200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 40: “Homeopathic Snake ”

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photo of bushmaster snake specimen
South American bushmaster specimen donated by Constantine Hering

Homeopathic Snake

This snake is a South American bushmaster (Lachesis muta). This species is one of the largest and most dangerous pit vipers in the Western Hemisphere. This particular specimen also holds a special place in the history of homeopathy. It was donated to the Academy’s collections in 1830 by a corresponding member, Constantine Hering, who was stationed in the Dutch colony of Surinam. Hering, born and educated in the German kingdom of Saxony, immigrated to the United States in 1833 and soon became a driving force in the establishment of this form of alternative medicine. He helped found the Philadelphia Medical College of Homeopathy in 1848. (This institution would later become Hahnemann Hospital and then part of the Drexel University College of Medicine.)

This specimen is remarkable because it is the snake from which Hering extracted the venom he used to develop the homeopathic remedy called Lachesis. This remedy remains in wide use for a variety of ailments, especially those of the heart and circulatory system.

Want to see some fascinating, noteworthy Academy specimens? Save the date for our Bicentennial Weekend, March 24 and 25, 2012, and check out our major exhibit, The Academy at 200: The Nature of Discovery.