An Australian researcher has discovered that all snakes have poisonous venom, including pet snakes that are considered harmless. Bryan Fry says, “We even isolated from a rat snake, a snake common in pet stores, a typical cobra-style neurotoxin, one that is as potent as comparative toxins found in close relatives of the cobra.”

Fry discovered this by studying the evolutionary history of venomous snakes. He wanted to find out when snakes developed this means of protection and found that it only developed once, about 60 million years ago, which is millions of years earlier than scientists previously thought. This was before the snakes we think of as non-venomous arrived on the scene, meaning that all snakes actually contain dangerous venom.

“Contrary to popular belief, venom appears to have evolved at about the same time as advanced snakes started to appear,” Fry says. “This means the first venomous snakes evolved from the heavy-bodied swamp monsters similar to the anacondas of today. These snakes traded in their heavy muscle for speed and agility. Venom rather than muscle became the tool necessary for these snakes to capture their prey.”

This means that having venom is part of being a snake, so Fry began to analyze all kinds of snakes, including the “harmless” kinds people keep as pets. He found that pet snakes have venoms that are just as complex as the world’s deadliest snakes, such as cobras and puff adders. “Some non-venomous snakes have been previously thought to have only mild ‘toxic saliva,’ but these results suggest that they actually possess true venoms,” says Fry.

“These snakes typically have smaller quantities of venom and lack fangs, but they can still deliver their venom via their numerous sharp teeth,” Fry says. “But not all of these snakes are dangerous. It does mean, however, that we need to re-evaluate the relative danger of non-venomous snakes.”

Snakes have bothered folks in the past, too.

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