Snakes are some of the most deadly and fascinating animals to live on this Earth. There are more than 3, 000 species of snakes in the world. Among these, about 20% of the species are poisonous. However, approximately 200 species are actually dangerous to humans. One of snakes’ primary ability to survive in the wild is their ability to inject preys or aggressors with poison. Even as they are notorious for hunting other living creatures using their venom, it is not very uncommon for a snake to attack another snake. They can kill each other by methods such as constriction, biting and envenomation.
Yes, that’s right. A snake can kill another snake by injecting it with venom. This brings us to the question of whether or not the venom of a snake is fatal to itself.
The action of a snake injecting venom into itself is called self-envenomation. When it comes to the chances of death for a venomous snake that bites itself, the results mostly indicate that it’s unlikely for a snake to die this way. In most of the documented cases, snakes are immune to their own venom.
To better answer this, let us look into what kinds of snakes are immune to venom. There are no known snake species in the world that is immune to all types of poison. Every snake species is vulnerable to some type of venom. Take the king cobra, for example. It is found to be immune to the venom of snakes found in the same geographical area and is not susceptible to venom bites from other cobras. However, it is vulnerable to venom attacks from snakes from a different geological region. In case of a king cobra, a rattlesnake’s venom is fatal to it.
So, we know that snakes have evolved to be immune to only some kinds of venom. To be specific, they are found to be resistant to the poison of the snakes of the same species and, sometimes, even of that of snakes sharing the same territory. This makes sense when you think that being immune to venom from their own species helps them survive as it is quite probable for snakes to get bitten by snakes from the same region because they come across each other more often; whether to mate or to compete.
Snakes get this immunity by developing, over several generations, genetic resistance to venom. It means that such snakes are born immune to certain venom. We know that snake venom affects the victim by entering their bloodstream. Similarly, it has been found that snakes that are immune to venom have developed specific antibodies (chemicals that can react with the poison) in their blood.
The general idea is that the more distantly related two species of snakes are, the more likely are they to be toxic to each other. However, there have been a few documented cases of snakes dying from the venom of snakes belonging to the same species.
There have been instances of snakes like Bothropspubescens and king cobra of dying from self-inflicted bites, leading some to believe that the cause of death might be the venom. However, given the rarity of such deaths and the unclear science as to how a snake can die from its own poison if it is immune to it, it is probable that the deaths of snakes in such cases were caused by previous injuries, infections or diseases.
However, it is very much possible for a snake, poisonous or not, to kill itself by biting itself enough. Snake fangs are sharp and made to penetrate the skin, especially into the skins of other snakes. So, if you happen to be a snake, don’t think that it is safe for you to bite yourself just because you are immune to your own venom. Self-inflicted injuries are a very real thing even in snakes and can lead to death.
To conclude, snakes are generally immune to their own venom, except in rare circumstances. What they are not immune to are the injuries they cause themselves in the process. These injuries can lead to diseases or prove harmful enough to cause death.