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A scientist steps on more than 100 pit vipers to study their bites

A scientist steps on more than 100 pit vipers to study their bites

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To learn more about snake bites in South America, a biologist from the Butantan Institute underwent a strange experiment: walking among snakes and stepping on them to test the conditions under which they would try to bite him. Don’t worry: the snakes and the world are fine.

The researcher in question is João Miguel Alves Nunes, who used leather boots reinforced with Styrofoam to interact with 116 pit vipers (Botropus jararaka) who stepped on him 30 times. There were 40,480 steps, but he included that in an interview with the scientific journal SciencesWho did the work carefully without harming the snakes. Thus, the biologist discovered important information about snakes.

When do snakes bite?

According to Alves Nunes, the field of studying snake behavior is largely neglected, especially in Brazil. He explained that when we study malaria, it is possible to study the parasite that causes the disease, but without studying the mosquito that carries it, the problem remains unsolved. With venomous snakes, logic also applies.

Some defensive behaviors of snakes, including a bite, in the upper left corner (Photo: Alves-Nunes et al./Nature Scientific Reports)

The common assumption was that snakes, in general, would only bite when touched or at least threatened. When Alves Nunes tested this issue experimentally, he was able to discover the true natural tendency of the animal, and among his findings was the fact that the chances of a bite are inversely proportional to the size of the jararaca. The smaller it is, the more likely a bite is to occur.

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Furthermore, female pit vipers bite more often than males, and are more aggressive during the day and when they are young snakes. Heat was also a limiting factor: reptiles are cold-blooded animals, so their greatest activity and active behaviors occur when the climate is hot. Touching the head still generates more stings than touching the body or tail.

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These important discoveries will help doctors throughout Brazil, as it will be possible to better predict the conditions under which snakes will bite more and distribute antivenom more efficiently. For example, hotter places with more female snakes should receive priority in combating the effects of bites.

Despite passing the study free of pit viper venom, Elvis Nunes ended up suffering a rattlesnake bite (Photo: Twenty20photos/Envato Elements)
Despite passing the study free of pit viper venom, Elvis Nunes ended up suffering a rattlesnake bite (Photo: Twenty20photos/Envato Elements)

He seemed happy with the results, Alves Nunes reported Sciences To feel safe during the experiments, the padded protection reached above the knee. Although pit vipers are not able to pierce the skin, an incident has occurred with a rattlesnake (Crotalus spp.) It showed that the protection was not enough, as the snake was able to overcome the shoe and bite the scientist.

He himself claims to be lucky to be at the Butantan Institute, the best possible place for such an incident – the biologist received hospital treatment and antivenom immediately.

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The problem is that he discovered an allergy not only to snake venoms, but also to antivenoms, which caused complications and led to a 15-day medical leave.

Despite this, Alves Nunes was not deterred – he turned his attention to experiment design and data analysis and left the experimental work to the laboratory technicians, but he did get one good idea from the incident: to compare the bite force of a snake and the bite force of a snake. Resistance of the materials used in making shoes to bites.

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source: Sciences, Nature Scientific Reports