Venom: Hero or Foe?

So you are walking in the middle of the rainforest when you are caught off guard by a king cobra! Without so much as a warning, you are viciously bitten in the leg. After reading this post, you should be aware of the venom that is now coursing through your body. Poison can be found in several of animals all around the world, and most famously in serpents.  One certain poisonous snake is commonly known as a cobra, but this serpent can be used to entertain people in an activity called snake charming. Snake charming involves a snake charmer sitting in front of a cobra in a basket playing a flute, making the cobra sway to the sound of the music.  Even though you would think the cobra’s instinct is to attack the snake charmer, it most likely never will. Why is this?  According to Dr. Wolfgang Wuster, cobras are defensive and not aggressive, which means they will not attempt to strike. Also, the cobra’s striking range is only about one third of its length, so the snake charmer will know to sit that much of a distance away from the cobra.

     The snake charmer presented in the video has been practicing snake charming almost all his life. But no matter how much training one has had, there will be accidents. Take for example David Weathers, an animal entertainer that has handled cobras many times in his career. He was just putting a cobra back in its box for the night but while closing the box, the cobra sprung forward and bit him in the stomach.

     Cobra venom is neurotoxic which means that the venom attacks the nervous system and will result in paralysis. The venom can cause kidney failure and as the venom spreads through the body it eats away at tissue. Snake venom is mainly composed of many proteins and enzymes. The cobra’s venom is known to have higher concentrations of esterases. The enzymes found in venom denature proteins by breaking the peptide bonds between amino acids. A more thorough explanation of specific enzymes and their role can be found here.

     So what makes venom so toxic? The enzymes in the snake venom actually speeds up the chemical reactions in the organism so much that it can result in death. Specifically, cobra venom will prohibit neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine molecules, from interacting with the receptor sites located on the diaphragm muscle. Blocking the receptor sites on the diaphragm will cause the diaphragm to stop functioning and the victim will struggle to breathe. If left untreated, the victim will die within 30 minutes.

     Even though cobra venom can cause serious harm, it has also been found as a relief from pain for people that have arthritis. In 2002, a man named Joe De Casa, who suffered from arthritis, was bitten by a venomous snake. After surviving the bite, he claimed that the next few months after being bitten were his only pain free days ever since suffering from arthritis. After doing some research, it has been found that cobra venom may be able to treat arthritis and also prevent further damage from the condition. Scientists have determined that the venom from the Indian monocellate cobra displays anti-arthritic activity when lab tested on rodents. Eight years later, scientists had developed an over-the-counter pain reliever that uses cobra venom under the brand name Cobroxin, which has now become Nyloxin. Even to this day, cobra venom is still being studied for treating some of the several forms of pain, cancers, and other disorders. Researches in China are also examining the possibility that cobra venom can even be used to treat drug addiction. More information about Nyloxin and the effect cobra venom has can be found here.

     

     Although similar, the terms poison and venom cannot be used interchangeably. Poison can only be delivered if you eat or touch whatever or whoever obtains the poison. Some of the most lethal poisoners happens to be one of the smallest: Poison Dart Frogs. Poison dart frogs often warn their predators with their bright and differing neon colors. Animals choosing to feed on such a frog should definitely think twice, for in some cases, only 2 micrograms of the toxins from those little guys can be lethal, even to a human! Venom can be injected into an animal or human, most notably through biting, stinging, or stabbing. Venom is voluntarily used, usually to weaken or kill a prey for consumption. The wound can be of any size, as long as the secretion is successfully transferred from the gland to the inside of the preyed animal. In this case, think of the cobra. Its venom contains a cardiotoxin. The cardiotoxin causes cardiac arrest. Many venoms serve many different functions, from the funnel-web spider’s ability to cause arrhythmia, coma, and even death, to the platypus’ paralyzing venom, primarily used to assert dominance over other male platypuses.

     Back to the matter at hand, your bite! You are probably feeling a bit tired, light-headed or numb. Perhaps you have searing pain that is spreading, as well as swelling around the bite area. This is natural in most bite cases. Stay calm, and make sure that the affected area is cleared of all obstructions. This could include clothes or jewelry. Restrict your movement, and make sure that your wound is below heart level. Take all safe precautions to reduce the flow of the venom through your body. A pump suction device would be optimal in this situation, as it could minimize the amount of venom flowing through the body at early stages of the bite. Other than these steps, the rest is essentially out of your hands. Obviously, you should get to a hospital as fast as possible.

     So let’s recap on all the information that we have learned. Whether you are a trained professional or an innocent bystander, as long as you are near a cobra there is always a chance of getting bitten. The enzymes in the venom that diffuses in the blood will cause reactions to occur in the victims body at a faster pace and can eventually cause your death. Venom also has practical uses in medicine that should not be overlooked. A clear distinction is created between poison and venom. Finally, perhaps the most important thing that could be taken away from this post is learning how to treat a bite. You never know when it will come in handy.

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