In recent years, researchers have found toxins in a wide array of snakes and lizards formerly believed to be harmless…even the Bearded Dragon is not above suspicion (please see below), but venomous pythons? While working at the Bronx Zoo, I was several times called upon to assist in confiscating snakes that had appeared in the pet trade before we learned of their potentially lethal venom (i.e. Asian Watersnakes, genus Rhabdophis). All evidence of toxicity must be taken seriously…bear in mind that both the Boomslang and Savanna Twig Snake were thought to be harmless until each killed a prominent herpetologist! The recent discovery of toxins in the mucus of certain pythons poses a unique and unexpected concern for snakebite victims.
Studies at the University of Queensland have revealed the presence of toxins in the mucus of several python species. Described as “relic venom”, they occur in only trace amounts. In common with many other snakes, pythons may have relied upon venom at some point in their evolutionary history. Although they no longer utilize venom to overcome prey or defend themselves, pythons continue to produce some toxic compounds. While some snakes bear toxins that target specific animals (i.e. Tentacled Snakes, Erpeton tentaculatum, which prey upon fish), python toxins seem to have no use, and pose no danger to people.
The toxin molecules thus far identified in pythons differ from those found in any known venomous snake. Being so chemically unique, they are of great interest to those seeking to develop new chemical compounds and medicines. Read More »