COMMON MYTHS AND TRUTHS ABOUT SNAKES
What is a myth?
A myth is a kind of story that people believe explains something about the world in which they live. Sometimes we call them “folk tales.” Myths often include forces of nature, supernatural or spiritual beings, ancestors or heroes, and historical accounts. Myths are typically old, even ancient.
Originally, most people accepted myths as being true explanations of things they experienced. More recently, however, people question things in terms of historical and scientific accuracy. As a result, we find many, but not all myths to be false. Today, a myth generally is thought of as a fiction, or at best a half-truth.
Still, in many cases we can see how a myth got its start. A casual look may have been misinterpreted. A quick glimpse may be inaccurate. Also, the stress of threat or fear can distort any of our senses.
Subject: Hoop Snakes
The Myth: Hoop snakes are dangerous snakes. When surprised one of these snakes will grab its tail in its mouth, form a “hoop” with its body, and roll away. One version of the myth says that the hoop snake will chase a person in this manner, but a conflicting version says that the hoop snake uses this means to escape from a threat. Yet another version has it that the snake will roll down a hill killing anything and everything in its path.
The Real Story: There is no such thing as a hoop snake. You won’t find one in a zoo, you won’t find one in a museum. And you won’t find a record of a hoop snake observation that has been verified by an independent, second observation.
Subject: Swallowing Young
The Myth: Some snakes, such as garter snakes, swallow their young in times of danger in order to protect them.
The Real Story: Garter snakes bear their young alive, as do some other kinds of snake. When born, however, the young are independent and they move away from their mother rather quickly.
Subject: Snakes are Slimy
The Myth: A snake’s skin is slimy and yucky, disgusting to touch.
The Real Story: A snake’s skin is dry and mostly smooth. Edges of the scales may make it seem a little rough. Many people find it pleasant to touch.
Subject: One Rattle Each Year
The Myth: Rattlesnakes add a rattle each year.
The Real Story: Rattlesnakes add a rattle each time they shed, and they can shed several times a year. Also, an individual may lose rattles as they break off. Therefore, counting rattles is not at all a way to tell a rattlesnake’s age.
Subject: Sucking Milk
The Myth: Milk Snakes sneak into barns and barnyards where they suck milk from cows.
The Real Story: A milk cow would hardly stand still for having a Milk Snake’s teeth clamped to one of her teats. But Milk Snakes do enter barns sometimes in pursuit of mice and other small rodents.
Subject: The Buddy System
The Myth: Snakes travel in pairs. If one snake is killed the other snake seeks revenge.
The Real Story: There is no evidence to prove that snakes travel in pairs. If there is good habitat for a particular snake a person may see more than one individual in a small area. Also males follow females closely during mating season. And finally, there is no evidence to show social bonding in snakes.
Subject: Tails with Stingers
The Myth: Snakes have stingers on their tails with which they can poison prey or a person.
The Real Story: Some snakes have pointed tails but they do not have stingers like bees and wasps. Also, snakes produce and store venom in their heads, not their tails.
Subject: Charming Prey
The Myth: A snake can hypnotize or “charm” its prey so that the animal is unable to escape from the snake.
The Real Story: There is no scientific evidence that snakes are able to do this. A possible explanation for this false story is that a small animal may become frozen with fear at the approach of a snake.
The Myth: Snakes can strike only from a coiled position.
The Real Story: Snakes can strike from any position. If a person grabs a snake’s body the snake can turn extremely quickly and bite the hand that holds it.
The Myth: An injured snake dies before sundown of the same day.
The Real Story: There is no evidence to support this myth. A badly injured snake dies quickly; a slightly injured snake will flee if possible.
Not all folk tales about snakes are false myths. Some of these popular stories are very true. If you want to know about snakes, you should understand these truths as well as the myths.
Subject: Coiling When Striking
The Truth: Snakes do not have to coil to strike. They can and will strike from almost any position.
Subject: Snake Eggs
The Truth: Some snakes hatch from eggs, while others are born alive.
Subject: Shedding Skin
The Truth: Snakes shed their skins several times a year rather than just once.
Subject: High-speed Snakes
The Truth: Snakes can move fairly rapidly for a human on foot, but not at truly high speeds. Top speed for most snakes probably is about five to eight miles per hour.
Subject: “Biting off more than they can chew”
The Truth: Snakes do not chew their food. They swallow their prey whole. In fact, snakes can swallow whole an animal that is much bigger around than they are.
Subject: Jumping Snakes
The Truth: Snakes cannot jump. They may fall from a ledge, soil bank or tree, but they do not jump.
Subject: Beneficial Snakes
The Truth: Some snakes actually are beneficial to humans because they prey on insect and rodent pests.
Subject: Removing Snakes’ Fangs
The Truth: Removing the fangs of a venomous snake does not make that snake harmless. A new pair soon replaces the lost fangs. In fact, the fangs of venomous snakes in Nepal are constantly being renewed.
Subject: Venomous Snakes
The Truth: Most snakes found in Nepal are not venomous. Still, there are Four kinds of snakes in Nepal that are venomous, and therefore are dangerous. They are the Cobra, the Krait, the Pit Viper, and the Russell’s Viper.
The Truth: Some snakes in Nepal will subdue small animals by wrapping coils around the prey and squeezing until the animal dies from suffocation. The snake then swallows the animal whole.
Subject: The Rattle
The Truth: Rattlesnakes have rattles at the ends of their tails with which they can make a noise. As the snake grows and ages it adds a new rattle each time it sheds its skin.
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