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Reptiles

Herp Friday

This Friday, I’ll be shining a light on those pesky misconceptions that often get snakes and people harmed or killed. Snakes are just like any animal, and they deserve a healthy dose of respect, but they need not be feared (yes, I’m talking about the deadly ones as well, don’t give me that look).

All snakes are poisonous

First and foremost, there is a difference between poison and venom. Poison has to be ingested or absorbed into the body in order to take effect, while venom always has to be injected. It sounds like nitpicking, but it means that you can touch a venomous snake without being envenomed (please don’t try this, though). As far as I know, the only ‘poisonous’ snake would be the spitting cobra, because the venom can be absorbed through the eyes when it spits in your face. However, the absorption of the venom will only blind you (only, she says), rather than its bite, which can kill you. Venom usually won’t harm you if it’s swallowed, though that may not be true across the board, so again, don’t try this at home.

Secondly, the amount of non-venomous species of snakes in the world far outnumber the amount of venomous ones by a whopping 80%. That means only 20% of snake species are venomous, and that’s including such species as the garter snake, a snake with such mild venom that it was only recently discovered to actually produce it. Garter snakes are those snakes your kids pick up from around the back yard garden and terrorize their grandmother with; they’re everywhere, harmless, and they just so happen to have rear-fangs that manufacture a venom not even sufficient enough to make your arm swell. In fact, Venomous insects, fish, and poisonous plants pose more a threat to humans that venomous snakes do, and more people die by bee sting annually than they do by snake bite. Don’t mistake me, you still do not want to mess with a venomous snake, and its safer to just leave snakes alone on the whole, but there’s little reason to go overboard and kill any snakes you come across.

A snake’s stare can hypnotize you

Now, I don’t know anyone who actually believes this, but apparently the belief is out there, so I’ll address this anyways. Snakes can’t blink. At all. In evolutionary terms, the translucent lens that covers the snake’s eye is a modified eye lid. So, if you think about it, snakes eyes are actually perpetually closed, since they can see right through their lid anyway. On top of that, most snakes have pretty poor eye sight, and they depend more upon their heat sensors to pinpoint movement of prey. Some burrowing species, such as the sunbeam snake, are almost completely blind.

A snake’s tongue can sting you

When a snake flicks its tongue in and out, it’s smelling. The tongue gathers molecules as it waves up and down, then it’s brought back into the mouth and into something called the Jacobson’s organ, where it receives the molecules and interprets them as smell. It’s like an advanced nose that utilizes the tongue. When a snake smells the air, it’s gather information about you, the environment, and whether or not it should run, hunt, or relax (which is really all snakes do). When the tongue touches you, it’s a feather-light touch that may tickle you a bit–that’s it.

Only venomous snakes have teeth

When I ask people to think of an image of a snake, they usually come up with an unidentifiable, legless lizard with a gaping mouth and a pair of giant fangs. As far as vipers are concerned, that may not be too far off the mark, but a lot of time snakes are categorized by their skull structure, and not all venomous snakes have giant, folding fangs. Indeed, cobras have fixed front fangs that are only slightly more enlarged that the rest of their teeth, teeth that all snakes do, in fact, have. Aside from the specialized teeth that elapids sport, all snakes have rows of recurved teeth that help to pull their prey down their throat. It may be hard to see them at first because they’re rather thin and the gums cover most of the tooth, but they’re there, and the can cause a lot of damage in a big enough package.

Not all snakes eat meat

This is true and false, depending on how you look at it. Almost all snakes eat meat of one kind or another, be it bird, rat, mouse,frog, lizard, fish, or other snakes. However, there are some really small snakes that can’t physically take in such big prey, or they have no ready source of meat small enough for them, so they eat insects instead; things like worms, crickets, and other small invertebrates. I was once told by an owner that he had a ball python that survived solely on milk, and all I needed to ask was how long it lived under such care. Whether it’s animal or insect, the fact that most people can’t live with is that snakes require food that was at least one time breathing in order to survive.

Snakes are slimy

We won’t talk about aquatic species of snakes, because although they’re not really slimy, they are pretty wet to begin with. However, most people aren’t talking about aquatic species when they proclaim they’re slimy. Actually, most snakes have broad, flat scales that make them very smooth, even silky. Because the scales are so smooth, and usually cold to the touch, the fleeting touch a hesitant person experiences can be mistaken as slimy, but scales are designed to lock moisture in–not excrete it in the form of slime, so they’re really very dry.

That’s all of the more obvious myths that I can think of, if you have any questions, please ask me and I’ll be happy to answer!

Herp Friday is a weekly post, highlighting all things scaley. So don’t miss it!

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About herptraveler

With a passion for travel and for herpetology, I plan on embarking on a year-long Eurasian adventure early 2012, exploring many countries and getting to know their reptilian wildlife.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Herp Friday

  1. Is it true that snakes can talk? I’ve been hearing of a herpetologist named Rowling who suggests they can.

    Posted by Floppy Socks | November 18, 2011, 8:09 pm

Opinionate yo'self!

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