Editor’s Note
February 2013
Fatal Attraction

Among words you never want to hear, I’d suggest that “There’s a black mamba under your bed” ranks fairly high on the list. About ten years ago my guide and friend Dave Hammon and I were staying in a tree house while on assignment near the Mozambique border. Night was falling; it was getting darker in the room with our uninvited reptilian guest, which had slithered into our midst. The mamba is one of the world’s deadliest snakes. I grew up with rattlesnakes, but a mamba makes a rattlesnake seem like an earthworm by comparison. If we didn’t deal with the problem, no one would be getting any sleep. Fortunately the mamba was lured out of hiding and dispatched. Crisis averted.

Art: GRAFILU. Based on a photo by Marco Grob
Herpetologist Zoltan Takacs was named a National Geographic Society emerging explorer in 2010.

In addition to being deadly, the mamba is beautiful. It has shiny scales and bright eyes, moves like lightning, and radiates energy. I think it’s the coolest snake around. From vipers to scorpions, nature’s venomous creatures inspire horror mixed with fascination. But there’s another side to this deadly beauty, as this month’s story on venom explains. Zoltan Takacs, an expert in toxins and a National Geographic Society emerging explorer, estimates that 20 million toxins in nature can be screened for drugs to treat everything from cancer to pain. “Venom has opened up whole new avenues of pharmacology,” he says. In short, toxinology and pharmacology are two sides of the same coin. They are interwoven. The ancients knew this well. After all, the badge of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, is a serpent coiled around a staff.

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