More notes on venom

A comment by David Robertson on one of my recent posts, reminded me of a passage from one of my favourite books: Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams.  If you missed my previous post on this book click here. I think everybody should read this book at least once! It’s educational and it’s funny.

There is in Melbourne a man who probably knows more about poisonous snakes than anyone else on earth. His name is Dr Struan Sutherland, and he has devoted his entire life to a study of venom.

‘And I’m bored with talking about it,’ he said when we went along to see him the next morning, laden with tape recorders and note books. ‘Can’t stand all these poisonous creatures, all these snakes and insects and fish and things. Wretched things, biting everybody. And then people expect me to tell them what to do about it. I’ll tell them what to do. Don’t get bitten in the first place. That’s the answer. I’ve had enough of telling people all the time. Hydroponics, now, that’s interesting. Talk to you all you like about hydroponics. Fascinating stuff, growing plants artificially in water, very interesting technique. We’ll need to know all about it if we’re going to go to Mars and places. Where did you say you were going?’


‘Well, don’t get bitten, that’s all I can say. And don’t come running to me if you do because you won’t get here in time and anyway I’ve got enough on my plate. Look at this office. Full of poisonous animals all over the place. See this tank? It’s full of fire ants. Venomous little creatures, what are we going to do about them? Anyway, I got some little cakes in in case you were hungry. Would you like some little cakes? I can’t remember where I put them. There’s some tea but it’s not very good. Sit down for heaven’s sake.

‘So, you’re going to Komodo. Well, I don’t know why you want to do that, but I suppose you have your reasons. There are fifteen different types of snake on Komodo, and half of them are poisonous. The only potentially deadly ones are the Russell’s viper, the bamboo viper and the Indian cobra.

The Indian cobra is the fifteenth deadliest snake in the world, and all the other fourteen are here in Australia. That’s why it’s so hard for me to find time to get on with my hydroponics, with all these snakes all over the place.

`And spiders. The most poisonous spider is the Sydney funnel web. We get about five hundred people a year bitten by spiders. A lot of them used to die, so we had to develop an antidote to stop people bothering me with it all the time. Took us years. Then we developed this snake bite detector kit. Not that you need a kit to tell you when you’ve been bitten by a snake, you usually know, but the kit is something that will detect what type you’ve been bitten by so you can treat it properly.

‘Would you like to see a kit? I’ve got a couple here in the venom fridge. Let’s have a look. Ah look, the cakes are in here too. Quick, have one while they’re still fresh. Fairy cakes, I baked ’em myself.’

He handed round the snake venom detection kits and his home-baked fairy cakes and retreated back to his desk, where he beamed at us cheerfully from behind his curly beard and bow tie. We admired the kits, which were small, efficient boxes neatly packed with tiny bottles, a pipette, a syringe and a complicated set of instructions that I wouldn’t want to read for the first time in a panic, and then we asked him how many of the snakes he had been bitten by himself.

‘None of ’em,’ he said. ‘Another area of expertise I’ve developed is that of getting other people to handle the dangerous animals. Won’t do it myself. Don’t want to get bitten, do I? You know what it says in my book jackets? “Hobbies: gardening –with gloves; fishing – with boots; travelling – with care.”

Hopefully, you’ll now rush off to your local library, or bookstore, to find a copy of the book! 😉

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I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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10 Comments on “More notes on venom”

  1. December 29, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Sounds like a delightful book, and Dr Struan Sutherland sounds like a wonderful, funny man. Strewth!
    Sunshine xx

    • December 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

      Unfortunately, neither Dr Sutherland or Douglas Adams (the author of the book) are still alive. For all his eccentricity, it seems that Struan Sutherland accomplished a lot during his life.

      And he stayed funny until the end. According to Wikipedia: “When he died in 2002, he had already written his own death notice: “Struan would like to inform his friends and acquaintances that he fell off his perch on Friday, 11 January 2002, and is to be privately cremated. No flowers please. Donations to Australian Venom Research Unit, Melbourne University.”

  2. December 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Sounds like a great book! I will have to take a look–thanks for sharing the review. I just have to say once more how much I love the varying kinds of informattion you share. It’s what makes your blog special, Lisa–thanks you so much!

    • December 30, 2010 at 6:50 am #

      Thanks, that’s a huge compliment coming from as skilled writer and storyteller as yourself! The jumble of topics is just a result of what I find interesting on a particular day.

  3. January 2, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    That is HILARIOUS-I love his death announcement!!!

    • January 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks for visiting – and commenting! I’ve been following your blog for a while.

  4. January 2, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    hahahaha omg

  5. January 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Aaah, Douglas Adams. Been too long since I’ve read any of his work. I really should get some of his books to keep me sane with all the ‘serious’ reading I’m doing!

    • January 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      I really love(d) his sense of humour. I was sad when he died, and I couldn’t look forward to reading more of his work.

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