Why do snakes need poison? This seemingly simple question has long been the subject of debate among specialists studying the behavior of these reptiles. Differing in composition and effects, snake poisons are not only unique tools for self-defense and food, but also constantly improving tools in the struggle for survival on the planet. After all, almost everything is afraid of snakes, from us humans, to the largest and most dangerous animals. And all because their bite can immobilize, bring unthinkable pain and, in the end, kill. Why did nature endow these creatures with such a unique ability?
Why do snakes need poison?
As stated, many are afraid of snakes. And, perhaps, not in vain: according to statistics, annually more than 100,000 people in the world die from snakebites. Basically, all these deaths occur as a result of self-defense, manifested by the predator in relation to humans. Due to the huge variety of poisons produced by snakes, the search for an antidote for each of them is sometimes simply impossible, but the difficulties of scientists do not end there. The fact is that over time, snake poisons become more complex in composition, write theconversation.com. Researchers simply do not have time to quickly notice these changes and create new antidotes.
Snake venom is a real cocktail of a variety of substances that are produced by special glands, which in most species are located behind the eyes. Despite the danger of snake venoms, people have learned to use them for good purposes. With a rich composition that includes various amino acids, snake venoms are often used in medicine as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent.
Amino acids are a kind of building material from which muscles, tendons and even hair are formed.
For a long time it was believed that the main function of natural poisons is to restrain and repel the attack of a predator until the aggressor is killed or wounded. In addition, by injecting poison into the body of another living creature, the snake instinctively realizes that the pain acts on him in such a way that he cannot quickly hide in a safe place. Be that as it may, the results of a new study showed that the “humanity” attributed to snakes, forcing them to use deadly poisons only for self-defense, actually has nothing to do with reality.
In order to test the theory of the evolution of snake venom, researchers from Bangor University decided to interview those representatives of professions who, on duty, have to most often suffer from poisonous snake bites. So, specially selected snake keepers, reptile researchers, and ecologists filled out questionnaires in which they talked about the poison bites they experienced and, in particular, the level of pain they experienced.
Do snakes bite painfully?
After interviewing more than 368 people who received a total of 584 bites from 192 different species of snakes, the researchers found that about 30% of all the bites of these reptiles have a fairly low level of pain a few minutes after the bite; only 15% of cases when snake bites caused debilitating pain in the first minutes after an animal’s attack on humans were detected, and 55% of respondents noted that the snake bites they suffered were almost completely painless. Thus, the theory that snake venom was invented by nature only to scare away a potential enemy for self-defense purposes was fundamentally wrong.
After analyzing the poisons that caused acute pain within minutes of being bitten, the researchers found that they had evolved several times in their entire history with the goal of causing as much harm as possible to their victim or adversary. In other words, some venomous snakes clearly do not intend to simply defend themselves in response to danger, preferring an active attack to defense.
It is difficult to argue with the conclusions of scientists, especially if you carefully study the properties of the poisons of some snakes. So, the Brazilian spear-headed snake (Bothrops moojeni), considered one of the most poisonous snakes on the planet, produces poison with substances whose main function is to cause pain. Spitting cobras have a unique behavioral adaptation for the use of protective poison, and their poisons cause severe pain in contact with the eyes. Instinctively aware of the most insecure places on the victim’s body, snakes, although they try to avoid meeting with humans and large animals, are nevertheless predators whose main goal has always been to get food in far from “humane” ways.