May 08, 2019

Interpretive Summary: Factors influencing survival rates of coral snakes for antivenom production.

Interpretive Summary: Factors that can influence the survival rates of coral snakes (Micrurus corallinus) for antivenom production.

By: Anne Wallace

Factors affecting the survival of captive coral snakes were evaluated in this paper published in the February 2019 Journal of Animal Science. The authors’ goal was to determine how to increase coral snake lifespan through improved animal husbandry and welfare.

Morbidity and mortality from venomous snake bites is a serious public health issue worldwide, particularly in rural areas throughout Asia, Africa and South America. The coral snake (Micrurus spp.) is particularly venomous, necessitating an adequate supply of antivenom in affected areas. The number of donated wild coral snakes has recently declined in Brazil, emphasizing the need for improved longevity of captive animals, as coral snakes produce little venom compared to other snakes, and are difficult to maintain in captivity.

Data from 289 captive coral snakes (M. corallinus) between 1997 to 2013 at the Laboratory of Herpetology (LH) at Instituto Butantan was evaluated. Results indicated that bedding substrate and nutrition had very significant impacts on snake health and longevity. Specific factors that were found to improve coral snake health and lifespan included: (1) prophylactic freezing (−20 °C) of wild-caught prey to prevent transmission of parasites or microorganisms, (2) availability of captive bred live food (e.g. corn snakes, Pantherophis guttatus) and gavage meal paste for snakes refusing to eat frozen euthanized food, and (3) using bark as a bedding substrate instead of Sphagnum (peat moss), due to bark’s superior ability to absorb moisture without increasing environmental humidity—lower humidity led to a reduction of Blister Disease, a skin disease associated with humid environmental conditions.

This study presents several significant factors that influenced coral snake longevity at the LH at Instituto Butantan over a 15+ year period and may serve as a guideline for potential best practices in coral snake husbandry. Similar data analysis across other institutes would be warranted to support these findings.

To view the article, visit the Journal of Animal Science.