This morning’s been interesting…

I got to my workspace and found a poster, my design colleague had placed on my keyboard. It read: ‘Work hard and be nice to people, except children – they whine too much. Not sure why she chose to give me that on her last day at work but it’s a great reminder of her!

The head of a Boa Constrictor, Source: Embreus

On to more random things… I stumbled on an article in Scientific American that was quite disturbing. Author, Katherine Harmon wrote that scientists may have found an origin of an ‘Ebola-like virus that has snakes tied up in knots’. The symptoms exhibited by infected snakes include, looking like they were drunk or ‘stargazing’—staring up into space or tying themselves in a knot.

Using RDNA microarray scanning, researchers found a type of virus relative to viruses that cause Ebola and hemorrhagic fever in humans. Katherine further mentioned that the disease is contagious to some snake types, causing protein buildup, bacterial infections and body wasting. Outbreaks of this have been noted in the California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium and by a pet owner.

Interestingly, both outbreak places were captive environments, which she did not spell out. I was beginning to suspect a link to the contracting of this muscle-wasting disease with being kept in captivity. Of course, I have no scientific proof. But one does wonder…

This was not suggested throughout the article and nothing in the direction of further research appeared to suggest they will explore that possibility. And that is hugely disappointing. I guess if they did and found the link to be a strong one, let alone true, it would raise quite a stink for zoos and private collectors.

It seems that the researchers who discovered two strains of the disease in sick snakes (and who quickly had their findings published in an online journal), were more excited that the prospect of discovery might give them insight into the evolution of viruses, than about investigating the causative agent of this disease in the snake’s immediate environment or why the snake’s immune response is unable to eliminate the infecting virus.

What do you think about animals in captivity?

Science Centre Singapore plans to feature a snake exhibition during Chinese New Year in 2013! Watch out for it then!

Posted by:Thomas Danny Jeyaseelan

I've been working for over 7 years at Science Centre Singapore... a place I've come to call "home" where science befriends and transforms me day by day! I love communications and this blog has given me a terrific opportunity to express myself in writing. I continually aspire to engage the community through my contributions. And would love to hear back from readers like you if you have something interesting to share (please leave a comment!). That would really encourage me! Am also looking forward to hitting the centennial mark with 100 posts. Am nearly 70% there. ;) I hope you have a great online experience on Stir-fried Science, enjoy all science has to offer, and be inspired to make or be the difference you wish to see in the communities you find yourself in.

4 replies on “S-s-s-something smells off

  1. Maybe the snakes just met Harry Potter, hence the weird behaviour. 😛

    Anyway, the connection you made is interesting. Perhaps you can raise the point through email to the researchers?


    1. That’s a good idea Kiat Teng! I’ll see if I can touchbase with Katherine n the researchers who were involved in this discovery.


  2. There may well be a connection between the virus infections and captivity, but there may just as well be none. Two outbreaks are simply not enough to demonstrate any pattern at all.

    Depending on the mode of transmission of the virus, keeping lots of snakes close together, which tends to be the case in zoos but not in the wild, may of course aid infection. But since there may have been hundreds of stargazing snakes in the wild, but nobody happened to be there to notice them, I can imagine that captivity may have a greater effect on the detection of an outbreak than on the transmission of the virus.

    I’m sure the researchers are considering all this, but until they have something to report, we may just have to speculate…


    1. Valid points Andy. I guess a greater sample size is always more indicative of something… And it’s true that there may be lots of snakes in the wild that also experience these symptoms… hopefully someone will adequately research the health of animals in captivity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s