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Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins

version ISSN 0104-7930

J. Venom. Anim. Toxins vol.7 no.2 Botucatu Dec. 2001 

The venomous snakes of Mexico: A fertile field for research, two case studies.

Sigala Rodríguez, Jesús

Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes, México

Recently, the study of snakes has attracted more interest worldwide, and although Mexico does not have many snake researchers, this trend includes this extremely biodiverse country. One of the important issues with Mexican snakes is the study of the venomous species: taxonomy and distribution, venoms, and incidence of bites.

The venomous snakes of Mexico are included in three groups: the vipers or "víboras" (Viperidae), the coral snakes or "coralillos" and the sea snakes (Elapidae and Hidrophidae), and the colubrids or "culebras" (Colubridae), in descending order of medical importance. This work generally reviews these groups, mentioning general characteristics, suggested evolution, current taxonomy, morphological characteristics that makes one group more dangerous than another, and medical importance with a high emphasis on the venomous snakes of the Aguascalientes Sate, México. Aguascalientes is the fifth smallest state in México and is located in the center of the country in a semiarid region. All three groups are found in Aguascalientes, but the colubrid species are not of medical concern. There are 7 species of venomous species: 6 viperids, the rattlesnakes Crotalus aquilus, C. lepidus, C. molossus, C. polystictus, C. pricei, and C. scutulatus; and one elapid, the coral snake Micrurus distans. The distribution patterns, medical importance, and abundance in some regions of the state are discussed.

Mexican Rattlesnakes: This work briefly mentions the distribution patterns and general abundance of rattlesnakes as a group in Mexico. This country has by far the greatest variety of rattlesnake species than any other country, and many of them being endemic. This amazing richness is a probably reason for the importance and influence these snakes have in the cultural heritage of the country, past and present. The responsibility that the Mexicans have to protect and maintain this diversity as a world heritage is emphasized.

From these two case studies the following general conclusions have been drawn for venomous snakes in Mexico: 1- More research is urgently needed in many fields of knowledge and different regions in Mexico to study venomous snakes. It is necessary to combine field research with relatively new lab techniques in order to obtain as much information as possible from the Mexican species. 2- There is a need for standardizing the first aid measures and hospital treatment for envenomings, especially as first aid is an extremely diverse issue in Mexico. 3- In the short term, it is necessary to perform a comprehensive quantitative evaluation of snakebite incidence in several regions of Mexico. 4.- It is of major importance that toxinologists and systematics researchers interact better to reduce the use of wrong, outdated, or invented names when reporting results of these investigations. 5- There is a vast undiscovered pharmacological potential in venoms of Mexican snakes and more research is needed. 6- Finally, one of the most important things is to make scientific results available not only to specialists in the same areas but also to other readers.