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Concept: Elapidae


Snake envenomation is a serious public health threat in the rural areas of Asian and African countries. To date, the only proven treatment for snake envenomation is antivenom therapy. Cross-neutralization of heterologous venoms by antivenom raised against venoms of closely related species has been reported. The present study examined the cross neutralizing potential of a newly developed polyvalent antivenom, termed Neuro Polyvalent Snake Antivenom (NPAV). NPAV was produced by immunization against 4 Thai elapid venoms.

Concepts: Africa, Squamata, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Elapidae, King Cobra, Bungarus


Australia is the stronghold of the front-fanged venomous snake family Elapidae. The Australasian elapid snake radiation, which includes approximately 100 terrestrial species in Australia, as well as Melanesian species and all the world’s sea snakes, is less than 12 million years old. The incredible phenotypic and ecological diversity of the clade is matched by considerable diversity in venom composition. The clade’s evolutionary youth and dynamic evolution should make it of particular interest to toxinologists, however, the majority of species, which are small, typically inoffensive, and seldom encountered by non-herpetologists, have been almost completely neglected by researchers. The present study investigates the venom composition of 28 species proteomically, revealing several interesting trends in venom composition, and reports, for the first time in elapid snakes, the existence of an ontogenetic shift in the venom composition and activity of brown snakes (Pseudonaja sp.). Trends in venom composition are compared to the snakes' feeding ecology and the paper concludes with an extended discussion of the selection pressures shaping the evolution of snake venom.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Ecology, Australia, Venom, Snake, Snakes, Elapidae


The cytotoxicity of the venom of 25 species of Old World elapid snake was tested and compared with the morphological and behavioural adaptations of hooding and spitting. We determined that, contrary to previous assumptions, the venoms of spitting species are not consistently more cytotoxic than those of closely related non-spitting species. While this correlation between spitting and non-spitting was found among African cobras, it was not present among Asian cobras. On the other hand, a consistent positive correlation was observed between cytotoxicity and utilisation of the defensive hooding display that cobras are famous for. Hooding and spitting are widely regarded as defensive adaptations, but it has hitherto been uncertain whether cytotoxicity serves a defensive purpose or is somehow useful in prey subjugation. The results of this study suggest that cytotoxicity evolved primarily as a defensive innovation and that it has co-evolved twice alongside hooding behavior: once in the Hemachatus + Naja and again independently in the king cobras (Ophiophagus). There was a significant increase of cytotoxicity in the Asian Naja linked to the evolution of bold aposematic hood markings, reinforcing the link between hooding and the evolution of defensive cytotoxic venoms. In parallel, lineages with increased cytotoxicity but lacking bold hood patterns evolved aposematic markers in the form of high contrast body banding. The results also indicate that, secondary to the evolution of venom rich in cytotoxins, spitting has evolved three times independently: once within the African Naja, once within the Asian Naja, and once in the Hemachatus genus. The evolution of cytotoxic venom thus appears to facilitate the evolution of defensive spitting behaviour. In contrast, a secondary loss of cytotoxicity and reduction of the hood occurred in the water cobra Naja annulata, which possesses streamlined neurotoxic venom similar to that of other aquatic elapid snakes (e.g., hydrophiine sea snakes). The results of this study make an important contribution to our growing understanding of the selection pressures shaping the evolution of snake venom and its constituent toxins. The data also aid in elucidating the relationship between these selection pressures and the medical impact of human snakebite in the developing world, as cytotoxic cobras cause considerable morbidity including loss-of-function injuries that result in economic and social burdens in the tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Concepts: Natural selection, Africa, Cytotoxicity, Snake, Elapidae, King Cobra, Naja, Cobra


Scale sensilla are small tactile mechanosensory organs located on the head scales of many squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes). In sea snakes and sea kraits (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae), these scale organs are presumptive scale sensilla that purportedly function as both tactile mechanoreceptors and potentially as hydrodynamic receptors capable of sensing the displacement of water. We combined scanning electron microscopy, silicone casting of the skin and quadrate sampling with a phylogenetic analysis to assess morphological variation in sensilla on the postocular head scale(s) across four terrestrial, 13 fully aquatic and two semi-aquatic species of elapids. Substantial variation exists in the overall coverage of sensilla (0.8-6.5%) among the species sampled and is broadly overlapping in aquatic and terrestrial lineages. However, two observations suggest a divergent, possibly hydrodynamic sensory role of sensilla in sea snake and sea krait species. First, scale sensilla are more protruding (dome-shaped) in aquatic species than in their terrestrial counterparts. Second, exceptionally high overall coverage of sensilla is found only in the fully aquatic sea snakes, and this attribute appears to have evolved multiple times within this group. Our quantification of coverage as a proxy for relative ‘sensitivity’ represents the first analysis of the evolution of sensilla in the transition from terrestrial to marine habitats. However, evidence from physiological and behavioural studies is needed to confirm the functional role of scale sensilla in sea snakes and sea kraits.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Skin, Squamata, Snake, Elapidae, Bungarus, Sea snake


Secondarily marine vertebrates are thought to live independently of fresh water. Here, we demonstrate a paradigm shift for the widely distributed pelagic sea snake, Hydrophis (Pelamis) platurus, which dehydrates at sea and spends a significant part of its life in a dehydrated state corresponding to seasonal drought. Snakes that are captured following prolonged periods without rainfall have lower body water content, lower body condition and increased tendencies to drink fresh water than do snakes that are captured following seasonal periods of high rainfall. These animals do not drink seawater and must rehydrate by drinking from a freshwater lens that forms on the ocean surface during heavy precipitation. The new data based on field studies indicate unequivocally that this marine vertebrate dehydrates at sea where individuals may live in a dehydrated state for possibly six to seven months at a time. This information provides new insights for understanding water requirements of sea snakes, reasons for recent declines and extinctions of sea snakes and more accurate prediction for how changing patterns of precipitation might affect these and other secondarily marine vertebrates living in tropical oceans.

Concepts: Water, Oceanography, Dehydration, Seawater, Ocean, Marine biology, Rain, Elapidae


Conservation of sea snakes is virtually nonexistent in Asia, and its role in human-snake interactions in terms of catch, trade, and snakebites as an occupational hazard is mostly unexplored. We collected data on sea snake landings from the Gulf of Thailand, a hotspot for sea snake harvest by squid fishers operating out of the ports of Song Doc and Khanh Hoi, Ca Mau Province, Vietnam. The data were collected during documentation of the steps of the trading process and through interviewers with participants in the trade. Squid vessels return to ports once per lunar synodic cycle and fishers sell snakes to merchants who sort, package, and ship the snakes to various destinations in Vietnam and China for human consumption and as a source of traditional remedies. Annually, 82 t, roughly equal to 225,500 individuals, of live sea snakes are brought to ports. To our knowledge, this rate of harvest constitutes one of the largest venomous snake and marine reptile harvest activities in the world today. Lapemis curtus and Hydrophis cyanocinctus constituted about 85% of the snake biomass, and Acalyptophis peronii, Aipysurus eydouxii, Hydrophis atriceps, H. belcheri, H. lamberti, and H. ornatus made up the remainder. Our results establish a quantitative baseline for characteristics of catch, trade, and uses of sea snakes. Other key observations include the timing of the trade to the lunar cycle, a decline of sea snakes harvested over the study period (approximately 30% decline in mass over 4 years), and the treatment of sea snake bites with rhinoceros horn. Emerging markets in Southeast Asia drive the harvest of venomous sea snakes in the Gulf of Thailand and sea snake bites present a potentially lethal occupational hazard. We call for implementation of monitoring programs to further address the conservation implications of this large-scale marine reptile exploitation. Cosecha de Serpientes Marinas en el Golfo de Tailandia.

Concepts: Viperidae, Venomous snake, Vietnam, Snake, Elapidae, Hydrophis, Sea snake, Sea snakes


Cross-neutralisation has been demonstrated for haemorrhagic venoms including Echis spp. and Cerastes spp. and for Australia elapid procoagulant toxins. A previous study showed that commercial tiger snake antivenom (TSAV) was able to neutralise the systemic effects of the Egyptian cobra, Naja haje, in vivo but it is unclear if this was true cross-neutralisation. The aim of the current study was to determine whether TSAV can neutralise the in vitro neurotoxic effects of N. haje venom. Both Notechis scutatus (10 μg/ml) and N. haje (10 μg/ml) venoms caused inhibition of indirect (supramaximal V, 0.1 Hz, 0.2 msec.) twitches of the chick biventer cervicis nerve-muscle preparation with t(90) values (i.e. the time to produce 90% inhibition of the original twitch height) of 26 ± 1 min. (n = 4) and 36 ± 4 min.; (n = 4). This effect at 10 μg/ml was significantly attenuated by the prior addition of TSAV (5 U/ml). A comparison of the reverse-phase HPLC profiles of both venoms showed some similarities with peak elution times, and SDS-PAGE analysis elucidated comparable bands across both venoms. Further analysis using Western immunoblotting indicated TSAV was able to detect N. haje venom, and enzyme immunoassay showed that in-house biotinylated polyclonal monovalent N. scutatus antibodies were able to detect N. haje venom. These findings demonstrate cross-neutralisation between different and geographically separated snakes supporting potential immunological similarities in snake toxin groups for a large range of snakes. This provides more evidence that antivenoms could be developed against specific toxin groups to cover a large range of snakes.

Concepts: Toxin, Venom, Snake, Antivenom, Neurotoxin, Elapidae, King Cobra, Tiger snake


INTRODUCTION: Immunoturbidimetry studies the phenomenon of immunoprecipitation of antigens and antibodies in solution, where there is the formation of large, polymeric insoluble immunocomplexes that increases the turbidity of the solution. We used immunoturbidimetry to investigate the interaction between commercial snake antivenoms and snake venoms, as well as cross-reactivity between different snake venoms. METHODS: Serial dilutions of commercial snake antivenoms(100μl) in water were placed in the wells of a microtitre plate and 100μl of a venom solution (50μg/ml in water) was added. Absorbance readings were taken at 340nm every minute on a BioTek ELx808 plate reader at 37°C. Limits imposed were a 30minute cut-off and 0.004 as the lowest significant maximum increase. Reactions with rabbit antibodies were carried out similarly, except that antibody dilutions were in PBS. RESULTS: Mixing venom and antivenom/antibodies resulted in an immediate increase in turbidity, which either reached a maximum or continued to increase until a 30minute cut-off. There was a peak in absorbance readings for most Australian snake venoms mixed with the corresponding commercial antivenom, except for P. textilis venom and brown snake antivenom. There was cross-reactivity between Naja naja venom from Sri Lanka and tiger snake antivenom indicated by turbidity when they were mixed. Mixing rabbit anti-snake antibodies with snake venoms resulted in increasing turbidity, but there was not a peak suggesting the antibodies were not sufficiently concentrated. The absorbance reading at pre-determined concentrations of rabbit antibodies mixed with different venoms was able to quantify the cross-reactivity between venoms. Indian antivenoms from two manufacturers were tested against four Sri Lankan snake venoms (D. russelli, N. naja, E. carinatus and B. caeruleus) and showed limited formation of immunocomplexes with antivenom from one manufacturer. DISCUSSION: The turbidity test provides an easy and rapid way to compare and characterise interactions between antivenoms and snake venoms.

Concepts: Antibody, Concentration, Sri Lanka, Venom, Antivenom, Lanka, Elapidae, Indian Cobra


Envenoming by coral snakes (Elapidae: Micrurus), although not abundant, represent a serious health threat in the Americas, especially because antivenoms are scarce. The development of adequate amounts of antielapidic serum for the treatment of accidents caused by snakes like Micrurus corallinus is a challenging task due to characteristics such as low venom yield, fossorial habit, relatively small sizes and ophiophagous diet. These features make it difficult to capture and keep these snakes in captivity for venom collection. Furthermore, there are reports of antivenom scarcity in USA, leading to an increase in morbidity and mortality, with patients needing to be intubated and ventilated while the toxin wears off. The development of an alternative method for the production of an antielapidic serum, with no need for snake collection and maintenance in captivity, would be a plausible solution for the antielapidic serum shortage.

Concepts: Venom, Elapidae


Many species of venomous snakes are found in Iran. The most medically important species which are responsible for the most snakebite incidents in Iran belong to the Viperidae family, including Vipera lebetina, Echis carinatus, Pseudocerastes persicus, Vipera albicornuta, and the Elapidae family, especially Naja naja oxiana. At least one kind of venomous snake is found in each of the 31 provinces, and many provinces have more than one venomous species. As a result, snakebite is a considerable health hazard in Iran, especially in the rural area of south and south-west of Iran. A retrospective, descriptive study of snakebite in Iran during 2002-2011 was carried out in order based on data collected from medical records of bite victims admitted to hospitals and health centers. From 2002 to 2011, 53,787 cases of snake bites were reported by medical centers in Iran. The annual incidence of snake bites in 100,000 of population varied from 4.5 to 9.1 during this decade and the number of recorded deaths were about 67 cases. The highest rate of snakebite was found in provinces of south and southwest of Iran. We suggest that people, especially in the rural areas, need to be trained and educated about venomous snakes, their hazards, prevention of bite and the importance of early hospital referral and treatment of victims. Also adequate antivenins as the main life saving medicine should be made available based on the recorded numbers of victims in each area of the country.

Concepts: Medicine, Population, Viperidae, Viperinae, Crotalinae, Snake, Elapidae, Big Four