Snakes Visit Uniformed Services University

By Michael Wilken, The Pentagon Channel

Bruce Shwedick, director of Reptile Discovery Programs, handles a Cobra during a "Venomous Reptiles" Snakes Alive presentation performed for medical students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bathesda, MD, March 10, to better educate the students on snakes that they might encounter and how to determine venomous from non venomous while deployed to various regions around the world.  DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess

Bruce Shwedick, director of Reptile Discovery Programs, handles a Cobra during a "Venomous Reptiles" Snakes Alive presentation. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess

I arrived at the empty auditorium and immediately began to survey the quickest exit in case something went wrong. Why, you ask? Well, the Jay Sanford Hall was about to be filled with some of the deadliest snakes on the planet. As the seats began to fill, snake expert Bruce Shwedick arrived with his slithering reptiles.

Shwedick was there to give some insight to first and second year medical students at the Uniformed Services University (USU) in Bethesda, Md. Now you may be asking what deadly snakes could possibly have to do with the Armed Forces. Well, when doctors and corpsmen are deployed to remote locations they become primary medical care givers, and this includes treating patients for snake bites.



Shwedick holds the head of Banana Girl, a 137 lb Python

Shwedick holds the head of Banana Girl, a 137 lb Python. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess

Shwedick explained to the students about the different types of snakes they would be likely to encounter where they are deployed. The Diamondback Rattlesnake and Copperhead are two of the more common and aggressive snakes Shwedick brought with him. They are found in the U.S. as well as farmed hillsides in Iraq. Some students seemed to really enjoy the presentation while others sat in the back with me, wincing every time Shwedick brought one of the snakes closer than 15 feet. Some of the students even brought their families, and it was humbling to see seven and eight-year-old kids running up to pet the snakes as I cautiously hung out in the back of the room. From the black and devilish looking spitting cobra that cleared the first two rows of students, to the brightly colored Milk snake I was not about to compromise my safety by coming any closer.

Shwedick has been handing snakes since he was a child and between his brother and himself, they have been giving this presentation at the USU for three decades. The students leave with some interesting images and a better, more complete understanding of what to expect when dealing with snake bites when they are deployed. At the end of the presentation Shwedick unveiled “Banana Girl” a 16 foot long, 137 pound python, found in South and Central America.

Find out more about how military doctors learn how to strike back at snakes from around the globe, tune into Around the Services.

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  • http://study.australia.edu/qld.html Study in Queensland

    I am currently studying in Australia am taking a class where we are learning about exotic snakes like the Banana Girl, a 137 lb Python, truly amazing.