There are four basic dental structures within the world of snakes. The Aglyphous group simply means that this group of snakes possess no elongated teeth what so ever. This group encompasses snakes of the Boa and Python family as well as various others. Next is the Ophistoglyphous group. This is the group from which this paper is written about. Though not technically a fang, the ophistoglyphous group do possess elongated rear teeth. There is a groove running from top to bottom on the anterior aspect of the tooth. This groove channels saliva from the gum line downward into the wound caused by the elongated teeth. Gravity is the only force working to drive the saliva into the would as there is no gland or holding apparatus surrounded by muscles to force the saliva downward.
In order for a true envenomation to take place the rear fanged snake must hold on to its prey item and actively work its fangs into the wound. This gives the required time needed for the saliva to flow down the channeled fang and into the wound. A minimum of ten to twenty seconds would be required for the saliva to make the trip from gum line to the wound. The longer the snake remains attached to its subject, the more serious the envenomation will become. A great deal depends upon the toxicity of the saliva itself.
The next group would be the Proteroglyphous group There are some very popular members belonging to this group, members such as the Cobras, Kraits, Mambas, Taipans,Coral Snakes to name but a few. These snakes all have short fixed fangs in the front of the upper jaw, just below each eye. It is believed by most that these snakes possessed their fangs in the rear of their mouths millions of years ago and over time they migrated forward into the position they hold today. The fangs must be short, to avoid the piercing of the lower jaw. Even the fangs of the King Cobra, (Ophiophagus Hannah) has fangs less then 1/2 inch in length. This group belongs to a family called Elapids, some of the most potent snakes on Earth today. The final group of snakes are also well known through out thew world.
They belong to the Solenoglyphous group, They have folding fangs which allows them to have extremely long fangs. The Gaboon Viper, (Bitis gabonica) has fangs that measure two (2) inches in length. The fangs are in the front roughly under each eye and when not in use rest along the upper jaw. Muscles lower the fangs when needed and lock them into place. The base of the fang lines up perfectly with the venom duct forming a tight seal. When muscles contract, venom flows through the fang and is forced out the opening at the tip of the fang. Snakes such as all pit vipers ie. rattlesnakes, cottonmouth’s, copperheads are members of the Solenoglyphous group as are the Vipers of the Old World. The Death Adder of Australia is one of the few Elapids to possess this type of fang structure.
The above are basic dental structures of known snakes of the World. The pet trade has been a legitimate industry dating back Roman Empire. Reptiles have been part of that trade since its inception. In the 1950’s rear fanged snakes were all considered harmless to humans and were sold in all of the modern industrial countries. It was in the late 1950’s when the Pet industry decided to rethink its claim that “all rear fanged snakes are harmless”. On September 25Th.1957 Karl P. Schmidt was attempting to Identify a snake that had been brought into the Museum of Natural History in Chicago Ill. where he was employed as a Herpetologist. An assistant was holding the green colored snake when Schmidt decided to handle it himself. He grabbed the snake just a bit to far back of the head which allowed the snake room to turn and sink one of its rear fangs into his finger.
He quickly released the snake and decided to work with it some more on the following day. He left work around 5PM and on his way home he stated that he felt queasy. Later that night he vomited and had difficulty sleeping. He called in sick on the morning of the 26Th. but stated he would be in on the following day. He vomited one more time and as he brushed his teeth he noticed blood on the tooth brush. His wife was upset enough to summon a friend who called for an ambulance to take him to the Municipal Hospital for a check up. He was admitted and at 3PM he was pronounced dead. The snake was a Boomslang (Dispholidus Typus) also known as the African Tree Snake. It was sold in pet stores around the world because rear fanged snakes are harmless to humans. With in three months all Rear fanged snakes for sale in the pet trade were taken from the shelves.
Today we have a fairly good handle of what species of snakes are harmless and what ones are dangerous to humans. Snakes belonging to the Boiga Genus, Dispholidus, Rhabdophis and Thelotornis Genera also have members within each family that possess venom potent enough to cause a fatal bite among humans. The common North American Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) has rear fangs but its venom is not supplied in sufficient quantities to cause harm to humans. The lovable Hog nose snake (Heterodon platyrhinos) is a member of the rear fanged club and it is all but impossible to get one to bite a human. The large number of Rear Fanged snakes throughout the world are all members of the Colubridae family.
The largest family of them all, consisting of over 2,500 separate Genera’s. Though several of the rear fanged snakes are considered safe for personal ownership, it is not considered wise to allow any snake to chew on any part of your anatomy, even if it appears cute, as it endeavors to scare or defeat a large human. It could be doing far more then looking funny or cute! Most venom’s manufactured by the Duvernoy’s glands of Rear Fanged Snakes acts very slowly on the human body. Effects of the venom might not appear for 12 to 24 hours after the bite. When the symptoms do appear, it could very well be to late. In all but a few instances, there is no anti venom on the market available for treating a bite and bites are handled symptomatically. The best rule of thumb is to treat all Rear Fanged snakes as venomous snakes. Technically that is exactly what they are.
As a general rule most people in the United States as well as other developed nations take it for granted that anything on the store shelf is safe when used as directed. Most experts will tell you that snakes should not be handled to often but as with anything new, humans like to feel what they have purchased. In the case of owning pet snakes, Most ophiofiles can’t wait to get their new acquisition home to hold and inspect it. In the case of handling any venomous species of snake, the urge should be tempered with restraint. Any new snake requires time to become accustomed to its new surroundings. A snake that would ordinarily not bite could very well strike at its new owner if handled to soon after its purchase. The last thing anyone needs is to be known as the first fatality known as a result of receiving a bite from a seemingly harmless snake. Use Caution and live longer!