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Venomous snake bites are more likely to occur in warmer weather

Climate change is turning up the heat in Georgia, and the state’s snake population is responding with an uptick in venomous snake bites. A disturbing study reveals that for every degree Celsius rise in daily temperature, the rate of snake bites swells by roughly 6%.

This alarming correlation has recently been unveiled in GeoHealth, a leading journal that highlights studies exploring the interconnection between human and planetary health, aiming for a sustainable future.

Our globe’s temperatures are creeping upward. As this happens, cold-blooded creatures such as snakes, which are more active in the warmer weather, are becoming more prevalent.

Noah Scovronick, a health and environmental scientist at Emory University, spearheaded the study. He states, “Venomous snake bites are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a high-priority neglected tropical disease.”

Venomous snake bites are a global concern

It’s no small issue. Every year, snakes bite approximately 5 million people worldwide. These bites result in up to 138,000 deaths, according to WHO data.

The relationship between weather fluctuations and human-snake encounters remains largely unknown. This is partly due to a lack of reliable data on the causes of sickness and death in areas where snake bites are most deadly.

Scovronick further commented, “We don’t know much about how weather — meaning short term changes in meteorology — drive human-snake interactions.”

Studying snake bite trends

Georgia holds the unfortunate distinction of being a hotspot for snakes in the United States. Georgia has an abundance of snake species. These include 17 types of venomous snakes, seven of which are dangerous enough to be medically concerning. This fact makes it an ideal state to investigate the phenomenon.

Scovronick, alongside his team, sifted through statewide hospital records between 2014 to 2020. They discovered 3,908 visits to hospitals during this period were due to venomous snake bites.

By comparing these instances to daily weather reports, they found notable correlations between snake bite occurrences and maximum air temperatures. The study also considered variables like the month and day of the week.

What scientists learned about venomous snakes

The researchers made an interesting observation. While summers recorded the highest snake bite numbers, spring showed the strongest link between temperatures and snake bites.

It’s speculated this might be due to snakes becoming more active and reproducing in spring, while the heat of summer could potentially slow them down. Still, Scovronick admits this hypothesis requires further research.

Scovronick emphasized that this study didn’t make future predictions about snake bite rates. However, he stressed the importance of conducting similar studies in other states to get a comprehensive view of the risk on a national level.

Scovronick believes even with modest data and the use of established epidemiological methods, significant insights can be gleaned about snake bite patterns.

However, it’s important to note that higher temperatures in Georgia don’t automatically mean an increase in hospital admissions due to snake bites.

More education is key

Co-author of the study and Emory University herpetologist, Lawrence Wilson, explains that the pivotal factor in mitigating these unfortunate encounters is education. By being aware of the favored habitats of snakes, such as areas with dense ground cover, people can take precautions.

“Snakes and people can live compatibly, even venomous snakes, as long as we respect and understand their habitats and needs,” says Wilson.

Still, the odds of human-snake encounters are on the rise. This unfortunate fact is fueled by the dual forces of climate change and urban expansion.

Wilson notes, “As human development in Georgia and especially the Atlanta area are expanding rapidly, human-snake encounters are going to continue to increase and already have.”

While the study’s specific findings pertain to Georgia, it underscores an urgent need for similar research in other regions with different climatic conditions and snake species, asserts Scovronick.

More about venomous snakes

Venomous snakes inhabit environments worldwide. They belong to a few key families: Viperidae, Elapidae, Hydrophiidae, and Atractaspididae.

These snakes use venom to immobilize their prey. The venom is a mix of proteins and enzymes, varying by species. Some venoms are neurotoxic, affecting the nervous system and potentially causing paralysis. Other venoms are cytotoxic or hemotoxic, causing tissue damage or disrupting blood clotting.

How snakes use their venom

Venomous snakes deliver their venom through specialized fangs. Vipers have long, foldable fangs, while elapids have shorter, fixed fangs.

The impact of a snake’s bite depends on its species and size, the bite’s location and depth, and the amount of venom injected.

Venomous snake bites occur all around the world

These snakes live across the globe, but they most densely populate warm, tropical regions. Many sport vivid colors and patterns as a warning to predators.

Usually, venomous snakes only bite humans when threatened. Most bites occur when humans inadvertently step on a snake or come too close, or when humans try to handle or kill the snake. Globally, snake bites kill tens of thousands annually, and many more suffer injuries.

Behavior of venomous snakes

Venomous snakes display interesting behaviors. For example, female rattlesnakes care for their newborns, and king cobras, the world’s longest venomous snake, build nests for their eggs.

Scientists find medical potential in snake venom, with some components used in drugs treating high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes.

The conservation status of venomous snakes varies by species and region. Some are common, while others are endangered due to habitat loss and persecution. Despite public fear and misunderstanding, venomous snakes play crucial roles in their ecosystems and need our respect and understanding.

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