Snake Bite – Red-Necked Keelback – Rhabdophis subminiatus

A couple months back I received an email from a concerned father whose son was bitten by a red-necked keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus) he had found in their neighbor’s garden.

“My son is suffering from non clotting, severe swelling, and paralysis and is now in ICU, where his vital and neuro signs are ok, but blood not good.”

These snakes have, in the past, not been identified as a dangerous snake. Many people have them as pets, and free-handle them with bare hands. Sometimes these snakes bite, but once they are handled a bit they usually calm down and rarely bite. There have been some cases in the literature where bites have resulted in hospitalization, and there has been a push to identify these snakes as what they are – venomous, and dangerous.

Colubrids, rear-fanged snakes, are nearly all venomous. Venom is modified saliva that helps the snake kill and break down the body of their chosen food.

I was excited to have a response from the father of this boy that spent 2 weeks in a Thailand hospital after suffering 2 bites from this snake.

Here’s what I learned after some questions by email…

1. Can you tell anything about how the bite occurred? Was the snake typically calm – and then, out of the ordinary behavior – it bit your son?

Calm, he was showing off to his friend’s that he can handle snakes, this was a wild one not a pet. He has a constrictor, a corn snake and a python as pets, all fairly placid, but the keelback he had no understanding of.

2. Approximately how long did the snake bite down on your son’s hand? Was it less than 1 second? 1-3 seconds? 3-5? 10? 60 or more? This is the most important question because in the past we haven’t seen enough venom transferred from quick bites, or even repetitive quick bites…

Between 30-40sec I believe, wouldn’t let go

3. Did the snake bite more than once that day?

Bit him twice within a few minutes.

4. Did the snake routinely bite your son – often?

First time.

5. Can you tell me approximately how long was the snake? Do you have any photos of it? Can you please send if you do?

No photo’s I’m afraid, he didn’t mention how long it was, but he will be back from school at the weekend, and I’ll fish more info out of him.

6. Did you get the snake in Thailand? There in Phuket, or where?

Wild snake in his friend’s garden.

*******

So, here again – the snake bit down for an extended period of time – 30+ seconds, and had time to squeeze a lot of venom into the boy’s hand.

There is no known anti-venin for the Rhabdophis subminiatus.

Venom Characteristics (from http://www.afpmb.org/content/venomous-animals-r#Rhabdophissubminiatus)

Mainly procoagulants, which can cause renal failure; plus mild neurotoxic factors. Envenomation does not always occur. Bite may be almost painless w/ minimal local swelling. Symptoms of envenomation may include local numbness, headache, nausea, & vomiting; in severe cases renal failure has caused human deaths. No known antivenom currently produced.

LD50 for intravenous injection – 1.29 mg/kg. That is extremely venomous…

This snake has no actual venom gland, but the venom resides in the saliva itself, and with a long bite – can envenomate a person, causing great harm.

About Vern Lovic

All posts by Vern Lovic. Amateur herpetologist roaming about Thailand on field herping trips to find cobras, kraits, coral snakes, and other snakes native to Thailand. Thailand has over 200 snake species with many of them venomous.

9 thoughts on “Snake Bite – Red-Necked Keelback – Rhabdophis subminiatus”

  1. That was back at my house and the kid’d name is Natty, i told him not to touch it and there were 2 keel backs and i all so had a big ball python back then, the same snake bit me but i had no reaction, they were both about 1-1.3 meters long, i knew about the cases but never thought that would have happen to him.

  2. Thanks for the interesting article.
    I have a couple comments:

    1. By far, most colubrids are not dangerously venomous.

    2. Colubrids do in fact have a pair of venom glands. They are commonly referred to as the Duvernoy’s gland and all snakes and lizards have this gland. Our venomous specie (ie elapids, viperids, etc.) have evolved a modified Duvernoy’s gland that produces much deadlier venom.

    -Evan

  3. I had a very similar experience here in Indonesia. 9 days in ICU.Multiple transfusions etc. Red necks are very common here but nobody,not even Doctors or Herpetologists, is aware that they are venomous.Interestingly, after the bite, I continued with my normal activities for almost 24 hours, including a 4 hour mountain bike ride, before the symptoms forced me to seek treatment.

      1. Sorry I took so long to reply. Symptoms were mainly bleeding, from just about everywhere, I was black and blue, with yellow eyes! I had blood coming from my nose, gums and in my urine and feces. The original bite wound continued to bleed for about a week. Blood clot test showed zero clotting and my hemoglobin was about half normal. I needed transfusions of platelets,plasma, and whole blood and, finally some expensive stuff which I forget the name of, but I can dig out my medical records if anyone needs them (I am at the office right now)

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’m from Vietnam, and there is a 10 year old kid that i happen to know in the hospital biten by the same snake. He’s suffering now. N the doctor over here can give him any medicine to reduce the venom. He has been in the hospital for a week already. Also his parent from country side n they found out their son got bit after 2 days from the accident

      My name Oanh by the way, and pls email me your medical treatment if possible caotuoanh@gmail.com

      Thank you very much

      Oanh

    2. Hi Paul,

      I’m from Vietnam, and there is a 10 year old kid was bitten Red-necked keelback snake. He’s suffering now.
      The doctor over here can give him any medicine to reduce the venom. He has been in the hospital for a week already. Also his parent from country side n they found out their son got bit after 2 days from the accident

      My name Oanh by the way, and pls email me your medical treatment if possible caotuoanh@gmail.com

      Thank you very much

      Oanh

      1. The Japanese produce an anti-venin for this snake in Japan in very small quantities. I don’t think it is available to buy, but you might write someone into snakes there and see if they might be able to get a few vials. I think I read that biologists doubted it would have any cross-over benefit to treat someone with it if bitten in a different area of Asia. I am not sure, please do try to find someone in Japan that can give you a good answer and maybe source the anti-venin for the unfortunate boy.

        I will copy this message and send to your email. Cheers, and best of luck for the boy… Vern Lovic (info@thailandsnakes.com)

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