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Beliefs about snakes to chuck in the myth bin

Getting to Know the Neighbours

There is a great deal of fear about snakes, and a number of myths persist. Pat McKrill regularly holds talks to educate school children, workers, communities about how to live peacefully and happily with these misunderstood creatures. Picture: Supplied

By Pat McKrill

In this age of man, where references to just about anything starting with any letter in the alphabet can/will be taken to be a slight on one’s religious, cultural, racial, sexual or moral values, it’s becoming extremely difficult to say anything without offending someone, but I’m going to give this a try, treading warily, without any intention to offend.

I’d guess that most of us, none more than others, have a phobia – fear – of some kind, but the fear of snakes, ophidiophobia, must be at the front of the queue. In my travels to a number of countries, I get to hear of some amazing – unbelievable? – fears and beliefs that persist, no matter the age or classification of the believers.

Fairy tale

Undoubtedly, our parents stretched credibility with some of the things they told us as kids, like “put that down, you’ll poke someone’s eye out!” – or the annual fairy tale, “he brings presents down the chimney every Christmas night, but only when you’re fast asleep”- whether we had a chimney or not. But as happens, as soon as we got streetwise, the truth came out, then it became our turn to perpetuate the myths for our kids.

But snake myths are a different matter, they are passed on as a reality, and they stick – forever. Here’s a bunch of them that you can now safely discard from the myth bin you might have been carrying around for years.

Pat interacting with and educating a youngster about snake behaviour. Picture: Supplied

If you’ve killed a snake (hopefully, never again), and you’re worried; relax! You don’t have to burn and bury it – the alleged relatives will not come to try to trace you or it.

Snakes do not live forever in pairs, so when the time is right, same species will meet up to mate, but that’s all – no wedding ceremonies, music, or presents.

More by Pat McKrill click here

If a snake strikes at you as you walk by – for example, a puff adder alongside a path, in the mistaken belief that you’re food – it will not deliberately hang onto you afterwards as some people believe, but sometimes it’s possible that a fang could temporarily get caught up in your clothing, giving that impression.

Snakes do not swing down from the trees and catch their food with their tails – not even the python. Because they have no arms, all snakes need to procure their prey with their mouths – that’s why they have teeth. If they’re constrictors, once they’ve caught their prey (not you – humans are seldom preyed upon by snakes), they will use the rest of their body to enclose it and kill it by suffocating it with their coils. Constrictors seldom break the bones of their prey during suffocation.

They cannot whistle!

If it’s looking at you, a snake is looking for signs of movement, it’s not hypnotizing you, and as snakes can’t close their eyes, it might even be asleep!

Snakes can’t hear you, and apart from the odd snake that hisses its warnings, they cannot vocalise or whistle.

Take care, take your binoculars. Have fun.

Contact info: 083 303 6958; herpet@eastcoast.co.za

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