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 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.
These rumors run rampant here in Southeast Texas where coral snakes are more common than many would believe. They are shy snakes that spend much of their time under leaves, in old rotten logs and in other damp, dark areas.
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.
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.