Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
Tombstone of nineteenth-century snakebite victim, Atascosa County, Texas. (Photo: H. W. Greene)
Published vignettes support this scenario of venoms fine-tuning ophidiophobia, by
showing that primates do kill and are killed by venomous snakes. Natural history anec-
dotes describe, for example, a western tarsier chomping on a long-glanded coralsnake,
white-eared marmosets harassing jararacas, and white-faced capuchins dispatching a
terciopelo with sticks. Conversely, a jararaca struck a cotton-eared marmoset; black-
necked spitting cobras, black mambas, and gaboon adders have eaten bushbabies.
Moreover, defensive bites by venomous snakes likely have always been more common
than predation, as exemplified by a puff adder and a green mamba killing patas monkeys
and Cape cobras biting chacma baboons—in all cases primates way too large to have
been attacked as prey. Lab studies complement those field observations by reveal-
ing brain mechanisms for vigilance and fear that respond to serpentlike diamond and
cross-band patterns, and that, like our anthropoid proclivity for pointing at objects, are
plausibly associated with detecting dangerous reptiles. Among mammals, while opos-
sums, hedgehogs, and woodrats evolved immunity to venomous bites, monkeys and apes
countered snake toxins with manual dexterity, visual acuity, and cognitive skills.
To what extent venomous serpents affect human primates, negatively or positively,
depends on the local scene. Today folks who coexist with western diamondbacks wear
boots and have easy access to hospitals, whereas barefoot tropical hunter-gatherers still
rely on folk remedies to contend with several species of common dangerous snakes—so
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