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Whenever I am asked or think about the reasons that I like living in Maine I always include the fact that it is a place with no poisonous reptiles. I see this as a giant check in the plus column. As a self-respecting, warm blooded mammal I feel that I am compelled by nature to not care for the company of poisonous reptiles, and I don't. I am not a major fan of reptiles generally, I wouldn't want to have one as a pet, but I can tolerate the benign ones and even think some are cute. But poisonous reptiles are another matter altogether. For one thing, they can kill you and probably will if you scare them or make them angry, and they can do it really, really fast from dark corners and other hidden places. For another thing, a lot of them have venom so powerful that it will kill you almost instantly, which means that you won't have time to cut the wound and suck out the venom like in a Hollywood movie. In fact, you will die very fast and in mind-bending pain. With that said, my policy is to avoid venomous reptiles as if they were, well...venomous reptiles.
I once saw a documentary about a handful of guys who deliberately inject themselves with venom from as many poisonous reptiles as possible for many, many years until they become immune to it. Seriously. That's their hobby. Some people cross stitch or play golf – these guys mainline snake venom. The first thing I learned is that there is an actual difference between a poisonous animal and a venomous animal. The difference is not in the deadliness of the poison, but in the delivery system. A venomous organism has a delivery system for its deadly poison, usually fangs or a stinger. A poisonous organism generally has its poison covering all or most of its body and the toxin is delivered when another organism touches it. In other words, if you grab a cobra behind its head or mesmerize it with your magic flute so that it can't bite you, chances are you'll survive your encounter. On the other hand, so much as brush your pinky over the colorful and tiny African Arrow Frog and you'll drop dead before you can say, “Oooh, what a cute little froggie.”
The venom-injecting guys kind of freaked me out. First of all, they were absolutely mad for snakes from the time they were toddlers. At very young ages they were seeking them out and asking their mothers if they could keep them as cuddly pets. I'm not talking about kids having a healthy interest in wildlife, this was way beyond that. I'm talking about full blown obsession from a very early age. They thought about snakes all the time, they drew snakes with crayons, they slept with rubber snakes like teddy bears, they read about snakes, and of course, they owned snakes. They were snakeaholics. They had snakeamania. There must be a word for this condition. They have one for obsession for polka dancing – polkamania. Seriously.
The even crazier thing than their obsession with snakes from a very young age is what ultimately came of it. One guy who is 85 has been injecting himself with venom for almost 50 years. He looks like a young 60, moves like a young man, doesn't have arthritis or any other condition, and has never been sick or gone to a doctor or taken so much as an aspirin since he was 30. He is working with scientists in England who have discovered that he has a super charged immune system with crazy powerful white blood cells. They use his blood to make an anti-toxin for all kinds of snake bites and have discovered that his blood is capable of neutralizing 70% to 90% of all bacteria they have treated with it. They are currently working to develop super antibiotics from his blood samples. All of the snake guys are the same. They look and feel much younger and are never sick. It is mind boggling. It is also crazy. All of these guys almost died several times in their quest for venom immunity. Now they are not only immune, the snakes don't even bother to try and bite them anymore. It's as if they know that it would be pointless, so why waste perfectly good venom? It must be very disappointing for them. Personally, I can't even fathom why anyone would have a toxin injected into their face that paralyzes their muscles to get rid of wrinkles, which is what Botox does, much less shoot up cobra venom, although, all things considered, the snake venom seems to have better, more meaningful, and long lasting results. I just can't see myself being that brave, or that crazy.
Can you imagine being the mother of a child obsessed with snakes? You'd ask them what they want to do when they grow up and they answer, “I want to inject myself with the venom of every poisonous snake in the world until I either die or become immune.” Eeek. Was there a booth for that on career day in high school? if there was, I missed it...thankfully.
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