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A venomous snake has died after being bitten by a small boy. No, you didn’t read that wrong.
In a bizarre reversal of nature, an 8-year-old boy in India killed a cobra after biting it in retaliation. The child bit back at the dangerous animal after receiving a rare venom-free “dry bite” from the serpent, according to reports.
The boy, identified in reports as Deepak, was playing outside near his house in Pandarpadh, a village in the Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh state, when he encountered an unknown species of venomous cobra (“cobra” can refer to any snake in the Elapidae family, most of which have hoods). After coiling its body around Deepak’s hand, the cobra bit Deepak, which left the young boy “in great pain,” The New Indian Express (opens in new tab) reported.
“As the reptile didn’t budge when I tried to shake it off, I bit it hard twice,” Deepak told local media. “It all happened in a flash.”
Deepak’s family rushed him to the nearby hospital where he was treated with anti-venom, but doctors say the bite likely did not contain any venom, even though the snake was probably venomous.
Related: Which came first: Snake fangs or venom?
Every year, around 5.4 million snakebites — from venomous and nonvenomous species — occur worldwide, according to a 2020 review published in the journal Toxins (opens in new tab). Approximately 2.7 million of these bites inject venom into the victim, which causes around 138,000 deaths.
It is hard to tell exactly how many snakebites from venomous species are dry bites, because victims can often misidentify which type of snake bit them; and because dry bites can still cause inflammation, which can be misdiagnosed as an envenoming, according to the study.
Experts believe that venomous snakes choose to use dry bites as a defensive mechanism to warn off larger animals that they have no intention of killing; this was probably the case when the cobra bit Deepak. Venom is energetically expensive to produce, so snakes will often choose not to use it unless they have to, according to the study.
India is home to around 100 species of venomous or mildly venomous snakes, according to the Indian wildlife organization Wildlife SOS (opens in new tab). It also has the highest number of snakebite deaths in the world, with venomous bites killing an estimated 46,000 people every year, according to the study.
Fortunately for Deepak, his encounter with the cobra had a happy ending — for him, if not for the snake.