Not many people have heard of boomslang. That’s not surprising because these venomous tree snakes are a super shy and non-aggressive species native to Sub-Saharan Africa. These snakes exhibit sexual dimorphism therefore it is easy to distinguish between genders. One of the most obvious morphological differences between genders is that females are brown in color while males are usually bright colors such as green, yellow or pinkish red. Boomslang snakes have strikingly large eyes and juvenile boomslangs are known for their beautiful iridescent green eyes.
Because boomslang snakes are ‘rear-fanged’ it is extremely unlikely to be bitten by this snake. One has to be very unlucky! In order for the boomslang snake to inject its venom on its prey, it would have to open its mouth extremely wide, scientifically speaking, to at least 170 degrees. Because of this, boomslang snakes have been dubbed “harmless.” But it wasn’t until 1957 that this was proved not to be the case.
In 1957, a juvenile boomslang snake raised in captivity at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo bit well-known herpetologist Karl Schmidt. The bite was minor, just a single fang on his thumb! But that was enough to kill Karl Schmidt.
Karl Schmidt’s death revolutionized the scientific world. The venom of the boomslang snake was analyzed and it was revealed that boomslang venom is highly potent and primarily is a hemotoxin.
Hemotoxins are toxins that destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting and can also cause organ and tissue damage. Because boomslang venom is a hemotoxin it’s not surprising that it can lead to major brain and muscle hemorrhage. But the venom also causes other symptoms like nausea, headaches and sleepiness. Perhaps what is most surprising is that this venom has the ability to make the victim bleed from every possible orifice. It is not uncommon for blood to seep out of the victim from the gums, nostrils, urine, saliva, stools, vomit and even through the tiniest of cuts. This is extremely unfortunate because the victim will continue to bleed until death and death from internal bleeding is a slow and lingering process that can take anywhere from three to five days.
One of the issues with boomslang venom is that symptoms emerge only several hours after being bitten. Because the venom is not fast acting, victims may not realize that they are at serious risk and require immediate medical assistance. Although records show that less than ten people have died from boomslang bites worldwide, this ought to not be taken lightly. Death came swiftly for Karl Schmidt, as he was found dead 24 hours later in his home from respiratory arrest and severe brain hemorrhaging. If Schmidt had known about the anti-venom his life might have been spared. It is imperative to act quickly otherwise Africa’s most venomous snake might have the last laugh.