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Snakes Not on a Plane

February 23, 2012

In India, and on certain faraway planets, snakes are revered. In the West, however snakes don’t get much respect. When they’re not offering forbidden fruit, or terrorizing planes, they’re consuming everything that moves in Florida. (Maybe a few snakes in New England would take care of Lyme disease?) But snakes were here on Earth long before humans. Truly Native Terrans, unlike us space invaders. Which race was it that seeded us, according to Star Trek?

Anyway, like most endangered natives, snakes face disease. Rattlesnakes in Illinois are succumbing to grotesque infections by Chrysosporium–a soil fungus that looks rather pretty when it’s just growing on its own, but can become a nasty opportunist.

So where did the snake-infecting strain come from? Genetic testing of infected wildlife suggests it’s a strain commonly found in black rat snakes kept as pets. So, yet another angle on the escaped pet problem–in this case, not the snake itself, but the pet snake’s pathogen that infected wild snakes. We usually think of wild animals as a “reservoir” of emerging pathogens, but we forget that pets from pet stores are swarming with invisible vermin that thrive in the cramped, stressed conditions of most commercial captive animals.

Should we care about rattlesnakes, the cause of 82% of human deaths by snakebite? According to some, some of us care too much about Earth’s nonhuman inhabitants, since God put Earth here for “our benefit, not for the Earth’s benefit.” What would Quetzalcoatl say about that.

4 Comments
  1. February 23, 2012 11:43 pm

    Nothing wrong with rattlesnakes. I much prefer them to plagues of rats or squirrels. Around here, someone called them one of the “three poisons, the guardians of the chaparral,” the other two being ticks and poison oak. That’s a good thing, I think.

    The stats, however…According to “The Global Burden of Snakebite: A Literature Analysis and Modelling Based on Regional Estimates of Envenoming and Deaths” (Kasturiratne et al. 2008, PLoS Medicine), most snakebite deaths occur in South and South-East Asia, and rattlesnakes are a New World group. I can believe rattlesnakes cause most of the (very few) snakebite deaths in the US, since they are most of the venomous snakes here.

    As for Santorum, I think his comment shows what he thinks of leadership. If you are a good Christian, a leader is in the model of God, King Solomon, or Jesus, someone who is “wise, just, faithful to God, and seeking of the good for their people and land. In other words, good kings are life-giving” (http://jesusandtheorangutan.wordpress.com/2008/04/13/dominion-vs-stewardship-2/). I don’t consider myself a good Christian, but I could live with that type of leadership.

    If a leader thinks that dominion means exploitation for one’s immediate supporters at the expense of everything else, then I think that’s an excellent sign of how such a person will rule.

    If you’re rather snarky on the subject of Biblical literalism, it’s also worth asking how someone as Biblically literalist as he claims to be could even contemplate a space program, given how the Earth is a flat plate floating on the face of the deep. Yes, I know, he should be supporting slavery and stoning as well, seeing how that’s in the Bible, while things like equality and democracy are not, but that’s what we get when we pick and choose what verses we’re willing to believe are literally true, as translated into English.

    • March 4, 2012 5:04 pm

      Larry,I think your assumption rinrousdung the details of this bite are probably correct. I never say never, but, it is highly unlikely that a rattlesnake would be at all active at those temperatures. Although we have seen snakes in dens survive very low temperatures, it is next to impossible for the snake to be able to physically function at 28 degrees.Check your laws for the State of Nebraska but I do know in Omaha it is illegal to keep venomous snakes. When this is the case, most people who illegally keep reptiles will concoct some asinine story like that to explain away a bite. For instance, just last month in Maryland a lady claimed to have been bitten by a cobra in a parking lot because she “thought it was a stick and bent down to pick it up.” Upon investigation it turns out she had a number of venomous snakes in her house.In another case in the East a few years back, a lady presented at the ER with a snakebite, claiming it was from a native rattlesnake. The ER administered Crofab Antivenom to no effect. She died quickly due to cranial hemorrhaging. It was later determined to have been a bite by a South American Urutu. Her local zoo stocked the appropriate antivenom so if she had identified the snake properly on presentation it is very likely she would be alive today.Terry

    • March 5, 2012 4:17 am

      I just discovered your blog this ennvieg and am thoroughly enjoying it. I do gopher tortoise surveys in the summer, and have come close to quite a few rattlesnakes — mostly pigmies, but also some large eastern diamondbacks. Not one has ever tried to strike at me. When disturbed, the diamondbacks just crawl a few feet away, coil up, and look menacing.Pigmies are so common on one management area that my co-workers and I found ourselves shrugging and taking half a step to the side when we were about to step on them. They didn’t even react to our presence, just continued on their way. I’ll bet we walked right by dozens without ever seeing them.

  2. March 5, 2012 3:54 am

    I think it is in all likelihood safe to allow your dogs free roam in your fecend yard. And by all means take some of those tips about rattlesnake-proofing your property in our blog post. Too, take a good look at your property and the surrounding area from a snake’s point of view, specifically looking at identifying any potential food, shelter or watering areas and eliminating them.As for the vaccination series for your dogs to protect them from snakebite The current information shows that the vaccinations do no harm but have yet to be proven to do much good. So, it might help but is more of an $800 peace of mind action. Even with the vaccination you will have to take the dog to the veterinarian in the event of a snakebite. They will still need to do blood panels, supportive therapy (ie fluids, pain management etc) and quite possibly antivenom therapy. So, I think I can answer your question best by saying that my dogs live in a fecend yard where I have found a rattlesnake, which means rattlers live in the area but I have only found the one. I have not had them vaccinated and have no plans to so at this time. I am not yet sold on the benefit.Additionally, they don’t identify what it means when they say recently vaccinated We can assume that the antibodies would require a booster shot far more frequently than the recommended dosages to prevent any real protection. It makes me thing they would likely require frequent boosters.The following is taken from the manufacturer’s website. The vaccine stimulates your dog’s own immunity. This process makes vaccination safer than antivenom treatment. Protective antibodies made by your dog in response to the vaccine start neutralizing venom immediately. On average, antibody levels in recently vaccinated dogs are comparable to treatment with three vials of antivenom. This means vaccinated dogs should experience less pain and a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bite. Snakebite is always an emergency. Even after your dog is vaccinated against rattlesnake venom, she should be taken to a veterinarian for evaluation and care as soon as possible following snakebite. Even bites by non-venomous snakes can lead to serious infections and antibiotic treatment may be needed. A veterinarian can determine if your dog is sufficiently protected for the specific type of snake involved and the amount of venom injected, or whether additional medical treatment would be helpful. Thanks for asking, I am sure others have the same questions. I hope this helps.Terry

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