|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
LL venomous creatures act in the same way as the bee,
wasp, and hornet. With a special weapon—needle, fang,
sting, lancet—placed sometimes in one part of the body,
sometimes in another, according to the species, they make a
slight wound into which is instilled a drop of venom. The
weapon has no other effect than that of opening a route for
the venomous liquid, and this is what causes the injury. For
the poison to act on us, it must come in contact with our
blood by a wound which opens the way for it. But it has
positively no effect on our skin, unless there is already a
gash, a simple scratch, that permits it to penetrate into
the flesh and mingle with the blood. The most terrible venom
can be handled without any danger if the skin is not broken.
Moreover, it can be put on the lips, on the tongue, even
swallowed without any bad results. Placed on the lips, the
hornet's venom produces no more effect than clear water; but
if there is the slightest scratch the pain is atrocious. The
viper's venom is equally harmless as long as it does not
mingle with the blood. Courageous experimenters have tasted,
swallowed it, and yet afterward were no worse off than
"Is that true, Uncle? People have had the
cour-  age to swallow
a viper's venom? Ah! I should not have been so brave." This
"It is fortunate, my girl, that others have been so for us;
and we ought to be very grateful to them, for by so doing
they have taught us, as you will see, the most prompt and
one of the most efficacious means to employ in case of
"This viper's venom, which has no effect on the hand, lips,
and tongue, is it much to be feared if it mingles with the
"It is terrible, my young lady, and I was just going to tell
you about it. Let us suppose that some imprudent person
disturbs the formidable reptile sleeping in the sun.
Suddenly the creature uncoils itself in circles one above
another, unwinds with the suddenness of a spring, and, with
its jaws wide open, strikes you on the hand. It is done
in the twinkling of an eye. With the same rapidity the viper
refolds its spiral and draws back, continuing to menace you
with its head in the center of the coil. You do not wait for
a second attack, you flee; but, alas! the damage is done. On
the wounded hand are seen two little red points, almost
insignificant, mere needle pricks. It is not very alarming;
you reassure yourself if you are in ignorance of what I so
earnestly desire to teach you. Delusive innocuousness!
the red spots becoming encircled with a
 livid ring. With
dull pains the hand swells, and the swelling extends
gradually to the arm. Soon come cold sweats and nausea;
respiration becomes painful, sight troubled, mind torpid, a
general yellowness shows itself, accompanied by convulsions.
If help does not arrive in time, death may come."
"You give us goose-flesh, Uncle," said Jules, with a
shudder. "What should we poor things do if such a misfortune
happened to us away from you, away from home! They say there
are vipers in the underbrush of the neighboring hills."
"May God guard you from such a mischance, my poor children!
But, if it befalls you, you must bind tight the finger,
hand, arm, above the wounded part to prevent the diffusion
of the venom in the blood; you must make the wound bleed by
pressing round it; you must suck it hard to extract the
venomous liquid. I told you venom has no effect on the skin.
To suck it, therefore, is harmless if the mouth has no
scratch. You can see that if, by hard suction and by
pressure that makes the blood flow, you succeed in
extracting all the venom from the wound, the wound itself is
thenceforth of no importance. For greater surety, the wound
should be cauterized as soon as possible with a corrosive
liquid, aqua fortis or ammonia, or even with a red-hot iron.
The effect of the cauterization is to destroy the venomous
matter. It is painful, I acknowledge, but one must submit to
it in order to avoid a worse evil. Cauterization is the
doctor's business. The initial precautions, binding to
prevent the diffusion of the venom, pressure to make the
poisoned blood flow,
 hard suction to extract the venomous
liquid, concern us personally, and all that must be done
instantly. The longer it is put off, the more aggravated the
evil. When these precautions are taken soon enough, it is
seldom that the viper's bite has injurious consequences."
"You reassure me, Uncle. Those precautions are not difficult
to take, if one does not lose one's presence of mind."
"Therefore it is important that we should all acquire the
habit of using our reason in time of danger, and not let
ourselves be overcome by ill-regulated fears. Man master of
himself is half-master of danger."
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