PHOTO BY © MARK KOSTICH
venomous. Bees are venomous. While they are painful and annoying, they’re by no
Most venomous snakes are also harmless. In fact, they are more harmless than ants
because of their reluctance to bite. Here in California, we have 33 species of snake.
Of the dozen or more snakes that are venomous, only the six species of rattlesnake are
The majority of venomous snakes fall into a class we call “rear-fanged.” That refers
to snakes whose fangs are located in the back of their jaw instead of up front. The
overwhelming majority of rear-fanged snakes are harmless. These snakes tend to have
milder toxins, which are designed to subdue small prey, such as lizards and frogs. There
are two rear-fanged snakes that are actually quite common in the pet trade: Asian vine
snakes (primarily Ahaetulla prasina) and Western hognose snakes (Heterodon basics).
So, let’s say a customer asks to handle the vine snake you are offering for sale. I
always mention beforehand that they are technically venomous. The last thing you
want a customer to think is that you have tricked them into handling a dangerous
I talk to a lot of kids about reptiles, and inevitably they will ask me, “Is that poisonous?” I love that question, because it allows me to make a joke that will, in the end, be informative. I say,
“No! You could eat it.”
The resulting expression, half confused and half
disgusted, is priceless. I go on to explain that “poisonous”
means something that you shouldn’t eat or rub in your
eyes. “Venomous” means something that can inject you
with poison, either by stinging or biting. In most cases, the
animal I am displaying is neither.
I then like to take things a step further and explain
that just because something is venomous, it doesn’t
mean it’s dangerous. That is a new concept to most
kids, who have typically been taught that venomous
animals are lethal. However, that’s ridiculous. Ants are
Safe and Sound Snakes
Retailers should convey to their customers that rear-fanged snakes are harmless pets.
BY OWEN MAERCKS