Since biblical times, snakes have inspired fascination and feelings in a way that no other type of animal can.

Legless, covered in scales, eyes that never blink, a flickering forked tongue and sometimes fangs that deliver toxic venom, these creatures can evoke an imaginable fear, even when they seem harmless.

A bite from a rattlesnake, cobra, pit viper or any other poisonous snake causes a severe burning pain and swelling at the bitten spot, followed by a severe drop in blood pressure or paralysis that causes one to collapse and have extensive bleeding. This will kill a person if it is not treated immediately.

Its for this reason that poisonous snakes are prized research animals for scientists searching for treatment for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Scientists at the US-funded Serpentarium of the Natural Toxins Research Center say the very proteins that make snake venom deadly, may, in the right amounts and with the right changes, heal millions of people.

There are already two drugs based on snake venom proteins used to prevent heart attacks. One drug, eptifibatide, is a modified rattlesnake venom protein. The other is called tirofiban and is based on a venom protein from the African saw-scaled viper. Both drugs have been used since 1998 to treat minor heart attacks and chest pain.

Cure for stroke

Researchers are currently conducting a large international study to test the effectiveness of small amounts of a Malayan pit viper venom protein in treating stroke. The protein, called ancrod, seems able to dissolve the blood clots that cause stroke for as long as six hours after symptoms are noticed.

In some parts of the world, especially in India, snake charming is  a business. In such a show, the charmer carries a basket that contains a snake that he seemingly charms by playing tunes from his flutelike musical instrument, to which the snake responds. Snakes lack external ears, though they do have internal ears, and respond to the movement of the flute, not the actual noise.

While not commonly thought of as food in most cultures, in others, the consumption of snakes is acceptable, or even considered a delicacy, prized for its alleged pharmaceutical effect of warming the heart. Snake soup in Cantonese cuisine, for example, is consumed by local people in autumn, to warm up their body.

Western cultures document the consumption of snakes under extreme circumstances of hunger. Cooked rattlesnake meat is an exception, which is commonly consumed in parts of the Midwestern United States. The southern African tribe of Khoisan are the continents known python hunters who carryout elaborate rituals and celebration after a successful hunt of the big reptile.

In countries such as China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, drinking the blood of snakes, particularly the cobra, is believed to increase sexual virility.