Carmen's Reviews > Venom: The Secrets of Nature's Deadliest Weapon

Venom by Ronald Jenner
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really liked it
bookshelves: australian-author, british-author, he-says, non-fiction, read-around-the-world-2018, traditionally-published, published2017
Recommended for: Nature-lovers, Scientists

Alas, your proximity to venomous creatures is virtually guaranteed in practically every inhabitable place on Earth, unless you've retreated to an Antarctic research station far away from the ocean's edge. Even if you are just pottering about in your kitchen or garden, venomous animals will be within only a few metres of you.

This is a book about venomous animals. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

DRAWBACKS:

- Pages and pages of chemistry and biology which is extremely technical and not watered down for the average person to digest. Jenner and Undheim don't simplify this enough for the layperson to enjoy and understand.

- Really disgusting full-color pictures of both disgusting creatures and the disgusting effects they can have on humans. If you don't think centipedes and marine bloodworms are fun to look at, this may not be for you. If you have problems seeing people's legs rotting off and faces swollen up painfully, this may not be for you.

- Some of the things (creatures and venom-effects) described in here are pretty bone-chilling and not for the faint of heart.

- Extensive talk about animals painfully killed for science. If you don't want to read about monkeys, cats, mice, rats and guinea pigs being subjected to the most horrendous and painful tortures, skip this.


BENEFITS:

- You will learn a lot.

- It is fascinating.

- Jenner and Undheim explore some things you'd never think of. They discuss the use of venoms in beauty products and cures (diabetes; trying to harness scorpion venom to give men erections; etc.). They berate and sneer at traditional methods of trying to deal with killers (for example, snakebite) while promoting science and medicine. They discuss evolution a lot and the biology of how different venomous species came to be and why. They discuss the use of painful venomous animals by tribes to initiate girls and boys into adulthood - very hard to read. They discuss Michael Smith, who had bees sting him all over his body and then rated the pain.

After receiving hundreds of stings that covered the remotest corners of his anatomy - including the back of his knee, behind his ear, as well as his nipple, scrotum and armpit - Smith concluded that the worst locations to be stung are your nostril, upper lip and penis shaft. Smith scored the pain at these sting sites as 9.0, 8.7 and 7.3, respectively...

- Very scientific and fact-oriented if you are in to that sort of thing. I know I put that in the drawback section, as I think it is not easily digestible, but this kind of not-watered-down scientific detail might appeal to a lot of readers, as well.

- Jenner and Undheim, or at least one of them... LOL, has a good sense of humor. The book isn't a laugh-fest, but some little bits of humor are slipped in here and there. For example,

Instead, they regurgitate digestive enzymes to dissolve their immobilized prey, which they wrap tightly in a silken burrito of death, before ingesting it through their straw-like mouths.

Silken burrito of death! LOL


TL;DR - I can't recommend this to everyone, but it is enjoyable and informative. You might not want to read this while eating or if you are squeamish. Not for the fainthearted.
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Reading Progress

January 14, 2018 – Started Reading
January 14, 2018 – Shelved
January 14, 2018 –
page 7
"Alas, your proximity to venomous creatures is virtually guaranteed in practically every inhabitable place on Earth, unless you've retreated to an Antarctic research station far away from the ocean's edge. Even if you are just pottering about in your kitchen or garden, venomous animals will be within only a few metres of you."
January 14, 2018 –
page 7
"When asked to picture a venomous animal, the average reader is likely to conjure up an image of a snake curled on a branch, a spider hanging in its web, or a scorpion poised to strike. Such imagery triggers strong emotions. Venomous animals are icons of mortal danger. We rightly regard them with a mixture of awe, fear and respect, but our curiosity drives us closer to have a better look."
January 14, 2018 –
page 11
"On the global end of the spectrum, venom is at the heart of the best-selling anti-diabetes drugs Byetta and Bydureon. In 2015 the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca reported US$896 million of combined worldwide sales of the drugs. The profits made on the sales of such blockbuster anti-diabetes drugs are steadily increasing in the wake of the type II diabetes epidemic that trails the westernization of the world's"
January 14, 2018 –
page 12
"A toxin is any toxic substance, irrespective of whether it is a poison or part of a venom (venoms are generally cocktails of toxins). Venom is broadly defined as a toxin secretion produced by specialized cells in one animal that is delivered to another animal via a delivery mechanism - typically through the infliction of a wound - to disrupt the normal physiological functioning in the interest of predation,"
January 14, 2018 –
page 17
"When we enter the world of venom, we enter the realm of one of the most diverse, versatile, sophisticated and deadly biological adaptations ever to have evolved on the planet. Venom truly is Nature's ultimate weapon, the result of an evolutionary arms race that escalated into chemical warfare."
January 14, 2018 –
page 19
"The genome of any animal... has the genes necessary to evolve venom toxins, given the appropriate selective conditions...

Of course ammunition without a gun doesn't make a weapon, and having toxins doesn't make an animal venomous by itself....

A venom acts more like a battalion of snipers than as a machinegun loaded with one type of bullet...

And because venom glands can replenish their contents, venom systems
"
January 14, 2018 –
page 21
"The act of envenomation generally happens very rapidly, and often requires minimal contact with the target, thereby minimizing the risk of injury to the venomous animal."
January 14, 2018 –
page 34
"For example, although it superficially looks like one, a Portuguese man-o-war is no jellyfish. Instead it is a floating colony composed of seven specialized medusa-like and polyp-like parts, each performing a unique function."
January 14, 2018 –
page 37
"And if a coral reef can be considered one large living organism, this would make the Great Barrier Reef of Australia by far the largest living organism on the planet, and the only venomous organism that is clearly visible from space."
January 14, 2018 –
page 38
"Spiders do not normally enjoy the company of other spiders even of the same species, yet different levels of social behaviour have evolved as many as 18 times in spiders. All of these species engage in group prey capture and feeding, and some even co-operate in everyday tasks such as nest maintenance and brood care. Anelosimus eximius is one such spider, and it can be found in colonies of about a thousand"
January 14, 2018 –
page 64
"The alternative hypothesis for the role of platypus venom is disturbing: if the male envenomates the female with extremely painful venom after mating he ensures that she will not mate with another male for at least another season. Though not confirmed, this could be another dark side to Australia's cutest darling mammal."
January 14, 2018 –
page 67
"The garden ant Lasius neglectus, for example, uses its venom to combat fungal infections."
January 14, 2018 –
page 94
"Over the course of several weeks Smith rated the pain of honeybee stings delivered to 25 locations on his body... After receiving hundreds of stings that covered the remotest corners of his anatomy... Smith concluded that the worst locations to be stung are your nostril, upper lip and penis shaft. Smith scored the pain at those sting sites as 9.0, 8.7 and 7.3, respectively... In 2015, Smith was duly awarded,"
January 14, 2018 –
page 100
"Every year bites by venomous snakes kill around 100,000 people. But this doesn't mean that snake venoms have evolved to kill humans. The vast majority of envenomations kill their victims too slowly to benefit the snake."
January 14, 2018 –
page 106
"The world of venom is a realm of self-guided missiles where even the blind are sharpshooters."
January 14, 2018 –
page 123
"Just as the magic of a good curry is created by the combination and interplay of its ingredients, so does a syndrome of envenomation symptoms represent a toxic symphony.

o.O"
January 14, 2018 –
page 141
"Like a gun that needs reloading, spending venom can result in a temporary disarmament, with the fearsome spider becoming a plump, juicy, defenceless meatball."
January 14, 2018 –
page 144
"The South African thick-tail scorpion initially stings predators with a transparent prevenom that is poor in proteins, but rich in pain-inducing potassium ions."
January 14, 2018 –
page 147
"Instead, they regurgitate digestive enzymes to dissolve their immobilized prey, which they wrap tightly in a silken burrito of death, before ingesting it through their straw-like mouths.

Silken burrito of death. Nice touch, Jenner."
January 14, 2018 –
page 171
"The Brisbane Courier-Mail from 8 October 1936 features an article titled "Boy slapped for eight hours," which claims that '[e]ight hours of slapping, scolding, and shaking saved the life of Cecil Schultz (11)' after he was bitten by a snake. Survive he did, but it might not be unreasonable to suppose that this was not because of, but despite his treatment."
January 14, 2018 –
page 179
"After their first menstruation, girls in the Amazonian Ka'apor tribe are subjected to an ant ordeal. After the girls' hair is shaven off, large termite raiding ants, Neoponera commutata, are strung along their forehead and torso, and allowed to sting them repeatedly. ... The Wayapi tribe... tie the same termite hunting ant species in strings to the arms, legs, abdomen, back and brow of girls...

Woman-hating"
January 14, 2018 –
page 187
"He's now talking about using scorpion venom to help men who can't get erections even from Viagra. That is because this venom causes uncontrollable and long-lasting erections. The problem is (not only this, which sounds very unpleasant but people want to market to men for some reason) is that it also causes hypersalivation, sweat, tear-flow, tremors, spastic paralysis and congestion of blood vessels in the major organ"
January 14, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Great review, Carmen. When I first started reading it I figured I'd add it, despite my fears and squeamishness. Lab testing would put me off too much I think. And I do find scary creatures in my place. While my motto is usually knowing and learning the most possible this is one instance when I might be better off not reading an entire book about it. It does sounds really interesting!


message 2: by Joe (new)

Joe Valdez Wonderful review, Carmen. I saw the title and then glanced at who wrote it. "Oh. Not Mary Roach. Nevermind." But your book report was very informative and I'm glad that like Roach's work, the authors told you some things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask about science.


Carmen Great review, Carmen. When I first started reading it I figured I'd add it, despite my fears and squeamishness. Lab testing would put me off too much I think. And I do find scary creatures in my place. While my motto is usually knowing and learning the most possible this is one instance when I might be better off not reading an entire book about it. It does sounds really interesting!

Thanks, Lisa. The lab testing is throughout the book, but you can easily skip the one section where they go into detail - all the while explaining that scientific testing is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY on live animals, and explaining everything they can possibly do to avoid animal suffering, although in the cases described it seems animals are suffering a lot. To what extent you believe them / can make it through this section is unclear, but it wasn't pleasant, believe me.

The book, however, is fascinating and does teach a lot of things. So, it's rather a mixed bag and definitely not for every audience.

Thank you!


Carmen Wonderful review, Carmen. I saw the title and then glanced at who wrote it. "Oh. Not Mary Roach. Nevermind." But your book report was very informative and I'm glad that like Roach's work, the authors told you some things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask about science.

Dear Joseph,

Thank you. This book was NOT as good as my revered Mary Roach. For one thing, Jenner and Undheim are not able to lay information out in a fun and easily processed way like Roach is. For another thing, they lack her sparkling humor and zany wit. I'm sure a book like this is Roach's hands would get five-stars from me.

But the book was informative and fascinating. If a bit gross.

Carmen


message 5: by Joe (last edited Jan 14, 2018 12:57PM) (new)

Joe Valdez Carmen wrote: "For one thing, Jenner and Undheim are not able to lay information out in a fun and easily processed way like Roach is. For another thing, they lack her sparkling humor and zany wit. I'm sure a book like this is Roach's hands would get five-stars from me."

If the aliens arrive, the public will need science communicators like Mary Roach (or Neil deGrasse Tyson) to go on late night TV and explain things in easily processed and even fun bits that will relax as well as inform. If scientists like Jenner and Undheim go near aliens, there would likely be mass hysteria. Some people can communicate really well.


Carmen If the aliens arrive, the public will need science communicators like Mary Roach (or Neil deGrasse Tyson) to go on late night TV and explain things in easily processed and even fun bits that will relax as well as inform. If scientists like Jenner and Undheim go near aliens, there would likely be mass hysteria.

LOL Interesting way to put it! Still have to read Tyson's book(s). Haven't picked one up yet.


[Name Redacted] "Venom" -- derived from the Latin for "Love Potion'! XD


message 8: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Carmen, read your message #3: thank you because I can really tell this book is not for me and I would not agree with so much of it. But I do find the subject fascinating. I'm sure there are other books out there that cover some of the same subject matter.


Carmen [Name Redacted] wrote: ""Venom" -- derived from the Latin for "Love Potion'! XD"

LOL Not the way these animals do it... LOL LOL

Although that is addressed in the book and they do discuss the function of venom in mating.


Carmen Carmen, read your message #3: thank you because I can really tell this book is not for me and I would not agree with so much of it. But I do find the subject fascinating. I'm sure there are other books out there that cover some of the same subject matter.

You're welcome! Glad to be of service, Lisa Vegan!


[Name Redacted] Carmen wrote: "[Name Redacted] wrote: ""Venom" -- derived from the Latin for "Love Potion'! XD"

LOL Not the way these animals do it... LOL LOL

Although that is addressed in the book and they do discuss the fun..."


Ha ha, I hope she goes into how that's a bit of a reverse-engineered etymology. XD "Venenum" began as a term for love-potions (Venus etc.) then became a term for all magical potions, then became a term for any harmful substance with organic components... Etc. Etc. I had to write about that a lot in my dissertation so it's one of those things I can't help zeroing in on.


message 12: by Donna (new)

Donna I don’t think this book would be a good fit for me since I’m on the squeamish side, but I enjoyed reading your review of it, Carmen. I’m glad you learned some interesting things from it. :)


Carmen Ha ha, I hope she goes into how that's a bit of a reverse-engineered etymology. XD "Venenum" began as a term for love-potions (Venus etc.) then became a term for all magical potions, then became a term for any harmful substance with organic components... Etc. Etc. I had to write about that a lot in my dissertation so it's one of those things I can't help zeroing in on.

LOL No, he doesn't go into the etymology, Name Redacted. But that's interesting! Thank you!


Carmen Donna wrote: "I don’t think this book would be a good fit for me since I’m on the squeamish side, but I enjoyed reading your review of it, Carmen. I’m glad you learned some interesting things from it. :)"

Thank you, Donna! Yes, it's not for everyone.


message 15: by Caroline (new)

Caroline This sounds like a really interesting book, but I'll definitely have to skip it. Thanks for a helpful review, Carmen.


Carmen Caroline wrote: "This sounds like a really interesting book, but I'll definitely have to skip it. Thanks for a helpful review, Carmen."

You are welcome, Caroline. Thanks for stopping by!


message 17: by Ana O (new)

Ana O Great review Carmen.


Carmen Ana wrote: "Great review Carmen."

Thank you, Ana.


message 19: by Ɗẳɳ 2.☊ (new)

Ɗẳɳ  2.☊ Sounds interesting. But I don't think I need an expert to tell me that being stung on the penis may be slightly, um . . . painful. 🤨


Carmen Ɗắɳ 2.☊ wrote: "Sounds interesting. But I don't think I need an expert to tell me that being stung on the penis may be slightly, um . . . painful. 🤨"

LOL Oh, really? You don't need an expert for that, huh?


message 21: by Ɗẳɳ 2.☊ (new)

Ɗẳɳ  2.☊ Um, no . . . not so much.

Honey bee stings are nothing compared to hornets though. I was stung in the hand by a hornet one time, and it swelled up to nearly double the size and throbbed for hours on end. I must say, it was not a very pleasant experience.


Carmen Um, no . . . not so much.

Honey bee stings are nothing compared to hornets though. I was stung in the hand by a hornet one time, and it swelled up to nearly double the size and throbbed for hours on end. I must say, it was not a very pleasant experience.


Yes, he probably avoided hornets on purpose. ;) Nutty, but not THAT nutty....


message 23: by Katy (new)

Katy Great review, Carmen! Sounds really interesting.


Carmen Katy wrote: "Great review, Carmen! Sounds really interesting."

Thank you so much, Katy!


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