When a venomous snake bites its prey, it injects venom through its hollow fangs. This venom is produced and stored in the snake’s venom glands – sacs attached to the snake’s salivary glands. Without these glands, the snake would still be able to bite, but it would not have any venom to inject. A venomous snake that has had its venom glands removed is known as a venomoid snake.
A venomoid snake has undergone surgery which removed its venom glands. The most effective venomoid surgery is the adenectomy, completely removing the venom glands. While this surgery is usually successful, it can be dangerous for the snake’s health. Removing venom glands makes it slightly safer to own and handle a venomous snake. However, the effects of the surgery are not always permanent, and a venomoid snake is still considered venomous under the law.
Understanding what venomoid surgery entails will help you to decide if it is the right option for the venomous snakes you own. Here we learn about this procedure, what it entails, before looking at the pros and cons of removing venom glands from a snake.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Removing a Snake’s Venom Glands
- 1.1 Where Does Snake Venom Come From?
- 1.2 What Does Venomoid Surgery Entail?
- 1.3 How Effective Is Venomoid Surgery?
- 1.4 How Safe Is Venomoid Surgery for Snakes?
- 1.5 Can You Remove Venom Glands At Home?
- 1.6 Why Remove A Snake’s Venom Glands?
- 1.7 Disadvantages of Removing Venom Glands
Removing a Snake’s Venom Glands
It is possible to remove a snake’s venom glands via surgery. The snake is then referred to as a “venomoid” snake. Without its venom glands, the snake is not able to produce venom and so cannot envenomate with its bite.
Where Does Snake Venom Come From?
Snake venom is basically a form of saliva. It helps the snake start to digest its prey before it swallows the animal.
Consequently, a snake’s venom is produced by its salivary glands. We refer to these glands here as “venom glands” because their operation is more specialized than creating mere saliva.
These glands are inside of the snake’s head, on both sides. They are located just underneath and behind the snake’s eyes, wrapped in a muscular sheath
When a snake bites down on its prey, the venom travels from the glands through ducts in the snake’s face and into the hollow fangs. With those glands gone, it is not possible for the snake to inject any venom.
What Does Venomoid Surgery Entail?
Scientists attempting to perfect the venomoid surgery have applied different techniques to the task. Some of these surgeries prove more effective than others.
Different Venomoid Surgery Procedures
The most effective venomoid surgery is the adenectomy. In an adenectomy, the surgeon completely removes both venom glands. They may also remove the venom ducts as well, in case the glands start to grow back. After an adenectomy, a venomous snake is no longer able to produce venom.
Other venomoid surgery techniques do not completely remove the venom glands. Instead, the surgeon may target the venom ducts with ligation or cauterization.
In ligation, the surgeon cuts away sections of the venom ducts on both sides of the snake’s head, tying off the ends of the ducts. This makes it so the venom has no pathway to flow through to the snake’s fangs. While the snake can still produce venom, it will never leave its mouth.
In cauterization, the venom ducts in the snake’s face are seared with heat. This serves to seal the ducts, which prevents the flow of venom as well.
How Effective Is Venomoid Surgery?
Adenectomy is the most effective venomoid surgery because it involves the complete removal of the venom glands. The snake consequently completely loses its ability to produce venom.
It is possible to perform a partial adenectomy instead of a complete surgery. In this case, some of the gland or ducts may still remain in the snake. It is possible, though unlikely in this case, for a snake to regain its ability to produce venom over time.
Ligation and cauterization are effective techniques for rendering a snake unable to inject any venom. However, it is possible for a snake to heal over time to the point of reconnecting its venom ducts. At this point, the snake would no longer be venomoid, but venomous once more.
Note that even if you have been told a snake is venomoid, it is possible for it to have recovered its capacity to produce and inject venom. Treat any venomous snake with caution, just in case.
How Safe Is Venomoid Surgery for Snakes?
The point of removing a snake’s venom glands is to render it harmless without harming the snakes. However, these procedures are not always safe for the snake.
The Journal of the International Herpetological Society relates two attempts to remove a snake’s venom glands. The snakes in question were Australian elapid snakes. In one surgery, the side of the snake’s head was cut open. In the other, the venom glands were removed by cutting up through the roof of the snake’s mouth.
When the surgery involved cutting into the side of the snake’s head to access the venom glands, the snake unfortunately died. However, the surgery performed on the roof of a snake’s mouth resulted in the survival of the snake.
After the surgery through the roof of the snake’s mouth, the scientists closely monitored the snake for signs of harm. After a few days, the snake accepted a meal without showing any signs of pain. In subsequent tests, this snake was allowed to bite multiple birds, and none of the birds were envenomated. This showed that the venomoid surgery had been successful.
As surgical techniques have improved, the chance of negative consequences for the venomoid snakes have decreased. Aftercare for venomoid snakes includes administering antibiotics to prevent infection and feeding the snakes as soon as they show interest in eating again.
Can You Remove Venom Glands At Home?
Venomoid surgery is a difficult, delicate procedure. The parts of the snake you are dealing with here, in its head, are very small and easy to damage.
This means that removing your snake’s venom glands is not a task to perform at home. You don’t want to harm the snake.
It is also dangerous to interact directly with a venomous snake’s head and fangs without proper protective gear and medical tools. The snake needs to be properly sedated in order to safely perform the surgery at all. Even an unconscious snake can inflict an envenomated bite.
For your own safety and for the safety of the snake, venomoid surgery should only be performed by a professional reptile surgeon.
Why Remove A Snake’s Venom Glands?
Given the risks and the difficulty of the procedure, why might you choose to remove a snake’s venom glands? Let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of venomoid surgery.
Eliminating Risk of Envenomation
The most obvious benefit of removing a snake’s venom glands is to get rid of the risk of being harmed by a bite. If you own a venomous snake, you are at risk of envenomation. While any snake can bite if they are provoked, not all snakes present the risk of injecting venom.
An appeal of venomoid surgery is handling a venomous snake without fear of its venom. Removing a snake’s venom glands removes that fear.
Venomoid snakes are also, naturally, unable to inflict wounds which require severe hospitalization or antivenom treatment. While you should still get a bite looked at by a doctor just in case of infection, you know that the bite will not be as serious as it would be if you were envenomated. This means you will save on medical bills.
Reducing Stress for The Snake
If you’re wary of surgeries or doctors, it may seem counterintuitive to say that venomoid surgery results in less stress for a venomous snake. However, over time, a venomous snake in captivity will be restrained, muzzled, picked up with sticks, and pushed around by handlers who are nervous about getting bitten.
This repeated rough treatment leads to increased stress for a snake. Stressed-out snakes are more likely to hiss or strike, which only leads to more restraining and rough treatment. The snake can also be hurt when it fights back against restraints, damaging its neck scales or tail.
A venomoid snake does not need to be treated so forcefully. It can be handled just like any other nonvenomous snake, in a less stressful way.
Additionally, when this surgery is performed by a professional, it does not result in lasting harm for the snake. A study published in Zoo Biology investigated whether no longer having functioning venom ducts would affect a snake’s ability to hunt. The researchers observed 6 pit vipers that had their venom ducts severed and ligated.
When presenting the snakes with prey, the researchers found no difference between the striking behavior of these venomoid snakes and other pit vipers with functioning venom ducts. Removing a snake’s venom glands does not negatively affect its quality of life, and overall may improve it.
Disadvantages of Removing Venom Glands
Unfortunately, there are some negatives to venom gland removal. These include the following:
It May Not Be Permanent
Venomoid surgery is supposed to be a permanent procedure. However, this is not always the case. Depending on the type of specific surgery performed on the snake and how well the surgery itself was performed, there may still be some risk of envenomation from a bite from a venomoid snake.
If the venomous snake had a complete adenectomy, then it is unlikely that the snake will ever regain its ability to produce venom. This is because its venom glands are completely gone. However, if the surgery was not performed with complete accuracy, some of the venom glands or venom ducts may remain and still be effective.
Additionally, if the surgical procedure performed was a cauterization or ligation of the venom ducts, the snake still has some or all of its venom glands. It may still be possible for the venom ducts to heal and for the snake to no longer be venomoid.
Given that it is possible for venomoid surgery to not work at all, or to lose its effectiveness over time, some reptile keepers conclude that it is not worth the effort.
It Encourages Handling Venomous Snakes
Another concern about removing a snake’s venom glands is that it encourages people to handle venomous snakes. When you know that a snake is venomous, you are naturally inclined to be cautious around the snake and keep your distance.
Removing that fear can lead to more courageously handling the snake, potentially to the point of taking risks.
Telling someone who does not know much about venomous snakes yet, such as a child, that it is okay to handle this venomoid rattlesnake the same as you would handle a harmless garter snake, is a dangerous thing to do.
The person may walk away from this encounter thinking that any rattlesnake is safe to approach, when that is not the case.
There Are Legal Issues
Venomoid surgery is not available in all countries. An article in the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery explains that in many countries, a snake that has undergone venomoid surgery still counts as a venomous snake under the law. This means that even if the snake is now “harmless,” there will be restrictions on where you can transport the snake.
Also, in some countries, it is outright illegal to perform venomoid surgery on a snake. Some people find the procedure unethical because it goes against the snake’s nature, or because it removes the snake’s ability to survive in the wild.
As you consider whether removing your snake’s venom glands is the right thing for you to do, read up on local laws in your area regarding the procedure. You want to do what’s best for both you and the snake.