Articles tagged as: Jill Heatley
It’s the Chinese Year of the Snake, and with hundreds of millions of snakes around the world, there is a lot of slithering going on out there. Despite their reputation, snakes are not the bad boys of the animal kingdom as they are often portrayed and they are one creature that could use a good PR campaign, says a Texas A&M University expert.
Jill Heatley, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, believes that snakes often get a bad rap. The bottom line about snakes: they just want to be left alone, she says.
“Snakes are probably more afraid of you,” she notes.
“They are almost never aggressive unless provoked. And they do provide a valuable service because they keep the rodent population in check.”
All snakes can bite, but Heatley says there are only four venomous snakes found in the United States – the rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin and the coral snake, but there are numerous different species of each.
Venomous snakes inject their poison through their fangs, but it is estimated that about 50 percent of all snakebites are “dry” bites, meaning no venom was injected, the Texas A&M professor notes.
A snakebite, besides being painful, can be very expensive, often costing the victim between $50,000 to $100,000 in medical bills.
Snakes kill more people than any other creature, and the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 50,000 people worldwide die from snakebite each year, with almost all of them coming in undeveloped countries where access to medical care is difficult. In the United States, only 10-12 people die each year from snakebite, compared to 100 or more from bee stings.
Some interesting facts about snakes:
- The word for snake comes from an old English term called snaka, which means to crawl or creep
- Snakes have no eyelids, which means they can’t blink and they sleep with their eyes open
- There are about 2,900 species of snakes in the world and more than 350 of them are venomous
- A snake’s heart is able to shift and move several inches to allow food to pass through its body
- By far, more people are killed in India by snakebite than any other country, with between 10,000 to 12,000 people killed annually. A bite from a cobra, found frequently in India, can kill an elephant
- In ancient Greece, snakes were used for healing by the god of medicine Asclepius, and a snake forms part of the symbol representing medicine used today by doctors and veterinarians with a snake wrapped around Asclepius’ staff
- Snakes smell with their tongue, which is forked so that a snake can tell which direction the smell is the strongest, even in the dark
- Some large snakes have more than 300 ribs
- A bite from a black mamba, found in several places throughout the world, is so strong that it kills 95 to 100 percent of its victims
- Australia averages less than 5 snakebite deaths each year, but it is home to 7 of the 10 most deadly snakes in the world.
“We are learning more and more every year about the medical benefits of snake venom,” Heatley adds.
“It is being tested for use against multiple diseases, from cancer to muscle disorders. It is true that some snakes can kill, but it is also true that they are leading us to possible ways to save lives.”
Coming to an area near you: snakes, and plenty of them. With unusually warm temperatures and plenty of rainfall this spring, experts say this could be a bumper crop year for snakes. While Texas has never been short on the snake commodities list, people and pets should be aware that they are out and about, says a Texas A&M University expert.
Jill Heatley, associate professor of veterinary medicine, notes she and other veterinarians have already seen several snake-bitten pets brought into the Small Animal Hospital at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
She says a snakebite on a human can be painful – and very expensive.
It is not uncommon for a person bitten by a venomous snake to have medical bills of $50,000 or more because of hospitalization, which can run from one day to several weeks, treatments on damaged tissues, plus antivenin treatments that can run into the thousands of dollars, she adds.
Although snakes are found in most of the world – Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand are some of the few snake-free countries – only four types found in Texas are venomous: the coral snake, copperhead, rattlesnake and cottonmouth (also called water moccasin), and the state is a ground zero, slithering paradise for all of them.
“The thing to remember about snakes is that generally, they want to be left alone. They are probably more afraid of you,” Heatley explains.
“Of the four types of venomous snakes in Texas, the coral, copperhead and rattlesnake are almost never aggressive unless they are provoked. The cottonmouth has been known to be a little on the aggressive side, so you should be a little more wary of it, especially if you are near a creek or lake where they have been frequently seen.”
Heatley says an inquisitive pet can be a snakebite victim.
If bitten, a dog usually suffers the bite on its face or nose, while cats tend to be nicked on their paws, she explains.
“The area that has been bitten will usually begin to swell almost immediately, and that’s a tell-tale sign to look for,” she notes. Venom can spread quickly inside the animal, and kidney failure can result within 12 to 24 hours, which is why a bitten animal needs immediate treatment.
She says it’s important to know that all snakebites are not the same.
“Sometimes an animal or person will get just a small amount of venom from a bite, and sometimes it’s much more,” she adds.
“There is also such a thing as a ‘dry bite’ in which no venom is injected at all. And also, larger snakes tend to have lesser amounts of venom than smaller ones.
“One of the questions we often get is, how can you tell a venomous snake from a harmless one? The answer is that’s difficult because there are numerous types of snakes that are not venomous that look very similar to a venomous one. Look for the triangular- shaped head,” Heatley notes, while adding that coral snakes are brightly colored with rows of yellow, red and black markings. But a coral snake is part of the cobra family, so its venom can be very potent.