MYTH vs FACT

MYTH

FACT

Once a venomous snake has been milked, or if it has just bitten something it is harmless. A snake's venom apparatus is a modified saliva gland. It continuously makes venom. Recorded facts show a black mamba striking and fatally envenomating 11 people within 1 minute. The so-called spitting cobras will spit continuously and produce prodigous quantities of venom.
Snake charmers make themselves immune by removing the fangs of their snake. Although a fangless snake may temporarily be incapable of inflicting a deep envenomated bite it continuously replaces its fangs throughout its life. Even the scratches left by its other teeth may absorb some of the venom that may drip out while striking - and it may prove fatal.
If you kill a snake - watch out because it's mate will seek you out and wreak revenge on you. Snakes are solitary animals and have no mate. It is very doubtful if they have a concept of death. You can rest assured that no mate will "seek you out" as it has no way of knowing you killed its "mate" in the first place.
There exists a snake which grips its tail in its mouth and rolls after you like a hoola-hoop. No herpetologist has ever seen such a creature. This one comes strictly from the overworked imagination of frightened people.
A mamba can outrun a speeding horse. Although a mamba is fast, it rarely is able to exceed a speed of 16 km/h - and that for very short distances, under 100 metres at best. On the flat a reasonably fit man would outrun a mamba. The question is largely academic as a man/mamba encounter usually produces two creatures "running" in opposite directions.
Snakes suck the milk from cows and leave them "dry". Many experiments have shown that presented with a variety of liquids snakes prefer water each time. A snake's capacity for liquid is small and its ability to suck minimal. All snakes are strict carnivores, they do not drink milk, eat grain and fruit or indulge in any unusual dietary supplementation. It certainly could not consume a few litres of milk - or indeed any other liquid.
Snakes only die at sunset. Because of a less well developed nervous system a snake's body may continue exhibiting movement for many hours after brain death - or indeed decapitation. These residual muscle reflexes do not indicate life. A snake dies, like a human, when its brain is dead.
A python (boa, anaconda, etc.) "crushes" its victim to death. A constrictor snake does not crush its victim. It restricts its ability to breath by tightening the coils around the ribcage everytime the victim exhales. Finally the victim cannot inhale anymore and dies of suffocation.
Baby snakes eat their way out of the mother's body. Some snakes bear "live" young. They are ovovivaparous. This means that the eggs "hatch" within the mother's body. They enter the world via the cloaca, in the normal manner. They do not eat their way out of the body.
Snakes are immune to snake venom. Not always true. Snakes tend to be immune to their own species venom. Other types have varying resistance to venom. Ophiophagus (snake eating) snakes tend to have a high resistance to most venoms. The fact that they carry venom themselves does not necessarily confer immunity to it!
A snake licks it prey all over before swallowing it. False. A snake may flicker its tongue over its prey. This is an organ of smell and taste. It does not lick nor does it deposit saliva. Sometimes a snake will regurgitate its last prey very quickly, before it is digested - they have the ability as a defence mechanism - and that may be covered in gastric juices.
Snakes hypnotise their prey. Snakes lack eyelids and thus their unblinking stare has given rise to this particular legend. Sometimes small prey animals will freeze from fear when confronted by a snake but snakes cannot hypnotise anything.
The poisonous breath of a snake can kill a person. This one is particularly applied to puff adders. The distance that the "killing" can take place also varies according to the incredulity of the believer. There is no poison in a snake's breath. None whatsoever. The only toxins present are in the venom which is injected via the fangs. The venom is also innocuous when consumed - assuming you have no open sores in your digestive tract.

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Copyright: Séan Thomas & Eugene Griessel - Dec 2005