You may not be surprised to find out that there are venomous snakes in India, but what may shock you is that India has the highest number of recorded venomous snake bites and fatalities in the world.
There are in fact a reported 250,000 estimated venomous snake bites per year in India. Of that number, it is estimated that there are at least 50,000 fatalities, which means that approximately 20% of all snake bite victims die!
Venomous snakes are both numerous and aggressive, particularly in the rural areas of India. The snake species responsible for the majority of snake bites are known as the 'Big Four'. The Big Four tend to be attracted to agricultural areas, rice paddies for example, where they can find abundant food sources such as rats and other rodent species. Unfortunately, the search for rodents also brings these venomous snakes into populated areas, and on occasion into peoples houses. However, the more we know about these snakes, and in particular being able to recognise them and their habits, the less likely it will be that people will be injured or even killed by them.
The "Big Four" of venomous snakes in India are considered to be the following species:
The King Cobra
The most famous and perhaps the most feared snake in India is the large and powerful King Cobra.
Snake's Description : The King Cobra is uniformly olive, brown or green in colour with rings like cross bands of black.
Although the King Cobra is the largest venomous snake in the world and it has a disposition to go with this honour, it causes relatively few bites on humans.
The King Cobra appears to have a high degree of intelligence, and avoids attacking another venomous snake for fear of being bitten.
King Cobras usually prefer to eat non-venomous species, but if it is too hungry it may attack other venomous snakes like the Common Krait, other Cobra species, and will even eat its own species making it a snake cannibal!
King Cobras can inject more milligrams of venom than any other snake. Its venom is also a powerful neuro-toxin, and so if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by one, death is certain without prompt medical aid.
Snake's Habitat: The King Cobra's habitat includes dense jungle, cultivated land and paddy fields.
The Indian Krait - also called as the Bungarus - is found in most of the Indian continent.This species also contains a neuro-toxin venom that is 16 times more powerful than cobra venom.
Krait venom is extremely powerful and will quickly induce muscle paralysis. Clinically, their venom is predominately made up of pre-synaptic neurotoxin which affects the ability of nerve endings to release the chemical that sends the message on to the next nerve.
Snake's Description: The Comman Indian Krait is black or bluish-black in colour with white narrow crossbands and a narrow head. It is also the world's No.2 most venomous snake. Its average length is about 90 centimetres, but it can easily grow up to 1.5 meters.
Snake's Characteristics: Kraits are found only in Asia, but the Indian Krait is of special concern to man as it is 15 times more deadly than any common cobra. It is active at night and relatively passive during the day. Unfortunately, native people often step on kraits while walking through their habitats. The krait has a tendency to seek shelter in sleeping bags, boots and tents. Its venom is a powerful neuro-toxin that causes respiratory failure.
The Common Indian Krait is most venomous snake of the Indian peninsula which makes it the most venomous snake of India, Sri-Lanka and Pakistan.
Snake's Habitat: Common Indian Krait's habitat include open fields, human settlements as well as dense jungle.
The Russell's Viper is responsible for more human fatalities than any other venomous snake. Not only is it highly irritable, it is also believed to be the world's No.5 Venomous snake . When threatened, the Russell's Viper coils tightly, hisses and strikes with such speed that its victim has little chance of escaping.
The symptoms of the bite are pain at the site of the bite which is immediately followed by swelling of the affected extremity. Bleeding is also a common symptom, especially from the gums. There is also a drop in both blood pressure and heart rate.
Snake's Description: Russell Viper has a light brown body with three rows of dark brown or black splotches bordered with white or yellow extending its entire length which can be up to 1.5 meters. The head of the Russell's Viper is flattened, triangular and is also distinct from the neck. The snout of the Viper is blunt, raised and rounded. Its hemotoxic venom is a powerful coagulant, damaging both tissue and blood cells.
Snake's Habitat: The Russell Viper's habitat varies from farmlands to dense rain forests, and is commonly found around human settlements.
Saw Scaled Viper
The Indian Saw Scaled viper is the smallest member of the Big Four snakes.
Five subspecies of the Saw Scaled viper are currently recognised which range between 40 and 80 cm in length.
The head of the Saw Scaled Viper is distinct from neck, while the snout very short and rounded.
Snake's Description: The colour-pattern consists of a pale buff, grayish, reddish, olive or pale brown ground colour, overlaid mid dorsally with a series of variably coloured, but mostly whitish spots, edged with dark brown. The body is slender to moderately stout, and slightly flattened vertically.
The head is short, distinctly wider than neck and has alight-coloured trident, cruciform or arrow-shaped mark on the head. There is a pale stripe from each eye to angle of mouth. The throat and chin are white, while the topside of the Saw Scaled Viper is buff or tan, to olive brown or chestnut with dark-edged whitish spots along backbone, and narrow, undulating white line along sides.The upper portions of loops are more conspicuous than lower portions. The underside is white, greyish-white, yellowish-white, pale pinkish-brown, stippled with dark grey. The tail is short, tapers abruptly and is about 10 percent of total body length.
Snake's Habitat: The Saw Scaled Viper its often found near cultivated areas.
India and other Asian countries now have much better medical treatment and anti-venom available now compared to previous years, but continue to suffer a high percentage of fatalities due to continued reliance on folk medicine remedies and the length of time needed to get to a proper medical treatment center.
However, snakebites from these four snakes are so prevalent, that a common anti-venom has been developed to treat the bites for all fur.
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