First of all, what is snake venom? Snake venom is a deadly, yellow fluid that is stored in the modified salivary glands of venomous snakes. There are hundreds of poisonous snake species that use their venom to paralyze and immobilize their prey. Venom is made up of a complex mixture of proteins, enzymes, and other chemical components. These noxious compounds function by destroying cells, interfering with nerve signals, or causing botulism.
Snakes employ their venom with caution, injecting only enough to paralyze prey or protect against predators. Snake venom acts by tearing down cells and tissues, causing paralysis, internal hemorrhage, and death in the victim of a snake bite. To be effective, venom must be injected into tissues or enter the circulation. While snake venom is dangerous and lethal, scientists are using snake venom components to produce medications to cure human ailments.
Type of Snake Venom
Although snake venom is made up of a complex mix of toxins, enzymes, and non-toxic chemicals, it has traditionally been divided into three types: cytotoxins, neurotoxins, and hemotoxins. Cardiotoxin, myotoxins, and nephrotoxins are examples of snake toxins that attack specific types of cells.
Cytotoxins cause necrosis, or the death of most or all of the cells of a tissue or organ. Some tissues may undergo liquefactive necrosis, which causes the tissue to become partly or totally liquefied. Cytotoxins aid in the partial digestion of prey before it is consumed. Cytotoxins kill cells by causing cell lysis and disrupting the cell membrane.
Many venomous snake species have a combination of cytotoxins and some may also produce 3 other type of toxins:
- Cardiotoxins are cytotoxins that cause cell damage in the heart.
- Myotoxins attack and destroy muscle cells.
- Nephrotoxins destroy kidney cells.
Neurotoxins act by interfering with chemical signals (neurotransmitters) that are delivered between neurons. They may inhibit neurotransmitter synthesis or obstruct neurotransmitter receiving sites. Neurotoxins induce muscular paralysis, which can lead to breathing problems and death.
Neurotoxic venom is primarily produced by snakes of the Elapidae family. These snakes have small, erect fangs and include cobras, mambas, death adders, and coral snakes.
|Calciseptine||By inhibiting voltage-gated calcium channels, this neurotoxic impairs nerve impulse transmission. This poison is used by Black Mamba.|
|Cobrotoxin||Blocks nicotinic acetylcholine receptors resulting in paralysis. This poison is used by Cobra.|
|Calcicludine||Blocks voltage-gated calcium channels disrupting nerve signals. This poison is used by Eastern Green Mamba.|
|Calliotoxin||Attacks sodium channels and stops them from shutting, resulting in total body paralysis. This poison is used by Blue Coral Snakes.|
|Fasciculin-I||inhibits the function of acetylcholinesterase, resulting in uncontrolled muscular movement, convulsions, and respiratory paralysis. This poison is used by Eastern Green Mamba|
These toxins cause red blood cells to break, interfere with blood clotting factors, and cause tissue death and organ damage. Internal bleeding is caused by the destruction of red blood cells and the inability of blood to clot. The buildup of dead red blood cells can potentially impair kidney function. Some hemotoxins prevent blood clotting, while others induce platelets and other blood cells to clump together. Clots form as a result, obstructing blood circulation via blood arteries and potentially leading to heart failure.
Hemotoxins are produced by snakes in the Viperidae family, which includes vipers and pit vipers.
Immunity Among Other Animals
The question whether individual snakes are immune to their own venom has not yet been definitively settled, though an example is known of a cobra that self-envenomated! There are 4 animals that have been recently proved to be immune to the venom snakes:
1. Hedgehogs (Erinaceinae)
There are seventeen hedgehog species in five genera found in portions of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as New Zealand. Hedgehogs have some inherent tolerance to certain snake venom via the protein erinacin in the animal’s muscular system, although it is only available in limited doses, and a viper bite can still be lethal. Furthermore, hedgehogs are one of four mammalian species known to have mutations that defend against another snake venom, α-neurotoxin.
2. Mongoose (Herpestidae)
Mongooses are distinguished by their long faces and body, tiny, rounded ears, short legs, and long, tapering tails. The majority are brindled or grizzly; a few have heavily marked coats that resemble mustelids. Mongooses are one of at least four known animals having nicotinic acetylcholine receptor mutations that protect them from snake venom. Their modified receptors prevent the snake venom α-neurotoxin from binding.
3. Opossum (Didelphini)
Opossums are tiny to medium-sized marsupials that can grow to be as large as a house cat. The majority of this order’s members have long snouts, thin braincases, and a pronounced sagittal crest. Many large opossums are resistant to the poison of rattlesnakes and pit vipers (Crotalinae) and feast on these snakes on a regular basis. The opossum appear to be the only species with this adaption, as its nearest cousin, the brown four-eyed opossum, is not immune to snake venom.
4. Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis)
The honey badger has a rather lengthy body that is thick-set and wide across the back. Its skin is surprisingly supple, allowing it to bend and twist freely within it. Next to the wolverine, the honey badger has the least specialized diet of the weasel family. Insects, frogs, tortoises, turtles, lizards, rodents, snakes, birds, and eggs are also on its menu. It also eats berries, roots, and bulbs.
Honey badgers are one of four mammalian species known to have mutations that defend against another snake venom, α-neurotoxin.
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