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Snake Bite (Australia)

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1287471.  Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:08 pm Reply with quote


I’m a QI junkie and love the program, but I’ve just watched a rerun of QI 14 ep 10 (which I was delighted to find I hadn’t seen before) but was a bit concerned by the recommendation given by Stephen Fry, towards the end of the programme (in G.I.) regarding how to deal with snake bites.

Living in Australia where encountering venomous snakes is a fairly common occurrence, keeping up with the latest first aid methods of dealing with snake bites is not only common sense, but can literally mean the difference between life and death.

A friend of mine (who doesn’t want to be identified) is a snake catcher and has been breeding snakes for conservation purposes for over 30 years and is somewhat of an expert in their handling (currently he has about 170 snakes of various breeds, about half of which are highly venomous) yet even he nearly died as the result of making a fundamental mistake after being bitten by one of his Western Brown Snake “pets”...

He was feeding the Western Brown in its enclosure and in the blink of an eye it struck him on the arm from a distance of about 2 metres.

Unless they’ve been bitten or witnessed a snake bite most people are unaware that an amount of venom and saliva is left on the surface of the skin around the puncture marks and depending on the breed of snake, or other factors such as if the snake has recently eaten and wants to conserve its venom (the venom aids their digestive process and it can take 4 days for venomous snakes to replenish their reserve before they have enough to effectively invenomate their next meal) or it realises that what it’s sizing up is too big to eat, it may just want to give a tap as a warning to go away and leave it alone, which means in many cases no venom is actually injected into the bite.

When a victim of a snake bite arrives at a hospital (in Australia- it may be different in Britain), the first thing the medical staff do is swab the skin around the bite site to identify the breed of snake BEFORE administering an anti venom.

If the breed can’t be determined from the swab, the medics will take a blood sample from the victim to analyse but this process takes a lot longer....

Thinking it may have been just a “love bite” my friend had wiped away the venom from the bite site, cleaned the area with antiseptic and continued feeding the snake but within a short time he started to feel the effects of the venom and decided to get to a hospital.

By the time he got to hospital, being fairly stubborn he drove himself the 30 minute trip saying waiting for an ambulance would’ve take longer, he admitted he was feeling ‘pretty crook’ and though he explained his ‘bona fides’ to the staff and identified the breed, health department protocol would not permit the staff to administer the anti venom until the type of snakebite had been clinically determined.

During his protestations he suggested (threatened) going home to get the snake to bring back to show them but in reality he was in too much pain to do anything.

One blood test and some time later he was given the anti venom.

Though he survived he still experiences pain in the arm he was bitten on and severe headaches as a consequence of the bite.

There were a couple of things that concerned me about the advice Stephen gave...

He correctly said don’t use a tourniquet, but didn’t mention placing a constrictive bandage around and over the site of the bite instead which prevents the venom from spreading and absorbs and preserves any venom or saliva on the skin for later identification, but far more importantly, the suggestion was made to try and get a photo of the snake for identification, which obviously means looking for the snake... this is a recipe for disaster... snakes are happiest and least dangerous when left alone.

The vast majority of snake bites happen to people that have found a snake and are, unfortunately, trying to kill it (they are protected in Australia) so it would be extremely unwise to go looking for a snake that is already pissed off because it’s had to waste some of its precious venom on something it can’t eat.

Even if a snake is found nearby and safely photographed it may not be the same snake, or even the same breed... and photo images of snakes can be notoriously misleading, hence the reason direct evidence of the venom type is considered so critical before administering the anti venom... to do otherwise can have dire consequences for the victim.

The medical protocols regarding snake bite vary from country to country so my observations regarding the British way of doing things may be a bit out of sync with Australia - please check it out - but as QI has such a (justifiably) massive following around the world I though it important to bring this issue to your attention.

If I am correct perhaps it could be brought up in the ‘S’ for Snakes or ‘V’ for Venomous series.

I apologise if this seems a bit over the top.

I have the highest respect for the QI researchers (elves) and thoroughly enjoy the program (and repeats and repeats of repeats) but this was an issue that I felt was too important to overlook.

As has been pointed out, more than once, facts can and usually do change so 50% of what I’ve shared will probably be proven to be wrong by the time this is read.

Such is life.

It was very sad to see Stephen bow out, but I have the greatest admiration for Sandi and the courage she has demonstrated to step up to the challenge of filling the void left by Stephen and her extraordinary achievement in making QI her own without losing the essence of the concept, that anything and everything is quite interesting when presented in the right way.

Thank you.


Andrew (62yo male - for your demographic)

1287474.  Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:16 pm Reply with quote

Highly educational and interesting post. Well done!
And welcome here. :-)

1287475.  Wed Jun 20, 2018 2:28 pm Reply with quote

Thank you.

1287485.  Wed Jun 20, 2018 5:04 pm Reply with quote

Let us once again utter the fabled words "Retractions Special"!

As a bit of British background for Snowywebb's information, though. Only one species of venomous snake is found in the wild in Britain, the common European adder Vipera berus, and there has not been a fatal bite since 1975 (BMJ, 2005). Accordingly, anyone who is bitten by a snake in nature will have a pretty good idea of what kind of snake it was.

The species is protected, although public opinion tends towards thinking that it shouldn't be. It is not endangered (has a Least Concern rating), and is generally perceived as a pest.

1287497.  Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:28 pm Reply with quote

Do I hear the sound of a “klaxon” somewhere???
Thank you suze.
Though I do remember Stephen pointing out, while he was still in the chair, that an Australian herpetologist had discovered that all snakes (and some lizards) have active venom glands though the venom is not necessarily fatal to humans.
One property common to most snakes, l believe, is anticoagulation of the blood at the site of a snakebite.
I can attest to this personally having received a “love bite” from my “non-venomous” Olive Python ‘Pelorus’ after he mistook my hand for food while I was feeding him (his sense of smell or taste via the Jacobson organ on the roof of his mouth was outstanding, but his eyesight - not so much).
The floor between his enclosure in my living room and the sink in the kitchen could have been mistaken for a murder scene.
Unfortunately I no longer have Pelorus... in the end he was too big for me to handle him safely (about 4.5 metres and I have Parkinson’s disease) and I was worried I’d drop him.
He is now with the above mentioned snake breeder helping to make little Olive Pythons.

1287538.  Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:20 am Reply with quote

Welcome to the forums Snowywebb - do stick around and join in some other threads. You sound like the kind of chap who would fit in well around here :-)

And as I am fairly herpetophobic, I wish I hadn't known that about python bites. In my head, they don't bite humans...

1287619.  Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:31 am Reply with quote

Hi Jenny,

Thank you for your kind words.

Most pythons are like most other pets, they respond to being handled gently and treated with love and respect.

There are exceptions such as Swamp Pythons, which when they are found in someone’s home, are treated by professional snake catchers with the same caution most fire brigades handle bleve’s (boiling liquid expanding vapour explosions) evacuate the surrounding area and wait for it to go out.

Pelorus was very gentle... except around meal time.

I fed him on rats which were bred for the purpose, aneathetised and frozen.

I would thaw 3 at a time (their size was proportional to his) and his sense of smell (or taste) was so phenomenal within seconds he would sense the rats I’d placed in the hot water in a different room, from a distance of about 10 metres from his enclosure which was sealed to keep the heat in except for a couple of computer fan sized air holes and then become very very active

I would present the rats, one at a time using a pair of very long tongs and he would launch himself at the rats with enormous force and speed (in the wild this would knock their prey senseless, making it easier to manipulate).

I had been a bit careless one night and gotten some of the water I’d used to thaw his rats on my hand and forgot to wash it off before giving him his next rat.

As I mentioned in this threads intro Olive Pytgons eyesight is pretty poor (worse when they are shedding their skin) and he launched himself past the rat, past the tongs and attached himself very firmly to my hand, where the water had been.

I’ve heard scientists state categorically that snakes don’t bond with humans and what I say to that is BS!!!

People that have wanted to hold Pelorus have told me they have felt him physically relax when I’ve put my hands on him to lift him off them...

When he bit me it was only for a few seconds before he realised his mistake and let go... Did it hurt? Oh yes... the force was incredible though it was no real surprise... handling him was like handling a lump of 5 inch thick spring steel, you could feel the potential power"

From when he reached about 3 metres long, maybe shorter, he could easily have killed me if he’d wanted - but I had given him no reason to.

Jenny, Pelorus was my 3rd Python, prior to getting my first (like most Aussies) I was absolutely petrified of snakes.

I feel so extraordinarily fortunate to have overcome that phobia and experience a bond with a creature that has been around for over 300 million years.

All fear is the manifestation of ignorance.

That is why I love QI, by helping understanding it’s helping create a better world.

Something to bear in mind, many tourist destinations near the equator, where pythons are prolific, have Python demonstrations.

When any snake has eaten, all it wants to do is conserve as much energy as possible by going to sleep becoming almost comatose and handling them in this state causes them enough distress to kill them. Unfortunately the locals know this is the safest time to handle them. That is why whenever you see a photo of a tourists with a Python there is invariably a big lump somewhere along its girth.

If you don’t wish to add to that pythons distress just leave it alone.

Unfortunately cobras have it worse- a dirty little secret is that the people that catch the cobras for display pull their fangs out with a pair of pliers, taking away their ability to hunt and removing a critical component for digesting food thereby condemning them to a slow death over about 6 to 8 weeks due to starvation.

You’ll see ‘snake charmers’ play their flutes (which is also a con because all snakes are stone deaf) but I would challenge anyone to produce evidence to show a snake charmer actually feeding their cobras.

Sorry to end on that note... sad but true.

If you have any questions about snakes please feel free to ask... if I don’t know the answer I should be able to make something up that sounds convincing.


1287622.  Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:48 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Let us once again utter the fabled words "Retractions Special"!

As a bit of British background for Snowywebb's information, though. Only one species of venomous snake is found in the wild in Britain, the common European adder Vipera berus, and there has not been a fatal bite since 1975 (BMJ, 2005). Accordingly, anyone who is bitten by a snake in nature will have a pretty good idea of what kind of snake it was.

The species is protected, although public opinion tends towards thinking that it shouldn't be. It is not endangered (has a Least Concern rating), and is generally perceived as a pest.

Well yes, but all that LC means is that it's not overall endangered across its entire range, which is one of the largest on this planet. It's endangered just about everywhere in the Northwest of its range, so that's why it's protected. I doubt anyone would bat much an eye if someone was caught killing one in Siberia.



1287990.  Mon Jun 25, 2018 5:20 pm Reply with quote


I didn’t realise there were snakes in Siberia - I realised wrong.

Quite interesting!


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