Factors that can influence the survival rates of coral snakes (Micrurus corallinus) for antivenom production
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Envenoming and deaths resulting from snakebites are a particularly important public health problem in rural tropical areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and New Guinea. In 2015, The Lancet highlighted snake-bite envenoming as a neglected tropical disease and urged the world to increase antivenom production. In Brazil, around 20,000 snakebites occur per year affecting mostly agricultural workers and children, of which 1% is caused by coral snakes (Micrurus sp.). Although human envenoming by coral snakes is relatively rare due to their semifossorial habits and nonaggressive behavior, they are always considered severe due to the neurotoxic, myotoxic, hemorrhagic, and cardiovascular actions of their venom, which is highly toxic when compared to the venom of other Brazilian venomous snakes as Bothrops sp. (pit vipers), Crotalus sp. (rattlesnakes), and Lachesis sp. (bushmasters). The production of antivenom serum is an important public health issue worldwide and the maintenance of venomous snakes in captivity essential to obtain high-quality venom. Though more than 30 species of Brazilian coral snakes exist, the specific antivenom serum produced with the venom of two species, Micrurus corallinus and M. frontalis, is able to neutralize the accidents caused by the genus in general. M. corallinus is considered a difficult species to maintain in captivity and concerned about this difficulty the Laboratory of Herpetology (LH) at Instituto Butantan, over the last 10 yr, has given special attention to its maintenance in captivity. In more than 20 yr of maintenance, LH has made some changes to improve Micrurus captive husbandry and welfare. The objective of this study was to verify the factors influencing the survival rates of coral snakes in captivity through data generated from 289 M. corallinus from the LH snake facility in the last 10 yr. We observed that survival rates increased significantly with the improvement of nutritional adequacy that included freezing food items before offering them to coral snakes, as well as the development of a new pasty diet to force-feed anorexic animals. Another important factor responsible for increasing life expectancy was the shift of the cage's substrate from Sphagnum to bark in 2010, aiding in the eradication of Blister Disease, which used to be responsible for the death of several coral snakes in previous years.