NANFA-- OT: Curious George & the Captive Cottonmouth

Hoover, Jan J ERDC-EL-MS (
Thu, 17 Jul 2003 09:36:05 -0500

Just read an old paper and thought it might be of interest to some list
subscribers with an interest in snakes.

Dr. George Eugene Beyer, a German zoologist and museum curator at
Tulane, was the first resident herpetologist in Louisiana. In 1898, he
wrote an article on the live specimens he kept and cared for. It says
almost as much about him as it does snake biology.

After his captive cottonmouth gave birth, Dr. Beyer was curious about
how venomous the babies were. He wrote, "To test their poisonous
qualities, I permitted one of them to bite me...but outside of the
peculiar penetrating sensation attendant upon all venomous snake bites,
and not unlike a bee sting, I did not feel other results." He was not
so fortunate a year later.

Eight days after the birth of some rattlesnakes, he tested their
toxicity. "I picked one of them up, teased it a little, and presented
the first joint of the little finger of my right hand for a bite. The
little snake bit with a vengeance...." During the next 36-hours, Dr.
Beyer experienced "lightning-like pain...up to the
shoulder...edema...subjective vertigo...dyspnoea [labored or painful
breathing]...swelling [of the arm, side of body, and face]...[a fever of]
103 degrees..." but reported that "No remedy had been applied from
beginning to end."

Naturalists were a hardy breed then.

Beyer, G.E. 1898. Observations on the life histories of certain
snakes. Am. Nat. 32: 17-24.
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