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Concept: Rattlesnake


Predation plays a central role in the lives of most organisms. Predators must find and subdue prey to survive and reproduce, whereas prey must avoid predators to do the same. The resultant antagonistic coevolution often leads to extreme adaptations in both parties. Few examples capture the imagination like a rapid strike from a venomous snake. However, almost nothing is known about strike performance of viperid snakes under natural conditions. We obtained high-speed (500 fps) three-dimensional video in the field (at night using infrared lights) of Mohave rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus) attempting to capture Merriam’s kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami). Strikes occurred from a range of distances (4.6 to 20.6 cm), and rattlesnake performance was highly variable. Missed capture attempts resulted from both rapid escape maneuvers and poor strike accuracy. Maximum velocity and acceleration of some rattlesnake strikes fell within the range of reported laboratory values, but some far exceeded most observations. Thus, quantifying rapid predator-prey interactions in the wild will propel our understanding of animal performance.

Concepts: Predation, Lotka–Volterra equation, Velocity, Cat, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Snake, Crotalus


OBJECTIVE: We investigated clinical patterns of crotaline envenomation presenting to a tertiary-care academic hospital in Central California over a 10-year period. METHODS: An IRB-approved, retrospective chart review was conducted on all patients diagnosed with snakebite from December 2000 to December 2010. Data abstracted: demographics, anatomic location of bite, comorbid conditions and intoxicants, length of stay, antivenom dose, laboratory results, and complications or procedures. RESULTS: There were 46 snakebite cases admitted over the study period. Five were “dry bites;” the remaining cases (41/46) received antivenom. There was a male predominance (83% male victims). Upper extremity bites were more common (32/41 upper vs 10/42 lower extremity). One victim sustained bilateral bites to the hands. Thirty-five patients (85%) were admitted, with an average length of stay 2.12 days. The longest hospitalization was 15 days. There were no fatalities. The average time from bite to ED presentation was 2 hours 44 minutes. Bites occurred during every month except November, with the majority occurring during spring and summer months and peaking in June (12/42 cases). Most bites occurred in the hours between noon and 8 pm. The amount of antivenom given ranged from 2 to 35 vials (average, 9 vials). Interfacility transfers were common in our study population: thirteen (32%) patients were transferred into our emergency department for a higher level of care, and 3 (7%) were transferred out (two because of insurance requirements, and one for higher level of Pediatric ICU care). There were no surgical interventions in our study group. Intoxication did not appear to play a major role in this population as only 3 patients (7%) were found to be acutely intoxicated: one with cannabis and amphetamines, 1 with alcohol, and 1 with opioids. CONCLUSIONS: In Central California, crotaline envenomations occurred mainly in adult males. Dry bites, or bites not requiring antivenom administration, were uncommon, comprising only 10% of bites in this study population. Contrary to popular and clinical beliefs, substance abuse and/or alcohol intoxication did not appear to play a role in the majority of patients in this study. Care providers and snakebite specialists should be aware that snakebite patients are often transferred between facilities, a finding that may be useful in designing future first aid protocols and research. We hope these findings add concrete data and help correct some common misconceptions about snakebites in Central California.

Concepts: Hospital, Snakebite, Intoxication, Rattlesnake, Skinny Puppy, Alcohol intoxication, Crotalinae, Remission


Documented envenomations by the pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) are rare. While there have been no documented fatalities, several older case reports describe significant morbidity. We describe the first known case of pygmy rattlesnake envenomation that was treated with Crotalidae Polyvalent Immune Fab Antivenom (CroFab(®)). CASE: A 28-year-old man with no significant past medical history presented after being envenomated on the right hand by his friend’s pet pygmy rattlesnake. He developed swelling and pain in his hand and forearm. He responded well to a ten vial loading dose and a 18 h maintenance protocol of CroFab and was discharged the following day without developing any hematological or electrolyte derangements. CONCLUSION: This is the first documented use of CroFab for S. m. barbouri envenomation. The outcome of this case suggests that CroFab is a safe treatment modality in this setting.

Concepts: Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Antivenom, Medical history, Reptiles of the United States, Sistrurus miliarius, Sistrurus, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri


BACKGROUND: Snake venoms generally show sequence and quantitative variation within and between species, but some rattlesnakes have undergone exceptionally rapid, dramatic shifts in the composition, lethality, and pharmacological effects of their venoms. Such shifts have occurred within species, most notably in Mojave (Crotalus scutulatus), South American (C. durissus), and timber (C. horridus) rattlesnakes, resulting in some populations with extremely potent, neurotoxic venoms without the hemorrhagic effects typical of rattlesnake bites. RESULTS: To better understand the evolutionary changes that resulted in the potent venom of a population of C. horridus from northern Florida, we sequenced the venom-gland transcriptome of an animal from this population for comparison with the previously described transcriptome of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (C. adamanteus), a congener with a more typical rattlesnake venom. Relative to the toxin transcription of C. adamanteus, which consisted primarily of snake-venom metalloproteinases, C-type lectins, snake-venom serine proteinases, and myotoxin-A, the toxin transcription of C. horridus was far simpler in composition and consisted almost entirely of snake-venom serine proteinases, phospholipases A2, and bradykinin-potentiating and C-type natriuretic peptides. Crotalus horridus lacked significant expression of the hemorrhagic snake-venom metalloproteinases and C-type lectins. Evolution of shared toxin families involved differential expansion and loss of toxin clades within each species and pronounced differences in the highly expressed toxin paralogs. Toxin genes showed significantly higher rates of nonsynonymous substitution than nontoxin genes. The expression patterns of nontoxin genes were conserved between species, despite the vast differences in toxin expression. CONCLUSIONS: Our results represent the first complete, sequence-based comparison between the venoms of closely related snake species and reveal in unprecedented detail the rapid evolution of snake venoms. We found that the difference in venom properties resulted from major changes in expression levels of toxin gene families, differential gene-family expansion and loss, changes in which paralogs within gene families were expressed at high levels, and higher nonsynonymous substitution rates in the toxin genes relative to nontoxins. These massive alterations in the genetics of the venom phenotype emphasize the evolutionary lability and flexibility of this ecologically critical trait.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, Biology, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Crotalus


Environmentally induced behavior (behavioral plasticity) has long been hypothesized to promote the origins of novel morphological traits, but this idea remains controversial. One context in which this hypothesis can be evaluated is animal communication, where behavior and morphology are often linked. Here, we examined the evolution of one of nature’s most spectacular communication signals: the rattlesnake rattle. We specifically evaluated whether rattlesnake rattling behavior-and, hence, the rattle-originated from a simple behavior: vibrating the tail when threatened. By reconstructing the ancestral state of defensive tail vibration, we show that this behavior is nearly ubiquitous in the Viperidae (the family that includes rattlesnakes) and widespread in the Colubridae (the largest snake family, nearly all of which are nonvenomous), suggesting a shared origin for the behavior between these families. After measuring tail vibration in 56 species of Viperidae and Colubridae, we show that the more closely related a species was to rattlesnakes, the more similar it was to rattlesnakes in duration and rate of tail vibration. Thus, the rattlesnake rattle might have evolved via elaboration of a simple behavior. These data thereby support the long-standing hypothesis that behavioral plasticity often precedes-and possibly instigates-the evolution of morphological novelty.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Snake, Antivenom


Measuring local adaptation can provide insights into how coevolution occurs between predators and prey. Specifically, theory predicts that local adaptation in functionally matched traits of predators and prey will not be detected when coevolution is governed by escalating arms races, whereas it will be present when coevolution occurs through an alternate mechanism of phenotype matching. Here, we analyse local adaptation in venom activity and prey resistance across 12 populations of Northern Pacific rattlesnakes and California ground squirrels, an interaction that has often been described as an arms race. Assays of venom function and squirrel resistance show substantial geographical variation (influenced by site elevation) in both venom metalloproteinase activity and resistance factor effectiveness. We demonstrate local adaptation in the effectiveness of rattlesnake venom to overcoming present squirrel resistance, suggesting that phenotype matching plays a role in the coevolution of these molecular traits. Further, the predator was the locally adapted antagonist in this interaction, arguing that rattlesnakes are evolutionarily ahead of their squirrel prey. Phenotype matching needs to be considered as an important mechanism influencing coevolution between venomous animals and resistant prey.

Concepts: Natural selection, Function, Predation, Squirrel, Charles Darwin, Venom, Rattlesnake, Antivenom


Bothriechis nigroviridis is an arboreal Neotropical pitviper found in Costa Rica and Panamá. A previous proteomic profiling of its venom revealed the presence of proteins with homology to the A and B subunits of crotoxin/Mojave toxin, a heterodimeric phospholipase A2 (PLA2) complex only described in rattlesnake venoms (genera Crotalus and Sistrurus). The native crotoxin-like heterodimer, named nigroviriditoxin, and its A and B subunits were isolated in the present work, and the complete amino acid sequence of the B subunit was determined. The purified A and B components were demonstrated to form a complex when reconstituted under native conditions. Nigroviriditoxin presents features similar to crotoxin, albeit displaying lower toxicity: the A component decreases the PLA2 activity of the B component, and increases its lethal potency in mice. Also in similarity to crotoxin B, nigroviriditoxin B induces myonecrosis. Its 122 amino acid sequence presents 81% identity with crotoxin B. Accordingly, nigroviriditoxin B was cross-recognized by equine antibodies from a Crotalus durissus terrificus antivenom. Phylogenetic analysis shows that the novel PLA2 from B. nigroviridis venom is basal to the branch including all the homologous PLA2 enzymes described in rattlesnakes, and more distant from PLA2s from Bothriechis species. Nigroviriditoxin is the first heterodimeric PLA2 complex found in a non-rattlesnake, Neotropical viperid venom, which displays structural, functional, and immunochemical similarities to crotoxin. The present findings are compatible with the existence of the particular structural trait of crotoxin-like molecules in New World pitvipers before the split of the Meso-South American and the Nearctic clades.

Concepts: Protein, Species, Cladistics, Venom, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Antivenom, Crotalus


The American College of Medical Toxicology established the North American Snakebite Registry (NASBR), a national database of detailed, prospectively collected information regarding snake envenomation in the United States, in 2013. This report describes the epidemiology, clinical course, and management of snakebites in the NASBR. All cases entered into the NASBR between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015 were identified. Descriptive statistics are used to report results. Fourteen sites in 10 states entered 450 snakebites. Native species comprised 99% of cases, almost all of which were pit viper bites. 56.3% were identified as rattlesnakes and 29.4% as copperheads. 69.3% were male and 28.2% were children age 12 and under. Fifty-four percent of bites were on the lower extremity. Twenty-seven percent of patients with lower extremity bites were not wearing shoes. Common tissue findings associated with envenomation were swelling, ecchymosis, and erythema. Systemic effects and hematologic toxicity were more common in rattlesnake than copperhead or cottonmouth envenomations. Crotalidae Polyvalent Immune Fab antivenom was given to 84% of patients. Twelve patients (4.3%) were re-admitted to the hospital after completion of treatment. Eight were re-treated with antivenom. The NASBR gathers detailed data on venomous snakebites across the US. In its initial years, useful information has already been gained. Data regarding footwear will inform public health interventions and education, and information regarding the clinical presentation may help physicians better anticipate effects and manage snakebite. As the number of cases in the NASBR grows, associations between patient-related factors and outcomes may be studied.

Concepts: United States, Toxicology, Snakebite, Viperidae, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Antivenom, Agkistrodon contortrix


The neuromuscular effect of rattlesnake venoms is not a major clinical manifestation shared between rattlesnakes native to the Americas, which showed two different venom phenotypes. Taking into account this dichotomy, nerve muscle preparations from mouse and chicks were used to investigate the ability of Crotalus atrox venom to induce in vitro neurotoxicity and myotoxicity. Unlike crotalic venoms of South America, low doses of C. atrox venom did not result in significant effects on mouse neuromuscular preparations. It was found that the venom is more active on avian nerve-muscle, showing reduction of twitch heights after 120 min of incubation with 10, 30 and 100 μg/mL of venom with diminished responses to agonists and KCl. The histological analysis highlighted that C. atrox is myotoxic for both experimental animals; as evidenced by degenerative events, including edematous cells, delta lesions, hypercontracted fibers and muscle necrosis, which can lead to neurotoxic action. These results provide key insights into the myotoxicity and low neurotoxicity of C. atrox in two animal models, corroborating with previous genomic and proteomic findings and would be useful for a deeper understanding of venom evolution in snakes belonging to Crotalus genus.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Rattlesnake, Crotalinae, Snake, Antivenom, Crotalus, Crotalus atrox


The Colombian rattlesnake Crotalus durissus cumanensis is distributed in three geographic zones of the country: the Atlantic Coast, the upper valley of the Magdalena River, and the eastern plains of the Colombian Orinoquía. Its venom induces neurological symptoms, such as eyelid ptosis, myasthenic facies, and paralysis of the respiratory muscles, which can lead to death. Identification and analysis of C. d. cumanensis showed nine groups of proteins responsible for the neurotoxic effect, of which the crotoxin complex was the most abundant (64.71%). Immunorecognition tests of C. d. cumanensis showed that the use of a commercial antivenom manufactured in Mexico resulted in immunoreactivity.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Neurology, Proteomics, Colombia, Ptosis, Rattlesnake, Crotalus, Magdalena River