Archive for the ‘Snake’ Category

For the second time in two years, a captive snake in southeast Missouri has given birth without any interaction with a member of the opposite sex.

Officials at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center say a female yellow-bellied water snake reproduced on her own in 2014 and again this summer. The snake has been living in captivity, without a male companion, for nearly eight years. An intern who cares for the snake found the freshly laid membranes in July.

This year’s offspring didn’t survive, but the two born last summer are on display at the nature center, about 100 miles south of St. Louis.

Conservation Department herpetologist Jeff Briggler said virgin births are rare but can occur in some species through a process called parthenogenesis. It occurs in some insects, fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles, including some snakes, but not mammals.

Parthenogenesis is a type of asexual reproduction in which offspring develop from unfertilized eggs, meaning there is no genetic contribution by a male. It’s caused when cells known as polar bodies, which are produced with an animal’s egg and usually die, behave like sperm and fuse with the egg, triggering cell division.

The conservation department said there are no other documented cases of parthenogenesis by a yellow-bellied water snake. Like other water snakes, this species gives birth to live young rather than eggs that hatch.

Robert Powell, a biology professor and snake expert at Avila University in Kansas City, said the Brahminy blind snake — a small burrowing animal native to southeast Asia commonly known as the flowerpot snake — has long been the only known snake that routinely reproduces without a male’s contribution.

In the Missouri case, it’s possible — but unlikely — that momma snake simply stored sperm from her time in the wild. But Michelle Randecker, a naturalist at the center, said eight years is too long. Powell agreed, saying a female snake usually can’t store sperm for longer than a year, although there are accounts of successful storage as long as three years.

“Long-term storage is unusual. When you run into situations like this, you always wonder, ‘Is that a possibility?'” he said. “If nothing else, it’s an interesting phenomena. Whether this is long-term storage or parthenogenesis, it’s cool. Just another sign that nature works in mysterious ways.”

A.J. Hendershott, outreach and education regional supervisor for the conservation department, said there was some pride in having the first snake of its species reproduce through parthenogenesis.

“This is the way you make discoveries when you keep things in captivity,” Hendershott said. “You learn things about what they’re capable of.”

http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:e854d0d586f746f68f6cb19c0ace6ab8

A Serbian herpetologist was out snake-tagging in Macedonia when she came across a bizarre find: A young viper, with a centipede’s head poking out of its abdomen.

It took Ljiljana Tomovic 10 seconds to figure out what it was: The snake had swallowed the centipede, which had then tried to cut a path to freedom … by eating its way out.

Some time during its violent dash, the centipede died. Perhaps the snake’s venom kicked in — that’s Tomovic’s best guess.

The island of Golem Grad in Macedonia’s Lake Prespa, where the pair were found, is also known as “Snake Island” and for good reason: it’s crawling with snakes, lizards and tortoises. Adult vipers chow down on small rodents, leaving the younger crowd to snack on centipedes.

It seems this time “the young snake gravely underestimated the size and strength of the centipede,” Tomovic, biology professor at the University of Belgrade, and her colleagues write in a brief report.

After dissolving (or digesting) the snake’s bones and gut the centipede was wearing its skin like a cloak. “We found that only the snake’s body wall remained — the entire volume of its body was occupied by the centipede,” Tomovic and co. write in Ecologica Montenegrina.

Some centipede species are equally cavalier and ferocious. They’ll lunge into battle with animals many times their size like mice and snakes. The foot-long Amazonian giant centipede hunts and eats bats.

Tomovic doesn’t know of any other centipede that has eaten its way out. “It’s possible that this situation is not so uncommon, just we did not have opportunity to see it until now,” she told NBC News via Skype.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/weird-science/last-supper-centipede-dies-eating-way-out-snake-belly-n80071

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

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By Ashley Fantz, CNN

A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died — of a snakebite.

Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middleborough police said.

On “Snake Salvation,” the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. The practice is illegal in most states, but still goes on, primarily in the rural South.

Coots was a third-generation “serpent handler” and aspired to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody.

The National Geographic show featured Coots and cast handling all kinds of poisonous snakes — copperheads, rattlers, cottonmouths. The channel’s website shows a picture of Coots, goateed, wearing a fedora. “Even after losing half of his finger to a snake bite and seeing others die from bites during services,” Coots “still believes he must take up serpents and follow the Holiness faith,” the website says.

In February 2013, Coots was given one year of probation for having crossed into Tennessee with venomous snakes. He was previously arrested in 2008 for keeping 74 snakes in his home, according to National Geographic. Tennessee banned snake handling in 1947 after five people were bitten in churches over two years’ time, the channel says on the show site.

On one episode, Coots, who collected snakes, is shown trying to wrest a Western diamondback out of its nook under a rock deep in East Texas. He’s wearing a cowboy hat and a T-shirt that says “The answer to Y2K – JESUS.”

The pastor is helped by his son and a couple of church members.

“He’ll give up, just sooner or later,” one of the members says. “Just be careful. Ease him out.”

The group bags two snakes, which a disappointed Coots says hardly justifies the trip to Texas.

“Catching two snakes the first day, ‘course we’d hoped for more,” Coots says in the video. “We knew that the next day we was gonna have to try to hunt harder and hope for more snakes.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/16/us/snake-salvation-pastor-bite/index.html?c=homepage-t

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

1. Buford, Wyoming
1 -  Buford
Formerly sporting a bustling population of two, Buford now only has a single resident.

2. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
2 - garbage
The Patch is a basically immobile, gigantic mass of trash out in the middle of the Pacific. Most estimates put its size—composed entirely of plastic bottles, chemical sludge, and basically any other kind of debris you can imagine—larger than the state of Texas. You’d probably rather go to Texas.

3. Alnwick Poison Garden, England
3 - posion gardcen
The Alnwick Poison Garden is pretty much what you’d think it is: a garden full of plants that can kill you (among many other things). Some of the plants are so dangerous that they have to be kept behind bars. It’s not exactly your typical stroll through a botanical garden.

4. Ramree Island, Burma
4 - bur,a
Ramree Island may be in the beautiful Burma, but nothing about this place is beautiful. It’s actually just a giant swamp full of thousands of saltwater crocodiles—which are the deadliest in the world—plus mosquitos loaded with malaria, oh, and venomous scorpions. Also, there was a six-week long battle here during WWII, in which only twenty Japanese soliders survived… out of 1000. And most were killed by the wildlife.

5. The Zone of Alienation, Ukraine
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Although you probably wouldn’t want to vacation in Pripyat either, the Zone of Alienation is the 19-mile decommissioned perimeter surrounding the grounds of the Chernobyl incident. It’s administered by a branch of government specifically so that no-one is allowed into it, but there are a few hundred residents who refused to move. What’s wrong with those people? You probably don’t want to know

6. Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil
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Sorry to tell you this, but Ilha de Queimada Grande isn’t a fantastical island getaway. It’s actually an island full of thousands of snakes. Its name literally means, “Snake Island.” It has the highest concentration of snakes in the world, with 1-5 golden lanceheads per square meter—oh, and they’re very poisonous: when designs were drawn up to build a plantation on the island, all the scouts were killed.

7. St. Helena
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If you somehow end up in the same place where Napoleon was imprisoned and spent his final days, things are probably going wrong. Oh yeah, and there’s no functioning airport, either. The only way you can get on or off the island is via container ships from South Africa. Which only come every few months.

8. Izu Island, Japan
8 - japan
The Izus are a group of volcanic islands located off the southern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. They’re technically part of Tokyo, except because they’re extremely volcanic, the air constantly smells of sulfur and residents have been evacuated twice—in 1953 and 2000—because of “dangerously high levels of gas.” Although allowed back in 2005, inhabitants are now required to carry gas masks on their person at all times.

9. Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan
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Sure, mud volcanoes aren’t nearly as dangerous as their cousins of the magmatic variety, but when they do actually erupt, it’s not exactly a pretty sight. In 2001, a new island grew out of the Caspian Sea, due to an increase in volcanic activity—right nearby where hundreds of these bad boys are. Generally, they go off every twenty years, and when they do, they shoot flames “hundreds of meters into the sky” and deposit tons of mud into the immediate area.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/AVvBxP

A contestant in a roach-eating contest who downed dozens of live bugs and worms collapsed and died shortly after winning the contest in South Florida, authorities say.

About 30 contestants ingested the insects during Friday night’s contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach about 40 miles north of Miami. The grand prize was a python.

Edward Archbold, 32, of West Palm Beach became ill shortly after the contest ended and collapsed outside the store, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office statement released Monday. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities were awaiting results of an autopsy to determine a cause of death.

The sheriff’s office said none of the other contestants fell ill.

“Unless the roaches were contaminated with some bacteria or other pathogens, I don’t think that cockroaches would be unsafe to eat,” said Michael Adams, professor of entomology at the University of California at Riverside. He said he has never heard of someone dying after consuming roaches.

“Some people do have allergies to roaches,” he added, “but there are no toxins in roaches or related insects.”

There was no updated phone number listed for Archbold in West Palm Beach.

“We feel terribly awful,” said store owner Ben Siegel, who added that Archbold did not appear to be sick before the contest.

“He looked like he just wanted to show off and was very nice,” Siegel said, adding that Archbold was “the life of the party.”

A statement from Siegel’s attorney said all the participants signed waivers “accepting responsibility for their participation in this unique and unorthodox contest.”

The bugs consumed were from an inventory of insects “that are safely and domestically raised in a controlled environment as food for reptiles.”

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/man-dies-after-live-roach-eating-contest-fla

 

A painkiller as powerful as morphine, but without most of the side-effects, has been found in the deadly venom of the black mamba, say French scientists.

The predator, which uses neurotoxins to paralyse and kill small animals, is one of the fastest and most dangerous snakes in Africa.

However, tests on mice, reported in the journal Nature, showed its venom also contained a potent painkiller.

They admit to being completely baffled about why the mamba would produce it.

The researchers looked at venom from 50 species before they found the black mamba’s pain-killing proteins – called mambalgins.

Dr Eric Lingueglia, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology near Nice, told the BBC: “When it was tested in mice, the analgesia was as strong as morphine, but you don’t have most of the side-effects.”

Morphine acts on the opioid pathway in the brain. It can cut pain, but it is also addictive and causes headaches, difficulty thinking, vomiting and muscle twitching. The researchers say mambalgins tackle pain through a completely different route, which should produce few side-effects.

He said the way pain worked was very similar in mice and people, so he hoped to develop painkillers that could be used in the clinic. Tests on human cells in the laboratory have also showed the mambalgins have similar chemical effects in people.

But he added: “It is the very first stage, of course, and it is difficult to tell if it will be a painkiller in humans or not. A lot more work still needs to be done in animals.”

Dr Nicholas Casewell, an expert in snake venom at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, has recently highlighted the potential of venom as a drug source.

Commenting on this study he said: “It’s very exciting, it’s a really great example of drugs from venom, we’re talking about an entirely new class of analgesics.”

Dr Lingueglia said it was “really surprising” that black mamba venom would contain such a powerful painkiller.

Dr Casewell agreed that it was “really, really odd”. He suggested the analgesic effect may work in combination “with other toxins that prevent the prey from getting away” or may just affect different animals, such as birds, differently to mice.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Dr Roger Knaggs said: “We are witnessing the discovery of a novel mechanism of action which is not a feature of any existing painkillers.”

He cautioned that the mambalgins worked by injections into the spine so would need “significant development” before they could be used in people.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19812064

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Scientists have finally found the cause of a mysterious disease that makes snakes tie themselves up into knots, stare off into space, and waste away—the reptiles are infected with an Ebola-like virus, a new study says.

The fatal condition known as inclusion body disease (IBD) was first diagnosed in snakes, particularly pythons and boa constrictors, in the 1980s.

Snakes diagnosed with IBD will often exhibit behavioral abnormalities, including an inability to flip over when turned on their backs and “stargazing,” which involves staring off into space and weaving their heads back and forth as if drunk. They are also more likely to contract other diseases, such as bacterial infections in their mouths.

Infected snakes often refuse to eat, or regurgitate their food when they do.

“They begin to waste away,” said study co-author Mark Stenglein, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Scientists have long suspected a virus was behind IBD because the disease can be transmitted between snakes and is characterized by the buildup of proteins in cells, a feature of a number of viral diseases, Stenglein said.

But direct proof that a viral agent is responsible has been lacking-until now.

(Also see: “Python Hearts Double in Size—Now We Know Why.”)

Decoding the Snake Virus

Stenglein and his team analyzed the genetic material of snakes infected by IBD at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco during a recent outbreak.

In addition to the known snake genome, they found genetic material belonging to a previously unknown virus. (See snake pictures.)

It appears to be most closely related to a class of viruses known as arenaviruses, that have only been known to infect mammals, namely rodents and people. However, the new virus doesn’t fit into the two categories of arenaviruses-New World and Old World-that are currently known.

The snake virus also contains a gene closely related to one found in the Ebola virus, which belongs to a different class known as filoviruses. Ebola, one of the most contagious known viruses, causes death through severe hemorrhaging when it infects humans.

The fact that that the new snake virus contains aspects of two completely different classes could mean that its origins stretch back tens of millions of years.

If that’s true, the snake virus is at least 35 million years old, said Stenglein, whose study appeared in August in the journal mBio.

Another possibility, the team says, is that the snake virus was created by a more recent merger of an arenavirus and a filovirus.

(See “‘Zombie Virus’ Possible via Rabies-Flu Hybrid?”)

David Sanders, an Ebola researcher at Purdue University in Indiana, called the new discovery “exciting,” but said he does not think the new virus is likely to provide any new information about Ebola, which is itself a very mysterious disease with murky origins. (Read why scientists can’t cure Ebola.)

As for IBD, said Stenglein, there’s still no treatment or cure.

But the new discovery means that vets and zookeepers could soon have a diagnostic test to genetically screen snakes for the disease before introducing them to a collection.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/08/120822-snakes-virus-ibd-ebola-animals-science/