As you may or may not know, I am a First Aid Instructor and will be teaching that subject to the volunteers of SINAPROC after the holidays. If you have some expertise, particularly regarding snakes and other poisonous animals in regards to first aid treatment, please contact me.
I welcome all help and encourage you to contribute to the local community in whatever way you can.

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Hi Roger, as you know, I initiated a talk on venomous snakes of Panama earlier this year and it was well attended. I am preparing a 'common sense' paper on this subject and will post it here in the near future. This is a yellow sidestriped pit-viper. You dont want to be this close to this snake!!! I found it in Potrerillos Arriba this summer.
I'd like to have pictures of every type of snake in Chiriqui and bite treatment, which I assume is pretty much the same for each type. The key is knowing how much time the victim has from bite to death - which is affected by how active the snake has been.
The initial training will be SINAPROC, however subsequent training will be police and Bomberos.
As someone who is totally new to snakes and bad bugs (I am in the UK), what are the chances of getting bitten/dying from a snake bite? Is it a common issue?

In the UK, we only have a couple of things that sting, i.e. bees and wasps. But I haven't seen any bees or wasps in years.....and was only ever bitten once (by a wasp). We don't have anything deadly here. Thus when I move over to Panama later this year, I am gonna be walking on eggshells, until I figure out my new environment's dangers/risks.

(BTW - great forum)
There are many snakes here and most are poisonous. However, few are fatal and, yes, it depends upon how 'active' the snake has been and how recent their activity (biting). Snakes are more frightened of you than you are of them. The primary danger is when hiking and stepping into a pile of leaves or over a log - always step onto the log and a long stride off of it. To judge a snake, if it has a lump in it, it means it recently killed and swallowed prey, which means it's venom is somewhat depleted and less toxic. There is one exception, the fer de lance, which is very aggressive and causes an Ebola-like tissue disintegration, is almost always fatal and has no known antidote; however they're only found in lowland tropical jungles such as the Canal area. Hikers should always wear hiking boots, preferably calf-length. Shorts are also discouraged for hikers (one rarely sees Panamanians wearing shorts - I wonder why!)

From what I've been led to understand, yes the only antivenom available is in the hospitals in David. However, should one be bitten, immediately applying hydrogen peroxide will help counter and dilute the toxin.

There are many flying insects here as well, however most are just nuisance causing itching. The exception is bees, as the only bee remaining in Panama are killer bees. However it's very rare for them to attack humans (there have been several cows killed by them). Also vampire bats, which very rarely bite humans, have transmitted rabies to cows and other animals - I understand there's currently a rabies alert in the Gualaca area.

For insect - and vampire bat - bites, too, hydrogen peroxide will quickly eliminate the itching and toxin. The quicker it's applied, the more effective it is. Apply the H2O2 to a cotton swab or cloth and hold on the bite for 5-10 minutes. If it's been 5 minutes or more since the bite, you may have to squeeze the bite to get it to open so the H2O2 can get to the toxin.

The only poisonous spider I'm aware of here is the scorpion, which are plentiful but small, so are rarely fatal except to animals. We had a sleeping dog killed by a scorpion about a year ago.
Roger - thankyou for this info and my apologies for not having provided you with more info. Some of what you have written is quite true but some is not. Fer de Lance is here in this area. A 6ft specimen was shot in Palmira 2 years ago and hung on the Sinaproc fence for all to see. As it hung dead there in excess of 30 live babies were pushed out!! I saw one in Bajo Mono also and it was a good size, (4feet) Sadly I had run out of battery in my camera. I did photograph on the same property that day, a type of jumping pit viper. I have also seen and photographed several extremely dangerous snakes around here and higher up in the cloud forest. There are several different Pit Vipers here including the one in my photo above. All can be deadly - wear appropriate clothing and stick to the trails. Keep your hands away from the ground and always look around when near to sunny open areas, logs and piles of stones, holes in tree stumps etc.
Thanks Paul. All the information I found relegated the fers to hot tropical areas, so that info was incorrect. Thanks for the correction. I've tried to compile photos of all the snakes here with limited success. If you'd care to contribute to that, I'd certainly be grateful.

Some snakes also 'hang out' on tree ranches and pounce on prey as it passes underneath, so low branches are also something about which to be alert when hiking or even laying in a hammock.
Roger (and Paul, thanks for the excellent posts.

I have since googled for more info on this most deadly snake, the fer de lance. Like your post said, i had always heard that it was fatal and there was no anti venom. But then I read this tonight:


Perhaps the most feared snake of all, however, is the fer-de-lance—Central America's most lethal. Like most snakes, it prefers to be left alone, but it does sometimes bite humans with little provocation. The fer-de-lance bites several hundred people each year in Costa Rica, mostly agricultural workers who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The snake hunts by ambush, lying camouflaged within the leaf litter on the forest floor. Many human victims simply get too close for the snake's comfort without realizing it's there—until the strike.

A bite is serious business because the snake's venom is incredibly toxic. Even a drop plays havoc within living tissue, devastating the victim's veins and capillaries. Internal swelling is so severe that doctors often remove the skin to release the pressure, and gruesome wounds result.

Yet only five or six people die each year from fer-de-lance bites, because of the ready availability of antivenin produced at the Clodomiro Picado Institute, which makes much of the anti-venom used all over Central America. At the institute over 200 venomous snakes, including the fer-de-lance, are regularly "milked" to produce lifesaving medicines.

end of paste.

so there seems to anti venom treatment for a fer de lance bite.
Thanks, obviously I was unaware of this. Now the $64 question: Is this antivenin available at David (or Panama City) hospitals? I'll email Chiriqui Hospital and Mae Lewis and see if I can get some answers.
Roger, if you could find out more, that would be great! Many thanks.

I hate the potential there is, to lose one's life in an unguarded second. It would be great to learn that we have some insurance, should such a bite occur.
Remember this: The ambulance travel time from Boquete to Obaldia Hospital in David is 20-40 minutes, depending upon traffic. Add to that the response time to the scene of 20-60 minutes and one can see that one's chances are not that good. Add to that there is absolutely no communication between the ambulance/paramedic and the hospital/ER doctor, and paramedics are not trained to administer drugs even if they had them, which they don't.
While all of this is of course, incredibly scary, the incidence of death from a Fer de Lance bite in Panama is extremely rare. A lady realtor was bitten in Volcan last year but survived having been treated in David. I dont know more than that. It is my understanding that anti-v is available in David.
Sunshine, I was bitten by an Adder in the New Forest, U.K. when I was eleven and again when I was in my early 20's. Not deadly of course but the risk is always there, no matter which forest floor you care to put your foot onto. I would not let the risk outweigh or influence your decision to move here. Most people have never even seen a poisonous snake, let alone been bitten by one and in general, they will avoid you like the plague. The important thing is to step carefully, watch where you put your feet and dont put yourself into a compromising situation. In most cases, even a strike is defensive and the resultant bite might well carry little or no venom. I have met 2 people since being here who have been bitten and have the scars to prove it. Both are of course still alive!!
Dont lose sleep over it - you have more chance of being hit by lightening!
A Hognosed - wish you had called me Wendy!!!

One other point while we are all talking about speed. KNOW YOUR SNAKE. Take a minute to recognize what actually bit you. Try and get a quick digital photo if possible. Recognition is half the battle as different snakes require different antidotes. Many non poisonous snakes will also strike including the Debris, Vine and Tiger Rat Snakes to mention just 3. Coral snakes are fairly passive and do not generally pose a problem. We recently found a type of coral (possibly) that is not in any of the books. It was in Panamonte estate so look out for a brown and white checkerboard and dont kill it - call me please. 6615 6618


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