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  • Carrie Gardner

The Myths and the Mysteries of Snakes (part 4)

Updated: Mar 29


"Hooray! Last myth post! " says the Hognose

Hissing Adder, Spreading Adder, Blow Viper, Hissing Sand Snake

It’s referring to all the same species. It is said that they can mix venom with their breath and release a noxious huff and a puff and can kill 25 feet away. Throwing Altoids their way might make them feel better.

It’s really known as a hognose snake. They are really fairly small and are recognizable for their upturned nose, like a pig’s snout. They are also well known for their histrionics...er, bad acting job. When defensive, they coil up and feign striking out. If that doesn’t work, they pull out their next trick. They will spread out their necks like a cobra. Too bad they don’t know that there aren’t any cobras in the U.S. But the best has got to be the death scene. They twitch, convulse, roll around in agony before they stop - apparently dead with their mouths open wide and tongues hanging out. Completely limp when picked up, they have to be dead, right? If hognose snakes are picked up, they don't move and are completely limp. If they are placed back on the ground on their belly, they will rapidly turn themselves over. Death can only occur when belly up. Oh, and to make it even more realistic, they will even poop, pee, and the worst - musk. A horrid smelling substance that snakes like to shoot at people that scare them. I guess that could count as noxious, but from the other end and not toxic at all.

Hognose demonstrating his Emmy winning performance

The real adders have a very broad range - that does not include the United States. Any allusion that the hognose is venomous is, well, hogwash! They do have rear fangs with a very mild venom - mild enough that they are listed as non-venomous. The reason for the rear fangs is simple. They use them to pop toads they eat. Amphibians will puff themselves up to balloon proportions to keep from being eaten. For a snake that loves frogs and toads, this can be a bit difficult. To assist the hognose, their rear fangs are used to pop frog balloons.

Hoopsnakes


Juvenile mud snake

Hoopsnakes grasp their tails and roll over like a wheel to their prey/adversaries and sting them with the tip of their deadly tail, allegedly.

This is mostly associated with mud snakes, who are thought to erroneously have a stinger at the end

Armadillo girdled lizard

of its tail. Another possibility is the armadillo girdled lizard. A cute and heavily armored lizard, who when threatened, roll themselves into a little ball by biting their tail, protecting their vulnerable bellies.




Milk snakes drink milk and corn snakes eat corn.


Mexican milk snake

Milk snakes got their names because they allegedly go into barns and drink milk from cows. This can’t be further from the truth. Barns also attract

rodents, which attract snakes. Reptiles don’t produce milk or nurse. Nor would they be able to digest it. The closest that a milk snake would come to milk is eating a lactating female rodent. Finally, I just don't see a cow calmly accepting a snake with teeth attaching itself to her teat.


Likewise, corn snakes are attracted to crops because of the rodents that the crops attract. Farmers recognize this and are delighted by the help. Usually, they leave these gorgeous snakes alone to do their job. Corn snakes also have a beautifully patterned belly that looks like variegated corn. However, their name comes from helping farmers. They are also known as the red rat snake. (corn/red rat snake)

Pet reptiles endanger First Responders, Police, and EMT and drain their resources

A firefighter giving a bearded dragon oxygen

There have been no reports of reptiles attacking or killing emergency personnel. They save reptiles because they are much cherished and loved living creatures (and a person’s much loved and cherished pet). Cats, dogs, "pocket pets”, horses, cattle are also saved on a regular basis. The larger the animal, the more likely they are to place First Responders in danger. Scared animals will run away and hide, or bite/attack when they are picked up. Let’s just say that all animals that we keep can endanger first responders, police, and EMT and drains their resources equally...if it really was a drain on resources, which it’s not.


Reptiles and salmonella


This is true, but it began to be associated with reptiles when little baby turtles were all the rage. Infections increased because, like most things, young children placed the turtles in the mouth. A law was established that turtles under five inches in diameter could not be sold as pets. And turtles four inches could only be purchased for educational purposes. Pet stores got around this by having a person sign papers stating that they were buying it for educational purposes. If reptiles are considered dangerous, then there should also be warnings for other animals we commonly are in contact with: humans, dogs, cats, birds, livestock, horses, and amphibians. But it is very rare to contract salmonella from a rodent. One percent or less of all cases were caused by reptiles.

Salmonella naturally live in the intestines of humans and most animals. And more than the 1.5 million people a year are infected. Not including those that don’t show symptoms. And almost all get infected from food. It is the reason why you thoroughly cook meat and why on every menu, there’s a disclaimer about undercooking meat that basically says the person assumes responsibility if they get sicker than a dog because the restaurant always thoroughly cooks its meat.

How to prevent salmonella is actually quite logical. With reptiles, washing hands after handling or use sterilizer, Don’t clean food dishes or cage furniture where human food is prepared, clean their enclosures quickly and at least once a month break down their enclosures and sanitize everything. I also advise keeping reptiles out of the oral cavity. These practices shouldn’t be limited to handling reptiles. Hands should be washed after handling any animal, including the family dog or cat. Meat and eggs need to be cooked

correctly and vegetables and fruit need to be thoroughly washed. Food preparation areas should be sanitized afterward. Uncooked meat should not be stored in the same container as produce. And finally, no one needs to go all Rocky (the movie) and drink down raw eggs or drink unpasteurized milk. Anyone can run (or crawl) up the steps to the Philadelphia Metropolitan Museum of Art. I did it when I was a kid. Now, I would be the one crawling. Gulping down raw eggs won't change that. (Photo: It is recommended that you take the egg out of the shell and cook thoroughly, Don't take shortcuts, like this egg eating snake.)

And I don’t care what the CDC says, cookie dough, unbaked cake mixes, frosting, hollandaise sauce, and some salad dressings absolutely don’t count. I survived my childhood with cookie dough and other mixes. And there’s no way I’m giving up eggs benedict.

Herpetologist Harry W. Greene said this about snakes: “Snakes move like water flowing out of the pitcher.” And I couldn’t agree more. I am forever amazed at their fluidity of movement. (See the video below to see how graceful they can be, and then watch the last video to see how amazing!)

Myths, such as the ones I mentioned in the last four blogs, contribute to a fear that is the cause of many needless deaths of snakes, an animal directly responsible for controlling the rodent population. Overcoming this fear first requires caring about our environment and the animals that are the inhabitants and the knowledge that educates us on one of the most misunderstood animal: the snake.


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