Science Questions

Why is a king cobra not affected by its own venom?

Sun, 27th Jul 2008

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Question

Narinda, India asked:

Why is a king cobra not affected by its own venom?

Answer

Chris -  It is because lots of people say that snakes are in some way immune but the reason is the same reason that you donít die from your own gastric stomach juices.  If they get in to the wrong part of your body they will kill you very effectively.  When people have pancreatitis which is where the pancreas which is connected to your gut and secretes all the enzymes that break down your lunch.  When that gets inflamed and the degrative juices get into your blood stream this can cause quite sever damage to your body and it can cause lung damage and other forms of inflammation.  Thatís very bad.

The snake uses the same strategy that you do.  It makes the venom which is a kind of protein.  Itís a tiny protein which it can make lots of and it has it in a little sac which it stores up in its head.  Itís connected to the two fangs at the front which are hollow.  When the snake bites you this sac squirts a venom out, down the teeth and into your skin.  If you look at the venom gland itís lined by very specialised cells that keep the venom there and not in the snakeís body.  There should be no access between the venom and the snakeís body.  When I spoke to someone who is a venom expert they said you can also detect antibody to their own venom in some snakes.  Just in case some spilled over I think they have this back-up plan which is they have some antivenom built in to mop it up and make sure it doesnít go any further.

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narinder asked the Naked Scientists: Why is a king cobra not affected by its own venom? What do you think? narinder, Sat, 26th Jul 2008

Yes, we answered this question in this show for you:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/show/2008.07.27/ chris, Sat, 4th Oct 2008

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