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Are snakes poisonous, or venomous?

April 6, 2018

Snakes are normally EITHER venomous,  OR non-venomous. Here the Bamboo Pit Viper shows his venom injecting fangs. A bite from this snake "hurts like being kicked by a horse" according to one source, but it is not fatal.

However, there is one snake in Hong Kong that is BOTH venomous and poisonous!

Sooooo, let's back up a bit and confirm what we mean by poisonous and venomous....

 'Poisonous' is a generic term referring to substances which are harmful when ingested, e.g. poisonous mushrooms, dart frogs, etc. Poisonous animals have secretions, or parts of their body that are poisonous to anything that touches or eats them.
'Venomous', on the other hand, refers to animals that have a specialised gland and that inject their poison into their prey through fangs, claws or a stinger

 

Back to the story regarding our snakes in Hong Kong.....,
1. Firstly the majority of snake species do not have venom and simply kill their prey by squeezing them, or just swallowing them. These 38 snakes listed by the AFCD are non-venomous and not poisonous.

2. There are a number of snakes in Hong Kong (14 according to the AFCD) that are venomous (see the blog feature on venomous snakes of Hong Kong) and that inject their venom. In Hong Kong 8 of these can be deadly. 
See this link for the full list: 
http://www.afcd.gov.hk/english/conservation/hkbiodiversity/speciesgroup/speciesgroup_veno_snake.html

3. And lastly - just to confuse us - there is the Red-Necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus). This snake is amongst a few rare animals in that is both venomous and poisonous. It is rear fanged, but a bite could be fatal, so it is clearly venomous. The snakes red-neck is nature’s way of warning predators to stay away, and you can see in the picture the snake expressing poison from the nuchal glands at the back of its neck, which is collected from eating the poisonous toads, splitting its scales apart.

​I have handled red-necked snakes that have tried to rub this poison onto my skin and shake it into my eyes....but they have never tried to bite me!

 

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