Tetrapod Zoology

Side-stabbing stiletto snakes

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ResearchBlogging.org

It goes without saying that most predatory animals need to open their mouths when they want to stab or bite potential prey items. But, get this, there’s a group of snakes that can erect their teeth and stab prey with a closed mouth. And that’s not all that’s interesting about these snakes. Yes, time for more weird snakes. There are lots and lots and lots of weird snakes, and one of my favourite groups of weird snakes are the atractaspidids (or atractaspids), and in particular the atractaspidid genus Atractaspis. If you haven’t heard of these snakes before it might give you some idea of what they’re like to know that they’ve been variously referred to as mole vipers, burrowing asps, burrowing adders, stiletto snakes or side-stabbing snakes. I’m going to be referring to them as burrowing asps: be prepare to be amazed…

Like the scolecophidians we looked at recently, burrowing asps are specialised for fossoriality (burrowing), with shiny-scaled, cylindrical bodies, small heads, a countersunk lower jaw, indistinct neck, short tail, and small eyes. While scolecophidians are definitely basal snakes, right down at the base of the crown-group snake clade, burrowing asps are not: their specialised fangs, venom apparatus and other characters show that they’re part of Colubroidea, the advanced snake clade that includes the viperids, elapids and the mostly non-venomous ‘colubrids’*.

* I put colubrids in quotes because there are widespread suspicions that this immense group (over 1500 species, over 300 genera, up to 28 ‘subfamilies’) is not monophyletic (e.g., Jackson 2003, Fry & Wüster 2004).

i-b61e5122202b361494ca530ce6aa80c9-Deufel & Cundall 2006 viperid, atractaspidid.jpg

The venom apparatus of burrowing asps is formidable. Their venom glands are enormous, extending into the neck region and for a length approximating 20% of total body length in some species (Underwood & Kochva 1993, Wollberg et al. 1998). Occurring throughout much of Africa (with the exception of the north and south-west) as well as the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas (as far north as Israel), there are about 12 burrowing asp species, but their taxonomy is unsettled and requires sorting out. They’re between 30 and 50 cm long. Oh, and they have a distinctive aromatic smell (Branch 1988). No-one knows why.

How to be a ‘fang stabber’

Burrowing asps have a highly reduced dentition, with just two particularly elongate maxillary fangs (up to a third of total skull length), two short, gently curved dentary teeth, and a couple of very small palatine teeth [image above, from Deufel & Cundall 2006, shows viperid skull (top) compared with bizarre burrowing asp skull]. The maxillary fangs (there are two in each maxilla, one of which is a replacement tooth kept in reserve) are huge compared to the short, block-like maxilla: in fact virtually its entire length is occupied by the transversely arranged fang sockets. The maxilla articulates with the relatively immobile prefrontal by way of a saddle-shaped joint (this contrasts with the condition in viperids, where the articulatory surfaces between the maxilla and prefrontal are flat), allowing the maxilla to easily rotate posterodorsally and anteroventrally.

Because both the maxillae and the fangs are directed posteriorly when at rest, and because the prefrontal doesn’t move much relative to the braincase, the maxilla-prefrontal unit can’t be thrown forwards to project the fangs anteroventrally (as happens in viperids and elapids), but this doesn’t matter much, as we’ll see. The rotation of the maxilla is assisted by the musculature attached to the slender, rod-like pterygoid-ectopterygoid unit: the pterygoid is usually attached to the palatine in snakes, but in burrowing asps the two are widely separated with only a ligamentous connection (Underwood & Kochva 1993, Deufel & Cundall 2003a, b). This allows the pterygoid-ectopterygoid unit to swing antero-posteriorly without interference from the palatine. This has some implications, as we’ll see shortly [image below - from Deufel & Cundall (2006) - shows (A) viperid, (B) burrowing asp, and (C) elapid palatal bones. Note the slender, toothless pterygoid, and lack of bony connection between the pterygoid and palatine, in the burrowing asp. See Deufel & Cundall (2006) for full explanation].

i-0b1a6943ccd4a764c320514592de41cb-Deufel & Cundall 2006 colubroid palates.jpg

As the maxilla rotates anteroventrally, it opens up a slit along the mouth-line, providing enough space for the fang to protrude out though the mouth. The projecting tooth is then stabbed into prey with a swift posteroventral (down and backwards) jerk of the head. The snake might erect either the left-side fang or the right-side one: they don’t seem to deploy fangs from both sides at the same time (even though they probably could). When grasped behind the head in what would normally be regarded as a safe handling posture, a burrowing asp can – without openings it mouth – erect one of its super-long fangs and stab the hand of the person holding it. Kurnik et al. (1998) reported a case in which a herpetologist – specifically, one of the authors of the paper – was bitten on the finger by an Ein-Geddi burrowing asp A. engaddensis. ‘Local effects, oedema, erythema and numbness appeared within minutes, followed by systemic effects, including general weakness, sweating, pallor, fluctuations in the level of consciousness, vomiting and watery non-bloody diarrhoea. Gross oedema of the hand developed and extended up to the forearm’ (Kurnik et al. 1998, p. 223). While the local effects healed within a few weeks, ‘some discoloration and tenderness remained even 10 months after’. Yikes. Don’t get bitten by a burrowing asp, that’s my advice.

And burrowing asp fangs aren’t just hollow cones, but (in all but two species) both canaliculate (housing a tubular canal) and keeled along the posterior edges of their tips. This keel cuts into tissue when the snake stabs, presumably increasing the size of the wound and hence aiding the absorption of venom (Golani & Kochva 1988). However, it’s also been suggested that the keel helps the snake to yank its fangs out of its prey: while most long-fanged snakes strike at prey from a distance and only briefly engage with the prey, burrowing asps get right up close to prey before stabbing (sometimes stabbing several times). For this reason Deufel & Cundall (2003b) recommended that a burrowing asp attack shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘strike’, but as a ‘fang stab’. When confronted with several prey items (a nest full of baby rodents for example), burrowing asps have been reported to stab and envenomate several individual prey animals before beginning to feed.

Specialised – but specialised for what?

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Given that burrowing asps do their fang stabbing in burrows and other confined spaces, you would guess that all of these morphological and behavioural specialisations have evolved to allow attacks where relatively little room for manoeuvring is possible. Who, or what, is getting stabbed? Atractaspis species prey on nestling mammals (mostly murids and shrews), and Deufel & Cundall (2003b) proposed that a reliance on such prey shaped their evolution, suggesting that ‘the success of [Atractaspis and relatives] is partly attributable to the use of the envenomation apparatus on mammals’ (p. 58) [adjacent image shows Black or Ein-Geddi burrowing asp A. engaddensis].

However, Shine et al. (2006) argued that mammals make up less than 25% of the diet of Atractaspis and drew attention to data showing that elongate fossorial squamates were the most important prey items in the diets of these snakes. Attacking burrowing skinks and amphisbaenians within their burrows poses a problem, as the tails of these animals are similar in diameter to their bodies, making it difficult for the attacking snake to move past the tail and grab the body (you don’t want to grab the tail as both skinks and amphisbaenians are capable of autotomy). The bizarre specialisations of burrowing asps might therefore have evolved to allow these snakes to push past the tail and envenomate or seize the prey’s body. Incidentally, as a neat little aside, Shine et al. (2006) noted that the ability to autotomise the tail among fossorial squamates might be an important anti-atractaspidid adaptation, as a shed tail might both block the burrow to a pursuing burrowing asp, and prevent any venom injected into the tail from reaching the body. More study is needed to test this intriguing idea.

Being a good burrower makes a snake a poor swallower

i-3e306fcd4e8bb452df486c56945ec2f0-Atractaspis bibronii from tigr.org.jpg

The reduced palatal dentition and ligamentous linkage between the pterygoid and palatine in burrowing asps raises the question as to how these snakes transport prey within the mouth: as we saw in the scolecophidian article, most snakes employ ‘pterygoid walking’, engaging the maxillary and pterygoid teeth on the left side with the prey and dragging it toward the throat, disengaging, and then doing the same with the maxillary and pterygoid teeth on the right, and so on. Burrowing asps can’t do this: they sacrificed the ability to employ pterygoid walking when they de-coupled the palatine from the pterygoid and evolved a specialised toothless pterygoid whose only real function is to aid erection of the rotating maxilla and its fang. What, then, is a burrowing asp to do? [adjacent image of Bibron's burrowing asp A. bibronii from The TIGR Reptile Database].

Deufel & Cundall (2003b) looked specifically at this question. Firstly, burrowing asps sometimes used their super-long fangs as gaffs to manipulate prey into position for swallowing. Movements of the maxilla and/or pterygoid are indeed not used in transporting prey, but by shifting the lower jaw posteroventrally, bending the anterior trunk region from side to side, and compressing and extending the neck, these snakes are able to move the mouth over the prey. They aren’t very good at it though, and take a long time to successful ingest prey (the account here is very much simplified: for the full story see Deufel & Cundall 2003b and Cundall & Deufel 2006).

The question of how burrowing asps transport prey within the mouth illustrates the point that these snakes have had to make tradeoffs when faced with different evolutionary pressures. To be a good burrower, and to function properly as the specialised fang stabber it has become, Atractaspis has lost or modified some of the kinetic zones present in the skulls of other colubroids (the burrowing asp snout is relatively immobile relative to the braincase, for example, and the palatine does not move with the pterygoid-ectopterygoid unit, as we’ve seen). But these modifications mean that burrowing asps have had to find other solutions to the problems posed by feeding, and in fact their solution is convergently similar to that evolved by some other fossorial snakes (the pipe snakes, Cylindrophis).

A controversial radiation

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Finally, what exactly are burrowing asps? For a start, their large venom glands, long, posteriorly inclined quadrates, vestigial or absent left lung, absent pelvis and many other details show that they’re part of the colubroid radiation (McDowell 1987, Lee & Scanlon 2002). Within this group, they were long regarded as viperids. However, Bourgeois (1961) proposed that burrowing asps might be particularly closely related to another poorly known group of colubroids, the aparallactines. Though the exact contents of this group remain controversial, it is generally stated to include 11 genera and about 50 species: all are small-headed African fossorial colubroids, often back-fanged, and with blunted or sharp-snouted heads. They include the centipede eaters Aparallactus, quill-snouted snakes Xenocalamus, harlequin snakes Homoroselaps and purple-glossed snakes Amblyodipsas [adjacent image, from wikipedia, shows Dull purple-glossed snake Amblyodipsas unicolor].

In a major genetic study of diverse colubroids, Kraus & Brown (1998) found an Atractaspis + aparallactine clade (which we might call Atractaspididae) to group together with the boodontines, an Afro-Madagascan group (although, historically, this group has – probably erroneously – also included Asian snakes). Both clades were in turn recovered as the sister-taxon to Elapidae (the colubroid group that includes mambas, cobras, and sea snakes). While both elapids and burrowing asps share tubular fangs and large, complex venom glands, the fact that these characters are not present in boodontines suggest that they evolved convergently. On the other hand, grooved fangs and at least some sort of venom delivery system were almost certainly primitive for colubroids (Jackson 2003). This article is now waaaay too long and I need to go do other things, but this is a subject we’ll be coming back to in the future. Given that snakes consist of over 2700 living species, Tet Zoo has still only scratched the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much more to write about.

Coming next: how a Tet Zoo article evolved into a peer-reviewed technical publication!

PS – Alexandra Deufel’s publications, some of which were cited in this article, can be downloaded for free here. Richard Shine’s papers are available for free here.

Refs – -

Bourgeois, M. 1961. Atractaspis – a misfit among the Viperidae? News Bulletin of the Zoological Society of South Africa 3, 29.

Branch, B. 1988. Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. New Holland, London.

CUNDALL, D., & DEUFEL, A. (2006). Influence of the venom delivery system on intraoral prey transport in snakes☆ Zoologischer Anzeiger – A Journal of Comparative Zoology, 245 (3-4), 193-210 DOI: 10.1016/j.jcz.2006.06.003

Deufel, A. & Cundall, D. 2003a. Prey transport in “palatine-erecting” elapid snakes. Journal of Morphology 258, 358-375.

- . & Cundall, D. 2003b. Feeding in Atractaspis (Serpentes: Atractaspididae): a study in conflicting functional constraints. Zoology 106, 43-61.

- . & Cundall D. 2006. Functional plasticity of the venom delivery system in snakes with a focus on the post-strike prey release behavior. Zoologischer Anzeiger 245, 249-267.

Fry, B. G., Wüster, W. 2004. Assembling an arsenal: origin and evolution of the snake venom proteome inferred from phylogenetic analysis of toxin sequences. Molecular Biology and Evolution 21, 870-883.

Golani, I. & Kochva, E. 1988. Striking and other offensive and defensive behavior patterns in Atractaspis engaddensis (Ophidia, Atractaspididae). Copeia 1988, 792-797.

Jackson, K. 2003. The evolution of venom-delivery systems in snakes. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 137, 337-354.

Kraus, F. & Brown, W. M. 1998. Phylogenetic relationships of colubroid snakes based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 122, 455-487.

Kurnik, D., Haviv, Y. & Kochva, E. 1999. A snake bite by the burrowing asp, Atractaspis engaddensis. Toxicon 37, 223-227.

Lee, M. S. Y. & Scanlon, J. D. 2002. Snake phylogeny based on osteology, soft anatomy and ecology. Biological Reviews 77, 333-401.

McDowell, S. B. 1987. Systematics. In Seigel, R. A., Collins, J. T. & Novak, S. S. (eds) Snakes: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Macmillan (New York), pp. 3-49.

Shine, R., Branch, W. R., Harlow, P. S., Webb, J. K. & Shine, T. 2006. Biology of burrowing asps (Atractaspididae) from southern Africa. Copeia 2006, 103-115.

Underwood, G. & Kovcha, E. 1993. On the affinities of the burrowing asps Atractaspis (Serpentes: Atractaspididae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 107, 3-64.

Wollberg, M., Kochva, E. & Underwood, G. 1998. On the rictal glands of some atractaspid snakes. Herpetological Journal 8, 137-143.

Comments

  1. #1 Nemo Ramjet
    May 26, 2008

    Excellent! As of now, this article must contain the most comprehensive information on Atractaspids anywhere on the web.
    I’d read about the names locals give to them in Harry Greene’s “Snakes” book. “father of five minutes,” “father of death,” etc.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    May 26, 2008

    Hi Nemo. Seriously.. they’re called ‘father of death snakes’?? That is AWESOME – wish I’d known..

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    May 26, 2008

    the centipede eaters Aparallactus

    Wow. Talk about an ecological niche with no competition!

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    May 26, 2008

    I was originally planning to write about centipede eaters but ran out of time and wrote too much on burrowing asps. Other snakes do sometimes eat centipedes by the way: see if you can…

    Clark, R. J. 1967. Centipede in stomach of young Vipera ammodytes meridionalis. Copeia 1967, 224.

    … in this case the centipede was nearly as big as the snake!

  5. #5 Mike from Ottawa
    May 26, 2008

    What are the “quill-snouted snakes” named for? Can’t find any pics of these.

    ” how a Tet Zoo article evolved into a peer-reviewed technical publication!”

    Stick an abstract on the front of it? :-)

  6. #6 The Ridger, FCD
    May 26, 2008

    Wow. I love these posts – so informative. Thanks.

  7. #7 Hai~Ren
    May 26, 2008

    Really great post on a little-known group of snakes. Until now, all I knew about atractaspidids was that they existed. Period. I’ve learned so much about their lifestyle, and those bizarre fangs.

    Funny how they never show up on nature documentaries on snakes.

  8. #8 johannes
    May 26, 2008

    > Other snakes do sometimes eat centipedes by the way: see if you
    > can…

    See here:

    http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/animals/reptiles-animals/snakes/centipede_eaten.html

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?, OM
    May 26, 2008

    Wow. Talk about me being wrong, then!

    (See if I can what? Swallow a centipede? Thanks, but, no thanks.)

  10. #10 NEIL
    May 26, 2008

    Interesting stuff – I knew of ‘a’ snke with fangs hanging out but thats it!

  11. #11 Steve Bodio
    May 26, 2008

    Centipede eating: a young banded rock rattler (Crotalus lepidus), a small odd montane rattlesnake found at high elevations here, was collected by my late friend Floyd Mansell and disgorged a centipede.

    I wouldn’t bet on other rattlers necessarily eating them- lepidus is strange in many ways.

  12. #12 John Scanlon, FCD
    May 27, 2008

    What I find most impressive is that Darren wrote the article without the benefit of the recent review of these gloriously creepy critters he was hunting for over the weekend,

    Kochva, E. 2002. Atractaspis (Serpentes, Atractaspididae) the burrowing asp; a multidisciplinary minireview. Bulletin of The Natural History Museum, London (Zoology) 68, 91-99.

    For colubroid phylogeny, I’d also strongly recommend:

    Lawson, R., J.B. Slowinski, B.I. Crother, F.T. Burbrink. 2005. Phylogeny of the Colubroidea (Serpentes): New evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37, 581-601.

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    May 27, 2008

    Aww, you’re all too kind, thanks for comments. Quill-snouted snakes are so named as they really do have sharply-pointed snouts. Pictures are indeed few and far between, and the only good ones that are semi-easily available are in field guides (good field guides exist for the herpetofauna of southern Africa, if for nowhere else on the continent): see Branch (1988) and Marais (1996).

    Centipede eating (is this called chilopodophagy?): thanks Johannes for the link to the Nat Geo video. The snake in the video is an Aparallactus.

    Refs – -

    Branch, B. 1988. Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. New Holland, London.

    Marais, J. 1996. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers.

  14. #14 Andreas Johansson
    May 27, 2008

    Yikes. Don’t get bitten by a burrowing asp, that’s my advice.

    This is why I’m not entirely unhappy about living in a place with a depauperate herpetofauna.

  15. #15 Tanith Tyrr
    May 27, 2008

    Atractaspis bibronii has no great difficulty swallowing; I will attest to that as I maintained a group of them for venom research. They eagerly rose to “side-swipe” pinkies held on tongs, and it was one of the most charming and fascinating modes of feeding I’ve seen. These snakes did have a unique mode of pinky-snatching, but seemed quite efficient at transferring the side-shishkabob of baby mouse into their mouths to reposition and swallow. They may have odd mouth morphology, but by gum, they do use it well.

    Something that academic herpetologists as opposed to us folks on the front-line practical end of the field may not know is that *all* snake species can appear remarkably stupid, blundering and inefficient when repositioning prey for swallowing. They do eventually get the job done, but watching these animals sometimes leads me to wonder how in the world they survived outside a nice comfy cage in a venom lab.

    I will testify that the atractaspids I maintained were actually *more* efficient and faster at repositioning and swallowing than the majority of the viperids, elapids and colubrids in the rest of the collection. I’d be perfectly happy to objectively measure and test this for anyone who will provide me more atractaspids; the ones I was maintaining went to the University of Singapore. They are lovely, charming creatures to work with, easy and quick to feed once they got through initial vet care and deparasitization, and I’d cheerfully do it again.

  16. #16 Jenny Islander
    May 27, 2008

    I think we’re overdue for another series on the lifestyles of the small and peculiar, a la Life Unearthed. I think the right camera work could make it clear that at that scale, some of these critters are every bit as terrible as a tiger.

  17. #17 Zach Miller
    May 27, 2008

    Very cool snakes. Remind me not to get anywhere NEAR them!

  18. #18 Tanith Tyrr
    May 27, 2008

    It’s a nasty bite, I’ll grant you that. My zoo director was bitten by one while collecting them in Africa, and it was an unpleasant experience to say the least. But they are rather slow, poorly sighted, physically feeble little worm-creatures who are totally inoffensive to any human who is not deliberately attempting to seize them in an unwise fashion. I found them to be completely gentle and pleasant to handle, taking appropriate safety precautions of course.

    Administering oral medication via the typical catheter was nigh on impossible due to their interlocking jaw structure, so they were dosed either with injectable drugs, in food items or while anesthetized for other procedures. But other than that you couldn’t ask for nicer little animals to spend time around. You are in no great danger from mole vipers if you are not attempting to pin and catch them behind the head.

  19. #19 cthulhu's minion
    May 28, 2008

    I seem to remember a show on either discovery or the national geographic channel where a herpetologist collecting snakes on a road misidentified a stilleto snake and was bitten. He made the comment that they are impossible to pick up safely. IIRC he refused antivenom and was fine the next day.

  20. #20 carel
    May 28, 2008

    Another great post! While hiking in central Senegal one night, I picked up an Atractaspis sp., barehanded, assuming it was a typhlopid. I carried it in my vest pocket for several hours. Its true identity never occurred to me until photographing it the next morning, when I noticed how different its head looked. The thing had ample opportunities to bite me, but showed nothing but good manners.

  21. #21 Heather
    May 29, 2008

    Very cool snakes – thanks for the article!

  22. #22 Jeremy
    September 12, 2008

    Just watched a show on Discovery (maybe what’s referenced above) that gave the story of a Stiletto bite. He did get bit on the left thumb, knew there was no anti-venom available, and didn’t go to the hospital. After a few days he decided to go because the pain was unbearable. When the hand surgeon went to cut his thumb he realized the tissue and bone had all been ‘eaten’ away and his thumb was essentially a skin shell. Interesting story, gross pictures of the entire thing… his name is Myke Clarkson (yes that’s how you spell it). You can find him on the web. According to him, he is an expert on the Stiletto.

  23. #23 Eugene Smit
    November 21, 2008

    Firstly I would like to thank and congratulate you on a fantastic article. I live just outside Durban in South Africa and recently I decided to move a large amount of soil and tree stumps that had been piled in a corner of my garden. Finding snakes around the garden is not uncommon, and I have handled a few, hot or not, driven mainly by my passion not to kill. It was an interesting find, as I was unfamiliar with these “soil dwellers”, finding three in the first afternoon. One was kept for identification purposes, and in hindsight…. had I only known. Mistakenly identified as an Eastern Worm Snake, and busy shedding its skin, I decided to allow my daughter of 11 years to keep the snake for a few days. The snake was handled by me and my daughter, then it all went wrong. The morning of the second day, while holding the snake, my daughter was struck on the middle finger. Believing that it was harmless, with my heart pounding in my throat, I watched as the symptoms quickly progressed. We were in the car, taking my wife to work, and then to drop my daughter at school. Within 10 minutes I realised that this was serious. I drove straight to the hospital, by the time we reached there, her hand was puffed up and fingers looking almost deformed from the swelling. I stood next to the ER doctor looking at a snake chart, I couldn’t see the Eastern Worm Snake – but the Stiletto Snake with a big “H” was the closest resemblance. The doctor said “you don’t want it to be that one…”
    We decided to have closer look at the snake, which was still in a container in the car. Nobody was sure. I took it back to the car, and then decided, we have to know what snake it is. I removed the snake from the container, by hand, and when I took hold of the snake behind the head…strike two. Hit me on the tip of my index finger, so quickly, I didn’t even see it happen. I returned to the ER, and mentioned this to the nurse. Minutes later a clerk entered and said that they can not get hold of the snake expert to identify the snake. That is when they mentioned that they can not administer an anti-venom until they have positive identification. Immediately I walked out of there, got into my car and drove approximately 30 kilometres to a Snake park that we had visited 6 months earlier. As I approached the reception area, there he was – Tim, the snake expert. I said to him “you have to help me; I need you to identify this snake. My daughter is in the ER, I have been bitten, and we need to know what snake this is so that they can administer anti-venom”. I have never seen a live person go so white so quickly. We walked out to a sandy patch and he dropped the snake out of the container, he pressed it behind the head with a twig and instinctively it pushed its head downward. Then Tim started, like reading from an encyclopaedia, “It’s a Stiletto snake aka Burrowing Asp. Highly venomous, a Cytotoxic poison, no anti-venom – but don’t worry, you won’t die……” That’s when I interrupted him and said, “Hold on”, I phoned my wife in the ER and asked for the doctor, I handed Tim the phone and said “OK, now please tell him what you just told me”. Immediately they decided to transfer my daughter to another hospital with higher care, and Tim told me to take it easy and get to the same hospital and get myself checked out. When I arrived back at the ER the ambulance was waiting to do the transfer. My daughter was swollen to just below the elbow, my finger was rock hard and throbbing. I drove the 20 kilometres to St. Augustine’s hospital and waited at the entrance of the ICU. I hated myself at that moment, how could I have been so stupid. How would I ever forgive myself if Bianca lost a finger, her hand, and arm, her life? I was freaking out. She was checked in to the ICU, drips put on, medicines checked and more given and then we waited. Where would the swelling stop, it was half way above her elbow. Circulation to her fingers was the biggest concern, the plastic surgeon was right there, waiting. Should he cut to relieve the pressure? Then he made a phone call, minutes later a specialist was looking at Bianca’s arm, “let’s get her down there now” he said. Then he turned to me and explained, Bianca was going for treatment in a Hyperbaric Chamber. Miracles do happen. The swelling stopped progressing after the first session of two hours, and even her wrist looked as if the swelling had subsided a little. She spent the night in high care and the next morning she was back in the chamber, and again in the afternoon, and again the next morning. Four sessions in the Hyperbaric Chamber, three days in ICU. Thank God, a full recovery. I have learnt many lessons from this experience, and I hope through this informative article by Mr. Naish and my record of events that people would become more aware. Not just learning about snakes, but learn from the mistakes that I have made.
    Thank you.
    Eugene
    sunfish@telkomsa.net

  24. #24 Tabbitha
    December 29, 2008

    I also got bitten by one of these snakes. My experience was when I was in Africa. I was at a camp site in Arusha, Tanzania. I was walking along the campsite, which was almost entirely dirt, and as it was dark, had the torch on the ground to make sure there were no snakes. As I was walking along, I felt something on my foot, I dismissed it at first but on the very next step I felt intense pain and realised what had happened. Immediatly my foot swelled and after a few minutes my muscles felt very lethergic and I could barely move. I also felt like my throat was closing, but this may have been from being so anxious. So after a bit of panic, the owners of the campsite I was at said it was not too serious and I would be fine in a couple of days. By the next morning, my foot had swelled and the swelling had gone up to half way up my thigh, I could not walk and the pain was unbearable. As I was flying back home the next day, I thought I would leave it, but after an 8 hour drive to Nairobi, I could not stand the pain anymore and went to Nairobi Hospital. I was put on high course of antibiotics, and pethidine and was bed ridden for 5 days there. On discharge, I was still not able to walk due to the severe infection the venom had caused. I then flew home and spent another 5 days in hospital on more antibiotics. Three months later, I am still on the road to recovery. My foot still swells up and i still sometimes get pain. Some of the tissue in the area was damaged and will never recover. I am lucky it wasn’t anything worse I guess.

  25. #25 C. Silva
    February 10, 2009

    I live in SE Texas and I saw the weirdest snake ever.
    The snake slid VERY quickly in a straight line across my sidewalk into ground cover. Here’s the weird part: its head was as round as a silver dollar and the same size, but it was 1/2″ thick. Its head, tail, and neck were yellow. It had a long, distinct neck, 6-7″ long that was round and tapered into the SQUARE body. The sides of the body were black,and 2″ thick. The top of the snake was 2.5″ wide and had two, 1/4″ high ridges along its length. In between the ridges it was colored with sooty stripes of red, yellow, and black. The snake held its head and tail (7″long& looked like baby corn) high above the ground cover. The entire snake was approx. 18-24″ long. NO JOKING, what is it?

  26. #26 Mark Rabie
    April 1, 2009

    I live on a plot in Gauteng RSA. I got bitten 3 1/2 weeks ago on the tip of my thumb. Looks like I’m going to lose my thumb nail for starters. Of more concern though is the fact the the first joint below the thumb nail is as stiff as anything and I don’t if I’ll get full movement in it.

  27. #27 Jaco Brümmer
    November 4, 2009

    Good-day Mark

    I was bitten on the 22.10.2009 Thursday, spent the whole week-end in Hospital, Index finger was swollen up to the elbow but much better now, concern is the tip of the finger looks like the skin and muscle is loosening itself due to the venom from my nail and I can actually see the root of the nail. experiencing allot of itchyness on the finger self and the tip also feels numb can’t bend it.My question I’m looking for is : Does the finger heal 100% and what is the chances of loss of the finger seeing that your bite occured in April 09. What is the progress on your finger.

  28. #28 Darren Naish
    November 4, 2009

    Please note that there’s another Tet Zoo article about stiletto snakes and the effects of their bites here.

  29. #29 Jaco Brümmer
    November 5, 2009

    Thanks Darren

    I know the effects of the bite, I want to know the end result and it is not stipulated anywhere in the mentioned articles, worst cases that has happened to a small bite and the effects on a “BAD” bite.

    Loss off fingers etc. I would like to hear from victim’s from the Stiletto snake what happened with the bite area and how long before it healed fully or cose to 100% healed.

  30. #30 Edward Parsons
    November 16, 2009

    I am tasked with creating new treatment (pre hospital) protocols for horn of africa burrowing asps. They have some of the most Unique venom of all snakes. And even the venom of the the same type varies somewhat from diffrent areas. They have CNS (central nervous system) effects, but not in the way elapidae’s neurotoxic venoms work. And combines some viperdae effects.

  31. #31 Alexandra Deufel
    September 9, 2010

    Hey, thanks for blogging about my research! I only saw this yesterday. In response to Tanith, our Atractaspis all had some trouble swallowing their prey, having to scrunch up their necks and often having to use the corner of the cage to get their mouths started over the prey. Once the pinkies were in a ways, swallowing really sped up because the neck scrunching became possible. But you are totally right, watching many captive vipers and particularly elapids eat makes you wonder how they ever make it in the wild.

  32. #32 Adam Yates
    June 20, 2011

    I know this is a long deceased thread but I wanted to say that I got the surprise of my life when I took the kids to the local park (in the middle of Johannesburg)on the weekend for a run around and to play on the swings. While there I idly kicked over a rock and was surprised to find three Aparallactus capensis curled up together. Never seen this species in metro Jo’burg before. Just wanted to share… I’ve got photos of one (not very nice background – in a plastic tub)for you Darren if you ever get around to your centipede eater article.

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