This Video Explains the Chemistry of Snake Venom
Venom is kind of like pie, in that it’s one word that means a lot of different things (and that's where their similarities end, thankfully). Boston Cream Pie, pizza, and apple pie are all circular and contain flour, but they branch pretty dramatically from there. Similarly, a cytotoxin and a neurotoxin may both drip down a snake’s fangs and into a puncture wound, but there’s a big difference in what happens next. In the video above, the crew at the American Chemical Society breaks it all down (that’s a cytotoxin joke).
Venom and poison are two different things. The best way to remember it is: “If it bites you and you die, it’s venomous. If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous.” Some snakes are venomous, while others are poisonous and venomous.
The antipathy between humans and snakes has been around since prehistory, but the truth is that it really only goes in one direction. Despite what jungle action movies might have you think, most snakes really do just want to be left alone. As the narrator of the video above explains, “the majority of venomous snake bites come from situations where people are the ones bothering or mishandling venomous snakes, not the other way around.”
The odds of being attacked by a venomous snake are extremely low, especially in the United States. You are more likely to be killed by lightning or have your pajamas melt than you are to be bitten by a venomous snake.
So, here’s a handy snakebite prevention tip: Don’t antagonize snakes. As snake sound expert Bruce Young told mental_floss last year, if you hear a snake making a scary noise, “it’s only because you scared it. Leave the poor thing alone.”
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