Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Snakebite Alert

I don't know why, but when we were kids we used to be fascinated by scary things, both real (Tyrannosaurus Rex) and imaginary (like monsters). The idea of wrestling with alligators and swimming with sharks had a certain amount of heart-thumping appeal to me, and no doubt many others like me. Books about fires and disasters were interesting to me, though I am not sure why people would write such books if not only to offer fodder for nightmares. Poisonous snakes were on that list of things that simultaneously gave my young heart a chill and a thrill.

One of my favorite exhibits in the Cleveland Zoo was the building where they had all the snakes. I also liked to catch snakes to my grandmother's horror, but most of all I was fascinated by stories about snakes with fangs and venom. Like a lot of kids, I even kept lists like "the ten deadliest snakes."

There are only four kinds of poisonous snakes in the U.S.: the rattlesnake, water moccasin, copperhead and coral snake. Only the coral snake makes the list of top ten deadliest.

When I was a kid visiting my cousins in Nevada, I came across a coral snake. I remember vividly my uncle taking it my the tip of the tail and whipping it against the concrete walkway near the hen house they had. Coral snakes do not have the muscularity in the neck that a rattlesnake or sidewinder has, hence you can do this kind of thing... though children, please defer to your elders before attempting this trick.

I once did a painting in college that included hands playing with a snake. The coral snake is of the same coloration as the harmless king snake with bands of yellow, red and black. The way to tell them apart has to do with the way in which the colors appear on the head. In my painting, the snake had two heads, one end which was the king snake color pattern, and the other a coral snake. The message in this part of the painting was that what often appears harmless might, in fact, be quite deadly.

My father told a few stories about his experiences overseas involving poisonous snakes. In the Philippines and Southeast Asia they have an extremely deadly snake called the krait, which would live up in trees. They were small and would sometimes fall out of the trees and bite you on the neck, killing you instantly. This was a truly terrifying notion for me, the idea of playing in the woods, aimlessly running around and then having something fall from out of nowhere to kill you. My imagination was stimulated to hyperdrive.

I mention all these things because of an article in this month's Popular Mechanics about the venom crisis. It seems that the company which makes antivenom for coral snake bites stopped production in 2003 because it was simply not profitable. The October expiration dates on this med means that people bit in November are going to be out of luck unless something is done. My guess is that instead of the kids having nightmares about scary things, the parents of children who live in coral snake environments will now be the ones having nightmares.

Just one more thing to worry about, I suppose. We'll keep the light on for you.


M. Denise C. said...

Gee, thanks, Ed! I think we have all of those lovely snakes here in Texas . . .

ENNYMAN said...

Everything has its trade-offs. No poisonous snakes in Minnesota, but we have winters that can be pretty lengthy and frigid (I have seen -42 on our thermometer)...
California has earthquakes and forest fires, Florida hurricanes and alligators, Oklahoma has tornadoes... so there's plenty of unpleasantness for everyone, I suppose.