Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

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MontyNajar
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Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by MontyNajar »

I just got back from a weekend camping trip where I did a bunch of sideline herp hunting.

I was bitten by a common garter snake and I am really shocked at how strongly my body reacted to it. (see pictures attached)

1) Should I be rushing to the doctor? Unless there is any possible long-term effect or risk, I'm not planning any medical intervention. I used antibiotic and later some benadryl cream.

2) Is this 'case' info useful to anyone? I can give a detailed blow-by-blow on times and events. I don't know for sure - but I'm thinking inflamation like this has to be pretty rare.

I always thought that the 'colubrid venom' argument was a bit trivial and self-important of the herpetology community. Why does it really matter? But uh - I'm changing my mind pretty quick. If I had a young child that took a hit like this I would be FREAKING OUT.

Let me know if anyone wants the detailed info. Otherwise, enjoy my pain in the pics! ;)


...have tried 3 or 4 times now and can't seem to upload pictures..."Sorry, the board attachment quota has been reached." If anyone knows what this means, let me know how to fix it and I'll post the pictures.

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KingCam
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by KingCam »

MontyNajar wrote:I just got back from a weekend camping trip where I did a bunch of sideline herp hunting.

I was bitten by a common garter snake and I am really shocked at how strongly my body reacted to it. (see pictures attached)

1) Should I be rushing to the doctor? Unless there is any possible long-term effect or risk, I'm not planning any medical intervention. I used antibiotic and later some benadryl cream.

2) Is this 'case' info useful to anyone? I can give a detailed blow-by-blow on times and events. I don't know for sure - but I'm thinking inflamation like this has to be pretty rare.

I always thought that the 'colubrid venom' argument was a bit trivial and self-important of the herpetology community. Why does it really matter? But uh - I'm changing my mind pretty quick. If I had a young child that took a hit like this I would be FREAKING OUT.

Let me know if anyone wants the detailed info. Otherwise, enjoy my pain in the pics! ;)
I don't think it's anything to worry about, but I am definitely not an expert. Best to either call your doctor or wait for someone more educated to respond.
MontyNajar wrote:...have tried 3 or 4 times now and can't seem to upload pictures..."Sorry, the board attachment quota has been reached." If anyone knows what this means, let me know how to fix it and I'll post the pictures.
For the love of GOD. Can one of the admins please change the "board quota" error message to something useful and meaningful? Say for instance "This board does not support file uploads, please refer to this page (link) for instructions."

Anyway, HERE (click) is a semi-confusing thread I typed up to help people with the never ending image embedding issue on this forum.

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TravisK
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by TravisK »

<---- Eagerly awaits pics

stlouisdude
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by stlouisdude »

Considering the number of people who have been bitten by garter snakes over the years, I think you are pretty safe that this will not be a cause of serious complications. Are you sure the garter snake is the cause of the reaction? I had a friend that had a lot of swelling from a sweat bee sting this summer. It took about 2 days for the swelling to go down. Garter snake is one of the mostly likely to strike, never had any reaction except bleeding.

Bob McKeever
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Bob McKeever »

Looking forward to your photos. I have to agree generally with the no real problem stance regarding this bite. But I have to add info about a newspaper article I have in my files about a garter snake bite that resulted in a one week hospital stay for an eleven year old boy.

The article was in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 18, 1975 and has a photo of the boy. Only a few details given other than a positive ID of a 31 inch garter snake that bit the boy on the right hand and maintained the bite for "ten minutes." According to the article, the boy's arm swelled to the shoulder and "turned black."

The length of time the snake maintained the bite seems a key in cases like this. I have also seen a presentation accompanied by photos of a girl bitten by a Western Hog-nosed Snake (another bite maintained for at least ten minutes) that took 6 months to completely resolve.

Anyway, lots of garter snake bites with no symptoms (a few dozen of them are mine too) doesn't necessarily mean a problem might not arise on occasion. I have no medical credentials beyond the EMT level, so take my words with a suitably-sized grain of salt.

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Don Becker
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Don Becker »

KingCam wrote:For the love of GOD. Can one of the admins please change the "board quota" error message to something useful and meaningful? Say for instance "This board does not support file uploads, please refer to this page (link) for instructions."
The error was 100% accurate and meaningful. The overall attachment quota for the board was set to 50MB. Prior to the forum being hosted on my server, attachments were not allowed even. Most people should use image hosts either way. I have upped the attachment limit to 500MB now, but people should still use an image host where possible.

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by withalligators »

I think what KingCam means is, can you change the error message to include some layman speak along the lines of a link to a "how to post pics using photobucket / flickr" thread? Strangely, there are still plenty of folks who are totally new to forums of this kind. Its a non issue for most folks, but a brick wall for the online unsavvy. I know my dad would just give up if he got that message.

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justinm
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by justinm »

Here's one of the most severe Garter snake bites I've witnessed. Don aka Psyon allowed this snake to get the better of him in an effort to see what would happen. If you know Don, you're not likely shocked by this. I think Don is still alive years later, but everyone can have a different reaction. Itching and swelling are normal and Garters aren't usually considered medically significant.

Image

Image

Image

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MontyNajar
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by MontyNajar »

Here are some pictures (at 4hrs and then 28hrs). You can normally see all of the veins in my hand.

By now, approx 2.5days later most of my hand is now black & purple with under-skin bruising. Swelling has gone down tho.

I caught this snake high on a very slippery clay river bank. I was paying a lot more attention to not KILLING MYSELF on the rocks and such, so he dug in when I was looking the other way. He started to have a good chew and it really hurt like hell (again - surprised), but I figured he's got me and I've got him, so he's more stable like this. I also didn't want to rip teeth out of his head by forcibly removing him. He was pretty insistent that he wasn't going to let go even when I gave him a view to the grass. I then began to fight the river to catch up to my kid & canoe.

He held on for at least 5min and I was pumping a lot of blood, breaking a sweat and getting a hard workout. I'm sure this is all the key factor. Plus, I am apparrently allergic to everything in the world.

I am 100000% sure that this reaction is from the snake. He only chewed a small area, but the swelling was on my whole hand as well as now the bruising.

No pain now and clearly on the mend. But if some researcher needs a guinea pig who can 'present' at the drop of a hat...I'm your man for a repeat performance.
Attachments
2011-08-06 1834 Garter snake bite at approx 4hrs.00.sm.jpg
2011-08-06 1834 Garter snake bite at approx 4hrs.00.sm.jpg (92.22 KiB) Viewed 6451 times
2011-08-07 1824 Garter snake bite at approx 28hrs.00.sm.jpg
2011-08-07 1824 Garter snake bite at approx 28hrs.00.sm.jpg (87.28 KiB) Viewed 6451 times

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MontyNajar
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by MontyNajar »

psyon wrote: The error was 100% accurate and meaningful. The overall attachment quota for the board was set to 50MB. Prior to the forum being hosted on my server, attachments were not allowed even. Most people should use image hosts either way. I have upped the attachment limit to 500MB now, but people should still use an image host where possible.
First - THANKS for hosting in the first place. If anybody complains, then they can damnwell volunteer themselves. Second - I'd like to complain about that. (joke!) I agree that the statement is 'programmatically' correct, but that doesn't matter if it is confusing. Just kill the 'UPLOAD' feature (if you can). I'm afraid that in this on-demand, free content web world, people are going to 'demand' more...not realizing that you fellows do this out of the kindness of your heart.

Again - a big THANKS from me in any case. Great forum.

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Natalie McNear
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Natalie McNear »

Cool stuff. If the snake was chewing on your finger for five minutes, it probably got down to some subcutaneous blood vessels, which would explain the bruising and swelling. I'm sure whatever toxic compounds or bacteria the snake had in its saliva didn't help, but your reaction seems like it could be caused primarily by the mechanical damage of having a snake chew on you for that long.

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Chad M. Lane
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Chad M. Lane »

I had less of a reaction and damage from a 7'+ False Water Cobra that chewed on my hand for 3-4 mins interesting observation.

Thanks for posting.




Cheers,
Chad

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Natalie McNear
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Natalie McNear »

A 7" false water cobra, eh? I'm surprised it was able to get its jaws around your hand. ;)

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by bewilderbeast »

When I was kid chasing nerodia and garters at my grandparent's house in Michigan, I was bitten quite a few times. nothing of interest from the garters, but I remember one particularly nasty nerodia that bit me between my thumb and forefinger that caused minor numbness of my digits for a short amount of time. This is before I had any knowledge of colubrid "venom". I wasn't surprised, as it seemed a beneficial adaptation for a snake that was trying to subdue fish.

it was later when I started to learn more about snakes that I had the AHA! moment.

you may just be more sensitive than most to the chemical.... like how for some people a bee sting can be life threatening while to others its no big deal.

I'd like to see a pic also.

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MontyNajar
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by MontyNajar »

I posted the pictures last night and they did show up when I did the 'preview'. Anyway - here's the "external link" method and I hope it was worth the wait...

AT APPROX 4 HRS:
Image

AT APPROX 28 HRS:
Image

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TNWJackson
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by TNWJackson »

Interesting post.

Not sure how the "colubrid venom argument" is trivial or "self-important of the herp community". It's "self-important" of the rest of humanity to think that the only creatures worthy of the "venomous" moniker are those with bites that are "medically significant" to humans. In actual fact, colubrid venom (and the venom of all venomous creatures) is highly significant in evolutionary terms and may yet become "medically significant" to humans through bioprospecting. "Not dangerous" is not synonymous with "not important".

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Brandon D
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Brandon D »

it could be some people have a slight allergic reaction to the saliva, or possibly the garter snake recently ate a toad, some people have severe reactions to heterodon bites, it would be interesting to have the same people who have had reactions to hognose bites to be biten by thamnophis, with heterodon it could also be a toad issue, and that they unlike thamnophis have rear fangs as well. Ive been bit by a lot of thamnophis and other colubrids and have not had any reaction, Ive heard of people having similar reactions to yours though, with nerodia as well, in any case its nothing to worry about :beer:

joeysgreen
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by joeysgreen »

My own opinion is that you are seeing the result of mechanical damage; perhaps a tooth was left embedded in the skin causing a continued body response. It may also be that you are allergic, but I would then expect to see more of a reddening around the area, or hives or something... I"m no doctor though.

For this case to be usefull as more than anectdotal information, a biopsy and histopathology would have to be done in an attempt to discover if venom is actually killing cells, or if the area is filled with Eosinophils (allergic reaction), etc. Perhaps an antibody titer may also give some insight to how your body is responding... Again, I'm not an expert in this area, but just passing on that there are ways to positively measure these sorts of things. For now, I think just knowing that severe garter bites may be like a bee sting in some people is information enough.

Ian

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KingCam
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by KingCam »

psyon wrote:The error was 100% accurate and meaningful. The overall attachment quota for the board was set to 50MB. Prior to the forum being hosted on my server, attachments were not allowed even. Most people should use image hosts either way. I have upped the attachment limit to 500MB now, but people should still use an image host where possible.
lol, okay. Fair enough, it is accurate and meaningful. I'm just saying, when you get the same error almost every time you try to post an attachment, it becomes less meaningful and more annoying. If we don't have a server that can handle attachments, that's totally cool. I get that, servers and online storage are expensive, and I certainly don't expect you to take on additional costs just so we can posts pictures directly. I just think the error message should be more descriptive, and point people in the right direction for other methods of embedding photos. I also think there should be a section on this website that has walkthroughs/guides for using the features on this forum.

I do apologize, I know my form of communication can be abrasive at times. I didn't really mean to sound like such a dick head. Sometimes (most of the time) my brand of humor doesn't translate well in written form. I'm going to work on that.
withalligators wrote:I think what KingCam means is, can you change the error message to include some layman speak along the lines of a link to a "how to post pics using photobucket / flickr" thread? Strangely, there are still plenty of folks who are totally new to forums of this kind. Its a non issue for most folks, but a brick wall for the online unsavvy. I know my dad would just give up if he got that message.
Exactly! Maybe one day I'll learn to actually say what I mean.
MontyNajar wrote:First - THANKS for hosting in the first place. If anybody complains, then they can damnwell volunteer themselves. Second - I'd like to complain about that. (joke!) I agree that the statement is 'programmatically' correct, but that doesn't matter if it is confusing. Just kill the 'UPLOAD' feature (if you can). I'm afraid that in this on-demand, free content web world, people are going to 'demand' more...not realizing that you fellows do this out of the kindness of your heart.
You're absolutely right, a big thanks is in order. Don, thank you for what you do, we all greatly appreciate it. I'm not trying to criticize the features available to us, I'm just trying to say we need to do something about the problem of no one ever knowing how to embed photos using an external hosting site. There are SO many people who simply don't know how to do it, I just don't get why no one has come up with a useful guide yet. Not saying that is Don's responsibility either. I typed up my own guide, it may not be the best or most comprehensive, but with some help from a few of you guys maybe we could make it "sticky" worthy.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yeah, after seeing the photos I'm even more convinced you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Watch out for a festering bump, it could be a tooth left behind that's getting infected. Might have to use a sharp blade or a needle to dig it out if that's the case. Or sometime they just work themselves to the surface and you can pop it out like a zit.

Bold Cub
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Bold Cub »

This is an interesting topic. Last year I received a pretty long, chewy bite from one last year and although my hand did not swell, it did get very itchy and a bit puffy around the bitten area (meat of the thumb). In a few hours I developed a weird headache that went away the next day. I have no proof that the headache was from the snakebite, but I decided it was, because it just felt weird, not a "normal" headache.

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Chad M. Lane
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Chad M. Lane »

A 7" false water cobra, eh? I'm surprised it was able to get its jaws around your hand. ;)
What are you talking about Natalie? :lol:

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Jeremy Westerman
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Jeremy Westerman »

Chad M. Lane wrote:
A 7" false water cobra, eh? I'm surprised it was able to get its jaws around your hand. ;)
What are you talking about Natalie? :lol:
typical, a guy says its 7 feet and a girl says more like 7 inches. We free handle our Hydronastes gigas all the time and he seems pretty docile, I am aware of the medically significant bites and hospitalizations from this species though...


MontyNajar, I am anxiously awaiting my book from Amazon tracking says it has shipped! might be of some interest to you: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=w ... Ew&cad=rja
"Venomous" Bites from Non-Venomous Snakes: A Critical Analysis of Risk and Management of "Colubrid" Snake Bites (Elsevier Insights) [Hardcover]
Scott A Weinstein (Author), David A. Warrell (Author), Julian White (Author), Daniel E Keyler (Author)

joeysgreen
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by joeysgreen »

I can't believe the metric Canadian is pointing it out, but 7 feet is written 7'. Seven inches is written 7". :)

Ian

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MontyNajar
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by MontyNajar »

NWJackson: Not sure how the "colubrid venom argument" is trivial or "self-important of the herp community". It's "self-important" of the rest of humanity to think that the only creatures worthy of the "venomous" moniker are those with bites that are "medically significant" to humans...
This is ironic - I may not have made my point very well, but that was EXACTLY what I meant. Venom is very, very 'study' worthy as a biological phenomenon. But I'm not sure if it is 'debate' worthy, solely defining it in terms of the effects (or lack thereof) on humans.


THANKS FOR THE REPLIES ALL. Pretty much whole hand is blackish now, but clearly getting better. Garter Snake 1, Monty ZERO. Sorry to have stressed the fellow with a 4hr detention, but about 8 kids learned a lot from his time with us.

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TNWJackson
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by TNWJackson »

MontyNajar wrote: This is ironic - I may not have made my point very well, but that was EXACTLY what I meant. Venom is very, very 'study' worthy as a biological phenomenon. But I'm not sure if it is 'debate' worthy, solely defining it in terms of the effects (or lack thereof) on humans.
Fair enough, but no, you didn't make that point well (from my reading of your post) :D.

Although in the vast majority of cases, bites from "colubrids" are of trivial concern to humans, every now and then serious injury results from the bite of species that were hitherto considered "harmless" or even "non-venomous". It is cases like that that warranted the writing of the book mentioned a few posts above....I suppose at this point it would also be a cliche to reference Karl Schmidt or Robert Mertens?

As for your bite, although I can't say what caused the symptoms you've experienced, many natricine (natricid) snakes possess haemolytic venom which may have similar effects to those which you've described.

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by ssssnakeluvr »

wandering garters (thamnophis elegans vagrans) do have the Duvornoy's gland (rear fanged snakes have this) and their saliva has a tranquilizing effect on rodents as they do eat mice in the wild regularly. some people have mild reactions to it, swelling, itching, but nothing serious enough to go se a doctor. I haven't heard of any other garter snake species having this gland. it also depends on the persons sensitivity too... I have been bitten by numerous wanderings over the yers and never had a reaction and neither have my kids. I have seen posts on thamnophis.com about minor reactions tho.

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Cole Grover
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Cole Grover »

ssssnakeluvr wrote: I haven't heard of any other garter snake species having this gland.
All Thamnophis have Duvernoy's glands. It's a common trait among Natricines.

-Cole

ColdBloodedHerps
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by ColdBloodedHerps »

I've handled probably around 50 vagrans and not one has struck at me. They've done the musking thing and the death roll but that's it as far as defensive behavior goes.

stlouisdude
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by stlouisdude »

Also bare in mind there are a lot of hypochondriacs out there. At least some of which are going to be herpers/keepers. It's only natural they will be preoccupied with illusions of a reaction whether one exists or not. Same goes with handling phibs and not washing hands, etc.. Most of the "reactions" I would wager turn out to be an over-active imagination. Not saying that in regards to any particular person/situation, but just another reason I am always skeptical of one's ability to self-diagnose.

SAW
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by SAW »

Hi, to interested members of this stimulating forum, I am new here and after reviewing the string, am glad to see a lively and thoughtful discussion of this subject. I can't help but comment briefly on some of the posted replies. First, although there are a handful of formally documented medically significant bites from thamnophiines, these consisted of mild local effects, typically mild edema, erythema, pruritis, and rarely, transient blistering usually limited to the bite site. Most of these were inflicted by T. e. vagrans, but there are a few others from protracted bites by large T. s. sirtalis and a single case by T. s. similis. Although several of these cases have caused distress to the respective patients bitten by the aforementioned species, I agree with the inferences of some of the previous posts here in that Thamnophis spp. are not medically significant. Like many readers here, I have experienced and observed many bites by Thamnophis spp. with only subsequent minor bleeding and puncture wounds/slight erythema. It is important to note that the bite posted in this string can only be assessed as interesting anecdote as the victim was not objectively examined by a physician (preferably with clinical toxinology experience). Even these relatively minor bites have value when formally documented as they establish a risk profile (or lack thereof) for a given species. This is especially important in light of the increasing premature and inappropriate use of the term, "venom", for the Duvernoy's secretions of many non-front-fanged colubroids species. Just because an oral secretion is made in a specific gland, has associated teeth, contains transcripts encoding and/or components found in other ophidian oral products, and produces a clinical effect does NOT mean that it is a “venom”. The traditional definition of venom is: a complex substance produced in a specialized gland and delivered by an associated specialized apparatus that is deleterious to other organisms in a given dosage and is actively used in the subjugation and/or digestion of prey and/or in defense (Minton, 1974; Minton and Minton, 1980; Russell, 1980; Mebs, 2002). Unless there is a universally accepted change in the consensus definition of venom, biological function, how it is used, is a crucial defining factor. Therefore, clinical effects should not be a primary defining contributor; only a secondary consideration to be considered in relation with the primary criterion. In this, there are no convincing, repetitively formally reported instances of active use of thamnophiine Duvernoy's secretions in prey subjugation/capture. Finley et al (Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 1994, 29, 5-6) probably came the closest to documenting biological use of T. e. vagrans Duvernoy's secretions as they reported observed depliation of a vole (suggesting pre-digestive function) while being ingested by a T. e. vagrans. However, this is an isolated report in journal with limited referee review, and confirmation is obviously desirable. Other non-front-fanged colubroids such as Diadophis punctatus ssp. (and a handful of other taxa) have been observed and formally documented as using their Duvernoy's secretions in the probable subjugation/tranquilization of prey. Of course, D. punctatus ssp. have no medical significance. Therefore, these have what might be termed a "prey-specific venom" (in the case of Diadophis punctatus ssp., ophidian-specific), as I have proposed in our new book on the subject (see ahead). I might add that a portion of the effects of some non-front-fanged colubroid snake bites in some victims are very likely due to atopic tendency, e.g. hypersensitivity, and this sensitization may occur through exposure to shed skins, snake products (per routine husbandry, etc) as well as exposure to buccal secretions/venoms. I do not have the time or space to detail this here, but this does bring me to a shameless and blatant plug for our new book ("Venomous" Bites from Non-Venomous Snakes: A Critical Analysis of Risk and Management of "Colubrid" Snake Bites" with co-authors David A. Warrell, Julian White and Daniel E. Keyler) as this is the first comprehensive treatment of the topic, and includes extensive discussion re bites and toxinology as well as illustration of Thamnophis spp. I must add that any interested party should probably obtain the E-book (as it was intended even though it is a bit more expensive) as this contains many colour photos (>300), an excellent search function, and aside from a few poorly reproduced osteology photos, is a good book per this fascinating topic. The print version is in black and white and lacks an index (this because it was intended first as a digital product), but still contains all of the info and is a nice book (I am a bit subjective here in case you hadn’t noticed…). A visit to elsevierdirect.com allows an interested prospective reader to look through a sample of the E-book (as does the kindle version on amazon). I hope this post has added to your interest in this less traveled subject.
Scott A. Weinstein, MSc, PhD, MBBS, MD
Clinical Toxinologist/Family Physician
Women’s and Children’s Hospital
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
And
Attending Physician/Clinical Toxinologist
Bayside, New York USA

Robert Hansen
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Robert Hansen »

Hi Scott:

Thanks for weighing in here and adding some nice perspective. Interesting to know that T. e. vagrans has been implicated in a disproportionate share of bites with consequences.

Cheers,

Bob

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by ssssnakeluvr »

Cole Grover wrote:
ssssnakeluvr wrote: I haven't heard of any other garter snake species having this gland.
All Thamnophis have Duvernoy's glands. It's a common trait among Natricines.

-Cole
Thanks for the info... hadn't heard of it before. I have found wandering garters to be one of the more docile garters too.

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TNWJackson
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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by TNWJackson »

Hi Scott,

Thanks for contributing to this post with a very interesting reply. Feel free to plug your book, I am very much looking forward to reading it myself. I can't help but comment on the passage quoted below however. This is increasingly an issue of semantics, but I find the resistance to the word "venom" in some quarters rather puzzling.
SAW wrote: This is especially important in light of the increasing premature and inappropriate use of the term, "venom", for the Duvernoy's secretions of many non-front-fanged colubroids species. Just because an oral secretion is made in a specific gland, has associated teeth, contains transcripts encoding and/or components found in other ophidian oral products, and produces a clinical effect does NOT mean that it is a “venom”. The traditional definition of venom is: a complex substance produced in a specialized gland and delivered by an associated specialized apparatus that is deleterious to other organisms in a given dosage and is actively used in the subjugation and/or digestion of prey and/or in defense (Minton, 1974; Minton and Minton, 1980; Russell, 1980; Mebs, 2002). Unless there is a universally accepted change in the consensus definition of venom, biological function, how it is used, is a crucial defining factor.
If we examine your description of the "Duvernoy's secretions" of certain snakes, and then compare it with the definiton of "venom" that you adhere to, we can easily see that some parts match quite closely. For example, "oral secretion is made in a specific gland" matches "a complex substance produced in a specialized gland" quite closely (assuming such secretions are complex - they often are). Further, "has associated teeth" matches with "an associated specialized apparatus".

"Clinical effect" is similar to "deleterious to other organisms in a given dosage" although now you are talking in two different contexts - one is the human context ("clinical effect") and the other a more generalised context ("is deleterious to other organisms"). I don't think there is anyone out there claiming that biological function is not crucial to the definition of "venom". Most venoms however (snakes aren't the only venomous creatures after all), are arguably what you refer to as "prey-specific venom". Consider the venom of the vast majority of venomous invertebrates - undeniably deadly to their small (usually also invertebrate) prey animals, but of little consequence (perhaps only producing mild clinical effects) to humans. Additionally, the human clinical effects of the average centipede sting (for example), whilst far from being deadly, are more than enough to deter the potentially predatory human from playing with chilopods again - qualifying the secretion as venom in this context for its active use in defence.

In some cases, actively delivered "toxic secretions" may not be deadly to the prey, but may merely have some physiological effect which makes the prey easier to overcome ("deleterious effects on other organisms") - this still qualifies the secretion as venom according to the definition you posted above.

I also want to make a point about homologous structures and homologous toxins. If the glands are homologous, and they're secreting the same toxins (or toxins from the same families), then why the resistance to the use of "venom"? Furthermore, at what point does it become "venom" and no longer "Duvernoy's secretion"? I've seen chicks die in only a few seconds from the bite of a boomslang, is a boomslang "venomous"? What about "colubrids" that have killed people, are they "venomous"?

I don't mean to be inflammatory, I am just genuinely miffed by the resistance in some quarters to the use of the word "venom". Surely economy of language is relevant here. We have terms like "venom" to refer to a type of secretion (perfectly defined in your post above). We are perfectly capable of discussing the difference between the venom and the venom delivery apparatus of elapids vs. "colubrids" (and of differences within these groupings), but just because there ARE differences, doesn't mean one is venom and one isn't because both qualify according to the definition you've posted above. We all know that in nature, things aren't black and white, there are infinite shades of grey, this is why it's so difficult to fit things into boxes and give them outright lables.

I completely agree that more study, both behavioural and physiological, is needed to determine the exact effect of many ophidian oral secretions on their intended prey. All the current evidence though seems to point to its active use in subduing prey for ease of handling/ingestion. This is corroborated by the fact that in lineages of "colubrids" that have evolved to be powerful constrictors, "Duvernoy's secretions" are decreased or absent.

Anyway, I'd like to go on and on (perhaps I already have), but I have a new puppy that is demanding my attention. Looking forward to reading any replies.

regards,

Timothy Jackson

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by SAW »

Hi Bob,
Thanks for your comments. It is pleasant to contribute to a thoughtful exchange on the subject.
and
Hi Timothy,
Thanks for your comments and observed opinions. As you have stated in your comments, a comprehensive reply to your post would take quite some time (yes, our book answers these points in a far more developed manner). However, I will briefly address a few of your points.
First, there is an increasing tendency to assign the term, "venom", to any squamate oral secretion that contains toxins or toxin-encoding transcripts (e.g. agamid or iguanid lizards as well as others that do not to date have any demonstrable biological use for these). My biggest concern re this trend in addition to sensationalizing such likely exapted components is the possible misleading interpretation of these that may divert attention from alternative and potentially important functions that these may have. As you have noted from my comments, "venom" as traditionally defined by consensus carries specific biological inference. Unless this consensus is changed (and I feel that the traditional definition is robust and accurate), the term should be used with verified evidence of biological use, not by conjecture. I pose that your examples of cnidarian or chilopod venom use is inapplicable to the current discussion as these have unambiguous biological functions, e.g. they are clearly used in prey capture and defense as has been formally reported by multiple observers. Again, the medical effects should not be included as a criteria as these are unlikely to be the primary adaptive pressure that stimulated their evolved biological function. This is also why, as you have correctly indicated, a number of cnidarian taxa (as well as many other venomous animals) are markedly toxic to prey, but have little effect aside from mildly irritating effects on humans while others such as Chironex fleckeri are potentially fatal. When discussing Duvernoy's glands of non-front-fanged colubroids vs venom glands of front-fanged colubroids there is a different issue in that the functional morphology of Duvernoy's glands and the variably associated dentition differ markedly from that of front-fanged colubroids. This is where I have little space to expand this discussion. In summary, as you likely are aware, the low-pressure Duvernoy’s gland vs. high-pressure “true” venom gland differ dramatically in storage capacity (aside from the dispholidines, D. typus and Thelotornis spp. as well as the natricines, Rhabdophis tigrinus and R. subminiatus, there is little or no such storage of pre-formed secretion/venom with an immediately available bolus) as well as in associated dentition (non-front-fanged colubroids lack canaliculated, "hollow", teeth). This suggests that rather than an "inefficient" or "poor" venom delivery system as on occasion these have unfortunately and incorrectly been termed, these systems have different functions. Please re-read my original post as I clearly indicate that with formally documented evidence of active use in subjugation/tranquilization/pre-digestion of prey and/or anti-predator function, biological use would be established for various species and I will be the first to call them "venoms". As you included in your reply and as I have indicated above, species that have proved fatal to humans all do have supporting verified evidence of their concomitant use in capturing prey, although the procoagulant (Factor Xa homologues) toxins of some of these have unclear roles in the natural history of these species. However, these are venoms, and I refer to them as such. In this, it could be conversely asked in regards to the initial posting: do you consider Thamnophis spp. "venomous"? I am a traditionalist, and thus require the aforementioned evidence to establish function. Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, just because an oral secretion is made in a specific gland, has associated teeth and produces a clinical effect does NOT mean that it is a “venom”. As a very brief example: the human salivary proteome is comprised of well over 300 proteins; this includes mulitiple biologically-active components including platelet-activating factor and inhibitor, endopeptidases and a myriad of other proteases, amylase and a multitude of other substances far too extensive to discuss here. I can assure you as a physician who has treated many such bites, and as many readers probably know, there are few animal bites worse than that inflicted by a human. Only bites from rabid animals, felines with the pathogenic Gram negative bacterium, Pasteurella multocida, as well as large caninies, macropredators (great cats, bears, etc) and non-human primates (a number carry viruses, particularly Old World macaques, that can be fatal to humans) are worse. Human saliva is toxic when injected into experimental animals (thus, there is a toxic as well as septic effect), produced in salivary glands that may differ in secretion flow characteristics as measured by planar MRI (sub-mandibular vs parotid), and there is salivary flow around modified dentition (incisors). We do not use our buccal secretions in subduing prey, but we do partly pre-digest our food, and we don’t use them in defense (well, most of us don’t anyway…). Are we venomous? No.

The selective use of venom (for larger mammals) or constriction (for amphibians) for different prey items by “true” venomous snakes such as the common tiger snake, Notechis scutatus and the Western brown snake, Pseudonaja nuchalis, further adds to the complexity of this issue. Some non-front-fanged colubroids such as the Montpellier snake, Malpolon monspessulanus (and others) have been occasionally reported to constrict or employ the posterior maxillary teeth depending on the nature of the prey item. These limited reports require further corroboration and if provided could lend support to the unqualified assignment of the term, venom, (Malpolon monspessulanus already has sufficient support for use of the term) or “prey specific venom” to the oral secretions of the species of interest. Additionally, aside from the dispholidines and the two aforementioned species of Rhabdophis, few bites from non-front-fanged colubroids could be interpreted as the given specimen actively using their Duvernoy’s secretion in defense (and this is from personal experience as well…). I have experienced, as I am sure many here have as well, far worse consequences from bites of small Python reticulatus than those of similarly-sized Boiga. This is not to say that large specimens of species such as H. gigas or B. dendrophila are incapable of medically significant defensive bites as a few of these have occurred. However, most of these produce effects that are largely comprised of purely physical trauma. Or could this also be due to prey-specificity of the major secretion components as are the 3-finger fold neurotoxins of B. dendrophila and B. irregularis (these fit the definition of "prey-specific venoms")? Again, further evidence in this regard could accumulate support for using the traditional consensus term, “venom”. But, in science and medicine it is most important not to assume anything, and thus avoid use of such a definitive term prematurely and without reproducible supportive evidence. I might add that it is also important to avoid premature use of these terms as the biological definitions may be popularly misinterpreted and result in over-reaching concerns about many species as has already occurred in some locales.
I unfortunately do not have enough time to continue (there is the book...you didn't mind the plug, so there it is again!).

Finally, please note that I am not responding in order to “convince” anyone to change their individual interpretations or “beliefs”. Rather, I have written this to make interested readers aware that there is another considered consensus view in this less-traveled area of biomedical and life science research and this is reflected in the use of differing terminology. I appreciate the stimulating and considered exchange.
Kind regards, Scott Weinstein

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by Snake Junky »

Who knows what kinds of bacteria was in the snakes mouth at the time of the bite. I would make sure the bite area was cleaned and sterilized. That won't do much for any bacteria that could have made it to the underlying flesh.

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by WW** »

Scott,

I was glad to see your reply here on this thread.

Let me say from the outset that I enjoyed your new book on "colubrid" venoms and bites, which brings together a tremendous amount of data and provides a tremendous resource for anyone interested in this topic - it is an absolutely 100% recommended must-read as far as I am concerned. There are very few specialist books for which I make time to read the whole thing cover-to-cover, but this was one of that select few. Please bear this big picture in mind while I quibble about a couple of evolutionary points in the following paragraphs ;-)

If I may be a little tongue in cheek about this, while I found the book extraordinarily informative, I could not help deriving considerable amusement from the intellectual contortions involved in avoiding that nasty V-word for the "Duvernoy's"/venom gland secretions of the vast majority of non-front-fanged colubroids. There are several facets to this:

1. You want to see evidence that snakes use their secretions for subduing prey or for defence. That evidence exists for only for a small minority of non-front-fanged colubroids, true. However, for how many is there actual evidence that they do NOT use these secretions?
I think there some confusion there between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. Bruce Young's recent "Tears of venom" paper showed very elegantly how a non-canaliculate venom delivery system can inject venom fairly effectively, even as a low-pressure system. I agree entirely that we desperately need more case studies of what non-front-fanged snakes (and lizards for that matter) do with their secretions, but the "If it is not demonstrated to be used for prey capture or defence, then it isn't venom" attitude seems to me to be the wrong default position. Given the homology of toxins, glands and teeth, I would suggest that the burden of proof is on those who argue that we should not call them the same thing.

2. You repeatedly mention and explicitly adhere to the traditional definition of venom, being based largely on biological function. The problem with traditional definitions is that their relevance can become problematic as new evidence, new methods and new conceptual approaches provide us with new ways of looking at problems, leading to paradigm shifts. Look at taxonomy: since the 1950s, we have moved from an approach based largely on similarity to one based strictly on evolutionary relationships, and the reason for this is that newer conceptual outlooks and methodological tools have given us new insights that we have incorporated in the way we do taxonomy. In a nutshell, taxa are now defined on the basis of evolutionary relationships, specifically on the basis of monophyly. You clearly (and quite rightly) accept this, since the book talks about "non-front-fanged colubroids" rather than "colubrids", acknowledging the non-monophyly of what was the family "Colubridae" of old.
To me, this now begs a simple question: why should the definition of venom be immune from paradigm shifts? Before we had the level of evidence of evolutionary homology of glands, teeth and toxins available today, it was perhaps reasonable to define venom and venomousness purely on a functional/anatomic basis, with some taxa having that feature, whereas others lack it. However, we have moved on from that. We have an abundance of data that show all venom/"Duvernoy's" glands to be homologous, that show all snake fangs to be homologous, and that show many toxin families to be homologous across all Colubroids. As an evolutionary biologist, I would find it extremely peculiar to ignore and exclude this large body of evidence and the consequent new view of the evolution and origin of venom from the question of how we define venom. To me, this would be the intellectual equivalent of continuing to recognise the "Colubridae" of old as a single family due to the shared primitive lack of front fangs despite the fact that their non-monophyly is rejected by an increasingly large body of evidence.

3. I fail to see how the traditional definition would be helpful in practice. Where we have two closely related species of snakes using homologous teeth to inject a homologous secretion into a prey item, is it really helpful to expect us to stand with a stopwatch and time the subsequent events before deciding that one of them is venomous and the other one perhaps not, based on some arbitrary threshold? Does it make sense to call one species of garter snake (for the sake of argument) venomous because its secretions have an effect beyond a certain arbitrary threshold, whereas those of another, closely related species fall just short? As always in evolutionary biology, we are almost certainly dealing with a continuum of function. Acknowledging evolutionary homology in our terminology seems to make a lot more sense than drawing arbitrary lines, especially when we have no evidence to even do that for the vast majority of species.

4. We need to be careful about letting the potential public impact of terminology dictate the technical language of science. I appreciate that "venom" and "venomous" are emotive words, considering the general public's attitudes towards snakes. However, the simple fact is that the majority of advanced snakes (just like virtually all spiders) fall into the category of "venomous but harmless". Since all spiders (except for one or two small families) use venom to capture their prey, you presumably agree that they are venomous, and hence, calling them non-venomous would be biologically misleading. Exactly the same applies to the majority of advanced snakes. So, if I were to write a field guide for the general public, I would simply categorise a garter snake as "harmless" (given the rarity and often special circumstances surrounding the very minute percentage of symptomatic bites, such as the one that triggered this thread), and a rattlesnake as "dangerously venomous" - it avoids alarming anyone or sensationalising the issue, but provides the information that the general public really need and want to know.


At the end of the day, there will probably never be full agreement on the definition of venom, and I don't have a simple solution. However, I don't think that going back to a definition of venom that ignores the increasingly vast body of evolutionary evidence is going to be helpful to the understanding of these secretions.


Best wishes,

Wolfgang Wüster

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by VanAR »

Interesting discussion!

It seems strange to ascribe terminology on the basis of homology alone. I recently received a review on a paper regarding a similar topic where the referee referenced the morphological and functional homologies of salamander forelimbs and bird wings, and suggested that on homology alone, one could make the intellectual leap of calling the salamander forelimb an incipient wing. The referee argued that this was mistaken given the obvious functional differences between the forelimb an the wing. Instead, they suggested that the forelimb be viewed as the starting point from which wings and flight have evolved in some races, and not in others. I can't help but view the differences between saliva, "Duvernoy's secretions", and venom in a similar context here.
However, for how many is there actual evidence that they do NOT use these secretions?
I agree with the logical fallacy argument you've presented. However, evidence of alternative "primary" means of prey capture could be considered as corroboration, especially in constricting species who have been shown to use an extensive suite of behavioral (if not morphological) specializations for prey subjugation.

Van

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by WW** »

VanAR wrote:
However, for how many is there actual evidence that they do NOT use these secretions?
I agree with the logical fallacy argument you've presented. However, evidence of alternative "primary" means of prey capture could be considered as corroboration, especially in constricting species who have been shown to use an extensive suite of behavioral (if not morphological) specializations for prey subjugation.

Van
Actually, those specialised constrictors are among the relatively small proportion of colubroids that have lost all or most of their venom apparatus and glands, so they are not just functionally non-venomous, but also secondarily +/- non-venomous from an evolutionary homology point of view. A prominent example are many lampropeltines from North America.

As an aside, the total or near-total dumping of the venom apparatus by multiple lineages of snakes with specialisations making venom unnecessary (highly effective constriction OR a diet not requiring venom, such as eggs, even in some elapid lineages) argues for a predatory function of venom in those that have retained it.

I would not necessarily reject any functional consideration in the definition of "venom", but would definitely argue that the homology argument should be the default option, perhaps barring strong evidence that the function of these secretions has nothing whatsoever to do with foraging in a given species.

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by VanAR »

Actually, those specialised constrictors are among the relatively small proportion of colubroids that have lost all or most of their venom apparatus and glands, so they are not just functionally non-venomous, but also secondarily +/- non-venomous from an evolutionary homology point of view. A prominent example are many lampropeltines from North America.
Fair enough. I thought I had read something somewhere about Pantherophis exhibiting venom-like toxins, but I can't seem to find the reference. It might have been a mistaken forum comment that got stuck in the cobwebs.

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Re: Severe(??) Garter Snake Bite

Post by SAW »

Hi Wolfgang,
It is likewise a pleasure to have your input and perspectives. Needless to say, I thank you kindly for your generous comments re the book. I also have not had an opportunity to thank you for your terrific photo contributions; therefore, many thanks!
Naturally, I would expect that we would have some disagreements re this issue. However, in fact, we concur more than not.
However, my perspective on the crux of your primary thesis is where we diverge, and this is due to our differences in presupposition regarding the inferences of the term. I am familiar with Bruce Young's paper and fully recognize the notable efficiency in gland product delivery (how's that for temporarily avoiding "venom" or "Duvernoy's secretion"...!) present in some taxa. As you know, I have emphasized this in the book and even indicated that species without grooves and relatively modestly enlarged teeth (e.g. R. subminiatus) can inflict life theatening envenomings with briefly administered bites. However, posing the possible reverse of evidence for active use rather than for such function may predispose to the equivalent of an alpha error. As I am sure you have, I have observed many Thamnophis, Heterodon, and a number of other taxa that swallow their prey alive and kicking. Gregory et al (1980) [Gregory, P.T., Macartney, J.M., Rivard, D.H., 1980. Small mammal predation and prey handling by the garter snake, Thamnophis elegans. Herpetologica 36, 87–93] reported after many field observations that T. elegans swallowed small mice alive and kicking even after attempting some loose coiling in order to exert control of the prey item during deglutition. As you know, this taxa has moderately serous Duvernoy's glands and slightly enlarged ungrooved posterior maxillary teeth. Similar observations of a number of other taxa have been reported by our various colleagues. My point, emphasized by my noting that I try my best to avoid assumptions when considering such phenomena, is that I desire some clear evidence of active secretion use before taking a step into a term, "venom", that carries clear biological inference. I pose that we should avoid influencing our perceptions of these diverse substances and investigate them without any preconceived beliefs. This concern about accurate assignment of terminology prevents me from referring to Thamnophis spp. as "venomous" snakes, regardless of the qualification of these as "harmless". This still infers their active use of the oral products in the procurement of prey. There is more tangible evidence that they do not do this than there is that they do, and thus I don't use the term. Again, as I have stated previously (and in the book), as evidence of use becomes evident (and I agree that for a growing number of species this is likely) I will be more than glad to use the term (preferably, "prey-specific venom" as this will obviate the need to add a qualifier of medical insignificance). In fact, Sherman Minton and I referred to many of these "colubrid oral products" as "colubrid venoms" in our Copeia paper in 1987. However, we reconsidered this for many of these shortly thereafter as some of the issues we are discussing here were further evaluated. Therefore, it is not at all that I am rigidly refusing to use the term, only that I feel that we need to carefully define and robustly apply its use. This brings me to your further example of other squamate oral products. I am also uncomfortable with calling oral secretions of agamids such as Pogona vitticeps "venoms". I know from one of our previous discussions that you do not like Stephen J Gould's term "exaptation" used in this context. However, it is a reasonable consideration of these phenomena. We do not have a clear understanding of the role (s) of these components in the oral secretions of these omnivorous lizards, and in many cases, these have a strong vegetarian preference. Thus, again, I prefer to have more tangible evidence of function before I apply the label "venom". The comparison with the human proteome is again relevant as our saliva contains biologically-active components such as: platelet-activating factor and inhibitor, endopeptidases and a myriad of other proteases, amylase, anti-microbial components such as histatins, and the alpha-7-post-synaptic neurotoxin, kynurenic acid. Some of these components are variably expressed and are likely regulated by DNA-binding proteins and possibly siRNA species. This is probably another relevant issue here as it will be important to compare the expression of many of these toxin classes and determine their comparatrive activities among different saurian oral secretions. Again, I desire some solid information supporting a given function for these components. Their presence alone does not support the assignment of a term that infers specifically-defined basic biological functions. In this, I fully agree with your other points regarding paradigm shifts and the absolute necessity to embrace new evidence that alters previous conventional definitions. However, in our current dissertive discourse, I fail to appreciate a "Kuhnian" shift. This is why I feel that we should carefully reserve use of the term until and if we have a better functional understanding of the use, or lack thereof, in these animals. I unfortunately am almost out of available time, and have a good deal more to add, but I will conclude with the following comments:
I absolutely agree that we likely will continue to differ on this terminology, but perhaps an interdisciplinary consensus re-evaluation in the future may bring our respective views closer.
In regards to concerns re the popular power of the term "venom" and its implications: this also emphasizes why I seek caution in using the term without reasonable support for such. Incorrect primary interpretation of the term misleads assignment of medical risk where there is none; a number of US metro locales increasingly apply statutory authority to harmless species due to premature use of the term "venom", and alternative as well as important functions of these secretions may be inadvertently missed due to a focus on the presupposed roles of "venoms" (e.g. per the possible endogenous neurovascular functions of R. tigrinus venom...yes, I did use the term here!).
Obviously, we both can go on for some time, and I have run out of mine here.
In any case, it is a pleasure to discuss this with you and I appreciate your well-considered comments.
Best, Scott

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