It’s a sensational headline, but I thought it was important that you read this if you handle venomous snakes at all – and even if you don’t. (King cobra video below)
I got a call from my friend this morning. He told me they caught a 2+ meter king cobra at a palm plantation the night before. He said it was super fast.
King Cobras are fast when young…
Well, my first thought was – when they’re young and smaller like that – under 3-4 meters – yeah, they are quite quick. The juveniles up until about 2 meters are usually fast. I have yet to work personally with a king cobra less than 2.5 meters. I want to – but, will respect their speed a lot more. The juvenile king cobras are like a completely different snake than the big ones. They move differently – darting their heads around constantly, and very fast and short motions. The bigger kings are more deliberate in their movements and are much slower, even when straight from the wild. Not to call them slow – but, you can work with them to some degree without dying.
I took the motorbike over to see the snake after lunch. My friend was sleeping on a bench. I woke him up with a clamp down on his foot – as if a snake bit him. He didn’t jump or anything, so I was disappointed my trick didn’t work. No matter – he woke right up and showed me the beast.
He told me it had eaten two red tailed racers that morning, both of which were about 2 meters in length – but thin. I figured the king would be a bit slow and conserving energy as it digested all that food. I was so wrong.
This king cobra was black with light bands – very light, I wouldn’t call the bands yellow- they were more like a yellow/green. It was under 2.5 meters and over 2.0. It had a very long hood – and was really gorgeous to look at. My friend always goes the extra mile… when he opened up the gate and showed him his face we got a big surprise from this snake.
See the video of this super fast Ophiophagus hannah below:
This king came up that tree stump faster than any snake I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen it all – however, I have seen many fast snakes – rat snakes of all sorts, tree snakes, big, small, thin and fast… and no snake has ever pulled one of these maneuvers on me.
I wanted to post this to give you an idea that you “think you know a snake” – but then one will do something you’ve never seen before. This has happened to me often as I learn more about monocled and king cobras. I’ve probably spent 200 hours working with them and studying them – watching other people work with them. I learned a whole lot in the first 50 hours and still, I’m always learning new behaviors and what these snakes are capable of.
Every snake species has a range of behaviors that they can exhibit. Snake handlers know, in general, what a snake is capable of – because it’s a certain species. However, there are snakes within the species, that, for whatever reason – learned behaviors that are different from most of the other snakes – and when they exhibit them – it can surprise the hell out of you.
Be careful with venomous snakes of all sorts – and never take them for granted.
This is a tough call because Thailand has a few snakes that could kill you within a couple hours if you weren’t able to reach medical care quickly enough.
I think the King Cobra, if it got a good bite on you – would be the worst snake to be bitten by in the country. I have a friend who lost his little brother (adult brother) to a King bite on the shoulder that killed him in less than ten minutes. Luke Yeomans from the United Kingdom, all set to open up the King Cobra Sanctuary to the public was bitten and died within minutes as he had a massive coronary.
If you are allergic to the venom of the snake that bites you, death could come very quickly. Some snake experts recommend carrying around a Ventolin inhaler that people use for asthma treatment. If bitten by a venomous snake in Thailand you may start losing your breath. That’s when to take a spray. Others insist on using epi-pens at the first sign of anaphylactic shock.
I always have the ventolin inhaler – I am slightly asthmatic so, in this case it’s actually a good thing.
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 keelback 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 red-necked keelback 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 30-40 seconds I believe. It 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?
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 (Phuket).
So, here again – the red-necked keelback 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. Then bit again.
There is no manufactured antivenin for the Rhabdophis subminiatus as it is here in Thailand. In Japan there is a small amount of antivenin produced to handle bites from their local species. To my knowledge there has been nobody treated with this antivenin outside of Japan, and I’m sure they would not be all that interested to give up some of their small supply to export to another country.
More information on venom toxicity and treatment after bite by this snake: R. subminiatus.
Venom consists of mainly procoagulants, which can cause renal failure; plus mild neurotoxic factors. Envenomation does not always occur. Bite may be almost painless, with 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 – .125 to .129 mg/kg. That is extremely venomous, in the same category as Bungarus candidus (Malayan Krait), Naja kaouthia (Monocled Cobra), and O. hannah (King Cobra).
One WHO (World Health Organization) publication about the management of venomous snake bites in Southeast Asia mentions the antivenin for Rhabdophis tigrinus in Japan as having some effect on the venom of R. subminiatus. I am not sure if this is strictly for R. subminiatus found in Japan, or not. Worth a try though if you can get them to send you some antivenin. Otherwise, there is no other option – there is no monovalent antivenin specifically for R. subminiatus.
Japan Snake Institute
Nihon Hebizoku Gakujutsu Kenkyujo
3318 Yunoiri Yabuzuka
Yabuzukahonmachi Nittagun Gunmaken 379-2301
Tel 0277 785193 Fax 0277 785520
Yamakagashi (Rhabdophis tigrinus) antivenom. Also effective against rednecked keelback (R. subminiatus venom)
I have some time today, and I’m curious what their response will be. I’ll write them to see whether they could, in an emergency, be able to send some antivenin here to Thailand to treat a bite by R. subminiatus or R. tigrinus.
OK, I’ve written them, lets see if they respond…
Update 2/11/2016 – No, they did not respond at all. Nothing. Today I was thinking about the topic and decided to write more people to see if I could get some vials of Rhabdophis tigrinus antivenom from Japan to try in treating patients with complications from bites of R. subminiatus. The following is the letter I’m sending to a number of researchers, scientists, and again, to “The Japan Snake Institute.”
Dear Toru Hifumi,
Greetings from Thailand! I am a snake enthusiast from the USA, living in Thailand for the past 11 years.
I read your paper, “Effect of antivenom therapy of Rhabdophis tigrinus (Yamakagashi snake) bites.”
I have been researching the subject of Rhabdophis envenomation because I have had a few experiences here, helping young boys who were bitten.
In both cases, the victim was a young male child. One was 12 years old, and the other was only 9 years old. Both the boys had kept the snakes as pets and thought them to be harmless.
Both were admitted to hospital intensive care for 10-14 days with bleeding from various orifices and ultimately renal failure.
I have read that your antivenom may help particularly in cases of renal failure.
On two occasions I emailed staff at “The Japan Snake Institute” about possibly purchasing some antivenom to help these boys recover. Unfortunately, I never received any reply from them at all.
I am hoping you will reply favorably after reading this note!
As you know, Thailand has not made antivenom for any snake in the Rhabdophis genus. R. chrysargos and R. nigrocinctus are also found in Thailand, and they may have similarly toxic venom.
I anticipate more emergency situations involving children in the coming year(s) and I must try to help in any way I can.
I am asking you if I can purchase some of the R. tigrinus antivenom for experimental use by hospital staff when patients in Thailand are envenomated by this snake.
We are not seeking to make any profit from this venture, the antivenom will be provided to Thailand hospitals on a case-by-case basis, and at cost (no markup).
As I understand your article to read, each vial of freeze-dried R. tigrinus antivenom, Equine (lot #0001) is able to neutralize the coagulant activity of about 4 mg of R. tigrinus venom.
If we were able to purchase just 10 vials, or even 5, that could be a significant help to patients here in Thailand who need it – especially children.
Would you please respond favorably to this request?
Thank you for your time and concern about what will most certainly be in the near future – a life and death matter.
A king cobra let out of the bag for photos – almost turns deadly!
Be careful up there guys!
King cobras are dangerous not because they are super fast, not because they have the worst venom in the world (they don’t), and not because they are so big.
They are so dangerous because they are so damn unpredictable, and because they are so big, they can do things that are hard to judge – and difficult to avoid. The guy grabbing the tail of the king cobra in this video has worked with kings for years. He thought he was far enough away that the king couldn’t come in that fast. Unfortunately, this king was energized and quickly flipped back for a bite at the crotch.
Then, when it missed, the mouth is still open looking for something to bite. It was not happy at all.
I handle king cobras very, VERY rarely. In the open area like this the king can move quickly because there are some plants and uneven ground it can use to grip the surface. It’s nothing like a road or flat, smooth dirt spot.
I was running up my favorite trail – a small mountain in Tub Kaak, Krabi province, when I saw my right foot coming down right in front of a Malayan pit viper. It was scary to know there was nothing I could do about it – I screamed out and pulled my foot away as fast as possible after landing, but with all my weight on it for a second, it wasn’t all that fast. The snake could have bitten me if it chose to.
But, luck was on my side and I’m walking around on both feet this morning. Lucky me! Watch this video so you can see just how important it is to watch where every footstep goes while hiking or running in the Thailand rainforest. These snakes and vipers in general are active at night and are also crepuscular, which means in the early morning and early evening. I have also seen them active during the daytime during and after a heavy rain.
Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostema). Deadly bites are possible mainly due to brain hemorrhage (bleeding), but most people just lose some of their flesh to this snake. The venom is a very strong and is cytotoxic. It destroys living cells of all sorts, including muscle and bone. This is the snake you really don’t want to be hiding in your motorbike in Thailand!
Bharath contacted me by email just after I went to sleep last night. He said his wife was touched on the leg by the snake which was hiding in the motorbike. Apparently no bite. LUCKY DAY!
The baby cobras, kraits, Malayan pit vipers, and coral snakes can all kill you just like the adults of their species. Though they don’t have as much venom, or fangs with tubes wide enough to transfer as much venom as an adult, they need not to. Usually a snake like this can inject more than enough to kill a person.
Some adult Malayan pit vipers are only 60 centimeters or so. That’s not a big snake. Big enough to kill you though.
Take all snake bites seriously and get to the hospital as fast as possible after being bitten. Don’t wait for pain or other symptoms, some snake venom doesn’t give many symptoms at all at first.
Hope for a “dry-bite” and that no or very little venom was injected!
The Malayan Krait (Bungarus candidus), or the Blue Krait as it’s sometimes called, is difficult to identify, and identifying it is essential because their venom is so deadly. Their venom paralyzes the nervous system and causes the muscles of the body to stop. That means the heart and diaphragm. You’ll need to be on a ventilator to stay alive after a krait bite.
Maybe the hardest to identify deadly snake that you should be aware of is an albino cobra, krait, coral snake, or Malayan pit viper. Albino snakes are not common, but, keep in mind that any white snake that bites you could be quite deadly and you’ll want to get to the hospital immediately. If easy to kill the snake – do so. Don’t risk being bitten again. Take a digital photo of it, or a few – would be better.
The photo above is the Malayan Krait. The photos below are snakes that are completely harmless. Keep in mind that Malayan Krait babies look just like these smaller innocuous snakes.
The Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma) is the venomous (bad) snake that is most likely to bite you. They have the habit of lying in the short or long grass and just waiting for prey to walk by. If human footsteps are coming close – it doesn’t attempt to move, it just sits there.
This is why the Malayan Pit Viper is the cause of most of the serious bites in Thailand, and Malaysia. They just don’t get out of the way, or flare up a hood or anything. They are what we call lazy snakes, and they’re quite deadly too. This snake is responsible for more deaths in Thailand than any other.
However, if you make it to the hospital for the antivenin quickly you will likely be fine. Some herpetologists call the Malayan pit viper the “finger rotters”. Their venom is cytotoxic and destroys all cells of the body – including bone. Their venom dissolves bone… it’s quite harsh stuff and you DON’T want to be bitten by this snake because you’ll likely lose part of whatever what bitten.
These Thailand snakes are most active during the night time, but, they seem to just sleep in the open grass during the day too. BE CAREFUL NOT TO STEP NEAR THIS SNAKE. Their bite is vicious and fangs go deep.