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Colubrid conundrum

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Posted by BGF on September 04, 2002 at 10:56:26:

In Reply to: Some info on dendros for parents.... prefferably BFG??? posted by Coluguy on September 03, 2002 at 22:44:11:

The 'Colubrid' superfamily is a toughie. Basically, with very few exceptions, they virually all have duvernoy's glands (typically considered to be a primitive form of the venom gland). However, very little is known about the potency of many of the species. As we research further and further though, some really nasty surprises have been popping up.

Common genera in particular I think are capable of severe or very dangerous bites are Dispholidus, Macropisthodon, Malpolon, Psammophis, Rhabdophis, Thelotornis. I would also be careful around Telescopus (the venom yeilds we've been getting out of them has been about four times the amount of a Boiga with an equivalent head size). The jury is out for many of the others.

Regarding Boiga specifically, thats one I am mixed on. While B. dendrophila is very very popular on the pet trade, and numerous people have been chewed on, the venom has not been properly characterised (we are doing that in a series of articles coming out soon). There are a lot of unknowns in the genus, some are very mild and some are very toxic. B. dendrophila falls in the middle. I personally would rate it a non-pet store snake but still a suitable snake for captive keeping by minors (I had numerous as teen myself). The relative danger is low and bites typically would manifest as mild neurological symptoms (headache and giddiness). However, others in the genus (can't tip the hand till we publish) are potentially considerably more dangerous. So, at this time I would say B. dendrophila, cynadon, trigonata and drapeizzi are on the safe side. I would put the rest either into the proven very toxic (can't say who, you'll have to wait and read) or unknown. As colubrid antivenoms (other than Dispholidus and Rhabdophis) are unavailable, I would rate a colubrid bite as the most dangerous of all simply because you don't know the effects and there is no adequate treatment. This is in contrast to the extremely deadly but well neutralised elapids.

Just use some sensible precautions when working with them as they are very bitey and have a very long strike range, and you should be fine. This is the species I start my students out on since they bring them up to speed on dealing with aggressive and intimidating snakes (all my specimens are wild caught two meter long demons!). Mistakes aren't punished usually by any more than a bit of blood, a little pain and some embarrassment ;-). This prepares them to step up to something where the stakes a lot higher. Its a long time before they get near anything of the power of a boomslang.

However, it might not hurt to have your doctor precribe you a 'bee-sting allergy kit' as any foreign protein can potentially cause allergic shock. I recommend that all keepers of bitey animals and especially those with toxic saliva/venom have these close at hand as anaphylaxis can kill in minutes (ie. food allergies).

All the best

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