Brown snakes are small, but deadly, the sixth most venomous snake in the world. The five snakes ranked more deadly are vipers, two types of Taipans, the Mamba, and the Black Mamba. The brown snakes’ venom is neurotoxic and haemotoxic.
Not long ago the brown was responsible for the most deaths caused by a snakebite. Today because an effective treatment has been discovered the number of deaths has been greatly reduced to two or less per year.
A newly released study by Dr. Bryan Fry, a professor with the University of Queensland, reveals that the venom of the brown snake has a devastating effect on the nervous system. In addition, the new study reveals that as the snakes get older, their venom also has an impact on the circulatory system.
Dr. Fry said the brown snake’s venom gets deadlier as the snake ages. This is due to the fact that young snakes feed on lizards and adults feed on mammals. He went on to say that young browns produce symptoms that resemble those produced when a death adder paralyzes a sleeping lizard, the University of Queensland News reported.
Once brown snakes age, their venom then contains toxins that can interferes with the way blood clots, which helps to immobilize their prey and causes them to have a stroke. Dr. Fry said the venom is more diluted in humans because our bodies contain a higher volume of blood. A brown snake bite would most likely not give a human a stroke, but if bitten, a human could die as a result of internal bleeding.
Dr. Fry said that brown snakes can be found in Australia, and the eastern brown is found in New Guinea. The new study shows that the venom of these snakes has a much more complex reaction than has been previously believed.
Fry continued by saying researchers previously discovered that brown snakes convert prothrombin, a protein, into thrombin, which turns into a clot. In the past, the speed of the blood clot forming could not be determined.
Fry’s team discovered that the brown snake is potent enough to activate an enzyme necessary for blood clotting called the Factor VII, which he says is the missing element of brown snake “envenomations.”
The loop created by the enzyme becomes a “venomous vortex” and rapidly accelerates the effects on the blood. Dr. Fry said the new discovery could have implications on human health. He went on to say that discoveries like this are perfect examples of why we should continue to study evolution. Dr. Fry and his team’s latest study was published in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology.
By Tammy Marie Rose
Photo Courtesy Stewart Macdonald