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  • Carrie Gardner

The Myths and Mysteries of Snakes (part two)

Updated: Mar 29





Steve and Terri Irwin made it fun to learn about reptiles.

I think there are a lot of people who still live in a world where they think that what is shown to us on television programs are true. Especially on the channels Discovery owns. When Animal Planet first aired, they cared more for the accuracy of the facts that they were sharing than the sensationalism they now represent. Such wistful times when Steve and Terri Irwin shared their love and passion for some of the most misunderstood animals in this world. And following behind them was Jeff Corwin. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And at least between my friends and me, we would talk about special adaptations that animals had (not just reptiles.) Likewise, the History and Discovery channels were the same. I always had the History Channel on or Animal Planet. The last time I watched one of those three channels was to see if a man, in a special snake stomach acid-proof suit could entice an Anaconda to swallow him. He couldn’t get her to even take a bite if I remember correctly, and he even covered himself up in scents that she should’ve responded to. People were mad that he didn’t get swallowed. I was more peeved that the snake was put under the stress that she was.

This is the second of my series that I promised you within my last blog. Here, hopefully, I can dispel some common myths, misconceptions, misrepresentations about snakes. If you have any you would like answered, please email me at focusonreptiles@gmail.com.




The longest snake in the world - the reticulated python.

Constrictor Snakes (Boas, Pythons, Anacondas) kills slowly by constriction. When they find a meal, they grab and throw coils over it faster than can be seen sometimes. The most powerful coils are wrapped around their upper chest area - but usually not on the neck. They can feel the vibrations of the heart and will adjust how much they are constricting, which is just hard enough to stop blood flow completely. This interferes with an animal’s heart function and the blood pressure, gases, and ion balance. Oxygen is not getting to organs. By stopping the blood, prey is unconscious in seconds and dead in a minute or less. In contrast, asphyxia can take several minutes and cause the victim a lot of suffering and panic. The faster the death, the better it is for a snake’s well-being. It protects them from being bit or scratched, and the quicker they can kill and eat, the more energy and time they will have to concentrate on mating or finding their next meal. Though the constrictor family was used as an example, most, but not all, non-venomous snakes also constrict.


Burmese python swallowed an alligator.

Snakes also tend to eat animals much smaller than you would think compared to their size. Smaller animals are easier to catch, kill, and digest. During the first part of digestion, the snake remains in a quiet place allowing them to focus the energy they have to digest as quickly as possible. With snakes in captivity, it is advised to leave a snake alone for 48 hours after feeding. A snake that eats really large meals leaves itself vulnerable. If attacked while they are digesting, snakes will regurgitate the meal in order to get away or defend itself. Swallowing a large animal takes a long time, and it takes awhile to come up too. If threatened, by the time the snake was finished regurgitating, it would be dead.


Large snakes CAN kill humans. Constricting is easy for them. Eating is another story. No matter how big the snake, their mouths cannot open wide enough to swallow all but the youngest children with our shoulder girth. Theoretically, they can swallow a person if the person is on their side since snakes can open up and say “ah” more vertically than horizontally. Stories are all over about man-eating snakes, but there has only been one confirmed case from 2017 when a man in Indonesia was found inside a 23-foot reticulated python’s stomach. The video shows a dead python as it is cut open and the victim is discovered. It is graphic, so take heed.




Reticulated python

I haven't seen any pictures or videos, but there have been reports of two people swallowed by reticulated pythons this year. They are the longest snake in the world, but not the heaviest (that belongs to the Green Anaconda,) and are usually the ones who are guilty) Living in Indonesia, the snake co-exists with the local tribes, farmers, and villagers. Physically the villagers are smaller in stature, with a smaller shoulder girth than Americans or Europeans. Even more rare than a snake consuming a human is to have it twice in one year. How rare is it here? You are more likely to win the lottery and be struck by lightning than die from a snake.


“Look at this HUGE 21-foot rattlesnake I found.”

There are pictures that circulate the Internet that shows someone posing happily with a dead snake, usually on a hook with the caption stating some unbelievable length. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are the largest venomous snakes in the country, and if they reach eight feet, that’s impressive. What you are actually seeing is a photographic illusion called forced perspective. Using a wide-angle lens, it takes two objects to work. One object is close to the camera and two to three feet behind is the second object. As long as both objects remain in focus, the object in front looks larger and closer to the second object.

Using a stuffed animal snake and a hook, this gentleman demonstrates how to make a small snake look incredibly large by holding the hook out in front of him

It is actually a really cool effect. Have you ever seen pictures of people where people appear to hold the sun between their finger and thumb? That’s also forced perspective. People can be pinched between fingers and there are a lot of people holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s fun to use, just not when you’re making dead animals appear larger in order to play on people’s fears.


An example of forced perspective.

Snakes are slimy.

Not in the least. Most mammals have some area where they sweat. Dogs and cats sweat through their paw pads, for example. Sweating is essential to maintaining our body temperature. Snakes are “ectothermic” which is the fancy term for depending on the environment for body heat. We’re “endothermic”, with our bodies producing its own heat. Their bodies are perfectly designed to conserve water in many different ways. Their skin is one of them. Snakes do release pheromones to attract mates and the ability to musk in defense. It smells. Badly. Really Bad. The first thing my ball python, Earnie, did when he met me was to musk. I was telling him how stinky he was, while he was telling me that he did a stinky on me.


A very sleek and dry Earnie, the ball python.

Snakes are dry and cool to the touch (unless they’ve been laying somewhere warm) and smooth, like lightly textured leather. Holding them is actually very cathartic. You don’t hold them so much as you let them move through your hands while they think they’re going places. Their muscles gently squeeze and relax in a massage-like pattern, that can loosen up stiff fingers and hands (at least for me). Even having one around your neck with their weight is like a cool, dry compress. To snakes, gently wrapping around our necks is like heaven to them. In our necks, laying rather close to the surface are the carotid and jugular veins, running on either side. Snakes can feel, and probably detect, the heat - wrapping themselves around that luxurious warmth.


A beautiful Green Anaconda.


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