Patrick Russell and natural history of the Coromandel

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Abstract

He determined three genera: Boa,Coluber, and Anguis. Russell established Katuka-rekula-poda (Telugu) as a venomous snake, next in toxicity only tothe spectacled Indian Cobra Naja naja. Testing the clinical features of bites of venomous snakes in dogs and chicken,he described the neurotoxic and haemorrhagic manifestations of viper venoms. He donated his collection of snakeskins to the British Museum (Natural History), London. He published the first volume of his book AN ACCOUNT OFINDIAN SERPENTS COLLECTED ON THE COAST OF COROMANDEL in 1796; the first and second parts of the second volumeappeared in 1801 and 1802. The third and fourth parts of second volume were published, after his death, in 1807 and1809. Edward Nicholson (Surgeon, Madras Medical Establishment, Bangalore (now Bengaluru)), who wrote a majortreatise on Indian snakes (1874), values Russell as a pioneer in Indian Zoology.Russell's Viper Daboia russelii occurs almost in all South Asian countries and is a major cause of human fatality. Thebiological name of this reptile celebrates Patrick Russell (1726-1805), a Scottish surgeon and naturalist, who workedin the Madras Presidency. He initiated the formal study of snakes of India. Patrick Russell accompanied his youngerbrother Claud Russell, from Edinburgh to Visakapatnam on the Coromandel Coast, when Claud was offered the postof Administrator of Visakapatnam in 1781. From Visakapatnam, Patrick travelled south to meet Johann Gerhard Königat Tarangampadi in June 1781. On König's death in June 1785, the Governor of Madras offered the post of Botanist-Naturalist to Patrick till then held by König. Russell accepted the position in November 1785 and worked in theCoromandel until 1789. On acceptance of the job, Russell's first dictates were to catalogue the economically usefulplants of Madras and to publish König's scientific notes. Snakes were a problem in the Madras Presidency, especiallyin rural areas.To enable people to distinguish the poisonous from the non-poisonous, Russell developed and distributedan advisory notice that included illustrations of the mouth parts of common snakes and descriptions as to whether theywere poisonous or not. During his stay in the Madras Presidency, Russell as a medical practitioner, supported Tanjorepills, a locally made, purported remedy for snake bites, although he rejected its validity later, after his return toLondon. He presented the bamboo pith material (tabashir), an established source of silica, at the Royal Society meetingin 1790. While in the Coromandel, Russell gathered information about the habits and reputations of several snakes andtheir local names. He tested their venomous nature. He used Linnean criterion referring to the presence (or absence) ofabdominal and sub-caudal scuta toseparate his first collection of 43 snake taxa. separate his first collection of 43 snake taxa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-121
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the Bombay Natural History Society
Volume107
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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