First let me say I am not going to cover all the
snakes that we have here. It would take too much time and would
be of little value. All of Central America has, in general, the
same snakes. Maybe different varieties, but pretty much the same.
I am going to speak mostly of Costa Rica but it applies to all of
There are, in Costa Rica, 135 species of snakes.
Thats a lot! The good news is that only 17 species are poisonous.
Now of the 17 venomous species one is the deadliest, the Sea Snake
that inhabits quiet protected coves of the Pacific Coast. This critter
is very well mannered and never bothers anyone.
We have two species of poisonous Coral Snakes ("Corral"
in Spanish). The Corral Macho (Corralillo), and the Gargantilla.
We also have the very similar but non-poisonous Corral Falsa.
These snakes are NOT pit vipers. Sea Snakes, Corral
Snakes, are in the same group with Cobras, etc. They are not very
dangerous unless you are exceptionally stupid. None of these snakes
have the long, forward located fangs of the pit vipers. You have
seen those tee shirts with the picture of a giant, threatening,
Cobra with the huge 3 inch fangs? Well, he dont exist either.
ALL these snakes have very small fangs and the good part for us
is that these fangs are NOT located in the front of their mouth.
The Cobra, I believe, has fangs about halfway down his upper jaw.
The Corrals fangs are at the very rear of their mouth. Almost
in their throat. This characteristic makes it very difficult for
a Sea Snake or a corral to bite you. They pretty much have to have
something already in their mouth before they can deliver the venom.
Before someone jumps on me, let me say that a large Cobra CAN bite
you simply because he is so big that he can get your arm etc in
The Corral Snakes of Central America are somewhat
larger than you are used to in The US but still pretty small. They
can attain a length of about 90cm (40 inches). The Sea Snake is
about the same size. Would you believe that we used to carry Corral
Snakes to school, in our pockets, to scare the girls? I guess that
would be about same as carrying an AK47 to school now. Times do
O.K., now lets get to the ones that you might want
to watch out for. These are called here "Tobobas" (pit
vipers). These critters are all in the family Viperidae, genuss
Agkistrodon, Lachesis, Crotalus, and Bothrops. Any of these
suckers can hurt you bad. Some can kill you deader than last nights
beer. The group that I, personally, like the least is the Bothrops/Lachesis
groups. Why? Well, its because, in my experience, they tend
to be more aggressive than the others are. They dont always
run when they have a chance like Rattlers, Cottonmouths, etc. Often
they will just sort of come at ya.
I wont try to name and describe all of these
snakes. I will mention a few of the more common ones that you just
might come across while mining/dredging in Central America. First
I will just give you a shopping list and describe some of the characteristics
We have the Moccasin, Castellana or Cantil. The
Cascabel or rattlesnake (much like the eastern Diamondback). The
Mano de Piedra or "hand of stone". The Toboga Chinga or
naked pit viper. The Tamaga in the low altitudes of the Atlantic
coast. The Toboga de Altura, the high altitude pit viper. Now a
real beauty, the Bocaraca or Orapel, or Eyelash Viper. This thing
is gaudy! Yellow, red, with those eyelash-like horns. He is elegant.
Now, we also have a group of tree snakes. The Lora or Green Tree
Snake. He is the curse of the Banana workers because he is grass
green and is near impossible to see among leaves. Up in a tree,
he usually manages to bite the upper part of the body. Neck, upper
arms, etc. There is the Vipero de Arbol. The tree viper. He is sort
of mottled green too. I will only mention two others. BOTH,
of which I do TRULEY respect. One is the Tercopelo (velvet
snake), or in English, the Fer-de Lance (iron spear). The
other is his big cousin, the Mata Buey (Ox-killer) or Cascabel Mudo
(silent rattlesnake) or in English the Bushmaster. Any "wet
bite" by either of these and you will certainly lose some part
of your anatomy. An arm, a leg, a big hunk of your foot, or maybe
the whole ball game. These ol boys dont play around and they
got no sense of humor at all.
Most of the above mentioned snakes are pretty big
by US standards but these last two are not only big, they are aggressive
and there are a lot of them.
Another snake story. About a year ago we were trying
to get the dredge up the Rio Conte. We ran out of road and hired
a farmer to transport or gear with his big 4WD tractor and his "rice
trailer" (no springs, rice got no feeling in its ass). While
thumping along over three foot rocks, trying to hold on to the rear
post of the trailer, quite a job really. I was trying to stay upright
beside the small end of my 4 inch Flair Jet when a VERY ticked
off Terciopela decided that he was leaving that crap. He exited
about six inches from my foot. He was only about 3 ½ ft long. But
I couldnt do anything and he is well within striking distance.
O.K., 3 ½ ft, he would only keep you in the hospital for a few months
and you might not even lose a leg. I had anti-venin, but - - - -.
Fortunately, a local kid hanging on the opposite post was able to
get his gumboot on him so that I could stomp that sucker flat. My
later worry was "how did that undesirable get in my dredge
and how long had he been there"? Still dont know.
Most of the above mentioned snakes range in size
from about three feet to the Terciopela at 2.3 meters (near 8 feet)
and the Bushmaster at 2.6 meters (nearly nine ft). BTW, the largest
snake here is the Baker. I think he gets up to around 3.5 meters
(12 feet). He aint poisonous but can get your attention if
you happen to meet him unexpectedly. Might say too that most any
of the snakes can, and will, bite. It hurts and can be very bloody
for awhile. They almost all have an anti-coagulant in the saliva
that prevents blood from clotting. Most of their prey dies from
blood loss before they can be swallowed.
What can a feller do? The good news is that there
is a laboratory in Coronado that is, I think, the only laboratory
in the world that makes an antivenin for all the snakes here except
for the sea Snake and the Corrals. I know they were the first. I
always carry 40 ml of it with me.
The bad news is this antivenin is, like most, the
gamma globulin fraction from immune horse or sheep blood. I know
that dont mean a damn thing to most of you but it would if
you had to use it. After the first 10 ml shot it will take two strong
men and a spotted pony to hold you down for the other three. Gamma
globulin is pure protein and when injected in your - - - trasero,
HUUUURRTS! Your system will definitely tell you that you
are neither a horse, a sheep, or a snake. Its ALL gonna
hurt. That is why I, in my great bio-wisdom, also carry a LARGE
ampoule of Lidocaine. That should help some if used first. A numb
ass is better than no ass at all. All these shots Im talking
about are 10 ml, 4 each. That comes out to be about 2 oz or ¼ cup.
Thats a bunch. Just for thought. You guys in the states who
carry snake anti-venin might want to invest in some Lidocaine too.
Snakebites are extremely painful and the cure is just as painful
as the bite, about the same thing, actually.
Another little piece of advice. When using any anti-venin.
Sometimes folks forget to tell you that about 2% of the population
are allergic to sheep and horse gamma globulin. If you happen to
be one of those, it could do you more damage than the bite. You
could go into anaphylactic shock and die within minutes. To prevent
this you should, immediately after being bitten, inject a tiny amount
under the skin and wait 2-3 minutes. If it turns an angry red, DONT
use any more, just go like hell for the nearest clinic/hospital.
Another, faster, way is to simply fill your syringe with the anti-venin
and put one small drop in your eye. If you are allergic, in about
30 seconds your eye will look like the day after the high school
graduation party, RED. You might want to carry a small mirror for
this in case you are alone. If either of these tests turn red, STOP.
Dont shoot yourself with a full load of that immune serum.
It could do you fatal damage. If in doubt about this, check with
How come snakes
and everything about them have so much misinformation and old wives
tales attached to them? Think folks just dont trust anything
that crawls on its belly. Most dont like worms, slugs, snails,
or centipedes either.
How many times have I heard the old phrase, "that
snake has a "nerve poison". That snake doesnt have
"nerve poison, its different". Forget it, it aint
that way. I have used various snake venoms in the laboratory
near all my life and I do know a little about them. Used to use
them just like any other lab reagent or chemical. They are great
for dissolving protein, destroying DNA or RNA, and lots of other
uses. What they are NOT is a single thing. ALL snake venoms are
a mixture of dozens of things. Near all of them very bad for you
if they get in your blood, muscle, lymphatic, or nervous system.
Just about all of these nasty things are what we call "enzymes".
Ill bet every one of you has heard that term and Ill
also bet there arent 10% that know what the word means. Not
that you arent interested or incapable of understanding, its
because the person who told you what it is didnt know his
- - - trasero from his elbow. HEY, guys, we gonna get a little "biological"
here! And, that is what I like best! Cause its what I do
best! When you finish this page you can tell the health food nuts
to kiss - - - ol glory, cause there aint one in a million
that has the slightest idea what a protein or an enzyme is. If you
doubt me, try it tomorrow at the Waffle House. There are always
a lot of experts on such things found in joints like that. Damn,
I knew I would figure some way to introduce biochemistry
into this site and spread the good word to all that want to learn.
First, there is a great, huge group of organic
chemicals that we call "proteins". Now remember, "organic"
means any chemical that contains Carbon. That is one helluva lot
of things. There are things called "amino acids" (this
is what soap is composed of). Now if we connect a whole bunch (1,000s)
of these amino acids together in a certain way, we then have a protein.
Simple, right? It is! There is no magic (remember Merlin)? These
are not strange, magic, and secret things that only ignorant, health
food nuts know about. They are just chemicals. They are very large
chemicals and we usually refer to them as "polymers".
Now, proteins make up a large proportion of the
functioning parts of your body. Your muscles are protein, your blood
cells are largely protein, your hair and fingernails are protein,
etc, etc. Obviously, these proteins can take many forms. After all,
you can tell the difference between a muscle, a blood cell, and
your hair, right? Health food nuts cant, cause 99% are so
ignorant that it should be illegal. They never bother to check their
source of information.
O.K., now we got this BIG bag of things called proteins
that we cant even recognize. Got to sort this out somehow.
We usually separate them into classes. E.g. structural proteins
and non-structural proteins. The former, are things like your hair
and fingernails. It is a "thing". You can see it and feel
it. The later are more subtle. They are proteins that you cant
see, feel, or even see under a microscope. They are like the protein
that dissolves starch (a polymer of sugar) in your mouth and break
it down into simple sugar that your body can use for energy to shovel
gravel. You cant see it. Wouldnt know it was there if
you werent a Basement Chemist.
Now, kick back, kick the dog if you are that frustrated.
He probably wont mind too much if you give him a little Alpo
afterward. Think about what we got here. Just a big bucket of ore
that hasnt been hi-graded into concentrates yet. Stick with
me. Us science types have to work with cons too. Otherwise, nothing
makes any sense. Gonna put this crap through a 5 inch triple and
sift out the good stuff.
All right, lets put it through another screen
and see what is left that we can use. If we take all those non-structural
proteins dump em in the Hi-banker and give them a good shake we
can sift out some of those proteins that we are going to call, what
else? ENZYMES! Yeah, Aint ya
proud of me? I am! Thought I would never get this far, much less
tie it to nasty snakes. That part is yet to come, if I dont
get lost along the way.
This is important! If you dont read this,
you wasted our time. ALL SNAKE VENOMS ARE 99.9% ENZYMES.
An enzyme is a protein that has the ability to cause a biochemical
reaction to occur. They are catalysts. They make reactions go thousands
of times faster than would happen without them. These are potent
things. They cause it all to happen and happen NOW. If you had an
enzyme that catalyzed the chemical reaction between Gold and Chlorine
you could put in a tiny amount in a 10,000 gal tank and instead
of waiting 18 months for the Gold to dissolve it would probably
dissolve in 30 minutes. That is what an enzyme does. Hope ya got
that. If I lost anyone get to me. Well do it some other way.
I gotta go to the fridge for an Imperial. You have
my permission to grab a Bud or one of those strange ones you got
in US now. Hey, we have hi-graded proteins from maybe a hundred
million down to maybe 20, 000. Thats a hell of a job for just
You want to see what an enzyme can do? Cut a little
piece of steak off the wifes freezer stock. I didnt
tell you to do it! Now cut that in half. Sprinkle some Adolphs
meat Tenderizer on one piece and nothing on the other. Wrap them
in Saran and stick them back somewhere. Hidden from the wife, of
course. Watch them for several hours or even a day or two. That
Adolphs is an enzyme called Papain. It is obtained from the
latex that runs out when you cut the skin of a green Papaya. That
is an enzyme in action. It will literally dissolve the meat (muscle,
protein). One protein chewing on another. You get it, Papaya, Papain,
We got a system too.
Damn, I am nearly there. I can see a light. Dim,
but Im sure its there. Snakes, how do I get back to
that subject. Ill think of sumpin. Always another way to skin
the cat. Not sure I have caught him yet. That sucker is moving fast
today. Or, is it me thats moving slow? Relativity, should
we talk about Einstein, et.al.? Not today! Well save it for
Right, now that we all know about polymers, proteins,
etc lets get back to snake venom. Snake venom is composed of quite
a few enzymes that we refer to as "anabolic enzymes".
That refers to enzymes that break things down, destroy their structure.
There are others, "metabolic enzymes", that tend to build
things up and provide energy for the body. You have heard of metabolic
steroids, right? They tend to build muscle, etc. Anabolic steroids
would tend to tear it down. See, its all just a little language
thing. Sometimes on TV they get it backwards, but that aint
our problem. We know how it works.
Among this host of enzymes that is in snake venom
there are several classes. We going to put those cons through a
Gold Screw now to concentrate a little more.
Now, we have several kinds of enzymes in snake venom.
You will note that most enzymes end with the letters ase.
A protease breaks down proteins. A phosphatase breaks down phosphate
compounds, a nuclease breaks down nucleic acids, etc. There are
some other things that are called Cholinesterase inhibitors. Cholinesterase
is an enzyme in your nervous system that controls the nerve impulses.
Acetyl choline is a chemical that acts as an insulator between your
nerve cells. Acetlyl cholinesterase destroys the insulator and allows
nerve impulses to flow when some stimulus such as pain or heat is
detected. Thats how you know to get your hand off the hot
stove. These cholinesterase inhibitors stop the action of Acetyl
cholinesterase and allow the nerves to just transmit impulses continually.
That will result in a spasm or convulsion. Your nervous system cannot
handle that much information in such a short time. This is the basis
for "chemical warfare" agents. They are anti-cholinesterase
agents. Deadly things!
Snake venom contains all of these enzymes/chemicals.
Now, if that dont scare you enough, think what happens when
all these things hit you at once?
One of the first things, after a bite, is that you
will notice is intense pain. That is mostly the aniti-cholinestrase
agents allowing your nerves to transmit pain impulses with nothing
to slow them down. The affected part will sometimes go into a spasm.
Next thing to worry about is your lymphatic system. This is sort
of a shallow, surface system. Part of your immune system. You have
"nodes" that sort of strain out bacteria and such. It
can do very little for enzymes though. That venom can destroy the
lymph system, and do it fast. One of the first things you want to
do is tie a string, cord, something, around the affected part (if
possible). Not real tight! Not enough to cut off blood supply, but
it will shut down the lymphatic system.
Now, very quickly, the nucleases go to work. They
destroy the genetic material of any cell that it can contact. That
effectively kills that cell for good and all.
Now the really nasty, destructive, part starts.
These are the proteases. Remember Adolphs meat tenderizer?
These enzymes start dissolving nearly any protein it can come in
contact with. Muscle, blood, skin, lymphatic tissue, just about
anything that you depend on to keep ticking. This is usually the
part that simply dissolves a ½ pound or so of your leg that can
never grow back.
I have a good friend here who is a botanist/naturalist.
He takes tourists out in the woods to commune with nature, etc.
A few years ago he got a good wet bite by a Terciopelo. Almost lost
the leg. The lymphatic system was nearly completely destroyed. Six
years later, he still had to bandage the leg two/three times a day
to prevent lymph fluid from filling his shoes and getting his socks
all soggy. Good news is that they did save the leg and he went to
Miami a couple of years ago for some new repair job that dried up
the leg. Now he just has one leg 100% scar tissue, but at least
Another guy I know, a Tico, campasino, went down
to the river just before dark to wash up. Got hit by a Mata Buey
on his bare foot. Took him some 7 hours to get to a clinic. He nearly
died and lost about half of his right foot. I could go on but I
think you get the idea. These snakebites can be Baaaaad! Ruin your
whole day! As a biochemist, I can think of very few things that
can do you more damage, other than just dropping you dead in a few
minutes, than potent snake venom. Its really nothing to laugh
about, or to take lightly.
There is a lot of talk, usually on TV; about this
is the most poisonous snake in the world, etc. This is Bullshit!
The most poisonous snake in the world is the one that bites YOU.
You might get a Mata Buey that in the morning feasted on a Squirrel
or somesuch and blew his venom bag for a couple of days. If he hits
you, you will probably get a "dry bite". He meant business,
but just didnt have the venom on hand to get the job done.
You can walk away from that one. I have another friend, a lady who
grew up in the campos. She got bit by a Bocaraca when very young.
The snake hit her on the back of her hand. The fangs hit bone and
couldnt penetrate, the snake couldnt exude the venom,
and she walked away from it without even seeing an MD.
Venom can be measured as to its potency for protease
activity, nuclease activity, etc but it is much too complicated
to say that this snake can kill you quicker than that one. Depends
on too many things. Species of snake, size of snake, when did he
last dump a load of venom, where did he hit you, did you have anti-venin,
did you panic, did you have a weak heart, etc, etc.
Some classes of snakes have a preponderance of one
type of venom over another. Snakes like Cobras, Sea Snakes, corral
Snakes do have more of the Anti-cholinesterase type of chemicals
than, for example, pit vipers. But, the pit vipers have much more
proteases and nucleases than the Cobra etc. Which is worse? Either
one can kill you. Is being dead one way worse than being dead by
another? I dont think so.
Got one more snake story. Two men that I knew when
growing up in South Georgia, many years later, were out in the country
and decided to go fishing. They dug around under some logs etc and
found enough worms for bait so they spent the afternoon fishing.
I wasnt there but this is the story that was told. One of
the guys, called Ovid, kept telling his friend all afternoon, that
every time he tried to bait his hook, the worms tried to bite him.
Sort of a joke. After a few hours he told his buddy that he was
really feeling bad and thought he would quit and go home. So, they
split. When they got back to town Ovid was really sick and his buddy
took him to a local clinic where he was really sick and a few hours
later, died. An investigation revealed that the "worms that
he had grubbed up were not worms but very small, 2 inch or so, eastern
diamondback rattlesnakes. Them suckers, over a few hours, got enough
venom in his blood stream, to kill him. I cant believe a guy
that grew up on a South Georgia farm could mistake snakes for worms.
But, it happened! This is no sea story. Dont know what he
was smoking/drinking that day but it must have been good stuff.
Venomous snakes are born with a full load of venom.
Pound for pound, just as potent as mama or papa.
This will be short because in spite of all the Indian
remedies, old wives tales, high-voltage stun-gun treatments, there
aint one that will do you one damn bit of good after a good,
wet, snakebite. Its anti-venin, cut-down-and-suction, or nothing.
Also, don't forget that if you try the time-honered method
of a deep cut at the fang punctures you run the risk of also cutting
an artery. Again, that could be worse than the bite. Of course,
any of treatments depends on the circumstances that you are
in. If you are near medical help, let them do it. If
you are in the boonies and a long way from help then, in my opinion,
a little first-aid would be called for.
In spite of all the crap that has been generated
about the stun-gun treatment for bites, I want to ask a question.
Is there even one of you out there that knows where that tale got
started? Just one? Please e-mail me if you do, because that will
make two of us.
Let me tell you what I have learned. True or not,
its the best that I can find. A few years ago some English
lady was in, I think, Africa somewhere. Someone got bit and shocked
himself with the high-voltage from the coil of a vehicle that was
available. He didnt die. The lady wrote it up as an article
and sent it to a British medical/science journal. I think it was
Nature. Could have been Lancet but I think Lancet would have at
least read it before publishing such trash. Anyway, it was published
by a half-assed journal. It got snapped up immediately by manufacturers
of "stun-guns" and advertised all over the world with
no more evidence than someone got bit, shocked himself, and didnt
die. Gentlemen, his is crap in its absolute most basic form.
I was smoking a Cuban Cigar when a car hit me. I
didnt die so obviously the Cuban Cigar saved my life. That
sort of reasoning has a name that I cant bring up right now
but it is so ridiculous as to not be worth the time to look it up.
The moon, every few years, appears green for some
reason. We all know that Roquefort cheese is green, right. So, it
follows that the moon is made of green cheese. How DAMN ridiculous
can people be.
It would be so simple to check out the efficacy
of using a stun-gun to "destroy" snake venom that it wouldnt
take 1 hour of time to do it. No professional would waste an hour
of his time on it. It is patently ridiculous.
Hang with me Guys,
No Telling where we will go Next!