The Fish Story

Hope for the Snake-Bit of the World; Snow Lightning Takes a Winter Toll

By JAY MANN | Mar 14, 2018

TOXINS … MEET YOUR MATCH: The World Health Organization has estimated that a mind-numbing 94,000 people die each year from poisonous snakebites. That’s hundreds a day. Ouch!

Despite never having died from a poisonous snake bite – at least that I know of – I can still confidently assert it’s no way to go. Offering me a vague insight was the time back in grammar school when I was bitten by my thought-pet garter snake – in front of the entire third-grade class. I was dangling a worm for “Sammy” to eat, using a hand-feeding move I had perfected, or so I thought. Doesn’t the dumb-ass go and miss the wiggling worm, instead chomping down on my little finger, death-grip style. I’d like to think his mis-bite was an honest snake mistake. However, as I slowly pried his needley, inwardly facing teeth off my profusely bleeding finger, I swear he had this sadistic grin showing on the scaly edges of his mouth.

It was the immediate aftereffects of that chomp-down that afforded me an odd twinge of snake-bitten-ness. I knew full well that garter snakes are nonpoisonous … theoretically. Still, there was that just-got-snake-bit pause: What if Sammy was the planet’s only neurotoxic garter snake!? My doubt wasn’t helped by Kathy Ann Bellinger and her twin brother both screaming, “You have to suck the blood out!” To this day, I wonder if I was a pawn in a brilliant game plan by Sammy, since I released him later that day. Hmmm.

Cycling sadly back to the tens of thousands who get snake-bit on a doomily toxic scale, for them there is only the oft-distant hope of getting to antivenom. In the case of the black mamba species, there’s maybe 30 minutes, tops.

Even if antivenom is within timely reach, it then comes down to identifying what type snake envenomated a bitee. That’s often based on eyewitness accounts, as in “It was, you know, a snake snake; long and roundish and mean, maybe brown … or not.” Get injected with the wrong antivenom and it’s like getting bitten twice, i.e. you got a real bad day goin’ on.

With that fanged lead-in, let’s go into our very own backyards – mine in particular, where I have been getting now-and-then visits from what could become the greatest antivenom producer in the world, paws down.

Who’d expect snake-bite salvation to arrive in the form of a waddling, kinky-haired, lard-assed opossum … but there ya go. With its beady eyes and twitching nose – seeking anything that looks even remotely, sometimes morosely, edible – it’s likely the last creature you’d associate with indirectly offering a generous “Anyone need savin’?”

A recent NatGeo story, “Opossums Could Hold the Key to Saving Snakebite Victims,” explores the possibility that some essence within the veins of possums could hold antivenom magic. “Scientists pinpoint a compound in the marsupial’s blood that neutralizes venom – could it help in the quest to create a universal antivenom?” questions article writer Jason Bittel.

“In lab experiments with mice, a team discovered the exact molecule, called a peptide, in the North American marsupial’s blood that can neutralize snake venom. The peptide worked against several venomous snake species, including America’s western diamond back rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) and India’s Russell viper (Daboia russelii),” offers Bittel.

Claire Komives, a professor of chemical engineering at San Jose State University in California, is quoted as saying, “The mice that were given the venom incubated with the peptide never showed any signs (of being sick).”

A possum’s impressive immunities demand a pause for thought, by my thinking. First off, the odds of even the unluckiest of possums getting bitten by an entire cross-section of the planet’s most poisonous snakes is something less than slim and none. Why, then, has nature equipped the species to fend off such an array of venoms? Looking at the lifestyles of possums, it becomes obvious: so they can thrive in environments where even rats commence to projectile vomiting. Possums are able to eat stuff so horrid I can’t, in good taste, mention them in here. What’s more, their sewer-based living quarters can be home to toxins not yet known to science.

Of course, the fly in the possum’s ointment is any highway, upon which many a possum meets its Waterloo. There’s no antitoxin for a sudden overdose of tire rubber. But I’m sure nature is duly noting that road-crossing weakness, seeing it apparently has a soft spot for possums. You watch – in a million years or so, possums will have evolved a short-term speed-spurt ability, allowing them to cross the widest futuristic highway at just below Mach 1 speed – before power-braking on the other side, possibly assisted by a parachute-like skin extension from its back legs. Nature is awesome at stuff like that.

As possum blood gets studied for snake-bite duties, one must wonder if it also holds antidotes for whatever toxins ail humanity on a daily basis. Pogo as unlikely superhero.

All this is part of my effort to gain due appreciation – and, in this case, motoring sympathy – for creatures great, small and, in some antitoxin cases, ugly as cuss. Ever think about upgrading your bland license plates to designer “Conserve Wildlife” tags? See state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/plates.htm.

SKY CRAZINESS PERSISTS: That was some damn dynamic weather we had there for a while, highlighted by some serious thunder-snow.

March sky madness is not uncommon in these-here parts as seasons overlap, marked by winds exploring any and all directions, common to the seasonal shift from winter’s northwesterlies to summer’s southeasterlies. Proverbially speaking, there’s also that in-like-a-lion March thing, despite our having no lions hereabouts. Hey, maybe we should use “in like a cougar”? You had to be here for that reference.

Sincere sympathies to the Ship Bottom homeowners whose recently built house was apparently lit up, literally, by snow lightning – though it was technically more of a rain-snow lightning. While I haven’t gotten official word on the positive cause of that nasty upper-floor fire, I got anecdotal confirmation from workers in nearby offices, accusing a lightning bolt for both the fire and scaring them clean out of their roll-about chairs.

I was also advised that flashy out-of-season storm was not well received by many a dog in a many-mile radius. While dogs are generally man’s best friend, that maxim flies out the door – along with the dog – in the face of lightning storms. It’s as if nature has dictated that only the most storm-crazed dogs will survive a thunderstorm. I was told how Tara, a highly muscular lady pit bull – a thought-fearless guard dog and family protector – was gone with the wind when the bolts began to fly, opting to bury herself among some nearby forest ferns. When things de-thundered, a muddy Tara sheepishly returned home – you know, to see how the family fared.

“Uh, I’m back. Sorry I left kinda suddenly. I, uh, just really had to pee. So, how is everyone? The kids are all good, I hope. And you look in fine fettle, ma’am. I’d help pay for that badly broken door but, well, being a dog and all …”

Hey, I speak fluent dogese.

THE SKY IS FLOODING: In the wake of the weather and road flooding challenges, I suffered through the same sky-is-falling rhetoric by the theatrical ocean-rise cadre. Those buggers can be so insufferable, many of them silently egging on massive loss of life from a storm so they can proudly announce, “I’m the one that warned them. Yep, I’m the very one. It’s so awful that I can barely talk, though I will be holding a press conference in 15 minutes, during which I’ll talk about … mainly me.”

Mockery aside, I’m not even remotely disbelieving the egregiously awful changes taking place in our planet’s life-giving atmosphere, no thanks to gaseous pollution. I simply prefer to sidle up to real science, as opposed to blindly buddying up to those bandying about suppositional science – an oxymoron, if ever.

To be sure, that’s me shouting to high heavens over well-documented and duly-definable increases in ocean surface temperatures. The increasing water warmth is jerking around our angling realm. Hitting us even harder is how the sea surface warm-up will surely hyper-fuel oceanic storms, to a degree humanity hasn’t seen since the days of Fred and Wilma. I’m also wanting to whomp one good on those government and industrial entities screwing up our ocean’s delicately balanced chemistry, threatening the lives and times of creatures who live and breathe the sea. To make it clear: I’m militantly out to stop pollution … impure and simple.

At the same time, I see the sexy front-page appeal in doomfully predicting death to all things coastal. Face it, when else can the likes of geologists, marine scientists, meteorologists, even a hydrologist or two get to play social engineer – deciding when and where humanity should live, determining which lifestyles need to be abandoned? I must have been surfing during the Advanced Geology class dedicated to the communal reconditioning of civilization. I wonder how my rock hammer fits into that process. Damn surfing!

Personally, I prefer not to dive blindly into the sea-rise pool of speculative non-science. Despite knowing full well that melting ice caps and thawing permafrost will hypothetically drain into the oceans, possibly filling them to overflowing, predicting a corresponding tit-for-tat sea rise is wrought with far more supposition than certainty. Most sea rise predictions speculatively made 15 years back have not played out whatsoever. Glad I didn’t move to a suggested safe harbor, like Moore, Okla.

WHY WE’RE HAVERING: Again, there’s no denying ice cap meltings, or even eventual oceanic turmoil. I’m instead offering an inopportune bit of here-and-now science, suggesting the main destructive force battering coastlines is primarily everyday ocean intrusion and the accompanying erosion. It has been going hog wild since it saw Pangaea sitting there, all comfy-like. That primordial hog is also what’s now dining on LBI, which I’ve long feared is both eroding and sinking.

Florida International University sea level expert Shimon Wdowinski was recently asked about global warming’s impact on sea level rise. Without shunning sea rise, he was far more inclined to blame repeated coastal flooding, especially in places like Miami, on changes in ocean conditions – along with the giga-ton city being built on unstable reclaimed swamps and – dare I say it? – a barrier island.

Backing Wdowinski’s sinking city thinking, satellite geo-measurements show some Miami streets are 10 inches lower than 80 years ago. Ten inches can mean a ton … as the flood flies.

Those same satellite geo-measurements hit closer to our homes and minds when revealing ocean levels at Cape Hatteras rose about six times faster than the global average from 2011 to 2015. Realizing true sea rise must be a concurrent worldwide affair – the ocean can’t rise just here and there, but not elsewhere – it becomes apparent that many repeat flooding episodes along the coast are land masses being beaten up, eroded away, by longstanding forces – far more than big picture sea-level risings.

OK, so maybe my erosion read also carries a jolt of doom, but I think it’s closer to real science, i.e. unsexy and undramaturgical. However, it also affords a fighting chance of staving off ocean assaults, as humanity has been doing since we were all Pangaeans.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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