Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Venom: Killer and cure

A short while ago, there was an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, London focussed on the wonderful world of venom. I visited the exhibit a few times whilst it was at the museum, I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you know me well, you will certainly know that I have a huge affinity for the Natural History Museum, it is my home away from home. It’s been a constant source of inspiration since I was a child and I am honoured to have recently completed a Master’s Degree project there. Back to the post, I was in conversation recently with a friend about the venom exhibit and I thought I’d highlight my favourite parts for those of you that were unable to visit. Venom: Killer and cure was open between 10th November 2017 and 13th May 2018, so far to date it is one of my favourite exhibits that I’ve visited at the museum. The eagle-eyed among you will know that I’ve written about the exhibit in the past.

The preserved head of a Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), famed for having the largest fangs and highest venom yield of any snake

As part of the exhibit you had the chance to encounter some of the world’s most venomous creatures and discover how they are playing a vital part in modern day medicine. The collection on display includes specimens of expected such as snakes, centipedes, snails and scorpions to the unassuming platypus. There was a great section on how humans have used venom, such as South American tribes using the plant extract curare on their arrows.  It’s not all scary news as venom is milked from snakes and then used on animals to develop anti-venom that can save human lives, such as sheep and cows. This whole process was explained in detail with images, text and displays. It’s important to note that snakebites kill 100,000 people a year and leave many permanently disabled, a fact brought home with a heartbreaking image of an African child with a misshapen hand caused by a spitting cobra bite.

Some animals have have venom as a weapon, this display highlights those animals

There was also a brilliant display in regards to the Schmidt pain index. Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel. This is Justin Schmidt describes the bite of a bullet ant, Justin has dedicated his life to subjecting himself to the bites and stings of many creatures in order to rank their bites on his pain index. The space itself was very  well organised with a good balance between information, entertainment and art. Multimedia displays as well as artifacts behind glass were found in abundance, with lots to read and see. If you did miss the exhibit and would like to know more, the Museum did publish a book of the same name if you’d like to read more.

Just at the exit sat this brilliantly preserved Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest venomous reptile on the planet


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