Snake venom is a precious commodity.
From antivenom for snakebites to cancer treatments and the latest research on neurological diseases, venom is being used in a wide variety of applications.
And George Van Horn has been collecting it for these uses for nearly 40 years. The owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fl., Van Horn is passionate about snakes and besides exhibiting more than 50 species, keeps hundreds for the sole purpose of extracting venom.
Twice a day he allows the public to view through safety glass that allows a peek at his high tech venom extraction room.
“You see this. These are fangs,” Van Horn said as he rolled carefully opened the mouth of a large eastern coral snake.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged snakes that must “chew” on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” Van Horn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
He uses a specially designed snake stick to hold down the heads of the bigger snakes he extracts venom from but can’t do it with the corals due to their small skull. That means he grabs them quickly from behind, a method that is without question risky but is best for the long term health of the snake.
“We keep them around a long time and have to watch out for their well-being,” he said.
Another rumor that he shot down was the alleged 15 foot long eastern diamondback that has shown up in a variety of online e-mail and social media forwarded photos. The world record for the species is actually around eight feet in length.
“We have a reticulated python that is around eight feet and I can’t imagine a rattler that big. Eastern diamondbacks do get big both in length and girth but they are not as big as large pythons, not even close” Van Horn said.
The venom collecting shows daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are worth the price of admission but so are the snakes on display.
From a five foot long Florida cottonmouth to a 14 foot long king cobra, a black mamba and a beautiful eastern diamondback/canebrake (timber) rattler hybrid there is a lot to see.
Snakes are part of nature whether you like it or not and if you venture into the great outdoors it is best to learn to respect them and get educated so you can handle any encounter that comes your way.
Chester Moore, Jr.