Copperhead Snake Bites Have Little Effect On Alligators Due To Their Blood

Alligators have serums in their blood that blunt the destructive properties of copperhead venom.
Copperhead Agkistrodon Contortrix Qtl1
Copperhead snake venom has been shown to be ineffective on the American alligator. Photo by Quartl/Wikipedia

American Alligators  (Alligator mississippiensis) have properties in their blood that Auburn University researchers say help them to avoid succumbing to venomous snake bites, particularly from the Eastern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).

The researchers looked at Eastern copperhead snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMP) and with alligator serum and compared the reaction to that of a common mouse and found that with the alligator serum, there was no ill effect, while when the mouse serum is exposed, there was approximately 100 times more damage to the mouse serum than with the alligator serum.

The copperhead snake’s SVMP potency was severely reduced by the alligator serum. The researchers noted that SVMP in the copperhead comprises about 20 percent of the venom, and the capability of the alligators to resist the SVMP may be just enough to enable the alligators to survive the venomous snake’s bite.

Alligator Mississippiensis Hatchling

Hatchling American alligators have been found in the stomachs of Eastern copperhead snakes. Photo by Ianaré Sévi/Wikipedia

This enables alligators to eat the vipers without experiencing the effects of the venom. The copperhead snake does prey on hatchling American alligators, and the alligator serum might have a protective effect from the snake venom, but not always.


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Co-author Meghan Kelley of Auburn university noted that the immune system of the alligators may have other properties that help them to resist the destructive properties of the snake venom. She noted that more research on the capabilities of the alligator serum may help in the development of anti-venins for humans.

An abstract of the paper, “American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) Serum Inhibits Pitviper Venom Metalloproteinases” can be read on the Journal of Herpetology website.

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