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View Full Version : Non-venomous snakes: Do they have fangs?


Khadaji
08-08-2007, 02:43 PM
A guy from work was telling me how they neighborhood gathered around and killed a black snake last night. He was afraid it would bite one of the neighborhood children.

I used to catch all kinds of non-venomous snakes growing up. Some times one would bite - which I don't recall ever breaking skin.

He claims that even non-venomous snakes have fangs and it really really hurts when they bite.

I don't buy it. But I'm no snake expert.

Do they have fangs? Can you provide a site that shows they don't?

beowulff
08-08-2007, 02:53 PM
A guy from work was telling me how they neighborhood gathered around and killed a black snake last night. He was afraid it would bite one of the neighborhood children.

I used to catch all kinds of non-venomous snakes growing up. Some times one would bite - which I don't recall ever breaking skin.

He claims that even non-venomous snakes have fangs and it really really hurts when they bite.

I don't buy it. But I'm no snake expert.

Do they have fangs? Can you provide a site that shows they don't?

No, they don't have fangs, but the teeth are backward-curving.
Anyone who kills a blacksnake is an idiot.

Tamerlane
08-08-2007, 02:59 PM
He claims that even non-venomous snakes have fangs and it really really hurts when they bite.

I don't buy it. But I'm no snake expert.

Do they have fangs? Can you provide a site that shows they don't?

Fangs, as in elongated front teeth designed to transfer venom ( or just particularly elongated front teeth )? No.

Sharp teeth that can pierce skin? Of course. What, did you think they hold onto their prey with their gums? :D

Seriously though I've been bitten by dozens of snakes, including one shot to the eyeball that caused me to bleed like a stuck pig. My buddy got whapped in the chin by a large wild Boa and said it was like getting hit in the face with a bunch of roofing nails. I've even had baby king snakes pentrate the skin.

And of course some traditionally "non-venomous" snakes actually ARE mildly venomous and have a crude transfer system consisting of enlarged, often grooved rear teeth. The Lyre snake of the American Southwest for example.

edited to add: But I think your buddies justification is nonsense. Most non-venomous snake bites are nothing at all significant. Pinpricks, basically. Only a very large snake like the one that hit my friend would really hurt and even then it wouldn't do significant damage.

Crotalus
08-08-2007, 03:02 PM
Black snakes (racers or black rat snakes) in your area do not have fangs. They have sharp, back-curved teeth, as beowulff said. Getting bitten by a black snake is mildly painful and might scare a child, but that doesn't warrant a death sentence.

This site (http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=17&cat=1831&articleid=2974) has a brief description of snake dentition that supports the idea that non-poisonous snakes lack fangs.

Khadaji
08-08-2007, 03:18 PM
Black snakes (racers or black rat snakes) in your area do not have fangs. They have sharp, back-curved teeth, as beowulff said. Getting bitten by a black snake is mildly painful and might scare a child, but that doesn't warrant a death sentence.

This site (http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=17&cat=1831&articleid=2974) has a brief description of snake dentition that supports the idea that non-poisonous snakes lack fangs.
Thanks that looks like a site I can use.

From his story I got the impression that most of the adults were more afraid than any of the children. The whole freaking neighborhood came out and one man even called (can you believe it) the police. The police man came, several people got involved in catching the snake and once caught, he said he would not be taking it with him. He would either release it somewhere else in the area or kill it. They (as a group) decided to kill it. One of the men told how very very painful it was to get bitten by one. They seemed to think that all snakes have fangs.

I am 46 and haven't caught a snake in 27 years but I never saw a non-venomous snake with fangs (And for those who wondered, when I say fangs, I mean fangs. Having been bitten - as I made clear in my first post - I'm aware of their teeth). The last one I caught bit me. It left a scratch. It wasn't that painful even.

Had I been there I would have told them to all go home, I would catch the snake. Then I would probably have left it alone. But if no one went home, I would have simply caught it and took it to my back yard...

Anyway, now I can show him that they don't have fangs, and hopefully convince him not to be killing them willy-nilly.

Crotalus
08-08-2007, 04:55 PM
Good luck convincing him.

beowulff
08-08-2007, 05:05 PM
Luckily their overall stupidity didn't reach this level:http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/08/06/boy.killed.ap/index.html

I hate people who kill what they don't understand.

lissener
08-08-2007, 09:28 PM
I would like to thank the OP for using the word "venomous" instead of "poisonous."

Blake
08-08-2007, 09:46 PM
I would like to thank the OP for using the word "venomous" instead of "poisonous."

I don't know why. Any snake that is venomous is by definition also poisonous. Venomous is very slightly more accurate but even the pedants here at SDMB wouldn't quibble over the difference.

blondebear
08-08-2007, 10:01 PM
He was afraid it would bite one of the neighborhood children. Has he cleared the neighborhood of dogs yet?

marshmallow
08-08-2007, 10:55 PM
Seriously though I've been bitten by dozens of snakes, including one shot to the eyeball that caused me to bleed like a stuck pig.
Correct me if I'm being dense, but you got bitten in the eye? By a motherfucking snake? Did the doctors give you the Chuck Norris medal?

CannyDan
08-08-2007, 11:43 PM
I don't know why. Any snake that is venomous is by definition also poisonous. Venomous is very slightly more accurate but even the pedants here at SDMB wouldn't quibble over the difference.

Allow this pedant to quibble. In regard to snakes, "poisonous" refers to substances that cause acute symptoms of at least distress upon ingestion. No snakes are "poisonous" in this way. Even snake venom can be swallowed, providing it does not encounter an open cut or wound. Many toads and salamanders though are poisonous.

"Venomous" refers to the ability to project a poison in such a manner as to damage another animal. "Venomous" snakes may bite to inject venom, bite to drip venom into the wound channel, or spit venom (often at a victim's eyes).

"Fangs" refers to the modified dental equipment used to deliver venom. Some venomous snakes have long fangs (relative to the length of their other teeth) e.g., vipers and pit vipers. Others have short fangs (hardly longer than their other teeth) e.g., cobras.

Some non-venomous snakes have a mouthful of really lo-o-o-n-n-g teeth, e.g., tree boas. Try really hard not to be bitten by a large one!

Lots of variation. Some bites from non-venomous snakes are extremely ugly (e.g., aforesaid tree boas, Indigo snakes). Bites from "black snakes" (regionally, many different snakes bear this common vernacular) are usually among the less noteworthy.

Idiots persist in their own mythologies of snake "lore", which leads to far too many unnecessary snake deaths. Case in point-- the OP.

Chessic Sense
08-08-2007, 11:48 PM
I don't know why. Any snake that is venomous is by definition also poisonous. Venomous is very slightly more accurate but even the pedants here at SDMB wouldn't quibble over the difference.

I was going to jump all over your case, but while trying to find a cite, I stumbled upon something peculiar. Every nature site I look at makes the distinction: venomous=injects venom into tissue, poisonous=dangerous to ingest. The AHD and the OED clearly make the words synonyms. Check out definition 2 (http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/venom;_ylt=Ahc3wzkXXZMKxb9zfP9VDBCsgMMF) of "venom". I find it strange that an entire list of experts make them distinct but authoritative dictionaries make them the same. Hmmm....

lissener
08-08-2007, 11:57 PM
I don't know why. Any snake that is venomous is by definition also poisonous. Venomous is very slightly more accurate but even the pedants here at SDMB wouldn't quibble over the difference.
Hemlock, or arsenic, e.g., is poisonous; snakes are venomous.

Colibri
08-08-2007, 11:58 PM
Allow this pedant to quibble. In regard to snakes, "poisonous" refers to substances that cause acute symptoms of at least distress upon ingestion. No snakes are "poisonous" in this way. Even snake venom can be swallowed, providing it does not encounter an open cut or wound. Many toads and salamanders though are poisonous.

"Venomous" refers to the ability to project a poison in such a manner as to damage another animal. "Venomous" snakes may bite to inject venom, bite to drip venom into the wound channel, or spit venom (often at a victim's eyes).

However, this distinction is not really supported by most dictionaries. Some may make such a distinction in a subset of definitions, but most also regard venomous as being synonymous with poisonous.

e.g. Merriam-Webster:

poisonous
One entry found for poisonous.
Main Entry: poi·son·ous
Pronunciation: 'poiz-n&s, 'poi-z&n-&s
Function: adjective
1 : DESTRUCTIVE, HARMFUL
2 : having the properties or effects of poison : VENOMOUS
3 : SPITEFUL, MALICIOUS

Main Entry: ven·om·ous
Pronunciation: 've-n&-m&s
Function: adjective
1 : full of venom : as a : POISONOUS, ENVENOMED b : NOXIOUS, PERNICIOUS <expose a venomous dope ring -- Don Porter> c : SPITEFUL, MALEVOLENT <venomous criticism>
2 : having a venom-producing gland and able to inflict a poisoned wound <venomous snakes>


In scientific usage, there may be a distinction; but in popular usage, a poisonous snake is the same as a venomous one. This is not incorrect.

lissener
08-09-2007, 12:01 AM
I was going to jump all over your case, but while trying to find a cite, I stumbled upon something peculiar. Every nature site I look at makes the distinction: venomous=injects venom into tissue, poisonous=dangerous to ingest. The AHD and the OED clearly make the words synonyms. Check out definition 2 (http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/venom;_ylt=Ahc3wzkXXZMKxb9zfP9VDBCsgMMF) of "venom". I find it strange that an entire list of experts make them distinct but authoritative dictionaries make them the same. Hmmm....
To continue the hijack briefly: dictionaries report usage, and obviously many people use "poisonous" to mean "venomous." Therefore, it's a lexicographer's duty to report that usage in his dictionary. However, an expert in a particular field is less likely to be interested in general (lay) usage, and more interested in the precise language of his field.

lissener
08-09-2007, 12:04 AM
However, this distinction is not really supported by most dictionaries. Some may make such a distinction in a subset of definitions, but most also regard venomous as being synonymous with poisonous.Again, a dictionary will be reporting lay usage. In this regard, of course, everyone knows what you mean when you say "poisonous snake." The usage is common enough, in fact, that I was pleasantly surprised to see the OP use the technically correct usage, so I tossed him a kudo. (Please remember that this hijack, such as it was, began with a compliment, not a correction.)

Colibri
08-09-2007, 12:15 AM
I was going to jump all over your case, but while trying to find a cite, I stumbled upon something peculiar. Every nature site I look at makes the distinction: venomous=injects venom into tissue, poisonous=dangerous to ingest. The AHD and the OED clearly make the words synonyms. Check out definition 2 (http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/venom;_ylt=Ahc3wzkXXZMKxb9zfP9VDBCsgMMF) of "venom". I find it strange that an entire list of experts make them distinct but authoritative dictionaries make them the same. Hmmm....

This is something like the distinction between monkeys and apes: scientists have come to make an a posteriori distinction between words that were formerly synonymous, and which still are synonyms in popular usage. While herpetologists make make the distinction in order to be precise, there is no reason to reject the popular usage either. (I note that Crotalus, who knows a few things about snakes, used "non-poisonous" in his post #3.)

Triskadecamus
08-09-2007, 12:23 AM
Perhaps your friend really likes rats, and wants to protect the ones near his house.

Tris

Askance
08-09-2007, 12:28 AM
And of course some traditionally "non-venomous" snakes actually ARE mildly venomous and have a crude transfer system consisting of enlarged, often grooved rear teeth. The Lyre snake of the American Southwest for example.It's now thought that all snakes are venomous, the "non-venomous" ones just lack a delivery system:It has recently been suggested that all snakes are in fact venomous to some degree (see Toxicofera for more information). Snakes all evolved from a common lizard ancestor that was venomous, from which venomous lizards like the gila monster and beaded lizard also derived. The research suggests that snakes all have venom glands, even species thought totally harmless such as the Corn Snake, commonly kept as a pet. What differentiates 'venomous' from 'non-venomous' is the evolution of a venom delivery system, the most advanced being that of vipers, with fangs that are hinged to prevent self envenomation, curling out only when the snake strikes.In 2003 the Toxicofera hypothesis was proposed, after work by Fry et al showed that nearly all "non-poisonous" snakes produce venom to a certain extent. This suggested a far more ancient origin for venom in Serpentes than had been considered until then. The formal name Toxicofera was given in 2005 replacing the unofficial "venom clade" naming

lissener
08-09-2007, 01:16 AM
FWIW, when I was more involved in herp circles, the distinction was useful because many amphibians are poisonous; i.e., they excrete a substance that is toxic when ingested by a predator. I know I know: reptiles v. amphibians, etc. But when you're talking to people who may collect or breed such animals ("herps" includes both), such pedantry is inevitable. I was a buyer for a pet store at the time, an active member of a national herpetological society, a breeder of turtles and occasionally of frogs, and a volunteer in the reptile house of a major metropolitan zoo, where such distinctions are necessary.

Thus endeth the hijack, I hope.

Crotalus
08-09-2007, 07:33 AM
I guess I have an anti-pedantry streak in me, or something. In common usage (that's what we're engaging in here, right?) I use poisonous and venomous interchangeably. Everyone knows what I mean, I'm pretty sure. Years ago, when I worked at a venom laboratory, in our conversations and in our catalog, we called the substance we extracted from snakes and lizards venom, and the substance we extracted from toads and frogs poison. We called the snakes we were dealing with "hot". When I was involved in the snake-breeding business, it became a sign of hipness to refer to brumating snakes instead of hibernating them. I found that to be an annoying form of pedantry, so I just cooled my snakes. ;)

A while back there was a GQ thread on this very subject; I'm pretty sure I chimed in with the distinction that lissener has espoused. But the subject of that discussion was the difference between the two words. Having grown up reading books by herpetologists who did not make the distinction, such as Leonhard Stejneger's Poisonous Snakes of North America (http://www.amazon.com/Poisonous-Snakes-America-Facsimile-Reprints/dp/1885209479/ref=sr_1_29/105-5108650-4366802?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1186657904&sr=8-29), the distinction is not prominent in my mind unless I'm thinking about the venom itself rather than the animal.

Sorry to have continued the hijack, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take part in a friendly discussion involving Colibri and lissener.

Acsenray
08-09-2007, 11:13 AM
It's my understanding that a lot of states have laws banning the destruction of natural wildlife. Is that not the case in Pennsylvania?

Wile E
08-09-2007, 11:39 AM
...
Anyone who kills a blacksnake is an idiot.

I agree. In my last couple places of residence we have had blacksnakes and we were glad to have them to keep the fruit rats and mice populations from exploding. In my current home I saw a black snake outside my garage door quite often. I made sure to check for him before letting my dog out because I didn't want her to hurt the snake. Once he was in my garage and I shooed him out because I had some pet birds in there. Instead of killing the snake I moved the birds into the house which I was going to do anyway before the weather got hotter.

I haven't seen the snake or snakes in a while and I also have had a mouse problem in my house, coincidence? I think not. I worried that one of my neighbors or their pets had killed my snake or my silly dog may have found it and tried to play with it but doubt she did because the one time she saw it in the grass it scared the crap out of her.

Don't kill rodent eating snakes. They will not bite you unless you harass them. So how about teaching the kids to respect nature so they don't get bit instead of preemptively killing it?

Crotalus
08-09-2007, 12:10 PM
It's my understanding that a lot of states have laws banning the destruction of natural wildlife. Is that not the case in Pennsylvania?Some states have a less than enlightened view of the value of snakes. In Pennsylvania, non-endangered snakes can be killed in unlimited quantities, as long as you don't use certain items. "It is unlawful to take, catch, or kill a reptile or amphibian through the use of firearms, chemicals, explosives, winches, jacks, or other devices." Ripping the head off with your teeth or stomping it to death are okey dokey. Link. (http://www.fish.state.pa.us/fishpub/summary/repamp.html) There are catch limits on a few species (including the two venomous species) , but black snakes appear to be fair game.

Tamerlane
08-09-2007, 12:26 PM
Correct me if I'm being dense, but you got bitten in the eye? By a motherfucking snake? Did the doctors give you the Chuck Norris medal?

Sadly, no medal :D - like an idiot I didn't go to a doctor. I just had a sclera that was half black for a week. It hit me open-mouthed and a few teeth went through my eyelid and penetrated the eyeball. Not very painful actually, but surprisingly messy.

This was the culprit: http://www.gherp.com/kingsnake/scientific/colubrids/Elaphe%20carinata,107.jpg

It's now thought that all snakes are venomous, the "non-venomous" ones just lack a delivery system:

Huh. Shows how far I am behind the state of the art. Doesn't surprise me though.

Skammer
08-09-2007, 01:01 PM
Do any snakes eat moles? And if so, where can I get such a snake? I've got a paradise for him in my backyard.

Myglaren
08-09-2007, 01:03 PM
My daughter keep a few varieties of rat snake and I have consequently been bitten a number of times.
It isn't particularly pleasant and I expect that that is the intention but it isn't that bad either and you very soon get over it.
I have been bitten more times by the mice bred to feed them and I'd say that was more painful than the snake bite.

The idiots wanting to kill them deserve a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.