Why should you care about venom?
Most of the time when you hear the word “venom,” you think of a toxic liquid that is “bad” or something that will lead to death. So a lot of times, venomous reptiles can sometimes be thought of poorly in the animal world. Why should you care?
There is so much potential for human use of venom in medical treatments. Snake venoms are made up of very complex proteins. Scientists are constantly discovering new ways to break down and use the venoms’ composition. There are many different compounds from snake venoms being studied to combat cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, pain disorders, and diabetes.
An example: “Captopril,” a medication used to treat high blood pressure, is made with a protein found within a South American viper’s (Bothrops jararaca) venom. Did you know that this drug has been used for over 30 years now?
Of course, there are many species of venomous snake that can be dangerous to humans. Around the world, snake bite is a relatively rare occurrence compared to other medical maladies. Death from snake bite is even more rare. There are only a few labs in the world that house venomous snakes and collect venom by “milking” or “extracting” it from snakes. Once the venom has been collected and processed, the labs then ship it out for research or for antivenom production. Antivenom (or antivenin) is a lifesaving drug that is used to combat snake bite. Within antivenom there are antibodies that can bind to the venom and neutralize the negative effects.
You might be wondering about our work with venomous snakes here at Zoo Atlanta. We have many protocols in place for working with venomous snakes, and those of us who work with venomous snakes are especially trained to do so. We always have antivenom fresh in stock if needed. Because we have many different species of venomous snakes, some coming from the other side of the world, we also have different antivenoms. All of our antivenom for exotic snake bites is stored at the Zoo in case of emergency. Some antivenoms are polyvalent, which means they have a combination of different snake venom immunities, and some are monovalent, meaning the immunities are only derived from a single species. In short, polyvalent antivenoms can be used to treat bites from multiple species, while monovalent antivenoms can only treat bites from a single species.
Even though there are many positive things that are being done with venom to benefit the lives of humans, we are often taught from a young age to dislike snakes. All snakes, even the venomous kinds, serve valuable roles in their ecosystems. We hope you come to Zoo Atlanta and admire the diversity and beauty of venomous snakes!
Keeper II, Herpetology