Study of defensive behavior of a venomous snake as a new approach to understand snakebite

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Snakebites affect millions of people worldwide. The majority of research and management about snakebites focus on venom and antivenom, with less attention given to snake ecology. The fundamental factor in snakebites is the snakes’ defensive biting behavior. Herein we examine the effects of environmental variables (temperature, time of day, and human stimulus) and biological variables (sex and body size) on the biting behavior of a medically significant pit viper species in Brazil, Bothrops jararaca (Viperidae), and associate it with the epidemiology of snakebites. Through experimental simulations of encounters between humans and snakes, we obtained behavioral models applicable to epidemiological situations in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. We found a significant overlap between behavioral, morphological, environmental, and epidemiological data. Variables that increase snakebites in epidemiological data also enhance the tendency of snakes to bite defensively, resulting in snakebites. We propose that snakebite incidents are influenced by environmental and morphological factors, affecting the behavior of snakes and the proportion of incidents. Thus, investigating behavior of snakes related to snakebite incidents is a valuable tool for a better understanding of the epidemiology of these events, helping the prediction and, thus, prevention of snakebites.
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