There it is again…

I was checking on the toxicity of clownfish (a friend of mine believed they were poisonous, and I didn’t think they were) when I ran across this question on Answer.com.

“Is there any way to make a poisonous snake non-poisonous?”

What is it with people? There are no poisonous snakes. None! You can eat every single one. (They apparently taste like chicken. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never eaten snake.) You could probably even drink the venom if you were 100% rock-bottom, bet-the-farm certain you didn’t have a scrape, scratch, abrasion or ulcer anywhere in your digestive tract. (You can if you want – I find the idea yucky.)

What snakes are is venomous or non-venomous. Venomous snakes manufacture venom, which is used primarily for immobilizing and digesting prey and secondarily for defence. You don’t want a venomous thing to bite you, sting you or – if you’re dealing with spitting cobras – spit in your eye. (Spitting cobras have remarkably good aim, I’m told.)

Poisonous things are things you don’t want to ingest or touch. To quote “Mission Impossible” (the movie), “Hasta lasagne, don’t get any onya.” Or inya. Poison dart frogs have highly poisonous skin. Fugu – a pufferfish considered a delicacy in Japan – is poisonous, but only in certain parts. (The trick to being a good fugu chef is knowing precisely which parts. The trick to being a superb fugu chef is leaving just enough poison to give the customer a tingle in the lips, a frisson from knowing that they came that close to death.)

This is nothing but sloppy language. In the matter of whether something is poisonous or venomous, I really, really want to know which one you mean. Venomous animals need a wider berth. Don’t eat the fugu, but don’t go near the toadfish.

This is a simple distinction. Unfortunately, so many people are lazy about language.

So is there away to make a venomous snake non-venomous? Temporarily, yes – the snake can be milked of its venom to create an antivenin. Draw the fangs and you damage the delivery system; the venom won’t be applied as efficiently. Either of these is a job for experts, and really I can’t think of a reason to do the second one.

Oh, yeah, that same site told you how to tell a venomous snake from a non-venomous one (although they still miscalled them as “poisonous” and “non-poisonous”). The salient piece of advice was to look at the scales on the underbelly, particularly the lines leading down to the anus. Yeah, you go right ahead and pick up that snake that may or may not be venomous and turn it over and check out its underbelly.

I have a simpler and safer idea. Read up on where you’re going, check out the local fauna, learn which ones are dangerous and what they look like, and give them some respect, and some room.

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This entry was posted in Other critters, People and Other Animals, Snakes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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