Snake Venom Color

Asked June 25, 2014, 2:23 AM EDT

What is the typical color for snake venom? Is there a color for their venom, or is it colorless? If I had I to be specific, does hemotoxic venom have a color? Maybe the venom from a species of rattlesnake? If there is a color, does it depend on the type of toxin, type of snake or environment? I've just been curious, as most documentaries and TV shows I've seen, when the handlers 'milk' the snake for its venom, to possibly make an antivenom, the snakes' fangs eject a clear, yellowish or amber liquid, into a container. They've never really discussed the color, and I've tried looking online, but nothing relates to my question. Hopefully someone might be able to 'shed' some light on this. ;D To whoever does answer, thank you for your time and answer. :)

Travis County Texas

2 Responses

Thank you for your question. Snake venom produced from true venom glands is typically some shade of yellow. Some venoms are cloudy, while others are clear. Venom also varies in viscosity. Snakes with true venom glands include the stiletto snakes (Atractaspis), the elapids (cobras, mambas, coral snakes, and many of the Australian venomous species) and viperids (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, Gaboon viper, puff adder, etc.). A few rear-fanged snakes that pose a serious risk to humans do not have true venom glands. Their venom is produced from the Duvernoy's gland. Secretions from the Duvernoy's gland are colorless.
Venoms are very complex compounds. In my readings, I have never seen any reference to environmental factors or the species influencing the color of venom. There are approximately ten enzymes found in almost all snake venoms, and then there are additional components based on the family and species.
If you're interested in more in-depth information on venoms, here are some good references:

Greene, Harry W. Snakes - The Evolution Of Mystery In Nature.
White, Julian and Jurg Meier - Handbook of Clinical Toxicology of Animal Venoms and Poisons

Hope this answers your question, and thanks again for using Ask an Expert.

Jim

Sheesh, great question. I've never heard anything suggesting that the color of snake venom is related to what's in it, so I suspect this is not the case, but I doubt that anyone's looked. All the snake venom I've ever seen has been that yellowish-amber color, but I don't know what gives it that color.