By HENRY H. CROFT.
Some time since, in a paper to which I am unfortunately unable to refer, a French chemist affirmed that the poisonous principle in snakes, or eliminated by snakes, was of the nature of an alkaloid, and gave a name to this class of bodies.
Mr. Pedler has shown that snake poison is destroyed or neutralized by means of platinic chloride, owing probably to the formation of an insoluble double platinic chloride, such as is formed with almost if not all alkaloids.
In this country (Texas) where rattlesnakes are very common, and persons camping out much exposed to their bites, a very favorite anecdote, or remedia as the Mexicans cull it, is a strong solution of iodine in potassium iodide.
[Footnote 1: The solution is applied as soon as possible to the wound, preferably enlarged, and a few drops taken internally. The common Mexican remedia is the root of the Agave virginica mashed or chewed and applied to the wound, while part is swallowed.
Great faith is placed in this root by all residents here, who are seldom I without it, but, I have had no experience of it myself; and the internal administration is no doubt useless.
Even the wild birds know of this root; the queer paisano (? ground woodpecker) which eats snakes, when wounded by a vibora de cascabel, runs into woods, digs up and eats a root of the agave, just like the mongoose; but more than that, goes back, polishes off his enemy, and eats him. This has been told me by Mexicans who, it may be remarked, are not always reliable.]
I have had occasion to prove the efficacy of this mixture in two cases of cascabel bites, one on a buck, the other on a dog; and it occurred to me that the same explanation of its action might be given as above for the platinum salt, viz., the formation of an insoluble iodo compound as with ordinary alkaloids if the snake poison really belongs to this class.
Having last evening killed a moderate sized rattlesnake--Crotalus horridus--which had not bitten anything, I found the gland fully charged with the white opaque poison; on adding iodine solution to a drop of this a dense light-brown precipitate was immediately formed, quite similar to that obtained with most alkaloids, exhibiting under the microscope no crystalline structure.
In the absence of iodine a good extemporaneous solution for testing alkaloids, and perhaps a snake poison antidote, may be made by adding a few drops of ferric chloride to solution of potassium of iodide; this is a very convenient test agent which I used in my laboratory for many years.
Although rattlesnake poison could be obtained here in very considerable quantity, it is out of my power to make such experiments as I could desire, being without any chemical appliances and living a hundred miles or more from any laboratory. The same may be said with regard to books, and possibly the above iodine reaction has been already described.
Dr. Richards states that the cobra poison is destroyed by potassium permanganate; but this is no argument in favor of that salt as an antidote. Mr. Pedler also refers to it, but allows that it would not be probably of any use after the poison had been absorbed. Of this I think there can be no doubt, remembering the easy decomposition of permanganate by most organic substances, and I cannot but think that the medicinal or therapeutic advantages of that salt, taken internally, are equally problematical, unless the action is supposed to take place in the stomach.
In the bladder of the same rattlesnake I found a considerable quantity of light-brown amorphous ammonium urate, the urine pale yellow.--Chemical News.
Hermanitas Ranch, Texas.