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What Is a Cascabel?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 June 2014
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The cascabel is a venomous pitviper species native to South America. Its Latin name is Crotalus durissus, and it is commonly referred to as the South American rattlesnake or tropical rattlesnake. These snakes are one of the most common types of snakes in the region, and have 13 recognized subspecies.

Cascabel rattlesnakes can be found throughout most South American countries, with the exception of Chile and Ecuador. While the population of the snakes are widespread across the region, there are gaps in population concentrations. Many of these venomous rattlesnakes prefer areas with heavy vegetation, but there are some groups found in dry, sandy, and grassland areas as well. Regardless of the habitat, it moves very quickly and is very alert.

A cascabel can grow to a general length of around 5 feet 11 inches (about 180 cm). The scales of these types of snakes are rough in appearance. They tend to protrude from the body. Scales seem to be larger starting along the sides of the vertebral region, and becomes smaller down the sides of the snake. Its scale colors will often be shades of brown and white, depending on the species.

The venom produced by the cascabel is different than similar venomous species of the North American regions. Crotoxin and crotamine are two neurotoxins found in the venom of these rattlesnakes. Proper treatment can make many symptoms painful but temporary. Without anti-venom treatment, a bite can cause serious permanent damage, such as tissue death and organ failure.

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Neurotoxins in the venom of some cascabel snake species cause a paralysis that progresses and worsens as it moves through the body. Specifically, neurotoxins affect nerve cells. Vision damage, drooping eyelids, and hearing damage are some effects. Muscle paralysis and breathing problems can be life threatening.

Other species have venom that cause different problems that mimic the venom of Northern American rattlesnakes. Pain, swelling, and blistering at the site are common. If anti-venom is not administered early enough after the bite, tissue necrosis can occur and must be removed. In rare instances, such as those when anti-venom is ineffective, amputation is often necessary.

It is extremely important to seek emergency medical attention immediately following any snake bite, especially if a cascabel is suspected. Whenever possible, specific details about the snake’s size, color, and markings should be noted to help medical staff create a treatment plan for the species. If the snake cannot be definitively identified, emergency staff can only treat for a general venomous snake bite.

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