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Q. I know this is a weird question, but I am writing a paper on snake venom and was wondering what would happen if you mixed together venom from two snakes and then injected that into someone? Would the effects of both venoms take place? Would it make the venoms more extreme? Or would they cause a reaction and become useless?

A. Intriguing question for which I doubt any still-living person has an answer based on personal experience. Venoms are complex proteins, and mixing them would be unlikely to change the integrity of the molecules of either one. The person would be receiving a dose of two different toxins to which the immune system would react independently. So the body would be fighting off two attacks at the same time, a war on two fronts, which would be worse than either venom separately. The outcome for the victim would likely be a highly negative one. However, all venoms are distinct, so the results would vary depending on which two you combined. A lot of volunteers would be needed to test the high number of combinations. I doubt you will find any.

Q. My brother owns an old farm in north Alabama. We have seen a few snakes and they all seem to be the same kind. There are two in particular that are at least 6 feet long and 1‑1/2 to 2 inches thick. They are solid black on top, no obvious pattern, with a pale-yellow underside. Their home seems to be in a knothole of a very large, very old pecan tree. They have no trouble moving up and down the tree and appear to have real knowledge of the area. We suspect they are ratsnakes, but some people have suggested they may be kingsnakes. We are also curious about the probable age of the snakes.

A. Kingsnakes in your geographic area are sometimes almost black but would probably have a few yellow spots on the sides. They are more likely to stay on the ground than climb trees, and they never get as big as ratsnakes do. Your description sounds like what ratsnakes look like and the way they behave. The species can vary in appearance. Many have light gray bodies and dark blotches, but some are almost solid black. They are constrictors; they eat great quantities of rats, mice and birds; and they are excellent climbers. The exact age would be only a rough guess, but individuals that large could be at least 10 years old and possibly much older. The record longevity for the species is more than 30 years. You are to be commended for taking an interest in these awesome animals.

Q. Can you tell me anything about a giant salamander from the Trinity Alps in California? The salamander is said to be from 5 to 8 feet long. I have heard that they do indeed exist, but I do not trust my source of information on the internet.

A. Thank you for being wary of what you read on a website. As with many sensational reports about animals, the material fits in the believe-it-or-not category without providing any data to support the assertion. The largest known salamanders in North America are aquatic species that live in the eastern U.S. The bulkiest of these is the hellbender of mountain streams, with a record length of 2-1/2 feet. The greater siren of the Southeast reaches lengths of over 3 feet. The largest American salamanders, the amphiumas, reach a length of almost 4 feet. The world’s largest salamander, from Japan, is closely related to the hellbender and gets more than 5 feet long. As the Trinity Alps are in northern California, people may be referring to the Pacific giant salamander, the largest terrestrial salamander in the country. Some approach a foot in length. Any salamander much larger than that from the western states would be worth reporting to the nearest zoo and your local newspaper.

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The canebrake (aka timber) rattlesnake is one of 6 venomous species of snakes native to the Southeast. Photo courtesy Parker Gibbons.