Illustration for article titled The snake whose bite can send you back through puberty

We've gotten used to animals having strange powers — like using sound to create 'vision,' seeing more colors than we do, and sensing polarized light or the magnetic field of the earth. But did you know that some animals have 'powers' over human physiology? The Russell's Pit Viper can use its venom to send you back through puberty.


The Russell's Pit Viper spends its days crawling through Southeast Asia, eating small rodents, and giving people yet another reason to fear snakes. Not because they kill thousands of people every year. That's unpleasant, but we already knew that about most snake bites. No, this is a snake that screws with you even if you survive the bite. The mechanism of its particular brand of lasting torment lies in the effects of the bite itself. Often the bite destroys the kidneys, with kidney failure often claiming the lives of people who survive the initial bite, and hemorrhaging occurs throughout the body. 'Throughout the body' includes the pituitary gland.

Although the pituitary gland is the star in puberty, it continues to play a supporting role throughout a person's life. Damage or sufficient amount of blood loss can cause the gland to cease production of necessary hormones. The extent of damage of any snakebite depends on several factors, including how fast an antivenin is applied, but Russell's Viper victims often have significant damage to the gland. In a study published in The Lancet, about twenty-nine percent of patients who recovered from Russell's Viper venom had signs of hypopituitarism or Sheehan's Syndrome. Both conditions have unremarkable symptoms, like a constant feeling of cold and an unusual amount of fatigue. What distinguishes them is a sort of reverse-puberty in adults. They lose their sex drive. They lose fertility. They lose their body hair, especially pubic hair. Men lose facial hair and muscles. Women lose curves as the condition causes them to lose weight. Some doctors even report loss of mental faculties as the condition progresses.


Doctors have success in treating viper victims with replacement hormones, but that doesn't take away this odd, and entirely scientific power. In science fiction and fantasy fiction, people often run across creatures that can do crazy things like eating souls, mesmerizing minds, and animating dead bodies. It's strange to think that, across our own world, crawl creatures with the ability to send our bodies, in everything but height, back to childhood with a bite. If you read that in a science fiction story, would you ever believe it could happen?

Top Image: Mark Mannetti

Via University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic twice, The Lancet, and QJM.

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