The Story Book of Science  by Jean Henri Fabre


"A LL venomous creatures act in the same way as the bee, wasp, and hornet. With a special weapon—needle, fang, sting, lancet—placed sometimes in one part of the body, sometimes in another, according to the species, they make a slight wound into which is instilled a drop of venom. The weapon has no other effect than that of opening a route for the venomous liquid, and this is what causes the injury. For the poison to act on us, it must come in contact with our blood by a wound which opens the way for it. But it has positively no effect on our skin, unless there is already a gash, a simple scratch, that permits it to penetrate into the flesh and mingle with the blood. The most terrible venom can be handled without any danger if the skin is not broken. Moreover, it can be put on the lips, on the tongue, even swallowed without any bad results. Placed on the lips, the hornet's venom produces no more effect than clear water; but if there is the slightest scratch the pain is atrocious. The viper's venom is equally harmless as long as it does not mingle with the blood. Courageous experimenters have tasted, swallowed it, and yet afterward were no worse off than before."

"Is that true, Uncle? People have had the courage to swallow a viper's venom? Ah! I should not have been so brave." This from Claire.

"It is fortunate, my girl, that others have been so for us; and we ought to be very grateful to them, for by so doing they have taught us, as you will see, the most prompt and one of the most efficacious means to employ in case of accident."


Copper Head

"This viper's venom, which has no effect on the hand, lips, and tongue, is it much to be feared if it mingles with the blood?"

"It is terrible, my young lady, and I was just going to tell you about it. Let us suppose that some imprudent person disturbs the formidable reptile sleeping in the sun. Suddenly the creature uncoils itself in circles one above another, unwinds with the suddenness of a spring, and, with its jaws wide open, strikes you on the hand. It is done in the twinkling of an eye. With the same rapidity the viper refolds its spiral and draws back, continuing to menace you with its head in the center of the coil. You do not wait for a second attack, you flee; but, alas! the damage is done. On the wounded hand are seen two little red points, almost insignificant, mere needle pricks. It is not very alarming; you reassure yourself if you are in ignorance of what I so earnestly desire to teach you. Delusive innocuousness! See the red spots becoming encircled with a livid ring. With dull pains the hand swells, and the swelling extends gradually to the arm. Soon come cold sweats and nausea; respiration becomes painful, sight troubled, mind torpid, a general yellowness shows itself, accompanied by convulsions. If help does not arrive in time, death may come."

"You give us goose-flesh, Uncle," said Jules, with a shudder. "What should we poor things do if such a misfortune happened to us away from you, away from home! They say there are vipers in the underbrush of the neighboring hills."

"May God guard you from such a mischance, my poor children! But, if it befalls you, you must bind tight the finger, hand, arm, above the wounded part to prevent the diffusion of the venom in the blood; you must make the wound bleed by pressing round it; you must suck it hard to extract the venomous liquid. I told you venom has no effect on the skin. To suck it, therefore, is harmless if the mouth has no scratch. You can see that if, by hard suction and by pressure that makes the blood flow, you succeed in extracting all the venom from the wound, the wound itself is thenceforth of no importance. For greater surety, the wound should be cauterized as soon as possible with a corrosive liquid, aqua fortis or ammonia, or even with a red-hot iron. The effect of the cauterization is to destroy the venomous matter. It is painful, I acknowledge, but one must submit to it in order to avoid a worse evil. Cauterization is the doctor's business. The initial precautions, binding to prevent the diffusion of the venom, pressure to make the poisoned blood flow, hard suction to extract the venomous liquid, concern us personally, and all that must be done instantly. The longer it is put off, the more aggravated the evil. When these precautions are taken soon enough, it is seldom that the viper's bite has injurious consequences."

"You reassure me, Uncle. Those precautions are not difficult to take, if one does not lose one's presence of mind."

"Therefore it is important that we should all acquire the habit of using our reason in time of danger, and not let ourselves be overcome by ill-regulated fears. Man master of himself is half-master of danger."