How or what made you get into reptiles as a way of life, rather than other interests you may have had while growing up?
I’m obeying the inscrutable exhortations of my innermost soul. My mandate also includes weird bugs.
Why choose reptiles to work with when there is a larger acceptance of the fuzzy animals as personal pets etc?
My research is driven by my love and wonderment for the animals themselves. I really don’t care what the larger public is into, most of them also use windows! Enough said
Which venomous species, was the very first that you worked with? (hands on, milking, keeping etc)
Crotalus horridus. This was one of the populations that used to be called the canebreak rattlesnake before the DNA study by Ginger Clark at the University of Florida showed them to be all one animal. Beautiful pink specimen. See below for more on it.
What's your favorite and least favorite reptile to work with?
Favorite ….. hmmmm….. land would be the various species of king cobras (Ophiophaus), with the Malaysian species the particular favorite, sea would be the Stoke’s sea snake (Astrotia stokesii). I am not a huge fan of Pseudoanaja textilis (Eastern brown snakes). Complete pains. Tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus) also aren’t huge favorites of mine. They have a metabolism that is amazing, they are complete crapping machines!
Do you agree that king cobras are the most 'intelligent' snakes?
Without a doubt. They are a lovely combination of being quite clever but incredibly stupid all at the same time.
Are there any species you won't work with?
Not really, I’ll every snake at least one go given the chance. Alexia, however, has banned me from playing with the Burmese population of the Russell’s viper (Daboia russelli) since this particular venom causes uncontrollable hemorhagging of the pituitary gland, leading to permanent sterility and impotence! Fair enough.
Have you been bitten? (envenomed or dry)
Yes, 24 times.
Which do you believe has evolved the best (to be the most advantageous) rear-fanged, viper
or elapid species?
Hmmm… it really depends on what we mean as advantageous. Some are very advantageous for the niche they are in. I think that a bit much has been made up of the development of fangs considering that there are only a couple hundred or so each of elapids and vipers but over two thousand ‘colubrids’.
What is your favorite non-venomous snake?
Define non-venomous? Moving way back to indisputably non-venomous (for now), I’d have to say black head pythons. I love coming across them while in the field. Such primative animals, so not a true python, much more relics than that. Of the conventionally recognised ‘non-venomous’ ‘colubrids’ (even though they essentially are all venomous and there are a half dozen or so completely unrelated ‘colubrid’ families), I would have to say the keeled ratsnake (Ptyas carinatus). These beasts get to 4 meters, look just like a king cobra and are absolutely incredible. We had a blast working with them.
Given your recent research on venom present in colubrids formerly thought to be harmless, should greater care be taken in the handling of Asian Elaphe?
For snakes such as the Radiated rat snake (Coelognathus radiatus) or various species of Garter snakes (Thamnophis) the full gamut of effects are almost certainly known, with only a low incidence of mild local reactions reported. Although, neurotoxic garter snake bites have been reported, consistent with the presence of 3FTx (three-finger toxins) in the venom. Where care should be taken is with species for which nothing is really known. A good example of sensible precaution is with the Jackson’s black tree snake (Thrasops jacksonii). No one has ever reported a significant bite from them but there haven’t been many opportunities since the keepers almost universally give the snakes a lot of respect due to the very quick (and bloody) prey death that occurs when they are fed live mice. With snakes which haven’t been imported before, a bit of sensible caution should be used till a few live prey feedings give a reasonble start of a feeling about toxicity or (even better) some research data is known about the potency and action of the venom. For example, we didn’t expect the Egyptian Catsnake (Telepscopus dhara) to have such massive venom glands, far bigger than many elapids. Big venom yields. 15+ milligrams from 30 cm snakes in a species that gets 1.2 meters. The venom is as toxic as a cobra. No antivenom. Very much not what we expected!
I would like to know what additional medical applications have been found for snake venoms, I know B. Haast was working on a treatment for M.S. from the venom of a species of Callaselasma.
Are you aware of any others?
Toxins from various venoms induce their biological effects by specifically binding to targets such as receptors or ion channels and thus interfere with the normal physiologic processes. Over the years the investigation of toxins has provided numerous research tools for pharmacologists, physiologists, biologists and biochemists, often with profound implications for the drug discovery process. In several instances, the toxins themselves or their segments have been developed into therapeutic agents. Some of the examples include Captopril (Vasodilator), Integrillin (Cardiovascular drug) and Ziconitide (Analgesic) that have been developed based on toxins found in the venoms of viper, rattlesnake and cone snail, respectively. Toxins could also contribute significantly in the deciphering the roles of orphan receptors (or new proteins) in this post-genomic era.
What was your most difficult capture in the field?
The first Stoke’s sea snake (Astrotia stokesii) that I caught. I had been looking for one for years and finally spotted a big one. It was too big to fit into the net and was diving so I leaned over the boat and thrust my arm as deep as it would go into the water. I just barely got ahold of the tail but that was all I needed. That was one snake I was not letting get away.
What is the variability of hemotoxins vs. neurotoxins between various species of Crotalus?
I would expect it to be quite variable. Neurotoxicity seems to be an ‘emerging issue’ in Crotalus. However, what is actually the case is that the neurotoxins have always been there just not recognised as being present in the venom.
Of course the Mojave rattlesnake's venom is known for it's neurotoxic properties but recently I've heard there is evidence that Crotalus viridis and Crotalus horridus (atricaudatus) exhibits some variability of neurotoxins between different populations also. Are you aware of any research regarding these variations?
I’m sure someone (perhaps Dr. John Perez in Texas) is working on it, particularly in light of the media reports about neurotoxic bites by Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis helleri) in Southern California. My first bite was from one of the neurotoxic populations of the canebreak colour form of Crotalus horridus. No local swelling but about ten minutes after the bite I lost my ability to see any colour except for yellow. No reds, greens, blues. Just blac, white and yellow. I also got the strangest metallic taste in my mouth like I was chewing on aluminium foil. Then I collapsed.
Has there been an objective LD50 list compiled of the various venomous snakes around the world starting with the most deadly?
Yes, you can check it out at http://www.venomdoc.com/LD50/LD50men.html
Have you found there to be variations in the neurotoxic concentrations of Dendroaspis polylepis geographically?
I haven’t studied the venom in this way but considering the variations we have found in other snakes, such as the death adders, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.
How did you become a spokesman for Midwest Tongs?
Midwest makes some excellent products and I am very supportive of their endeavors and try to help out any way I can.
Have you worked with Midwest’s Research & Development department to develop better products for us herpers?
Yep, we give the gear thrashing that simply cannot be imagined From being chewed on by Komodo dragons to being used to feed giant moray eels while on scuba in the South Pacifric. And everything in between.
If so what changes have you suggested or would you suggest Midwest make?
We’ve made quite a few suggestions and they’ve taken a few on board. One that we would like to see is the dyeing of the pro-bagger bags black. We did that with a few and the snakes crawled into them much more readily than with the white. Makes sense.
What do you think of all the anti herp legislation that many areas are enacting or proposing?
I think its utter crap and should be fought at every opportunity.. Below is my standard letter. Use, modify, disseminate it at will.
My name is Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry,
I specialise in research on venomous snakes. I am writing in regards to recent proposed legislation regarding exotic wildlife as pets. This legislation is a pre-packaged piece of legislation put together as part of a campaign by the "Animal Protection Institute" to ban the keeping of animals as pets. While they operate under the guise of concern for public safety, their motivation is simply outlawing pets pure and simple. The outlawing of exotics is deemed an easy first step. They have put the exact same bill (word for word) into legislative debate in other States. Recently sanity prevailed (after much bad press) and the bill was defeated in South Carolina and a similar piece of legislation looks likely to fail in WA.
In regards to the specific proposed legislation to ban exotic animals, on the surface this may appear to be reasonable to protect the public. However, a closer examination reveals that the such protection may not be needed. The incidence of exotic animal related injuries is far dwarfed by that of 'companion' animals such as dogs and cats. In API's selective citing of venomous animal related injuries, the vast majority of cases are due to native species in the wild. The bites to private keepers by exotic snakes is quite low and there has never been an instance of one of these snakes escaping and injuring a member of the public. Further, the habitat is unsuitable so in the case of an escape, the chances of long term survival is very unlikely. They neglect to cite the incidence of injury from cats, dogs or horses.
In my personal and professional opinion, a lot of benefit, both scientifically, ecologically and economically, arises from the captive keeping of exotic animals. Rather than ban them and make the permits for the existing snakes prohibitively expensive, why not implement a system similar to the rational one in place in Florida? By allowing private keepers who have demonstrated competence to keep the animals, public safety will actually be improved. Rational regulation such as this allows keepers to be above board and thus seek proper medical care in the event of a snake envenomation for example rather than 'trying to ride it out' so that they don't risk losing their snakes. Further, a system such as Florida's will better ensure that the snakes are kept in secure enclosures rather than banning them. If the snakes are banned, then no system will be in place to make sure they are kept properly. People will still keep the snakes, they just will be more furtive about it.
As for the specific species of snakes mentioned, the ones in the colubridae are not accurate as a reflection of potential danger. Other than outsized specimens chewing on children for an hour in Guan, no Boiga species has ever caused a serious envenomation. That said, Rhabdophis species are well known to produce serious envenomation. Thus I would recommend the dropping of Boiga and the addition of the Rhabdophis genus. As for the monitor lizards, while Varanus salvator is one of the largest, it is also one of the tamest of all the Varanus species and thus is of very low danger. The incidence of injury by large snakes and lizards is extremely low. This is contrary to the impression given by the API and the proposed legislation.
In regards to Zoonosis (diseases spread by animals to humans). I have attached below a letter by veterinarians.
If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
All the best,
Bryan Grieg Fry, Ph.D.
Australian Venom Research Unit
Department of Pharmacology
University of Melbourne