SERPENTS
A. WHY ARE SOME SNAKES MORE VENOMOUS THAN OTHERS?
If you are used to reading articles or watching videos about snakes, then you have probably heard something like "one bite from this snake can kill 100 persons". How can they come up with that kind of answer? 🧐
In theory, scientists have concluded that the most venomous snake for humans is the Inland Taipan. Its venom is so powerful and toxic that it can kill up to 200 people! Yeah Yeah, 200 PEOPLE...😧. However, other species are also dangerous to humans. If you are interested we recommend our Top 15 Dangerous Snakes of the World!
Of course, you can imagine that this has never been tested on humans! Instead, small amounts are tested on mice, and from there we estimate how the results could affect humans.
B. Why all snakes are not poisonous?
One may wonder, given that venom is a very effective survival tool 🤔.
Producing Venom requires a lot of energy. Therefore, its production must bring more food into the snake's belly to make it profitable. Sometimes the fact that a snake is venomous simply doesn't help it catch more prey ❌. So over time, the ability of this species to produce venom will disappear, because it takes up energy for no reason.
Two well-known snake species have lost the ability to produce venom. Pythons and anacondas. They use constriction to smother and devour their prey.
There are also the "Little Evolutionary Cunning Snakes": non-venomous snakes that take on the appearance of extremely venomous snakes, to guarantee their survival 👍. This cheap trick is very beneficial: it saves the copier the extra energy costs of producing venom. A classic example is the Milk Snake. This harmless species has a very similar colored pattern to the Coral Snake, a highly venomous species.
C. Why are we afraid of snakes
German, Austrian and Swedish researchers have tried to find out where these uncontrollable fears come from. And it seems that they are hereditary. Indeed, 6-month-old babies show signs of fear when they see these animals, even though they have never seen them in real life and do not know that they can be dangerous.
To make this conclusion, the scientists showed different pictures with similar colors to a group of 20 6-month-old babies. In some of the photos, there were flowers, spiders, snakes, and fish. The researchers measured the dilation of their pupils when the babies saw the pictures. It appears that children dilated their pupils more when they saw snakes or spiders.
As a reminder, pupil dilation is a sign of stress or fear.
This makes the child predisposed to be afraid of spiders and snakes. And this fear can be increased if the parents themselves have developed a phobia.
4. VENOM AND MEDICINE
Snake venom has always played a central role in medical history. The snake has become a symbol of medicine in the form of the Rod of Asclepius⚕️, the Greek god of healing and medicine.
A. THE EFFECTS OF SNAKE VENOM ON HUMANS BLOOD
Snake venom is one of the most studied because of the medical importance of snake bite. Each year these animals kill over 150,000 people worldwide, with 400,000 amputated each year 😓
Snake venom stops the body's internal communication. It is composed of a cocktail of venomous substances that can have completely different functions depending on each serpent. The mamba and cobra use Neurotoxin that blocks communication between nerves and muscles, limiting the victim's ability to move or breathe.
The human body can defend itself against venom, thanks to the production of antibodies. The problem is that it takes a week to produce an effective amount ⌚, while some venoms kill in less than 2 hours...
B. IS THERE ANY ANTIVENOM
Several treatments have been found. Antivenoms have become highly demanded in many countries. Unfortunately, developing countries are often lacking this type of remedy against snake bites. The World Health Organization (WHO) has added anti-venom to the list of important medicines.
To make an anti-venom, you logically need a venomous snake 😁. To extract this liquid, we're going to take a snake by the jaw and bite it into a container. The venom will flow into the recipient. Then we dry it and sell it.
To make anti-venom, snake poison is then injected into Animals, usually horses 🐎. These animals produce antibodies that act against toxins in the venom.
Then, once the antibodies mature in the animal's body. They will be injected into humans as serums. This treatment is effective most of the time. However, some people will develop an allergic reaction.
Today, even if it remains difficult to make Effective Antidotes, scientists now know how snake venom works 👩🔬. It always acts in the same way on the human organism, this is its great strength but also its weak point. This could lead to the development of more effective antivenoms in the future. The idea of an antivenom that works against all snakes types is now very realistic.
C. Venom Immunity
Some people dared to be bitten by poisonous snakes. A celebrity by the name of Steve Ludwin had the idea of being bitten by more than 35 species of the world's most venomous snakes... Is he dead? ☠️
Not, by the way, he is in excellent shape 💪! Even if you think he has put his life in danger, his experiments have allowed scientists to create antibodies. Ludwin's immune system reacted to every snake bite by creating antibodies. Some of them will be used to create antivenoms.
But the idea of ingesting snake venom to develop immunity is not new. Mithridates VI of Pontus, a king of antiquity, was so afraid of being murdered by the poison that he would have ingested small amounts of venom and poison for years 🍸. According to legend, this would have allowed him to develop Immunity. He is also known to have developed the first antidote, as he made the "Mithridate Remedy". This substance was a mixture of antidotes against known venomous reptiles and various toxic substances.
5. THE BENEFITS OF SNAKE VENOM
What if these deadly poisons could help us save lives? Against pain, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, venoms open up promising ways in many areas of health care.
A. SNAKE VENOM AS MEDICINE
Chinese medicine had understood it: venoms are not necessarily poisoning for humans, they can also heal. Research has taken over the field of snake venoms to propose scientifically validated therapeutic applications. Despite the potential of drugs derived from this toxic substance, only seven have been approved to date.
👉 Did you know that the Black Mamba belonged to the same family of Snakes as the Royal Cobra? If you're a fan of these little critters too, take a look at our Silver Snake Rings!
The medical applications of snake venom are many and varied:
- Painkiller: The venom of the black mamba, one of the most venomous snakes in the world, contains a molecule that could become a better painkiller than morphine. It acts in a non-opioid way, avoiding the risk of addiction. It could be used in chronic and acute pain.
- kidney disease: In polycystic kidney disease, an incurable disease, a toxin derived from the venom of the black mamba, acts on a receptor present in the kidney to reduce the appearance of cysts.
- Snake Venom for Diabetes: The venom of the Bothrops Jararaca could also be used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
- Snake Venom for Neuro-Muscular Dysfunction: In the 1960s, scientists discovered the molecular mechanism behind a serious muscle disease called Myasthenia gravis, using Common Krait venom.
B. Snake venom: A new anti-wrinkle?
The beneficial effect of a cream-based on snake venom comes from the tripeptide. Its main characteristic is to relax facial muscles. This gives it a very effective anti-wrinkle effect. The effects of a cosmetic based on snake venom are in this respect quite comparable to those of Botox. They both act on a similar principle, a relaxing effect that instantly reduces wrinkles and fine lines.
Finally, even if we fear venomous serpents, snake venom is proving to have many virtues, especially in the medical and pharmaceutical fields 💊.
Just like the Symbolism of the Snake, snake venom has been part of the History of Man since he has been able to understand and interpret the world. This animal continues to fascinate us today, but to continue to study it safely, it is necessary to know how to identify a snake.