Saturday, January 02, 2010

Thrice bitten

There is a class of "getting to know each other" games that organizers like to force upon groups of people meeting for the first time, in order to help them start talking to each other. One of these is called something like "Two truths and a lie" in which each person offers three autobiographical facts, and the group has to guess which one is false. My facts when faced with this game were:

1. I have been stung by a Portuguese Man o'War.

2. I have been poisoned by a black widow spider.

3. I have been bitten by a venomous snake.

The third was the one I intended to be false. I have just found out that all three of these are true. The only snakes I have ever been bitten by are those I have picked up, and the only snakes I have picked up are those which I knew to be non-venomous, primarily garter snakes. It turns out though, that garter snakes are venomous, and my knowledge (shared with most of the rest of the world) of their lack of venom was wrong. Mind you, they almost never actually get any venom into a human, and if they do it is not dangerous. But it turns out garter snakes do have venom glands, and of the dozens I've handled I've twice been bitten by them. Once picking up a tiny individual from under a rock, and once rescuing a larger individual from a road. They don't have fangs, or dental groves, or other efficient venom delivery systems, and their venom isn't strong enough to kill even small prey, but apparently if they chew on a prey item long enough some of the poison will work its way into the wound and perhaps help to subdue the food, easing swallowing. I once watched a small garter snake attempt (for about twenty minutes) to swallow a very large frog, and I must say the poison didn't do the snake much good, despite extensive chewing, because the frog escaped after giving the snake a good kicking about the head.

If I'm ever forced into that game again I will have to change my lie to, "I've been bitten by a venomous mammal." I'm not dumb enough to pick up a shrew.


gml said...

In the Aubrey/Maturin series, Dr. Maturin picked up a platypus and was envenomed(?) but survived. As I child, I was bitten a few times after picking up snakes; I stopped. Perhaps you should refrain from touching unfriendly beasties. GML

Dan Levitis said...

The term is envenomated. I have never been envenomated by any creature I intentionally came into contact with, only those I blundered into.