When it comes to reptiles--snakes in particular--no matter who you ask from anywhere on Earth they will have a story to tell you. Most of those stories are totally fiction and some may have some truth to them so here are a few of the bigger myths and facts from the world of the reptile.
SNAKE MYTH: "I was chased by a snake!"
SNAKE FACT: Snakes do not chase people. They have no reason to do so because they see us as a predator and therefore a threat so they are afraid of us. I don't know about you but if I am afraid of something I do not chase it. If a snake comes toward you then it is just moving in your direction. It either doesn't see you or it is attempting to make it to shelter such as a hole or other hiding place and you are between it and it's home. Simply move out of it's way and it will move on by.
SNAKE MYTH: "Snakes are slimy!"
SNAKE FACT: Snakes are NOT slimy. Their are actually dry to the touch since their skin is made of keratin--the same substance that makes up your fingernails and hair. Well, actually snakes may be a bit slimy if they have just been crawling around in the water.
SNAKE MYTH: "If you chop a snake into pieces, each piece will become several small snakes or reconnect into one animal!
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. A snake is a living breathing animal and last time I checked if you chop an animal into pieces (with the exception of a few invertebrates such as flatworms and starfish) that animal then promptly expires.
TURTLE MYTH: "Turtles can crawl out of their shells."
TURTLE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. The Turtle's shell is a living part of the turtle for it's entire life and they can in no way be separated or they will die. Turtles can only crawl out of their shell in the movies and cartoons--not in real life.
SNAKE MYTH: "Snakes can sting you with their tongue or tail."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. The tongue of a snake is purely a chemical sense organ and has no stinger whatsoever. No snake has a stinger in its tail but this myth could have originated because some snakes do have a sharp spine-like scale that they may use to "poke" at a potential predator when being handled in the hopes of being released. I have experienced this reaction from some snakes and while it may work on smaller animals it is really very ineffective when the snake uses it on a lage animal such as a human (yes, believe it or not we humans are animals:-)
SNAKE MYTH: "Snakes can grab their tails and roll down hills like a wheel!"
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. No snake has ever been seen exhibiting this unusual behavior. If you see a snake do such a thing please be sure to get it on film for you will be famous! *Note: many of these tall tales that are supposedly true are not supported by any documentation such as photographs or video so how can they be proven to be true without any evidence?
LIZARD MYTH: "Legless Lizards (also called glass lizards or glass snakes) will break into segments when threatened and reconnect once the danger has passed."
LIZARD FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Like other lizards the glass lizards will drop their tail when threatened but once removed the tail cannot reattach to the lizard.
SNAKE MYTH: "Snakes can drink milk from the udders of cows."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Snakes do not have the physical ability to "suckle" milk from any animal. While this tall tale is very common in many parts of the world, it has no factual basis at all. It probably comes from the fact that snakes are often found in cattle barns where they are hunting for their favorite food--rodents.
TURTLE MYTH: "Box turtles make good pets and like to live in a box."
TURTLE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Box turtles and all turtles would much rather live in the wild near where they were born. Keeping a box turtle in a box or terrarium or other enclosure is simply a jail for the animal. The ONLY time a box turtle should be kept in an enclosure is when there is no other choice such as; it is recovering from an injury and will be released once it has recovered or it has lost its habitat. Since box turtles may outlive their "owner," (they may live ovr 100 years!) Box turtle care and housing is a very complicated and time consuming commitment. If you are serious about keeping box turtles then check the Earthshine R & R Rehabilitation Facility for an example of how an outdoor box turtle enclosure should be constructed to provide the correct care for captive box turtles.
SNAKE MYTH: "Venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes can breed with non-venomous snakes like ratsnakes."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Different species of animals cannot successfully breed and create offspring.
TURTLE MYTH: "Some turtles can freeze solid and revive unharmed."
TURTLE FACT: TRUE! Many turtles--and other reptiles and amphibians--are able to survive for periods of time partially frozen and even with ice crystals around their brain and internal organs and then revive unharmed. It really is an amazing adaptation for survival.
SNAKE MYTH: "Venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes can bite and not inject venom."
SNAKE FACT: TRUE! Many venomous snakes may "dry" bite. This means that they may bite with out injecting any venom or only a very small amount. However, bites from venomous snakes should be treated as serious and you should get professional medical attention as soon as possible. If you are bitten by a snake and are unsure of it's species--play it safe and go to the doctor just in case. Do not try to kill the snake out of vengence or to show it to the doctor. This is a good way to receive a second bite.
SNAKE MYTH: "I was bitten by a non-venomous snake and it will make me sick."
FACT: FALSE. While a bite from a non-venomous snake could become infected if not treated by washing and cleansing with an antiseptic--it will not usually make a person sick. Treat it like a brier scratch or cat scratch. NOTE: If you are not sure of the species then you should treat it like a venomous snake bite and go to the doctor.
LIZARD MYTH: "Blue-tailed lizards (also known as Five-lined Racerunners) are poison and can sting with their tail."
LIZARD FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. However, if they are attacked by a predator their tail will break off and wiggle distracting the predator while the lizard runs away to safety.
TURTLE MYTH: "If you are bitten by a snapping turtle it will not let go until the thunder rolls."
TURTLE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Thunder has nothing to do with when a snapping turtle will let go--that is totally up to the turtle.
SNAKE MYTH: Snakes have the ability to hypnotize or charm their prey so they cannot flee.
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. There is no known evidence that snakes can hypnotize or charm their prey. Prey animals such as rabbits or mice may become "frozen with fear" when they come upon a Rattlesnake--but they are not charmed. Birds often flutter about in front of a snake in the attempt to lure it away from their nests. Often, when a bird is captured and eaten by a snake an impression could be that it was charmed. In reality, that snake just knew how to hunt birds. A probable origin for this ancient myth may lie in the fact that snakes have no eyelids and therefore cannot blink.
SNAKE MYTH: "Baby snakes have more potent venom than adult snakes."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. In some species of snake the venom of the young may be of a different chemical composition that that of the adult--since young snakes often eat different prey than adults. Young snakes also have far less volume of venom due to their size so you are in less danger if bitten.
TURTLE MYTH: "Snapping turtles have seven different kinds of meat and eating turtle meat will make you live longer."
TURTLE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Snapping turtles possess only one kind of meat--snapping turtle meat. Eating turtle meat could in fact make you sick, shorten your life or even kill you! Box turtles love to eat mushrooms that are toxic to humans. Once eaten these toxins can remain in the meat and render it poisonous to humans. Aquatic turtles such as snapping turtles and softshell turtles will eat anything and can live in conditions that would be unsuitable to many other animals. Often these areas and foods are contaminated by toxic chemicals and pathogens that do not visibly affect the turtle but build up in their tissues and meat. When you eat these toxic turtles you could be slowly poisoning yourself and shortening your life. There are many other great things to eat--let the turtles live.
SNAKE MYTH: "Snakes cannot bite underwater."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Snakes are able to bite underwater. Many species of snake live in or near water and eat aquatic animals such as fish and frogs so if they could not bite underwater they would not be able to capture their prey.
SNAKE MYTH: "One can tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting it's rattles."
SNAKE FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. Rattlesnakes may shed several times per year and each time they shed they will add a new segment to their rattle. Rattle segments are made of keratin so they may often break off shortening the rattle. Example: If a 2 year old rattlesnake with 4 segments on its rattle sheds 4 times over the course of the year that equals to 4 new segments. It then looses 1 segment after getting it caught in a crack in a rock. So that snake is now 3 years old even though it now has 7 rattle segments.
TOAD MYTH: "You will get warts from touching a toad or frog."
TOAD FACT: This is a totally false and totally tall tale. While it is true that a toads skin is warty--it will not give you warts if you touch it. However, toads do have poison glands behind their head that look like two elongated wart-like bumps. If disturbed many toads will exude a toxin that may irritate the skin and eyes--so wash your hands after handling toads.
SNAKE MYTH: "Rattlesnakes aren't the only snakes that make a rattle-like sound."
SNAKE FACT: TRUE! While the rattlesnakes do have a rattle they aren't the only snakes that are able to make a rattling sound with their tail. Many snakes such as rat snakes and kingsnakes will vibrate their tail against dry leaves when agitated or frightened.
SNAKE MYTH: "Snake away, mothballs and other chemicals will keep the snakes away from my house, garden and yard."
SNAKE FACT: FALSE. In small amounts these chemicals do nothing and are a waste of money. In large amounts they stink and while they may possibly keep some snakes away...they will keep you away also.
SNAKE MYTH: "The only good snake is a dead snake!"
SNAKE FACT: FALSE.
Snakes are very important members of a healthy ecosystem so killing them harms more than just the snake--it harms the entire balance of nature.
The photo above shows what can happen to a harmless reptile, in this case an unfortunate Eastern Hognose Snake that was killed by a North Carolina Sheriff that was not familiar with the species of snakes in his area--he thought it was a Copperhead!
The wrongful killing of snakes and other reptiles happens every day all across the globe. I have witnessed and heard stories of what happens when the uneducated and uninformed cross paths with these harmless and fragile animals. Some of these stories follow lines like:
Those who chop any snake they see into pieces--just because it is a snake and "that is what my daddy always did."
Those who dynamite or pour/pump gasoline (petrol) into known Rattlesnake den sites (or any hole in the ground for that matter) in order to kill or capture the resident snakes. Many snakes have been killed or captured by this method over the years for horrible "Rattlesnake Roundups"--then there are the countless deaths of the other resident animals that share the snake den with the Rattlesnake. Rodents, insects and spiders, amphibians, other snakes, lizards and the Gopher Tortoise, bats and so many others. These animals are often overcome by the gas fumes and perish before they can escape the den.
Ironically the contamination of the local ground water supplies is a direct result of the leaching of the dumped, pumped or sprayed gasoline into the ground. These ignorant people have slowly poisoned their lands, livestock, crops, themselves and their children just to fuel their wrongful passion for killing snakes.
Those who recklessly swerve their vehicles just to run down any and all snakes or turtles that they see crossing the road. (Ironically, the vehicle used to kill the harmless reptile is exponentially more deadly than any snake--venomous or not). Check out this video I made of a Copperhead that had been run down on a remote road in a National Forest a few miles from my home.
Another irony of these situations is that people who kill every snake they see on their lands often wonder why they are over-run with rodents and have to call the exterminators and/or buy expensive poisons and traps---the answer is obvious to me: there is no natural rodent control so the balance of nature has been offset--let the snakes live and do their job of controlling rodents!
These are just some of the graphic examples of how humankind has waged war on the harmless and helpful reptile. These animals are virtually defenseless, they have no arms, legs or claws to defend themselves--only their camouflage, teeth and in some cases venom. If you were in their "shoes" wouldn't you also bite a giant attacker who was armed with a sharp or heavy weapon and was intent on killing you before he even gets to know you?
Hopefully one day, through education and better understanding, we humans will come to admire these beautiful and special animals for the vital role they play in the ecosystem...the ecosystem that we all rely on for our very lives...and we can let them live and do their part.
STEVE'S FAVORITE LINKS
If you are planning a sea kayaking excursion in the Charleston South Carolina Area than you really should check out Coastal Expeditions! I have paddled with them and they are THE outfitter for the Charleston area. My wife Marian and I saw loads of Dolphins and a Manatee! We could not have been more happy with their recommendations and hospitality.
If you are interested ways you can enhance the wildlife habitat on your land to benefit reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife then check out this page.
If you are interested in learning more about snakes of the southeast just take a look at my online reptile and amphibian quizTHE SNAKEGAME
Also, take a look at my online field notes that I filed online from 2000-2003. I plan to begin adding to my online field note page again this year.
If you love SEA TURTLES as I do you will love this site--it's awesome!! The Caribbean Conservation Corporation based in Tortugero, Costa Rica is working to study, protect and preserve the Sea Turtles of the world. They have several different species of Sea Turtles currently being tracked via satellite. On the website you can click on the name of each turtle and see where it has been and where is currently located--click:HERE To check it out!!!
Help us stop the Rattlesnake Roundups in the south and western US. Read more about it on The Humane Society of the United States Rattlesnake Roundup information page.Click:HERE
Check out the North Carolina Herpetological Society's Website by clicking:HERE
Check out the NC Partnership for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NC PARC) website by clicking:HERE
Are you interested in Reptile conservation and research--especially with snakes? Beginning in the spring of 2000 and ending in 2003 I conducted a Timber Rattlesnake movement study and a secondary reptile census study of my research area. I used paint-marking to keep track of my study snakes. I have set up a website which goes over the details of the study and has many photographs of my research snakes. I will not reveal any location information due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. Poachers and collectors of wild animals are not welcome here.
Please follow the below links to sign my petitions to stop the greed driven killing and sale of turtles, rattlesnakes and their parts and the extinction of Tuna, sea turtles, sharks and other ocean wildlife.
It is a great website "promoting the conservation of North American giant salamanders" --a must see for the amphibian lover the Hellbender is an amazing amphibian that many people are afraid of because it is so strange and misunderstood. I just don't get it though--I think the Hellbender is a wonderful and beautiful creature that needs conservation and protection-- although speaking from experience Hellbenders have got to be the slimiest creature on earth!!! They seem to be covered in sheets of pure snot;-) Check out the website for more cool information!!
Please take a look at SEA SHEPHERD's
website! Using the ship named "Steve Irwin" they are
-"Investigating violations -
- Enforcing laws -
- Protecting marine wildlife worldwide" all over the world!"
Also check outEdge Of Existence
a nonprofit organization that is operated by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
"The EDGE of Existence programme aims to conserve the world's most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species by implementing the research and conservation actions needed to secure their future.
ZSL researchers will work closely with scientists from countries in which EDGE species occur. The programme
also aims to train students from developing countries to
monitor and protect threatened species."
The Tasmanian Devils are in danger from a transmissible (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) cancer that is greatly impacting their wild and captive populations--please do what you can to help and to raise awareness of their plight.
If you are you interested in learning more about the author of this page and his wildlife related exploits over the years with Wild Pigs, Alligators, Bears, Sea Turtles and yes, more snakes--you can go to the WILDTHINGS pages by clicking:HERE