Let me introduce to you the snake that reinforces the phrase “Never trust a pretty face”- the boomslang snake.
Adding to the repertoire of s#!t scary snakes, Dispholidus typhus is a swift, agile creature whose venom certain packs a punch. Thankfully, it’s shy, non-aggressive and difficult to track down in its home of sub-Saharan Africa, but that hasn’t stopped it from rightfully earning a fearsome reputation.
Boomslangs spend most of their time chilling out in trees in a variety of environments, from coastal thickets to savannahs. These snakes exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning that the males and females display obvious morphological differences. The females are typically brown, whereas the males can display a variety of bright colors, from greens and yellows to pink-ish reds. A characteristic feature of these snakes is their strikingly large eyes that take up a large proportion of their heads. Youngsters are particularly beautiful because their eyes are an iridescent green, but don’t let these puppy dog eyes fool you. This snake will mess you up.
Image credit: William Warby, via Wikimedia Commons.
For many years, it was believed that this species was harmless, but world-renowned herpetologist Karl P. Schmidt learned the hard way that this snake is, in fact, badass. Back in 1957, whilst examining a young boomslang, Schmidt was bitten on the thumb. Given that nobody knew these snakes were deadly, Schmidt thought nothing of it and carried on as normal. In just one day, he died of respiratory arrest and cerebral hemorrhage; an event that quickly spurred researchers to examine this snake’s venom, which unsurprisingly turned out to be highly toxic.
Boomslangs are rear-fanged, meaning that they’re equipped with large teeth at the back of their mouths. Consequently, to inject their prey with venom, the snakes have to open their mouths very wide, around 170 degrees.
What this snake’s venom does to you would not be out of place in a horror movie. It’s hemotoxic, meaning that it destroys red blood cells, disrupts the clotting process and causes tissue and organ degeneration. What this unfortunately means is that massive hemorrhage ensues, causing the victim to bleed from the gums, nose and other orifices. Sometimes, the body of the victim will turn blue because of the widespread internal bleeding. Adding insult to injury, the process can be extremely slow, sometimes taking 5 days for the victim to die of internal bleeding. Thankfully, there is an antivenom, so if you’re bitten by one of these guys- don’t hang about.
[Via reptilesmagazine.com, Running Ponies, and hat tip to Bec Crew at SciAm.
[Header image "Pondoro / South Africa / 2014," by gundy, via Flickr, used in accordance with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]