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Title: Snakes - Curiosities and Wonders of Serpent Life
Author: Hopley, Catherine Cooper
Language: English
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Curiosities and Wonders of Serpent Life.

Morrison & Gibb, Edinburgh,
Printers to Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.


  _Ophiophagus bungarus_.

  _Echis carinata._

  _Naja tripudians_.

  Reticulated Python,
  _Python reticulatus_.

  Rat Snake,
  _Ptyas mucosus_.





Curiosities and Wonders of Serpent Life_.



Author of ‘Sketches of the Ophidians,’ ‘Life in the South,’ ‘Rambles and
Adventures in the Wilds of the West,’ etc. etc.

   ‘These lithe and elegant Beings.’—RYMER JONES.

   ‘Can outswim the Fish and outclimb the Monkey.’—OWEN.


Griffith and Farran,
Successors to Newbery and Harris,
West Corner of St. Paul’s Churchyard, London.
E. P. Dutton & Co., New York.

The Rights of Translation and of Reproduction are reserved.

                                _TO MY
                    Professor Richard Owen, F.R.S.,
                         OUT OF WHICH IT CAME;
                       DEEP DEVOTION TO HIS ART,
                             SHORT LIFE OF
                        A DEAR BROTHER OF MINE,
                               THIS BOOK
                         IS HUMBLY DEDICATED,



  CHAP.                                                             PAGE

      I. SEEING A SNAKE FEED,                                         27

     II. SNAKES OF FICTION AND OF FACT,                               41

    III. OPHIDIAN TASTE FOR BIRDS’ EGGS,                              59

     IV. DO SNAKES DRINK?                                             75

      V. THE TONGUE OF A SNAKE—PART I. WHAT IT IS ‘NOT,’             94

     VI. THE TONGUE OF A SNAKE—PART II. WHAT IT ‘IS,’               107

    VII. THE TONGUE OF A SNAKE—PART III. ITS USES,                  115

   VIII. THE GLOTTIS,                                                129

     IX. BREATHING AND HISSING OF SNAKES,                            142

      X. HIBERNATION,                                                159

     XI. THE TAIL OF A SNAKE,                                        170


   XIII. FRESH-WATER SNAKES,                                         221

    XIV. THE PELAGIC OR SEA SNAKES,                                  233

     XV. ‘THE GREAT SEA SERPENT,’                                    247

    XVI. RATTLESNAKE HISTORY,                                        268

   XVII. THE RATTLE,                                                 294


    XIX. DENTITION,                                                  342

     XX. VIPERINE FANGS,                                             368

  XXI. THE CROTALIDÆ,                                                381

  XXII. THE XENODONS,                                                395


  XXIV. DO SNAKES INCUBATE THEIR EGGS?                               431

  XXV. ANACONDA AND ANGUIS FRAGILIS,                                 452

  XXVI. ‘LIZZIE,’                                                    470


  XXVIII. SERPENT WORSHIP, ‘CHARMING,’ ETC.,                         507

  XXIX. THE VENOMS AND THEIR REMEDIES,                               532

  XXX. NOTES FROM THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS,                            561

  INDEX,                                                             593




TO the many friends who have repeatedly asked me, ‘What _could_ induce
you to take up such a _horrid_ subject as snakes?’ a few words of
explanation must be offered. Some words of apology are also due that
I, a learner myself, should aspire to instruct others. I cannot do
better, therefore, than tell the history of this book from its birth,
and in so doing cancel both obligations. The little history will be a
sort of _OPHIDIANA_, or gossip about snakes; and in this I only follow
the example of most herpetologists, who, when writing exclusively on
these reptiles, preface their work with some outline of the history of
ophiology, and generally with an excuse for introducing the unwelcome
subject at all. There is still reason to lament that traditional
prejudice invests everything in the shape of a serpent with repulsive
qualities, and that these prejudices are being only very slowly swept
away by the besom of science.

Serpents are intimately associated with our religious beliefs. Not
that we _worship_ them! Far otherwise. Many excellent and orthodox
persons associate with a serpent all the sin and misery which ever
existed on our globe, and are persuaded that the sooner everything in
the shape of one is exterminated the better.

On the other hand, those who can look at a snake with unprejudiced eyes
and study its habits, find continual reason to wonder at and admire the
extraordinary features which exhibit themselves in its organization.
Owing to their retiring habits, many of them nocturnal, and partly in
consequence of preconceived errors, less is understood about them than
almost any other natural group of animals; therefore—as the reader
will discover—a student, when left to himself, has to wade through
ages of writers in order to find out what to believe regarding them.
Scientific ophiologists are still engaged in settling mooted questions
concerning them. But apart from science there is a glamour of poetry,
romance, and mystery about snakes, and not without reason. There has
been a great deal of what we may call ‘Drawing-room Natural History’
of late years—charmingly sensational and romantic; attractive also in
illustrations and colouring, but not always intended as reliable guides
for students.

All travellers are not naturalists; and though they may contribute
valuable information in one branch of science, it is possible they may
mislead in another; and from the very popularity of their books, such
errors are rapidly disseminated. I aspire to a place on drawing-room
tables for my book also, but let me assure my readers that my aim has
been to assist by diligent search to establish truthfulness. Whatever
of romance or sensation attaches to it, is due to the marvellous powers
of the creatures who fill its pages, and whose true nature I have
laboured to comprehend.

Schlegel and Dumeril are two authorities on serpents much quoted by
English writers, and both give us a list of all the naturalists of
repute who have done service to herpetology, up to the date of their
works. As many of these are introduced in the body of my work, let
us glance at the progress of ophiology since the date of these two
distinguished authors. In zoology as much as in any branch of science
progressiveness is observable; and in zoology the advance of ophiology
has of late years been remarkable. In 1843, when Schlegel’s _Essai sur
la Physionomie des Serpents_, 1837, was translated into English by Dr.
Thos. Stewart Traill, of the University of Edinburgh, he mentioned as a
reason for curtailing the original (and not adding the atlas containing
421 figures, with charts and tables), that the low state of ophiology
in this country did not invite a larger work, and ‘deters booksellers
from undertaking such costly illustrations;’ but he hoped to be useful
to science by cultivating a branch of zoology hitherto neglected. Ten
years prior to that date, viz. 1833, the monthly scientific magazine
_The Zoologist_ was started; in introducing which the Editor, Mr. Ed.
Newman, wrote: ‘To begin, the attempt to combine scientific truths with
readable English has been considered by my friends one of surpassing
rashness;’ that he had ‘many solicitations to desist from so hopeless
a task,’ and many ‘supplications to introduce a few Latin descriptions
to give it a scientific character,’ science being then confined to
the scientific alone. Nevertheless the _Zoologist_ has survived half a
century, and under able editorship has taken its stand as a popular as
well as scientific journal. Formerly you might have hunted the pages of
such magazines year after year without finding mention of an ‘odious
snake;’ but within the last decade, not only this but other periodicals
have frequently opened their pages to ophiology, and a considerable
removal of prejudice is noticeable.

Mr. Newman felt encouraged by the success attending the publication
of White’s _Selborne_, that being one of the first works to induce a
practical study of nature. Yet, until the appearance of Bell’s _British
Reptiles_ in 1849, our present subject occupied but very stinted space
in literature. Indeed, we must admit that as a nation we English have
_followed_, not _taken_, the lead as naturalists. So long ago as
1709, Lawson in his _History of Carolina_ lamented the ‘misfortune
that most of our Travellers who go to this vast Continent are of the
meaner Sort, and generally of very slender Education; hired laborers
and merchants to trade among the Indians in remote parts.’ ... ‘The
French outstrip us in nice Observations,’ he said. ‘First by their
numerous Clergy; their Missionaries being obedient to their Superiors.’
Secondly by gentlemen accompanying these religious missions, sent out
to explore and make discoveries and to keep strict journals, which duly
were handed over to science. And what Lawson remarked of the American
colonies was extended to wherever the French, Portuguese, and Italians
established religious communities. We find our book-shelves ever
enriched by foreign naturalists.

In Germany, also, ophiology was far in advance of us. Lenz, Helmann,
Effeldt, and many others pursued the study practically; and produced
some valuable results in their printed works, which unfortunately are
too little known in England. Doubtless because we in England have so
few native reptiles, there is less inducement to concern ourselves
about them. Not so in America, where herpetology soon found many
enthusiasts; and the researches of Holbrooke, Emmons, De Kay, and Weir
Mitchell were published within a few years of each other. Dr. Cantor
in India, and Dr. Andrew Smith in South Africa, Drs. Gray and Günther
and P. H. Gosse in England, all enriched ophiological literature
previous to 1850, to say nothing of the valuable additions to the
science dispersed among the _Reports_ and _Transactions_ of the various
scientific Societies. After the appearance of Dr. Günther’s important
work, _The Reptiles of British India_, in 1864, published under the
auspices of the Ray Society, another fresh impetus was observable, and
we had Krefft’s _Snakes of Australia_, 1869; _Indian Snakes_, by Dr. E.
Nicholson, 1870; culminating in _The Thanatophidia of India_, by Sir
Joseph, then Dr. Fayrer, F.R.S., C.S.I., etc., Surgeon-Major of the
Bengal Army, in 1872, which brings me to the commencement of my own

A few years ago, I knew nothing whatever about snakes; and to them,
though deriving my chief pleasures from an inherited love of all
things in nature, a faint interest _at a respectful distance_, was
all I accorded. In Virginia and Florida, where a country life and a
gorgeous flora enticed my steps into wild and secluded districts, we
not unfrequently saw them and one or two ‘narrow escapes’ seasoned
the pages of my notebook. When in such rambles we caught sight of one,
we flew at our utmost speed, encountering the far greater danger of
treading on a venomous one in our precipitous flight, than in shunning
the probably innocent one from which we were fleeing.

My first startling adventure in Virginia was more ridiculous than
dangerous. We were about to cross a little rivulet that ran rippling
through a wood, in which there were many such to ford. Often fallen
boughs or drifting logs, dragged into the shallow parts by the negroes,
served as stepping-stones. These becoming blackened in the water, and
partially covered with tangled drift-weed, were so familiar a sight
that, without pausing to observe, I was making a spring, when my
companion caught hold of my dress, crying out, ‘Don’t step on them!
They will bite you!’ The supposed shining and tangled boughs were
two large black snakes commonly known as ‘Racers,’ enjoying a bath;
but until I had hastily regained the top of the bank, alarmed at the
excitement of my young friend, I did not discover the nature of our
intended stepping-stones. The snakes were not venomous, but very
‘spiteful,’ and might have resented the interruption by sharp bites. In
moving, they probably would have caused me to fall upon them and into
the water, when they might have attacked me with unpleasant results.
Now, however, my chief vexation was that they got away so quickly, I
could learn nothing about them.

Another ‘escape’ was on an intensely hot day, when in early morning
we had started for a botanical ramble. Our way lay along a sloping
bit of pasture land, bounded on the east and higher ground by a dense
wood, which afforded shelter from the sun. Beguiled on and on, among
the lovely copses of exquisite flowering shrubs and a wealth of floral
treasures which carpeted the turfy slopes, we were unconscious of time.

Though only in the merry month of May, blackberries of enormous size
and delicious flavour, trailing on long briars yards and yards over the
mossy grass, invited us to break our fast; and, all unmindful of the
breakfast-hour, we feasted and rested.

Suddenly we found ourselves no longer shaded by the wood to the east
of us, for the sun had mounted high; and at the first touch of his
scorching rays as we rose to our feet, we glanced at each other in
dismay, for we had open ground to cross in getting home. My Virginia
companion said that it would be better to ford the streams in the wood,
than risk sunstroke by crossing a cornfield, our nearest way home.

This we decided to do, and having surmounted all obstacles, were almost
within earshot of the house, when Ella, with a shriek, started and ran
back, exclaiming, ‘A moccasin!’

‘What? where?’ I eagerly inquired, trying to follow the direction of
her eye.

‘Oh, Miss Hopley, come back! Quick! Come away! Water moccasins are
worse than rattlesnakes, for they dart at you!’

Sufficiently alarming, certainly; yet I wanted to _see_ the terrible
object, and ascertain how far off it was, and at length discovered
the head and neck of a snake erect. About a foot of it was visible,
and might have been taken for a slight stem or stick standing
perpendicularly out of the swampy herbage bordering the narrow path.
The fixed eyes and darting ‘sting’—which I then thought the tongue to
be—seemed to endorse the character my young friend had given it. Yet
I lingered, ‘fascinated,’ no doubt, by its gaze, the fascination in my
case partaking of curiosity chiefly. The reptile remained so rigid that
I was inclined to venture nearer; nor did I welcome the idea of having
to retrace our steps and risk the open field under that Virginia sun.
But Ella would not hear of passing the deadly snake. There were others,
she was sure, in that swampy part.

Well, we reached home at last, more dead than alive, having discarded
our treasured specimens and substituted sprays of enormous leaves with
which to shield our heads from the sun. And I have ever reflected, that
of the two dangers—snakes and sunstroke—we risked the greater in
traversing that cornfield at such an hour.

Besides that ‘deadly moccasin’ and frequent ‘black snakes,’ there
were ‘whip snakes,’ ‘milk snakes,’ and many others which the negroes
would bring home as trophies of their courageous slaughter; but by no
scientific names were they known there. Except this name _moccasin_
or _mokeson_, which probably conveyed some especial meaning to the
aborigines, few of the Indian vernaculars have been preserved in the
United States, as we find them in other parts of America, which latter
are treated of in chapters xxii. and xxiii. of this work; but common
English names prevail.

After a time I proposed to write a book about snakes, starting with the
stereotyped ideas that they all ‘stung’ in some incomprehensible way;
that the larger kinds crushed up horses and cattle like wisps of straw;
and that all, having viciously taken the life of the victim, proceeded
with epicurean gusto to lick it all over and smear it with saliva, that
it might glide down their throat like an oyster! There are those who to
this day believe the same.

My proposed book was, however, simply to recount some adventures
among the snakes which were encountered in our American rambles. It
was intended for the amusement of juvenile readers, and to supplement
the little work about my pet birds[1], which had met with so kind and
encouraging a reception.

But in order to merely recount an adventure with a snake, some
knowledge of the reptile is essential. One must, at least, be sure
of the correct name of the ‘horrid thing’ which lifted its ‘menacing
head’ a few feet in front of us; such local names as ‘black snake’ and
‘moccasin snake’ affording no satisfactory information.

Nor were hasty references to books much more satisfactory. Mr. P. H.
Gosse had been over the same ground, gathering many interesting items
of natural history; but in his _Letters from Alabama_ I could not
decide on my moccasin snake. From this and his other works, and then
from the authors quoted by him, I discovered only that there were
many ‘black snakes,’ some deadly, others harmless. The same with the
‘moccasin’ snake, which was now of this colour, now of that. While one
writer expatiates on the beauty of the ‘emerald snake,’ a ‘living
gem, which the dark damsels of southern climes wind round their necks
and arms,’ another describes snakes of emerald green which are dreaded
and avoided. One traveller tells of a ‘coral snake’ whose bite is
fatal within an hour; while elsewhere a ‘coral snake’ is petted and
handled. Equally perplexing were the ‘carpet snakes,’ ‘whip snakes,’
‘Jararacas,’ and ‘brown snakes.’

Nor were names the only puzzle to unravel; for in almost every other
particular writers on snakes are at variance.

Those ‘moccasin snakes’ in Virginia were venomous, I was sure, having
known of accidents from their bite. Hoping to become enlightened as to
their true name and character, I repaired to the Zoological Gardens to
ascertain if they were known there. Yes; there were several together
in one cage, labelled ‘Moccasins’ (_Tropidonotus fasciatus_) ‘from
America;’ but to identify them with the one in Virginia, of which I
had seen only a short portion from a distance, was impossible. To add
to the perplexity, Holland the keeper assured me these were ‘quite

‘But are you _sure_ these are harmless snakes? They are poisonous in

‘Well, miss, they have bitten my finger often enough for me to know,’
returned Holland.

‘Then there must be _two_ kinds of moccasin snakes,’ I argued, ‘for
the others are _extremely_ venomous;’ and I related my Virginia
experiences, and that I had known of a horse bitten by one that had
died in an hour or so, fearfully swollen.

‘They have never hurt me,’ persisted Holland.

Subsequently I discovered that in the United States this name
_moccasin_ is a common vernacular, first and chiefly applied to a
really dangerous viper, _Ancistrodon pugnax_ or _piscivorus_, the
one, most likely, that we saw in the wood; and secondly, to a number
of harmless snakes which are _supposed_ to be dangerous, and of which
those at the Gardens, _Tropidonotus fasciatus_, are among the latter.
Thus at the very outset the puzzles began.

Nevertheless, after some research I learnt enough of snake nature to
feel safe in proceeding with my book of _Adventures_, and in presenting
it to a publisher.

‘As a gift-book no one would look at it, and as an educational work
there would be no demand for it,’ was its encouraging reception.

This was about ten years ago; and so far from inducing me to relinquish
the subject, I began to aspire to become a means of assisting to
overcome these prejudices. For the space of two years the anticipated
‘sequel’ to my _American Pets_ went the round of the London publishers
of juvenile works, and to several in Scotland. It was read by many
of them, who professed to have been unexpectedly and ‘extremely
interested’ in it—‘_but_’—none could be persuaded to ‘entertain so
repulsive a subject.’ One member of a publishing house distinguished
for the high standard of its literature, positively admitted among
his insurmountable objections, that when a child his mother had never
permitted him to look through a certain favourite volume late in
the day, ‘for fear the pictures of snakes in it should prevent his

An editor of a magazine told me he should lose his subscribers if he
put snakes in its pages; and another made excuse that his children
would not look at the magazine with a snake in it.

Perhaps this is not so surprising when we reflect that until within
a late date snakes in children’s books, if represented at all,
are depicted as if with full intent of creating horror. They are
represented with enormously extended jaws, and—by comparison with
the surrounding trees or bushes—of several hundred feet in length;
sometimes extending up a bank or over a hedge into the next field, or
winding round a rock or a gnarled trunk, that must be—if the landscape
have any pretensions to perspective—a long way off. Slender little
tree snakes of two or three feet long are represented winding round
and round thick stems and branches strong enough to support you. Into
the chasm of a mouth from which an enormous instrument (intended for a
tongue) is protruding, a deer the size of a squirrel (by comparison),
or a squirrel the size of a mouse, is on the point of running meekly to
its doom.

No wonder children ‘skip’ the few pages devoted to snakes in
their natural history books, and grow up full of ignorance and
prejudices regarding them. In no class of literature are original and
conscientious illustrations more required than to replace some of those
which reappear again and again, and have passed down from encyclopædias
into popular works, conveying the same erroneous impressions to each
unthinking reader.

The strongly-expressed opinions of publishers convinced me that the
prejudices of adults must first be overcome before children could be
persuaded to look at a snake as they would look at a bird or a fish,
or to enter the Reptile House at the Zoological Gardens without the
premeditated ‘Aughs!’ and ‘Ughs!’ and shudders.

During the two years that witnessed the MS. of _Aunt Jenny’s
Adventures_ lying in first one and then another publishing house, an
especial occurrence acted as a great stimulant, and induced an almost
obstinate persistence in my apparently hopeless studies.

This was the sensation caused by the daily papers in reporting the
case of ‘Cockburn _versus_ Mann;’ and the ‘SNAKES IN CHANCERY.’ To
the horror and dismay of the ‘general public,’ Mr. Mann, of Chelsea,
was represented as ‘keeping for his amusement _all manner of venomous
serpents_;’ or, as another paper put it, ‘Mr. Mann had a peculiar
penchant for keeping as domestic pets a large number of venomous
snakes.’ (I copy verbatim from the papers of that date.) That these
‘water vipers and puff adders’ were ‘apt to stray in search of
freedom;’ or, ‘being accustomed to take their walks abroad,’ had
strayed into the neighbours’ gardens, to the terror of maid-servants
and children;’ and were ‘now roaming up and down Cheyne Walk,’ and
‘turning the College groves into a garden of Eden.’ So an action was
brought against Mr. Mann: for the neighbours decided that ‘there was no
better remedy for a stray cobra than a suit in Chancery.’ ‘Everybody’
during July 1872 was reading those delightfully sensational articles,
and asking, ‘_Have_ you heard about Mr. Mann’s cobras?’

Mr. Frank Buckland was brave enough to venture into the dangerous
precincts of Cheyne Walk, and even into the house of Mr. Mann, to test
the virtues and vices of both the ‘pets’ and their possessors. He
finally tranquillized the public mind by publishing accounts of his
visit, affirming that not _one_ of the snakes was venomous, but, on
the contrary, were charmingly interesting and as tame as kittens. The
testimony of so popular an authority served not only to allay local
terrors, but to modify the sentence that might otherwise have been
passed on the ophiophilist, who was merely cautioned by the honourable
judge to keep his pets within due bounds.

After this, Mr. and Mrs. Mann and their domesticated ophidians held
daily receptions. I was invited to see them, and in company with a
clerical friend repaired to Chelsea. It was the first family party
of snakes I had ever joined, and I must confess to considerable
fluctuations of courage as we knocked at the door. Nor could one quite
divest oneself of apprehension lest the boa-constrictors to which we
were introduced should suddenly make a spring and constrict us into a
pulp. But they didn’t. On the contrary, towards ourselves they were
disappointingly undemonstrative, and only evinced their consciousness
of the presence of strangers by entwining themselves about the members
of the family, as if soliciting their protection. They were very
jealous of each other, Mr. Mann said; jealous also of other company, as
if unwilling to lose their share of attention. There were half-a-dozen
or more snakes—viz., several boas, of whom ‘Cleo,’ or Cleopatra, has
become historical; two or three lacertine snakes from North Africa; and
a common English snake. The smaller ones were regaled on frogs for our
special edification. At that time I had never been to the Reptilium at
the Zoological Gardens on feeding days, and when Mr. Mann permitted a
frog to hop about the table, and we saw the ring snake glide swiftly
towards it and catch it in its mouth, we could not comprehend what was
to happen next. ‘What _will_ he do with it?’ we both exclaimed. We had
not long to wait. Somehow or other the frog, caught by its hind leg,
got turned round till its head was in the snake’s mouth and the hind
legs were sprawling and kicking, but in vain. Then head-foremost it
vanished by degrees into the jaws of the snake; while the head of the
latter, ‘poor thing,’ seemed dislocated out of all shape! It was a
wonderful but painful sight; for how the snake’s head stretched in that
amazing manner, and how the frog was drawn into the mouth, was past our

An equally wonderful but far more attractive sight was Mrs. Mann,
a graceful and charming little lady in black velvet, with Cleo
coiling around her in Laocoon-like curves. The rich colouring of the
beautifully-marked reptile entwining the slender form of the woman, the
picturesque and caressing actions of Cleo, and the responsive repose
of Mrs. Mann as the snake was now round her waist, now undulating
around and over her head and neck, was altogether a sight never to
be forgotten. Two sweet little children were equally familiar with
the other boas, that seemed quite to know who were their friends and
play-fellows, for the children handled them and patted and talked to
them as we talk to pet birds and cats.

Such were the ‘vipers, cobras, and puff adders’ that had figured in the
daily papers.

After this, the reptile house at the Zoological Gardens became a
new attraction. From there to the bookshelves and back again to the
Gardens, my little book of adventures was discarded for a more
ambitious work; but still was confronted by disaffected publishers,
whom even the Chelsea snakes failed to convince of public interest.

Friends protested—and still demand—even while I write—‘How _can_
you give your mind to such odious, loathsome, slimy creatures?’ and
I boldly reply, ‘In the hope of inducing you to believe that they
are _not_ odious and loathsome, and especially not “slimy,” but in
the majority graceful, useful, beautiful, _wonderful_!’ And I invite
them to accompany me to the Zoological Gardens, and endeavour there
to contemplate a reptile as they look at the other denizens of the
Gardens, simply as a member of the wide family of the brute creation,
appointed by the Great All-wise to live and feed and enjoy existence
as much as the rest, and that have to accomplish the purpose for which
they were created equally with the feathered families which we admire

And as whatever may be original or novel in this book has been obtained
at the Zoological Gardens, I now invite my readers to accompany me in
imagination to the Ophidarium, where we may learn how that little ring
snake was able to swallow his prodigious mouthful without separating it
limb from limb, as a carnivorous mammal would divide the lamb it has

‘But’—you exclaim in horror—‘we do not wish to contemplate so
painful, so repulsive a spectacle! How _could_ you, how _can_ you,
stand coolly there and see that poor frog tortured and swallowed alive?’

Dear, tender-hearted reader, I did not, I _could_ not, unmoved,
contemplate this sight at first; nor for a very long while could I
bring myself to watch a living creature being drawn into that living
trap. Nor could we—you and I—feel aught but horror in visiting a
slaughter-house and watching a poor calf slowly die. Nor could we, for
pleasure merely, look coolly on at a painful surgical operation. Yet we
know that such things must be. The life of the snake is as important
as that of the frog. If we are to talk about cruelty, this book of
natural history, and of intended—let me say, of hoped-for—usefulness,
would become one of political economy instead. We might discuss the
sport of the angler, the huntsman; the affairs of the War Office;
of railroad managers and of road-makers; the matters of the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; followed by an examination
into the questions that have been ventilated in so-called ‘benevolent
organs;’ and how some of them employ writers who in every tenth line
betray their ignorance of the creatures they attempt to describe. Not
even theology could be dispensed with in this work; for, since the time
when Adam was told to have ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, and
over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon
the earth,’ the question of ‘cruelty’ has never been satisfactorily
solved. Morally and broadly, let us understand it to mean _unnecessary_
torture—pain and suffering that can be _avoided_, and which offers
a very wide scope indeed. In the animal world, ‘every creature is
destined to be the food of some other creature;’ and by these economies
only is the balance of nature maintained. Happily we are spared the
too vivid realization of the destruction of life ceaselessly going on
throughout creation; the myriads of insects destroyed each moment by
birds, the sufferings inflicted by the feline families and by birds
of prey, the countless shoals of the smaller fish devoured—swallowed
_alive_ too!—by larger ones, or caught (and not too tenderly) for
our own use. These things we dismiss from our minds, and accept as
inevitable. We do not ventilate them in daily journals. Nor do we
take our children to the slaughter-house or the surgery for their
entertainment; or repair thither ourselves for the sake of minutely
discussing afterwards the sufferings we have witnessed. You will,
I hope, discover that the pain inflicted by the constrictor or the
viper is not, after all, so acute as it is by some imagined to be. The
venomous bite of the latter causes almost immediate insensibility; the
frog which the ring snake ate probably died of suffocation, which also
produces insensibility; the constriction of the boa—in its natural
condition—produces also a speedy death. Besides, as Dr. Andrew Wilson,
in a paper on this subject, has explained to us, the sufferings of a
frog or a rat are not like _our_ sufferings. Their brain and nerves are
of a lower order.[2]

Permit me, therefore, in the outset, to dismiss from these pages the
question of cruelty as not being a branch of zoology; and as we cannot
prevent snakes from eating frogs, or the vipers from catching field
mice (nor need we wish to do so, or the small quarry would soon become
too many for us), let us examine the curious construction of a snake’s
head and jaw-bones that enables it to accomplish the task so easily.

With reference to the rapid development of science, it has been said
that a scientific work is old as soon as the printer’s ink is dry. Up
to the moment of sending my concluding pages to press, I realize this;
and remarkably so in the growing interest in the Ophidia. Writings on
this subject are becoming so frequent that, while correcting proofs, I
am tempted to add footnotes enough almost for another volume.

Several circumstances have combined to enrich ophiological literature
within a few years; one which, in 1872, I quite think established a
sort of new era in this branch of zoology, was the appearance of Dr.
Fayrer’s magnificent work, _The Thanatophidia of India_. Mr. Bullen,
then the Superintendent of the Reading-Room at the British Museum,
knowing that the subject was engaging my attention, informed me of the
arrival of this book, and, with his ever kind thought for students,
ordered it into the room for my express use; and I think I may affirm,
that I was the very first ‘reader’ who had the privilege of inspecting
the work, and, I hope, of helping to make it popular. For as day after
day those huge folio leaves stood open, with the conspicuous and
lifelike illustrations almost moving before your eyes, readers would
linger and gaze, acquaintances would stop to inquire and inspect; some
with a shudder would ask ‘how on earth I could endure the sight of such
fearful creatures?’ while a few would manifest sufficient interest and
intelligence to be indulged with a full display, and to whom I eagerly
aired my convictions of the tremendous errors afloat concerning the
snake tribe.

‘Beyond the pale of science but little is known of Ophiology,’ were
Fayrer’s words. Two years previously to this, in 1870, Dr. Edward
Nicholson wrote his book, _Indian Snakes_, ‘in the hope of dispelling
the lamentable ignorance regarding some of the _most beautiful and
harmless_ of God’s creatures.’

This enthusiasm is gradually spreading, and we now not unfrequently
hear of domesticated snakes in English homes; both from friends
who keep them, and from the correspondence of the _Field, Land and
Water_, and similar papers, in whose columns inquiries for information
are often made regarding ophidian pets. Lord Lilford, one of the
kindest patrons of the London Reptilium, has, I believe, for many
years been a practical ophiologist. There is one little favourite
snake that figures in these pages of which his lordship gave an
excellent character from personal acquaintance, ‘the beautiful species
_Elaphis-quater-radiatus_, as being the most naturally tame of all the
colubrines, never hissing or trying to bite though frequently handled.’
A noble lady not long since carried a pet snake to the Gardens. It was
twined round her arm, where it remained quiet and content, though to
the alarm of some monkeys who caught sight of it. Some members of our
Royal Family, with the enlightened intelligence which displays itself
in them all, have more than once paid visits to the Reptile House at
the Zoological Gardens, where the keeper has enjoyed the high honour of
taking snakes out of their cages to place in royal hands. The good-will
and interest towards the inmates of the Ophidarium are likewise
displayed by some country gentlemen in presents of game, in the form
of ring snakes for the Ophiophagus and frogs for the lesser fry. Lord
Arthur Russell, Lord Lilford, and other distinguished personages set
excellent examples of this kind. All of which proofs of prejudices
overcome are features in the history of ophiology, and especially in
the last decade.

Then, in glancing at recent literature, a great change is discernible,
more particularly so during the last two years, since the popular
contributions of Dr. Arthur Stradling, a corresponding member of the
Zoological Society, have imparted a novel interest to this branch of
zoology. To this gentleman my own most grateful acknowledgments are
due, as will be evident to the reader, not only for the zest imparted
by his correspondence from Brazil, but for some important specimens
presented to me by him, which have enabled me to describe them
minutely from personal observations, as well as to add some original
illustrations from them. Though my work and my studies were far
advanced, previous to his valued acquaintance, yet I have been able to
enrich my pages from his experience, and have added footnotes from his
published writings.

Already, however, some few dispassionate students of nature among
editors were promoters of herpetology, and I must here express my
acknowledgments to the talented daughters of the lamented Mrs. Alfred
Gatty (and editresses of that _facile princeps_ among juvenile
periodicals, _Aunt Judy’s Magazine_), for having been the first
to encourage and accept from my pen a snake in their pages, and
subsequently several papers on ophidian manners and habits for their

In preparing ‘Sketches of the Ophidians’ for the _Dublin University
Magazine_, December 1875, and January and February 1876 (in all, about
forty closely-written pages), I, by request of the editor, included
a paper on the venom and the various remedies, though, reluctant to
intrude within the arena of professional science, a sort of summing
up of evidence was all that I attempted. Having been thus required to
glean some crude ideas from technical writings (which necessitated
glossaries and dictionaries to be ever at hand), I again add a chapter
on the ‘Venoms’ to my present work. Left entirely to my own independent
conclusions, if I have ventured to think in opposition to some popular
writers, and have even presumed to offer some suggestions of my own, I
trust I may be treated with clemency.

With regard to the terrible death-rate from snake-bite in India, it
does, however, appear to me that journalists who hold up their hands
in horror, and write strong articles on this subject, lose sight of
the religious and social condition of the low-caste Hindûs, who are
the chief sufferers, and whose superstition is so fatal to them.
_Snake-worship_ is the root of the evil! _Education_ must lower the
death-rate. During the visit of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to India,
the entire programme was on one occasion interrupted because some
Hindû children, to whom a feast was to be given, could not eat in
the presence of Christians, whose ‘shadow would have polluted their
food,’ or some obstacle of this nature. Similar difficulties arise when
they are snake-bitten; their creed prohibits their having recourse to
approved remedies. ‘Snake-charmers’ and native quacks are sent for
instead, and often when cures are possible the fatalists submit to

To Professor Owen, who six years ago permitted me the honour of
dedicating this contemplated work to him, and to others who were then
led to expect its early appearance, I may be allowed to offer an excuse
for tardiness. Like the creatures which fill its pages, I succumb to
the chills of winter, and depend on the suns of summer for renewed
vigour and activity. At one time impaired health, and the enforced
suspension of literary pursuits under the threatened loss of the use of
my right hand, were grievous interruptions.

Filial duties and domestic bereavements caused another two years’
delay. Banished to the seaside, and the pen prohibited during the
winter of 1874-75, I had almost despaired of turning my studies to
account, when a new impulse arrived in the shape of a note from the
editor of _Chambers’s Journal_, begging to know if my ‘work on the
Ophidia was out, and by whom published’? My ‘work on the Ophidia’?
Could that mean my poor, despised little book that had been long ago
submitted among others to those Edinburgh publishers? _My work on the
Ophidia!_ I began to get better from that day; and from that date,
March 1875, I have had the inexpressible pleasure and privilege of
including among my kindest and most sympathetic ophiological friends,
the Editor of that popular journal. On the Ophidia, he entrusted me
with work in various directions, encouraged by which I again returned
to town, and to the Zoological Gardens.

If I am so fortunate as to afford instruction or entertainment in the
following pages, my readers will join me in congratulating ourselves
on the possession of so large and valuable a zoological collection as
that in the Regent’s Park, without which this book could not have been
attempted. And I may embrace this opportunity of expressing my sincere
thanks to the President and Council of the Zoological Society for the
privileges and facilities afforded me at their Gardens, where not only
the Reptilium but the annual series of zoological lectures there, given
by the first biologists of the day, have been of inexpressible use to

I would also express my thanks to Professor Flower, Hunterian Professor
at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, for his invariable courtesy
in facilitating my examination of the ophiological specimens in the
museum of that College, to which my honoured father (himself a member)
attributed all the love of the study of natural history which from our
earliest recollections were encouraged in his children. My thanks are
also due to Dr. Günther of the British Museum for similar facilities
there. Indeed, the words of encouragement given me, no less than six
years ago, by the distinguished heads of the zoological department
of our great national collection, sustained my courage in opposition
to all counter influences _outside_ the British Museum. When first
contemplating and presenting some outline of this work to Dr. Günther,
he honoured me by expressing his opinion that such a book was ‘much
needed;’ that it would be ‘extremely useful and interesting.’ He was
even so kind as to promise to state this opinion in writing to any
publisher who might consult him on the subject. I here claim the
pleasure of thanking my present publishers for dispensing with the
necessity of troubling Dr. Günther, and for entrusting me with the
preparation of this book, which, before a chapter of it was completed,
they engaged to publish. Deficient as I feel it to be, it is at length
launched on the doubtful waters of public criticism. If any scientific
eyes honour it with a glance, they will with clemency remember that,
with no scientific knowledge whatever to start with, I have had to
grope my way unaided, plodding over technicalities which in themselves
were studies; and if, as no doubt is the case, any misapprehension of
such technicalities has here and there crept in and misinterpreted the
true meaning, I anxiously trust that the truth has not been altogether
obliterated by such obscurities.

In conclusion, let me not omit a grateful tribute to the invariable
kindness of the heads of the Reading-Room at the British Museum;
and for their assistance in obtaining books of which I might never
have known. The kindness of Mr. Garnett extended even beyond the
Reading-Room; for while I was invalided at the seaside, and could only
read, _not write_, he translated and forwarded to me some important
pages from Lenz, a German ophiologist. To him, therefore, the thanks of
the reader are also due.

In the choice of illustrations my aim has been rather to exemplify a
few leading features than to attract by brilliantly-figured examples.
Some of the woodcuts are borrowed from Günther’s and Fayrer’s works;
others I have drawn faithfully from natural specimens; but in them
all I am indebted to the kind and patient work of Mr. A. T. Elwes in
reproducing my own imperfect attempts. And as it was impossible to draw
a snake _in action_ from life, or to witness a second time the precise
coils or movements which had at first struck me as remarkable, the
composition of some of these subjects was by no means an easy one. Our
united efforts have been to represent the natural actions as far as
possible, and this I hope may commend them to the reader.

There are few English persons who have not relatives in India,
Australia, America, and Africa, and from whom they are continually
hearing of escapes or accidents from snakes. Many letters from these
friends beyond the seas find place in the columns of the daily
journals. Whether, therefore, naturalists or not, a very large class of
the intelligent public claims an anxious interest in the Serpent race,
and to all of whom my OPHIDIANA or snake gossip is hopefully addressed.


  LONDON, _October 1882_.







IN any person who for the first time witnesses a snake with prey
just captured, the predominant feeling must be one of surprise at
the seemingly unmanageable size of the animal it has seized; and he
probably exclaims to himself, or to his companion, as we did on the
occasion described in the introduction, ‘What will he do with it?’
Let us again take our common ring snake, _Coluber natrix_, that ate a
frog for our edification; only, in the present instance, instead of
seeing a tame snake in a private residence at Chelsea, we will suppose
ourselves to be watching one on the banks of a stream in fine summer
weather. A slight movement in the grass causes us to turn our eyes
towards the spot, and we are just in time to see the quick dash, and
the next instant a recalcitrant frog held aloft in the jaws of a snake
that with elevated head glides up the bank. Coluber’s head is no bigger
than a filbert, and the frog is nearly full grown, its body inflated
to twice its original size, and its legs, of impracticable length and
angles, kicking remonstrantly.

‘How in the world is the snake going to manage it?’ again you exclaim,
and your amazement is not exceptional. It is what has been witnessed
and heard weekly in London when the public were admitted to the
Reptilium on feeding days, and it is what the reader will recall in his
own case when first informed that a snake was going to swallow that
monstrous mouthful undivided.

In the present instance, the injury to froggie’s feelings thus far
partakes more of moral than of physical pain, for the grasp of the
snake is not violent, and he finds that the more he struggles the
more he injures himself. Yet he kicks and struggles on, at thus being
forcibly detained against his will. In the mouth of the snake he is
as proportionately large as the shoulder of mutton in the jaws of
the dog that has just stolen it from the butcher’s shop. How do the
canines manage unwieldy food? The dog can tackle the joint of meat, big
though it be, because he has limbs to aid him, and he was prepared for
emergencies before he stole it. He knew of a certain deserted yard up
a passage close by, and of some lumber stacked there; he watched his
opportunity, and is off to his hiding-place; and once hidden behind the
lumber, he settles down quietly with his ill-gotten dinner firmly held
between his fore-paws, while, with eyes and ears on the alert, he gnaws

The snake, no doubt, knows of a hole in the bank, or in a hollow
tree, in which he can hide if alarmed; but he cannot set his frog down
for one instant, nor can he relax his jaws in the slightest degree,
or his dinner hops away, and he has to pursue it, or wait for another
frog, when the same thing may happen again. He has only his teeth to
trust to, and these have all the work of paws and claws, and nails
and talons, to accomplish, while yet, not for one instant, must they
relinquish their hold.

‘Besides!—how much too big that frog is for Coluber’s small mouth!’
And we continue to gaze in wonderment, filled with amazement that
brings us to the bookshelves, to endeavour to comprehend the
phenomenon. Not, however, until we have seen the end of that frog on
the banks of the stream, where the reader is supposed to be waiting.

First, let me explain that in the manner of feeding, snakes may
be divided into three classes, viz. those that kill their prey by
constriction or by smothering it in the coils of their body; those
that kill by poison; and some smaller kinds, which, like the ring
snake, eat it alive—the latter a quick process, which may also be
said to be death by suffocation. Our little Coluber is in a spot where
we can watch it easily; so we keep rigidly still, and soon perceive
that though the snake just now had hold of froggie’s side, he now has
the head in his mouth. How can this be? and how has he managed to
shift it thus, almost imperceptibly, while seeming to hold it still?
Now the head begins to disappear, and the snake’s jaws stretch in a
most distorted fashion, as if dislocated; its head expands out of all
original shape, while slowly, slowly, the frog is drawn in as if by
suction. Now its legs are passive; they no longer kick right and left,
but lie parallel, as by degrees they also vanish, and only the four
feet remain in sight. These presently have been sucked in, and the
skin of the snake is stretched like a knitted stocking over the lump
which tells us just how far down Coluber’s neck the frog has reached.
Gradually the lump gets farther and farther down, but is less evident
as it reaches the larger part of the body. The snake remains still for
a few moments till his jaws are comfortably in place again; then he
yawns once or twice, and finally retires for his siesta, and we to the

‘Snakes work their prey down through the collapsed pharynx,’ says
Günther. That is, the muscles of the throat seize upon what is
presented to them, and do their part, as in other animals. Only, in
most other animals there is the _action_ of swallowing, one mouthful
at a time; whereas in serpents the action is continuous, the throat
going on with the work begun by the teeth, which in a snake is
only grasping and working the food in with a motion so gradual as
to simulate suction. The reason why the head and jaws have been so
enormously stretched and distorted, is because all the bones are, in
common language, _loose_; that is, they are not consolidated like the
head-bones of higher animals, but united by ligaments so elastic as
to enable them to separate in the way we have seen. This extends to
the jaws, and even to the palate, which is also armed with teeth, two
rows extending backwards. The lower jaw or mandible being extremely
long, the elastic ligament by which the pair of bones is connected
in front, forming the chin, enables them to separate widely and move
independently. This is the case in a lesser degree with the palate
bones, and the upper jaw-bones, all six being furnished with long,
fine, recurved, close-set teeth, adapted for _grasping_ and _holding_,
but not for dividing or for mastication in any way.

For, as we have seen, if a snake were to open its mouth one moment
for the purpose of what we call _biting_, the prey would escape. In
addition to a very unusual length, the lower jaw is joined to the
skull by an extra bone,—one which is not found in mammals, but only,
I think, in birds,—a long ‘tympanic’ bone, which forms an elbow, and
permits of that wide expansion of the throat necessary for the passage
of such large undivided prey.

The illustration of the skeleton of a cobra, on p. 33, will enable
the student to distinguish the principal head-bones. There is so much
similarity of construction throughout the whole ophidian families
that a cobra is chosen here, because the unusually long anterior ribs
which form the hood can be observed, and the expansion of which is
described elsewhere. The longer teeth in the upper jaw are here fangs;
the inclination of the other rows of teeth and the bones sufficiently
illustrate those of the non-venomous kinds generally, such as the
little ring snake that has just swallowed his frog. A few of the larger
constricting snakes possess an additional bone—an intermaxillary in
front between the upper jaws, very small, yet sometimes furnished with
two or four teeth, thus facilitating the expansion of the jaws as well
as the retention of the food.

It is this adaptive development of head-bones that enabled _Coluber
natrix_ to turn his frog round to a more convenient position, and then
draw it into his mouth so gradually that we scarcely comprehended how
it disappeared. The six rows of small teeth form six jaws so to speak,
each one of which advanced a very little, while the other five were
engaged in holding firmly. In those largest pythons which have the
little bone in front between the two upper jaw-bones (intermaxillary)
we may say there are _seven_ jaws. As those gigantic snakes have to
deal with proportionately large and strong prey, they are thus enabled
to retain and manage it.

In the graphic language of Professor Owen let me recapitulate.

The mouth can be opened laterally or transversely, as in insects, as
well as vertically, as in other vertebrates. The six jaws are four
above and two below, each of which can be protruded or retracted
independently of the others. ‘The prey having been caught and held,
one jaw is then unfixed by the teeth of that jaw being withdrawn and
pushed forward, when they are again unfixed farther back upon the prey;
another jaw is then unfixed, protruded, and re-attached, and so with
the rest in succession. This movement of protraction, being almost
the only one of which they are susceptible, while stretched apart to
the utmost by the bulk of the animal encompassed by them: and thus by
their successive movements, the prey is slowly introduced into the

[Illustration: Skeleton of a Cobra (from Owen’s _Anatomy of the

This working of the jaws would be almost imperceptible excepting to
a very close observer. In the lower jaw-bones the independent action
can be more readily perceived and is often very grotesque, one side of
the mouth opening while the other is closed, conveying the idea of the
reptile making grimaces at you; but the gradual disappearance of the
prey so much more bulky than the snake itself is quite incomprehensible
until we are acquainted with the remarkable phenomena of the six rows
of teeth acting independently. Thus, in turning the frog round to
adjust it to a more convenient position, the jaws acted like hands in
moving, dragging, or shifting some cumbrous article, say a carpet or
a plank, when the left hand follows the movement of the right hand
until the plank or carpet is worked round or forward in the required

The form and arrangement of the fine claw-shaped teeth assist the
process. They are too close together, and the pressure is too slight
to inflict a wound; they merely retain what they hold, and it is in
vain for the prey to struggle against them, or it might get some ugly
scratches as they all incline backwards. In chapter xix. illustrations
of teeth, life-size, show their forms and direction; here it only need
be added regarding them, that the above description refers chiefly to
the non-venomous snakes.

The palate being covered with that armoury of teeth, the snake must
have but a slight sense of taste, which is to its advantage, we should
say; for having no assistant in the shape of beak or limbs to divide
its prey, hair, fur, feathers, dust—all must be swallowed with the
meal, completely disguising whatever flesh they cover, so that we
should suppose the process of feeding could be productive of very
little enjoyment to the reptile. Perhaps out of this state of things
has developed their habit of eating so seldom, but when they do take
the trouble of feeding, of doing it thoroughly, so that their meal
lasts them a long while.

Deglutition is greatly facilitated by an abundant supply of saliva,
which lubricates that uncomfortable coating of feathers or fur; but
‘lubrication’ is understood to refer merely to the natural secretions
of the mouth, in which the tongue performs no part at all.

The salivary apparatus of snakes is peculiar to them, and very
complicated. Even the nasal and lachrymal glands pour their superfluous
secretions through small canals into the mouth.[4] These active and
abundant glands are excited by hunger or the sight of food, just as in
mammals; and for the more common expression of the mouth ‘watering’
that of ‘lubrication’ is here used, because over the rough-coated
prey these salivary secretions act as a great aid in deglutition. The
erroneous impressions that have obtained on this subject are touched
upon in describing the tongue (chap. vi.).

A circumstance happened at the London Zoological Gardens a few years
ago, which, although familiar to many, may be referred to as bearing
on two of the above features—namely, the dull sense of taste in a
snake, and the abundant supply of mucous secretions. It was in the case
of a large boa which swallowed her blanket. She was about to change
her skin, and, as usual on such occasions, was partially blind, as
also indifferent to food. The rabbits given to her dodged her grasp,
and her appreciation of flavours was not sufficient to enable her to
discriminate between blanket and rabbit fur; so, seizing a portion of
the rug, she with natural instinct constricted this, and proceeded to
swallow it. She was, however, made to disgorge it afterwards, when it
was scarcely recognisable from the thick and abundant coating of mucous
in which it was enveloped. Mr. F. Buckland described its appearance as
that of a ‘long flannel sausage.’

These highly-developed salivary glands are beneficent provisions in
the economy of the serpent race. The reptile cannot, as we said, tear
flesh from bones, and discard the latter; nor separate the food from
the enveloping feathers or fur; nor reject whatever unsavoury portions
other animals might detach and leave uneaten. All must be swallowed by
a snake, and all digested; and its digestion, sufficiently powerful, is
aided by the excessive flow of saliva, or the insalivation of such food.

It is not difficult to make snakes disgorge their food. They often
do so on their own account, when, after swallowing some bulky meal,
they are alarmed or pursued, and escape is less easy with that load to
carry. The illustration exhibiting the numerous ribs, which are all
loosely articulated with the spinal column, enables us to comprehend
the capacity for bulk, and the ease with which these fine ribs would
expand to accommodate a body even broader than the snake itself. We
comprehend, also, why it is that a creature swallowed alive need not
be injured or wounded by the mere fact of being swallowed, but would
die of suffocation after all. A frog has been known to turn round and
escape from the body of the snake, if the latter indulge in a prolonged
yawn; and yawning almost always does follow as soon as the prey is
swallowed, because the snake has for the time breathed less regularly,
and now requires to take in a fresh supply of air. In this act you see
the two jaws extended to an enormous degree, almost, indeed, to form
one straight line perpendicularly. In such condition the teeth are well
out of the way, and the adjustable ribs, expansile covering, and loose
head bones render them not insurmountable obstacles to an escape when
the prey is uninjured.

One sometimes hears of the egg-stealing snakes, cobras, etc., when
surprised and pursued, first relieving themselves of their plunder
before they attempt to escape. Often it may be observed, when two
snakes are in a cage together, and both get hold of the same frog
or rat, that they each advance upon it till their heads meet, when
either the stronger or the larger snake will gain the day, and
finish his frog, and then proceed to swallow his friend; or else
one will relinquish his hold, when, even in those few minutes, the
half-swallowed prey will be completely disguised in the mucous saliva
which has already enveloped it.

Some snakes, though not quarrelsome at other times, for some reason
inexplicable to the looker-on, persistently set their heart on the same
bird or frog, though many are presented for their choice. In a pair
of _Tropidonoti_ at the Gardens this occurs almost every week; and in
such instances the keeper keeps a sharp watch over them; for as neither
snake will relinquish its capture, the one that begins first comes in
contact with the head of his comrade, who will assuredly be swallowed
too, were not a little moral, or rather physical coercion in the shape
of a good shaking administered. Sometimes both get their ears boxed,
figuratively; yet the discipline has no more than a passing effect,
and next week the same thing happens again.

Not many months ago a very valuable snake was thus rescued literally
from the jaws of death. A South American rat snake (_Geoptyas
collaris_) began to eat a rabbit that was put in the cage for a python,
which also began to eat it. _Collaris_ would not let it go, and so the
python continued to advance upon it until he came to his comrade, and
proceeded with this prolonged repast. _Collaris_ is a rather large
snake of some eight or ten feet long. When nearly the whole of him had
vanished, the keeper—who, of course, had been occupied at each cage in
turn—fortunately discovered about a foot of tail fast disappearing in
the mouth of the python, the whole of _Collaris_, excepting this caudal
portion, having been swallowed. Just in time to rescue the victim,
the keeper, by his experienced manipulation, made the python open his
mouth, while the assistant helped to pull at _Collaris_. At last they
pulled back all the seven feet of snake, which sustained no further
injury than a slight scratch or two against the python’s teeth; but he
seemed none the worse, and was no sooner free than he seized a rat,
constricted and ate it with a celerity which seemed to say he would
make sure of a meal this time.

On the following Friday the very same thing was about to occur again.
_Collaris_ had begun to swallow the python’s rabbit, the latter having
prior hold; but the keeper was on the watch, and administered a little
practical reproof which made the rat snake loosen his hold. Matters
were further complicated on this occasion by the python throwing some
coils around his intended feast, so that to get a purchase and manage
these two constrictors was less easy than on the previous occasion,
though then the snake had been swallowed. In the same cage were also
two other pythons, quite strong enough to strangle a person had
they taken a fancy to hug him round the neck. Both were aroused and
displeased at the commotion, and ready to ‘fly’ at the men, who, on the
whole, had an exciting time with the four constrictors, all from eight
to twelve feet long.

Cannibalism is very common in snakes, particularly among the _Elapidæ_,
which have small and narrow heads, and can therefore more conveniently
swallow a fellow-creature than a bird or a quadruped. The keeper told
me that often a box arrives at the Gardens labelled ‘Ten cobras,’
or ‘twelve,’ as may be; when, on opening the box, the number falls
short; suggesting that cannibalism has diminished the company. It is
a curious fact, however, that snakes, as a rule, seize prey whose
bulk far exceeds their own, even when a more manageable kind could be
easily caught. It is as if they were aware of the accommodating nature
of their multifold ribs; as a snake longer than themselves must be
doubled up in their stomach, and those broader than themselves must,
one would imagine, be a most uncomfortable meal to dispose of. Yet this
is common. Mr. H. W. Bates found in a jarraraca an amphisbœna larger
than itself, and in another snake a lizard whose bulk exceeded its own.
My Brazilian correspondent, Dr. Arthur Stradling, wrote me of a similar
circumstance. He received a little _Elaps lemniscatus_ in Maceio, which
presented a singularly bloated appearance. It no doubt felt itself
in a condition not favourable to rapid escape; or captivity impaired
its digestion, for ‘the next morning it disgorged an amphisbœna or
small serpent (it was half digested) actually longer than itself, and
weighing half as much again.’

Prodigious meals engender drowsiness, and thus the Ophidia habitually
repose a long while after taking food.

This habit of gorging enormous prey being one of the most striking
of ophidian characteristics, it has been introduced thus early in my
work, as affording opportunity for a general glance at the anatomical
structure. In the next chapter we will enumerate a few other peculiar
features, ere proceeding to examine in detail some of the most
important organs.





IN a celebrated lecture on ‘Snakes,’ given by Mr. Ruskin at the London
Institution in March 1880, he introduced his subject with the three
considerations: ‘What has been thought about them?’ ‘What is truly
known about them?’—extremely little, as he suggested;—and, ‘What is
wisely asked about them, and what is desirable to know?’

The three questions exactly agree with the object of my work, this
chapter especially; and I will invite my readers to seek in their own
minds the answer to the first question, which will also furnish a
solution to the second, and, I trust, incite some interest in the third.

The learned lecturer carried us through the realms of fancy, to conjure
up all the grotesque creatures which, under the name of ‘serpents,’
have figured in heraldry and mythology. By these, and by the light
of the poets of old, and in later times through the naturalists of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we learn what a ‘serpent’
was to them, and what it included. In remote antiquity it was an
embodiment of the hideous and the terrible; and in spite of Aristotle
(a comparatively recent authority), dragons and such-like chimærical
creatures have pervaded the mind both of the erudite and the ignorant,
in association with serpents, till within three hundred years, and are
not even yet altogether discarded.

Nor am I inclined to believe that the terror-inspiring representations
of classic days are so unreal as might be supposed. Palæontology is
continually bringing to light new evidences of the presence of man
on the earth in ages far remote; and we do not know for certain what
strange forms of animal life were his contemporaries, or when the
faculty of speech was so far developed in him as to enable him to learn
about his predecessors, which were still more terrible. We do know that
fossils of mammoth creatures, passing strange, are coeval with fossil
human remains, and to those early types of humanity a knowledge of
still stranger creatures of reptilian forms may have been handed down
from mouth to mouth; for there is generally a germ of truth at the root
of a myth. Fossil remains tell us of the gigantic forms of ancient
reptiles, or compound reptile-fish or reptile-birds, and quadrupeds
which have gradually diminished in size or become altogether extinct as
our own period has been approached.

Said Professor Huxley, at the British Association in 1878, ‘Within the
last twenty years we have an astonishing accumulation of evidence of
the existence of man in ages antecedent to those of which we have any
historical record. Beyond all question, man, and what is more to the
purpose, intelligent man, existed at a time when the whole physical
conformation of the country was totally different from that which now
characterizes it.’

Did these intelligent beings know anything of the _Dinotherium_
(dreadful beast), or the _Dinornis_ (dreadful bird), or any other of
those fearful forms which have furnished historic ages with a dragon?

Coming down to our own era, and the time when travel and education
first induced the observation and study of animals with a view to learn
their habits, and to arrange them under some system of classification,
we begin to see the perplexities that presented themselves to
naturalists, especially with regard to egg-producing creatures. To
Topsell, a writer of the seventeenth century, every creeping or
crawling thing was ‘a Serpente,’ and many insects were included in his
category. To Lawson, on the contrary, every egg-producing creature, if
not a bird, was an ‘Insect.’ In his _History of Carolina_, 1709, he
describes, under ‘Insects of Carolina,’ all the snakes he saw, also
the alligators, lizards, etc., and thus continues: ‘The Reptiles or
smaller Insects are too numerous to relate here, the Country affording
innumerable quantities thereof; as the Flying Stags with Horns,
Beetles, Butterflies, Grasshoppers, Locusts, and several hundred of
uncouth Shapes.’ Having thus gone through the ‘Insects,’ except the
‘Eel-snake’ (which turns out to be a ‘Loach’ or _leech_), he gets
puzzled over a ‘Tortois, vulgarly called Turtle, which I have ranked
among the Insects, because they lay Eggs, and I did not know well
where to put them.’ And Lawson was not alone in not knowing ‘where to
put’ a countless number of other creatures that go to form the endless
links in the long chain of living organisms; even plants, which, to
use Darwin’s words, ‘with animals, though most remote in the scale of
nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations.’ You may
place the dove at one end of the chain and the crocodile at the other,
without one broken link. The earliest bird which palæontology has
revealed had teeth in its bill, claws on the end of its wings, and a
long tail with feathers growing out of it, like a pinnate leaf.

We see those strange forms reproduced in the gardens of the Crystal
Palace. Lizards with the head of a bird and other combinations, the
Pterosauria or winged-lizards, Ichthyosauria or fish-lizards, of which
some representative types still exist in the African _Lepidosiren_
and the Mexican _Axolotl_, which have puzzled modern physiologists as
much as the Carolina tortoise puzzled Lawson; for whether to call them
reptiles or fishes was long a disputed question. Dr. Carpenter, in his
_Zoology_, reckons fifty-eight of such links among reptiles; as, for
instance, the transition from turtles to crocodiles, from tortoises
to lizards, in which latter we find the legs growing shorter, till
they are gone altogether in the blindworms and amphisbænas. These
again branch off to the cecilias, and the cecilias to worms on one
side, and to frogs on the other, having the form of a snake, but the
skin of the batrachian. There are the Ophiosaurians, snake-lizards,
and Saurophidians, lizard-snakes; there are lizard-like frogs and
frog-like lizards; some of them beginning life with gills, and becoming
air-breathers afterwards, others of saurian aspect retaining their
gills through life; and from these, again, is the transition between
reptiles and fishes. There are diminutive snakes of worm-like aspect,
and gigantic worms which might be mistaken for snakes; and among modern
naturalists, that is to say within one hundred years, worms have been
classed with reptiles when none such enormous species as those lately
found in Africa were dreamed of.

There is in no branch of zoology so much confusion as in herpetology;
and if the reader will, with a sweep of the imagination, embrace the
innumerable forms that come under the class _Reptilia_, their various
coverings, and their close gradations, he will not wonder at this. Let
us glance at a few of the systems adopted by Linnæus and others of his
time, who, we must remember, had to combat not only inherited ideas
of ‘creeping things,’ but the difficulties presented by badly stuffed
or bottled specimens; the latter often having been so long in alcohol
that their colours had flown, or their covering changed in texture. The
Atlantic was not crossed in a week in those days; and three months,
instead of three weeks, barely sufficed to reach India, to say nothing
of inland journeys when you got there. If foreign specimens came home
after the manipulations of a taxidermist, he had done his very best to
render them as hideous as tradition painted them. Sometimes a wooden
head on a stuffed body; teeth that might furnish the jaws of the
largest felines, and a tongue to match; while with external cleansings,
scrapings, and polishings, it were hard to discover what manner of skin
had originally clothed the creature.

Carefully chosen was Aristotle’s name for reptiles, ‘the terrestrial,
oviparous, sanguineous animals;’ for those which we are considering,
breathe by lungs, and are therefore red-blooded. Cuvier divided the
egg-producing animals into oviparous quadrupeds (lizards, turtles,
crocodiles, and frogs); bipeds, the birds; insects and serpents.
Linnæus—who, by the way, preceded Cuvier—called all reptiles
‘amphibious animals,’ of which serpents were the second order, those
‘without limbs.’ He also divided them into orders, genera, and species;
but in the Ophidia was guided too much by the scales, which has caused
confusion ever since, as both poisonous and harmless snakes often
present similar characters in this respect.


If the reader will turn to the illustration of scales (p. 193), he will
see an example of the large scutæ or ventral plates that are possessed
by the majority of the true Ophidia. The burrowing snakes, most of
them small and allied to lizards in their structure, are protected by
a cuirass of hard, close-set, polished scales, _alike all round_; or
else with a thick, smooth skin arranged in rings. Some very poisonous
serpents, notably the sea-snakes, have also the scales alike all round,
because they do not require the hold which those large ventral scales
afford to land serpents in progression; but it will at once be seen
that on so slight a resemblance it would be unsuitable to arrange such
widely-differing families in the same group. The majority of snakes
have the scales under the tail different from those under the body;
and a very large number, both of venomous and innocuous snakes, have
broad ventral scales, as far as the termination of the body, and then a
double row where the tail commences. The accompanying illustration is
sufficient to convey a general idea of the arrangement of the scales
before and after the anus.

Linnæus called all serpents with these two rows of sub-caudal scales,
_Colubers_, including under this name many both large and small,
land and water, poisonous and harmless snakes. In respect for the
great talent and vast work accomplished by this eminent naturalist,
as well as his then paramount and diffusive knowledge, his systems
prevailed for a very long while. Cuvier, after Linnæus, became also a
great authority for a time. He recognised distinctions in the fangs
of venomous snakes, and would reform some previous errors regarding
scales. ‘_Boa_ comprenaient autrefois tous les serpens venimeux ou
non, dont le dessous du corps et de la queue est garni de bandes d’une
seul pièce.’[5] It was equally unsuitable to mingle those with the
double rows, as it put a viper and a coluber together. Cuvier also
made closer distinctions between the lizard-like snakes and the true
Ophidia, ‘_serpens proprement dit_.’ The words _herpetology_ (from the
Greek), and _serpents_ (from the Latin _serpo_), formerly embraced a
much larger variety; the former may include _all_ reptiles, while the
more recently adopted one of _ophiology_ comprises snakes only. And the
history of the word tells of the history of the distinctions gradually
adopted as above described, as the true snakes or serpents, without
external limbs, were separated from the rest.

The various names for a snake—Anguis, Serpens, Coluber, etc.—having
been made generic distinctions by some of the older naturalists, cause
considerable puzzle to the student, who finds these words applied
alike to many varying species in as many books, because a writer has
often taken one author for his guide, instead of comparing a number.
Many modern writers on ophiology give us a list of synonymes, which
in time are found to unravel the above perplexities, but which are at
first more puzzling than not, because a single snake is presented to
you under so many different names. This will be apparent in the course
of this work, wherein much that is merely suggestive in the present
chapter will be treated more fully under various headings, without, I
trust, offering a too wearisome repetition. Indeed, the whole study of
the Ophidia presents so many exceptions that recapitulations may be
acceptable rather than otherwise. An interlacing of subjects has not
here been avoided so much as contrived, in the hope of presenting the
whole more clearly to the mind of the student.

Ruskin favoured his audience with printed lists of the ‘names of the
snake tribe in the great languages.’ And these I gladly reproduce for
the benefit of my readers.


 1. Ophis (Greek), ‘the seeing’ (creature, understood). Meaning
 especially one that sees all round it.

 2. Dracon (Greek), Drachen (German), ‘the beholding.’ Meaning one that
 looks well into a thing, or person.

 3. Anguis (Latin), ‘the strangling.’

 4. Serpens (Latin), ‘the winding.’

 5. Coluber (Latin), Couleuvre (French), ‘the coiling.’

 6. Adder (Saxon), ‘the grovelling.’

 7. Snake (Saxon), Schlange (German), ‘the crawling’ (with sense of
 dragging, and of smoothness).

The first, and _Ophidion_, a small serpent, _Ophiodes_, etc., have
given the name _Ophiology_ to the science; the second was also a
‘serpente’ in days of yore. The third, _Anguis_, is now applied to some
of the smooth, burrowing snakes; and the rest speak for themselves.

Before quite taking leave of obsolete teachings, a few lines from
two very distinguished authors of the seventeenth century must be
quoted, the influence of both having no doubt gone a great way towards
diffusing beliefs. Lord Bacon—in his book, _Of the Proficience and
Aduancement of Learning, Diuine and Humane_. To the King. 1605—writes,
‘It is not possible to join Serpentine Wisdom with the Columbine
Innocency, except men know exactly all the conditions of the Serpent;
his Baseness and going upon his Belly, his Volubility and Lubricity,
his Envy and Sting; for without this, Virtue lyeth unfenced.’

What quality is to be understood by ‘Volubility,’ the reader must
decide. Of the other five offences, all except that of crawling are
simply imaginary. By ‘Lubricity,’ a supposed sliminess may be intended,
or the old fable of ‘licking’ the prey; and the only reasonable
interpretation of the ‘Sting’ is that the old Saxon word _styng_ did
imply a wound punctured or pierced with any fine, sharp instrument; and
the venomous tooth is not so very unlike an insect’s sting after all.

The next is from _Pepys’ Diary_, vol. i. p. 322.—Feb. 4th,
1661:—‘Mr. Templer, an ingenious Man, discoursing of the Nature of
Serpents, told us that some in the waste Places of Lincolnshire do grow
to a Great Bigness, and do feed upon Larkes which they take thus:—They
observe when the Larke is soared to the Highest, and do crawl till they
come to be just underneath them, and there they place themselves with
their mouth uppermost; and there, as it is conceived, they do eject
Poyson upon the Bird; for the Bird do suddenly come down again in its
course of a Circle, and falls directly into the Mouth of the Snake.’

This story, founded on fact, is related by a beholder who, to use the
words of Dr. Andrew Wilson when discoursing on ‘Zoological Myths,’ made
‘an unscientific use of his imagination.’ Our largest English snake has
no poison to ‘eject, as it was conceived.’ Quite possible that it might
have looked up towards the singing lark, and with the swiftness of the
bird in its descent, glided towards the spot, ready to pounce upon it.
The absurdity of poison being ejected upwards through a needle-like
fang,—had the snake possessed such an instrument,—and to such a
height, is evident.

Having reduced a very large circle of anomalous reptiles, till the
Ophidia only are in possession of the enclosure, let me endeavour
to dispose of these according to the present accepted methods—not
of classification, or this volume would be mere lists of names. In
1858, when Dr. Günther arranged and classified the collection in
the British Museum, there were 3100 colubrine snakes (those with no
viperine features); and when you think of these three thousand odd
having, on an average, a dozen names each (the reason for which is
deferred till the later chapters), my readers will cheerfully dispense
with much in the way of classes and orders, especially as the present
methods are reckoned very defective, and there is a loud cry for a new
classification of the _Reptilia_. Already the reader can surmise some
of the difficulties, and they will be more evident as we proceed.

The whole order of Ophidia may be divided into the venomous and the
non-venomous, or into other two divisions, viz. those which approach
the Saurians, having scales alike all round, vestiges of shoulder bones
and hind limbs, and with ribs nearly encircling the body; and those
which have the broad ventral plates, no rudimentary limbs, and a tongue
far more extensible than the previous group.

It will not, I trust, be out of place to introduce a table as presented
to us at some of the ‘Davis Lectures’ at the London Zoological Gardens;
for I think I am safe in saying this arrangement is adopted by nearly
all our living authorities. To go back to the days of our childhood
and the game of ‘Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?’—the original three
kingdoms of Nature,—the first heads our table: ANIMAL KINGDOM. Next
comes the sub-kingdom, comprising five divisions, namely mammals,
birds, reptiles, frogs, and fishes, each of which is divided into
class, order, family, genus, species, with sometimes a sub-class or
a sub-order. Professor St. George Mivart divides the whole of the
reptiles into—(1) _Chelonia_, the tortoises; (2) _Ophidia_, the
snakes; (3) _Crocodilia_, or _Loricata_, the crocodiles; (4) _Sauria_,
the lizards. _Batrachia_, the frogs, he separates, because they begin
life as a fish. Originally there were nine orders of reptiles; then
for a long while we were taught that there were four,—Chelonians,
Ophidians, Saurians, and Batrachians. Every one of the above so merges
into the others that many herpetologists differ in drawing the lines
between them.

If we were asked to define our little friend, the ring snake, that ate
a frog while we were studying his anatomy, we would say that he belongs
to the—

  2. SUB-KINGDOM, _Vertebrata_.
  3. CLASS, _Reptilia_.
  4. ORDER, _Ophidia_.
  5. FAMILY, _Tropidonotus_.
  6. GENUS, _Coluber_.
  7. SPECIES, _Natrix_.

He is most frequently known as _Coluber natrix_, though as both words
mean simply a snake, the name is inadequate. In fact, our common
English snake has been rather neglected in the way of titles, the
only generic name which is at all descriptive being _Tropidonotus_,
so called from the keel which characterizes the scales. So he is
_Tropidonotus natrix_, and _Natrix tropidonotus_, and _Natrix torquata_
of the different authors, the last-named specific presumably given on
account of the collar which he wears, and which being often yellow,
has gained for him the name of ‘ring snake.’ _Coluber natrix_, having
so few synonymes, they are all given, in illustration of what has
been already said of the perplexity of names assigned by different
naturalists. And, by the way, this ‘ring’ or ‘collar’ is not an
invariable mark. Sometimes the yellow is wanting altogether, and only
a white collar is displayed. At the time of writing[6] there is one
of these snakes at the Zoological Gardens with not the least tint of
yellow on its neck; and I have before me in alcohol a very young and
beautiful little specimen in which the white collar is very bright
and large, and set off with deep black behind it, but there is not an
approach to yellow or to a ring, the throat being pure white. His Latin
specific is therefore more appropriate than his English one, the collar
being always there, but not always the ring.

Dr. Günther divides the whole of the Ophidia into five groups, and in
briefly describing these I shall hope to conduct my readers towards
a consideration of those remarkable features which will be discussed
under their various heads, and which will exhibit the class as unique
in their marvellous organization and physical powers.

The five groups are—


(1) The _Burrowing Snakes_ live chiefly underground, some of them
working their way down like the worms; and to fit them for this life
they are characterized by having short stiff bodies covered with hard,
firm, close scales, to form an armour. Most of them have short and
rather curious tails, as described in chap. xi.; but many that burrow
and hide in the ground live a good deal on the surface as well. Our
little native slow-worm (_Anguis fragilis_) is allied to these. Their
heads are small and narrow, their muzzle smooth and strong to help them
to work their way. Their jaws do not stretch apart, nor does their head
get out of shape in eating, the bones being all more consolidated;
and their food being chiefly insects, slugs, worms, etc., they seize
upon these, and hold them, and then with quick snaps get them down
their throats. Many of them have rudiments of a sternum, and pelvic
bones—_vestiges_, perhaps, is a more correct term, as we shall find
by and by, for their saurian ancestors had perfect limbs. The group is
large, perfectly harmless, and has representatives in most countries
where a snake or a lizard is to be found. None are of great size.

(2) The _Ground Snakes_ include by far the greatest number and
diversity, and though passing their time chiefly on the surface like
our ‘ring-snake,’ can both climb trees and enjoy the water. Some of the
most venomous as well as the harmless and gentle kinds, and some of the
largest as well as the smallest, live habitually on the ground. To fit
them for progression, they have the broad ventral scales described on
p. 46, wide dilatable jaws like _Coluber natrix_, and scales of various
patterns and colourings. Vipers, the cobras, the coronellas, the boas,
moccasins, ‘carpet snakes,’ and other familiar names belong to this
large group.

(3) _Tree Snakes_ include both venomous and innocent genera. They are
none of them large, many of them of a brilliant green, and some of them
exquisitely beautiful. Slender and active, the harmless kinds skim
among the branches, which scarcely bend beneath their weight. Many of
them have small and peculiarly arranged ventral shields, not requiring
to hold on in progression; many also have long prehensile tails, which
wind and cling while the little acrobats swing to and fro, or hang down
to take a young bird or an egg out of the nest. The poisonous kinds
of tree snakes abound in India, have a thick body, broad head, and a
dull, sluggish habit, but still are handsome as to colour, and mostly
green. They hide in the trunks of trees, or in the hollow forks of the
branches, and rarely venture upon the ground. Some, however, live only
in bushy foliage lower down, while other arboreal species frequent the
highest branches, where, moving with amazing celerity, they are as much
at home as the feathered inhabitants.

(4) _Fresh-Water Snakes_ are especially adapted for an aquatic
existence, and have their nostrils on the top of the snout, to enable
them to breathe easily when in the water. Some of them can hold on
to weeds or other things by their tails. They swim and dive, and are
as active as eels. None are very large, and all are harmless. But a
good many of the second group that are poisonous, spend so much of
their time in the water that they are known as ‘water vipers,’ ‘water
moccasins,’ etc., though not truly water snakes.

(5) _Sea Snakes._—All highly venomous. These, as also the fresh-water
snakes, are treated fully in chapters xiii. and xiv. The five divisions
assist the student towards grasping an idea of the principal groups,
but the whole five pass into each other by intermediate forms and
imperceptible degrees.

Some other general characteristics of the Ophidia are that all
are carnivorous, catching their prey alive; all are oviparous;
and in organization and intelligence they rank between birds and
fishes,—higher than fishes in having lungs, and lower than birds,
which are warm-blooded animals. Their heart is so formed as to send
only a portion of blood to the lungs on each contraction of it;
their temperature, therefore, is that of the surrounding atmosphere
(see p. 142). Their normal condition, particularly that of the
venomous species, is one of lethargic repose and indolence, with a
disposition to retreat and hide, rather than to obtrude themselves.
On this account, and also because so many of them are nocturnal in
their habits, less has been truly known of serpents than of most
other creatures, prejudice having added to a prevailing indifference
regarding them. The duration of their lives is uncertain, or whether
they have a stated period of growth. Some naturalists think they grow
all their lives; but this must not be taken literally, or that if a
small snake happened to escape dangers, and live a very long while, it
would acquire the dimensions of a python. Some think that formerly the
constrictors did attain more formidable proportions than those of the
present day.

Snakes have small brains, slight intelligence, and slow sensations,
amounting almost to insensibility to pain. They can live a long while
without their brains and without their heart; while the latter, if
taken from the body, will continue its pulsations for a considerable
time. Also if the head be severed, the body will for a certain time
continue to move, coil, and even spring, and the head will try to bite,
and the tongue dart out as in life.

Persons who dislike snakes continually ask, ‘What is the use of them?’
That they are not without a use will, I hope, appear in the course of
this work, were it necessary to preach that _all_ things have their
use. But in one habit that offended Lord Bacon, viz. of ‘going on
their belly,’ lies one of their greatest uses, because that, together
with their internal conformation and external covering, enables them
to penetrate where no larger carnivorous animal could venture, into
dense and noisome morasses, bogs, jungles, swamps, amid the tangled
vegetation of the tropics, where swarms of the lesser reptiles, on
which so many of them feed, would otherwise outbalance the harmony
of nature, die, and produce pestilences. Wondrously and exquisitely
constructed for their habitat, they are able to exist where the higher
animals could not; and while they help to clear those inaccessible
places of the lesser vermin, they themselves supply food for a number
of the smaller mammalia, which, with many carnivorous birds, devour
vast numbers of young snakes. The hedgehog, weasel, ichneumon, rat,
peccary, badger, hog, goat, and an immense number of birds keep snakes
within due limits, while the latter perform their part among the
grain-devouring and herbivorous lesser creatures. Thus beautifully is
the balance of nature maintained.

Dr. Kirtland, an eminent naturalist of Ohio, who lived at a time when
that State was being very rapidly settled, namely, during the early
and middle part of the present century, observed a great increase of
certain snakes as game birds which fed on them decreased. The latter
were, of course, in request for the market, and the snakes, the ‘black
snake’ particularly, having fewer enemies to consume him, flourished
accordingly. It would be worth while to ascertain whether the farmer
in Ohio had reason to rejoice over this redundancy of rat and vermin
consumers. At the present time, when so much of the land is under
cultivation, snakes have decreased again through human agency.





CAN we correctly say that snakes have a ‘taste’ for eggs? What flavour
can there be in an egg-shell, and what pleasure or gratification can
a snake derive from swallowing a hard, round, tasteless, apparently
odourless, and inconvenient mass like a large egg?

That snakes do devour eggs and swallow them whole, though the
fact is often questioned in zoological journals, is well known in
countries where snakes abound. Therefore, we are led to consider by
what extraordinary insight or perception a snake discovers that this
uncompromising solid contains suitable food? Avoiding, as snakes do as
a rule, all dead or even motionless food, it is the more surprising
that eggs should prove an exception. And not merely the small and
soft-shelled eggs of little birds, that can be got easily into the
mouth and swallowed, but the eggs of poultry and the larger birds,
which must in the first place be difficult to grasp, and in the second
place to which the jaws so wonderfully adjust themselves that the egg
passes down entire into the stomach.

Many snakes which do not habitually live in trees, will climb them
in search of birds’ eggs; and many others, not so agile in climbing,
consume vast numbers of eggs from the nests of birds which build upon
the ground. In countries where snakes are numerous and population
sparse, their depredations in the poultry-yards of secluded residences
are of common occurrence. And it is a noteworthy fact that the crawling
culprits possess an excellent memory for the localities of hens’ nests,
so that when once the eggs have been missing, and the snake’s tracks
discovered, the farm-hands well know that the offence will be repeated,
and watch for the thief, to whom no mercy is shown. But between their
virtues as mousers and their vices as egg-thieves, an American farmer
does sometimes hesitate in destroying certain non-venomous snakes, and
may occasionally feel disposed to save his crops, to the sacrifice of
his wife’s poultry-yard.

A gentleman, long a resident in India, informed me that a cobra once
got through a chink into his hen-house, and ate so many eggs from under
a sitting hen, that it could not effect its exit through the same
chink, and so remained half in and half out, where the next morning it
was discovered in a very surfeited condition. It was immediately killed
and cut open, when, as the eggs were found to be unbroken and still
warm, the experiment was tried of replacing them under the mother,
who in due time hatched the brood none the worse for this singular
‘departure’ in their process of incubation.

In another poultry-yard a cobra was found coiled in a hen’s nest, from
which all the eggs were gone but two. In this case, also, the snake
had swallowed more than it could conveniently manage, but either alarm,
capture, or greediness so impaired its digestion that all the eggs were
ejected entire!

A similar incident was recorded in the _Field_ newspaper, in May 1867,
the editor introducing the narrator as one of undoubted intelligence
and veracity.

His gardener informed him that a cobra had attacked a guinea-fowl’s
nest in the compound. He took his gun and repaired immediately to
the spot, where he saw the cobra making off, followed by a host of
screaming fowls. The gentleman shot the culprit through the head, and
then observed a tumour-like swelling, as of an egg recently swallowed.
The gardener cut the reptile open, and took out the egg safe and sound.
The gentleman marked the egg, and set it with fourteen others under a
guinea-fowl. In due time the young chick was hatched; and this he also
marked, in order to observe whether it would grow up a healthy bird,
which it did.

Several other well-authenticated instances of this nature might be
related; but those who have friends or relatives in India are no doubt
sufficiently familiar with such stories to dispense with them here.

Aware of a cobra’s penchant for eggs, the snake-catchers, or those who
pack them for transportation to Europe, sometimes place a supply in the
cages, as convenient food for the snakes during the voyage. The keeper
of the Ophidarium[7] at the London Zoological Gardens frequently finds
hens’ eggs unbroken on opening a case containing the newly-arrived
cobras. How many eggs were originally in the box, and how many had
been eaten and digested, or reproduced during the voyage, it would be
interesting to ascertain if possible.

Snakes are fastidious feeders and long fasters during confinement.
Those cobras may have fasted during the whole journey, or they may have
swallowed and disgorged the eggs through terror, like their friends
at home. Two things are clear, viz. that the eggs were deposited in
the cage as a favourite delicacy, and that a hen’s egg is not a too
cumbrous morsel for even the small-headed cobra to manage.

A gentleman, accustomed to snakes, on hearing of this, regarded the
eggs found intact in the box as a proof against their egg-eating
propensities, and pointed to the Ophiophagus which, for lack of his
ordinary food one winter, had in vain been tempted with both pigeons’
and hens’ eggs. ‘He won’t eat them, he won’t notice them,’ was the
keeper’s testimony; but, then, other snakes often decline food, even
their habitual and favourite food, when in confinement; and so far as
the Indian snakes are concerned, their egg-eating habits are confirmed
by many writers, including Sir Joseph Fayrer, who affirms that ‘they
will eat and swallow the eggs whole.’ ‘Snakes are all carnivorous,
existing on animals and birds’ eggs,’ he again remarks.[8] ‘Cobras rob
hen-roosts, and swallow the eggs whole.’[9]

And does not the very fact of the eggs being placed in the cages by the
natives for their food during a journey, show that these latter knew
what would be most likely to tempt them?

The Indian vernacular of the Ophiophagus is _Sunkerchor_, which means,
as Fayrer tells us, ‘a breaker of shells.’ I have taken some pains to
ascertain a more definite reason for this name being assigned to the
Ophiophagus, or snake-eater, but without success. Is it because he is
an _exception_ to the rule of eggs being swallowed _whole_, he having
for his size a particularly small mouth and swallow; and that he, like
his relatives the cobras, being unwilling to relinquish the dainty,
manages them clumsily, and breaks the shells? There must be some reason
for his being known as the ‘shell-breaker.’

Being a tree snake, it may be that ‘Sunkerchor,’ the shell-breaker,
attempts the smaller birds’ eggs, which are too tender to be swallowed
without fracture.

The cobra-worshipping Hindûs on their festivals place eggs for their
gods, that they also may partake of the feast.

But examples of egg-eating snakes are not confined to India. America,
the Cape colonies, and all snake countries are prolific of them.

Mr. P. H. Gosse in Jamaica killed a yellow boa (_Chilobothrus
inornatus_), inside of which he found seven unbroken hen’s eggs. It had
been caught in a rat trap.

Catesby, the early American naturalist, in describing the corn-coloured
snake, says ‘it is harmless except as a robber of hens’ roosts.’
Lawson, the still earlier traveller, in his quaint description of the
‘Racer,’ or ‘black snake’ (_Coluber constrictor_), says:—‘He is an
excellent Egg Merchant, for he does not suck the Eggs, but swallows
them whole. He will often swallow all the Eggs from under a Hen that
sits, and coil himself under the Hen in the nest, where sometimes the
Housewife finds him.’ Lawson, also, describes the ‘Egg and Chicken
Snake’ (a doubtful vernacular), ‘so called because it is frequent about
the Hen-Yard, and eats Eggs and Chickens.’ The early American settlers
guarded their poultry-yards against snakes as vigilantly as against
rats, foxes, and other such predators. As for the ‘black snake,’ though
non-venomous, all rearers of poultry visit him with vengeance.

Often in our rambles through the woods in Virginia we saw these snakes,
and the swiftness with which they would vanish through the grass like
a flash of steel, proved how well they merited their name of ‘Racer.’
These are the ‘black snakes’ _par excellence_, in distinction to the
black water-viper and several other kinds which have more or less black
about them. Sometimes they lay basking in our path, probably after a
meal, when they become sleepy and inactive. On one such occasion I had
an excellent opportunity of examining one of them, and of measuring
it. It was exactly six feet long, and in the largest part as thick as
a man’s arm. Its scales were beautifully bright, like an armour of
steel, the white throat and pale under tints completing the resemblance
of polished metal. It was sleeping on a soft carpet of moss and grass
which bordered our sandy path, and which showed the Racer to great
advantage. My young companion, a Virginian boy to whom no sport came
amiss, espied it with delight, and ran to pick up a stout stick.
Knowing that it was harmless, and so excellent a mouser, I pleaded for
its life; for in truth the nocturnal visitors in the shape of rats
at our country dwelling were so noisy and numerous, that I regarded
the Racer as a friend rather to be encouraged and domesticated than
ruthlessly slain. Its couch now, in its spring green and freshness,
was enamelled with the star-like partridge-berry (_Mitchella repens_),
dotted here and there with twin coral berries that had lingered through
the winter; the bright-leaved, white-flowered winter green (_Chimaphila
maculata_); the Bluets (_Oldenlandia purpurea_), and other exquisite
little flowers too lovely to be crushed and tainted; while a sunbeam
glancing through the trees, and showing up the polished scales of the
unconscious Racer, all seemed eloquent with mercy.

It was the first time I had been close enough to touch so large a
snake; and the whole scene is vividly before me now. Culprit though it
might be, it was splendid and beautiful; and I entreated Johnny to wait
and wake it up, so that we might watch its actions.

‘All very fine!’ cried the boy, not yet in his teens, ‘and fourteen
more eggs gone from the hen-house last night!’

So he pounced upon a fallen bough, which he rapidly trimmed to suit
his purpose, then with one sharp blow across the poor thing’s back,
disabled it. I think the snake was quite killed by the blows the boy
subsequently dealt, for I do not remember that it moved at all.

‘_Now_ you can look at it as much as you please,’ said the juvenile
sportsman as he straightened the reptile out to its full length. Then I
examined and measured it, and found it was more than two lengths of my
long-handled parasol. Black creatures with two hands and two legs were
far more likely to be the egg-stealers than that poor Racer far off in
the woods.

This ‘black snake’ climbs trees with ease, and hangs from a branch to
reach a nest below him. ‘He is the nimblest creature living,’ says an
old writer on Virginia, for he not only has the credit of stealing
hens’ eggs, but he ‘even swallows the eggs of small birds, without
breaking them,’ which again is a proof of the remarkable control these
creatures possess of regulating the pressure of their powerful jaws.

Many of the African snakes climb trees, and also suspend themselves
from a branch while reaching into a bird’s nest lower down for the
eggs it may contain. Both Livingstone and Dr. Andrew Smith[10] make
particular mention of some of the egg-eating snakes of South Africa,
the latter in his general description of ophidians stating that ‘many,
perhaps all snakes, devour eggs when they have an opportunity. A few
feed entirely on eggs,’ notably some of the small tree snakes, to which
the name _Oligodon_ (few teeth) has been given, this family having no
teeth on the palate, like all other snakes. Their food, therefore,
cannot be of a nature to require a very strong grasp, though we have no
authority for stating that the _Oligodons_ feed exclusively on eggs.

There is, however, one of the family with a dentition so remarkable
that it has been considered a distinct type, and Dr. Andrew Smith,
who was the first to observe its habits, gave it the generic name
of _Anodon_ (toothless), the jaws being merely roughened with the
rudiments of teeth. This little snake, of about two feet in length, is
exclusively an egg-feeder. ‘Its business,’ says Professor Owen in his
_Odontography_, ‘is to restrain the undue increase of small birds by
devouring their eggs.’ Its remarkable organization is favourable for
the passage of these thin-shelled eggs unbroken until far back in the
throat or gullet, when the egg comes in contact with certain ‘gular
teeth,’ which then break the shell without any loss of the contents to
the feeder. These gular teeth are a curious modification of some of
the spinal processes, presenting a singular anomaly in the presence of
points of enamel on the extremity of some of them.

Professor Owen has very fully described this remarkable
development,[11] and as his works have been the text-books of many
later physiologists, his words may here be quoted, even at the risk of

‘In the rough tree snake, _Deirodon scaber_, with 256 vertebræ,
a hypapophysis—from ὑπὸ (Latin, _sub_), an offshoot from
beneath—projects from the 32 anterior ones, which are directed
backwards in the first ten, and incline forwards in the last ten,
where they are unusually long, and tipped with a layer of hard cement
(dentine). These perforate the dorsal parietes of the œsophagus, and
serve as teeth.

‘Those who are acquainted with the habits and food of this species
have shown how admirably this apparent defect—viz. the lack of
teeth—is adapted to its well-being. Now, if the teeth had existed
of the ordinary form and proportions in the maxillary and palatal
regions, the egg must have been broken as soon as it was seized, and
much of the nutritious contents would have escaped from the lipless
mouth; but owing to the almost edentulous state of the jaws, the
egg glides along the expanded mouth unbroken, and not until it has
reached the gullet, and the closed mouth prevents the escape of any
of the nutritious matter, is it exposed to the instruments adapted to
its perforation. These instruments consist of the inferior spinous
processes,’ etc., already described. ‘They may be readily seen even in
very small subjects, in the interior of that tube in which their points
are directed backwards. The shell being sawed open longitudinally by
these vertebral teeth, the egg is crushed by the contractions of the
gullet, and is carried to the stomach, where the shell is no doubt soon
dissolved by the acid gastric juice.’


Portion of spine of the Deirodon, from Andrew Smith’s
_Zoology of South Africa_.

Gular teeth penetrating into the gullet, _ib._

Portion of spine from a skeleton at the museum of the R.
C. S., natural size.]

The two from Smith’s _Zoology_ must be much magnified; the third, from
the skeleton, being the true size, excepting that the ribs are broken
short off, some entirely so. The minute processes extend two or more

As the learned professor has described the _Deirodon_ (neck-toothed)
both under the head of teeth, and also of vertebrated animals, the two
accounts are blended, but given _verbatim_ as far as possible.

The colour of the _Deirodon_ is of a brightish or yellowish brown, very
minutely spotted with white. Such few true teeth as some individuals
may possess are extremely small and conical, discovered only towards
the angle of the mouth.

Dr. Andrew Smith first examined a specimen in 1829, when he found that
the gular teeth commence exactly 2-1/4 inches behind the apex of the
lower jaw, and penetrate the œsophagal canal through small holes in its
tunics, and that each point is armed with enamel. He had observed that
the living specimens which he had in captivity always, when feeding,
retained the egg stationary about two inches from their head, and while
there, used great efforts to crush it. Dissecting a specimen in order
to investigate this strange action, he discovered the gular teeth just
where the egg had stopped, and which, he felt satisfied, had assisted
in fixing it there, and also in breaking the shell when subjected to
the muscular action of the surrounding parts. The gular teeth are
developed in very young _Deirodons_.

Dr. Smith saw that the broken shell was ejected, while the fluid
contents were conveyed onwards; but this may have been an exceptional
case, because by a snake in health egg-shells are easily digested.
Probably those snakes watched by Dr. A. Smith being captives, and
presumably not altogether as happy and healthy as in their sylvan
homes, found the shells too much for them, and so ejected them; as
the cobras above described disgorged the stolen eggs. This habit of
disgorging food appears to be sometimes voluntary.

Snakes have been known to pass the egg through their body entire, but
this also must be owing to an abnormal state of health or of habit, as
the strong juices of the stomach, which can convert even bones and horn
to nutriment, ordinarily dissolve an egg-shell.

Throughout nature we find that, whatever the habits of the creature may
be, its structure and capacities are adapted to it. Every need is, as
it were, anticipated in the process of development; and wherever, as
in this harmless little tree snake, we find a departure from general
rules, it is because some especial requirements are met, and in order
that the creature may be the better prepared for the struggle for
existence. In the present example we find a marvellous adaptation of
spine bones to dental purposes; how many ages it has taken to develop
them we cannot conjecture. All we know is that these spinal projections
are just the sort of teeth that the egg-swallower requires, and that
its natural teeth are gradually becoming obsolete from disuse.

A writer who was quoted at some length in the _Zoologist_ for 1875, and
in several other contemporary journals, stated that some snakes ‘suck
out the contents of hen’s eggs by making a hole at the end.’[12]

We are not told with what instrument these evidently scientific
serpents punctured the shell. Some skill is required, as schoolboys
give us to understand, to prick an egg-shell without breaking it; and
even when the hole _is_ bored, additional care is required to suck out
the contents. How a snake could first grasp firmly, and then puncture a
fowl’s egg, is incomprehensible; how the sucking process is achieved
is still more so. We can understand that a snake which discovered a
broken egg might seem to lap some of the contents, because, as we shall
by and by show, the tongue habitually investigates, and is immediately
in requisition under all circumstances. But to lap up an egg would be a
very slow process for so slender an instrument. One is reminded of the
dinner which Sir Reynard invited his friend the Stork to partake with

While still marvelling over these South African egg-suckers, I
watched some lizards with a broken egg in their cage. Their tongues
were long, thin, blade-like, and bifid, much better adapted for
the purpose of lapping than that of a snake, yet stupidly slow and
inefficient was this ribbon-like tongue. The lizards threw it out,
spatula-fashion, into the midst of the pool of egg which was spreading
itself over the floor, and caught whatever of the fluid adhered to it.
Had the lizards possessed lips adapted for such a purpose, and, in
addition, intelligence enough to ‘suck,’ they might have drawn some
of the cohesive mass into their throats, but they only obeyed their
instinctive habit of lapping. Snakes would do the same. Their habit
is to moisten the tongue in lapping; and I fear we must not place too
much credence in the exceptional intelligence of that South African
egg-sucker, but rather regret the loose account which conveys so
erroneous an impression. I watched those lizards for many minutes, and
decided that the egg would be dried up long before it could be consumed
by lizard-lapping.

The tongue of a snake is undoubtedly an important and highly-developed
organ. That its sensitiveness assists the smell, we have reason to
believe, and possibly it possesses other faculties of which we are at
present ignorant. In the case of an unbroken egg, for instance, the
tongue has told the snake that there is something good inside it; and
instinct immediately leads the reptile to get the awkward mouthful
between its jaws, which expand just so far as to retain it safely,
yet just so lightly that not one of those rows of long, sharp teeth
shall penetrate the shell or fracture it in the slightest degree. How
delicate must be the adjustment whereby those six jaws, all bristling
with fine, needle-like teeth, grasp and yet not break the delicate
shell! for, after all, an egg _is_ a fragile substance in proportion to
the size of the feeder and its muscular power.

Snakes have been known to get choked in attempting to swallow an egg,
as they have also come to grief with other impediments, such as horns
of cattle; but this we must attribute to their not being able to
estimate their own swallowing capacities, or to some other untoward

The Messrs. Woodward’s scientific snake would not have crept into
these pages had it not previously figured in the _Zoologist_, and
thence copied in other prints, thereby misleading many readers. It
also proved a subject worth discussing by thinking persons, and was
alluded to very particularly by an ophiological friend and publisher
in a letter to myself, which may be here usefully quoted. My friend,
who has long stimulated me by his kind encouragement of my work, and by
the assistance of his experience and judgment, was pleased to express
much interest in a little paper on the _Deirodon_[13], which I had
written for _Aunt Judy’s Magazine_, he having read it shortly before
the appearance of the Messrs. Woodward’s statement in the _Zoologist_,
April 1875:—

‘In this month’s _Zoologist_,’ wrote my friend, ‘a writer says that a
certain snake makes havoc of the hen-house, by boring a hole in the
egg and sucking its contents! Can this be true? To a letter of mine to
Mr. Newman (the then editor of the _Zoologist_), on the subject, he
replies, “With regard to snakes eating eggs, it has been repeated so
often that I cannot help fearing Mr. Woodward may have _imbibed the
notion from American sources_. It is so common in the United States to
find snakes in holes in the bottoms of trees made by woodpeckers, that
it seems almost impossible to resist the conviction that they enter
these holes to get the birds themselves, or their young, or their eggs.
It must be regretted that those witnesses who come into court with
such evidence are not, generally speaking, the kind of close observers
in whose dicta we can place implicit reliance.” This,’ continues my
correspondent, ‘Mr. Newman writes after I had suggested that some
families of snakes have triturating powers (learned from _Aunt Judy_)
in the throat, independent altogether of palatal teeth. The subject
seems to be as much steeped in the unknown, as are the ways of the
beautiful creatures themselves.’

This from a well-known and highly-popular publisher, a man of
education, culture, and scientific attainments, though snakes hitherto
had not been his specialty, any more than that of the late editor of
the _Zoologist_. The latter, however, admitting his doubts on the
subject of ophidian egg-feeders, would have done well to have added
a note to that effect to the account given by Mr. Woodward, which,
simply from its appearance in a scientific journal, might be received
as authority.

A few more well-known proofs of ophidian taste for eggs may conclude
this chapter. Of our own green or ring snake (_Coluber natrix_), Mr.
Bell says, ‘It feeds upon young birds, _eggs_, and mice, but prefers
frogs.’ In Balfour’s _India_, on the subject of cobra-worship, mention
is made of the snakes getting into larders for _eggs_ and milk, and
being protected as the good genius of the house on such occasions.

But the Hindû custom of placing eggs for snakes at their serpent
festivals must be too familiar to most of my readers to need further





PERHAPS in no other branch of natural history has such a degree of
interest been awakened during the last decade, and such an advance made
as in ophiology. The result of a spirit of inquiry thus set afloat is
that information is being continually elicited from travellers and
observers. Those who now entertain predilections for this branch of
science, will many of them admit that whatever interest they feel in
the subject has been of a comparatively recent date; that since they
have at all studied snake nature, they have repeatedly had to combat
with preconceived notions. Again and again they have been ‘surprised to
learn that so-and-so’—some now established fact, perhaps—is the case,
when they had ‘_always_ thought’—probably something quite the contrary.

This has been frequently verified in my own experience in my
correspondence with really scholarly men, who have generously admitted
as much. Not a few, during my ten years’ study of the Ophidia, have
traced their interest in snakes to my own enthusiasm. Preconceived
errors are not to be wondered at when we consider that, apart from
scientific works, so much that has been related of serpents has
been mingled with prejudice, fable, and tradition, clouding our
intelligence at the very outset. Nor need we hesitate in admitting our
misconceptions, when we find scientific men themselves devoting page
after page to a mooted question, and after all, sometimes venturing to
sum up a given subject with a modest doubt only. (Would that the less
scientific writers were equally cautious in their statements!) Whether
snakes drink, and _what_ they drink, have been among these debated

Those who possess a love for natural history are, of course, acquainted
with the works of the eminent naturalist, Dr. Thomas Bell, on our
native fauna; and those who admit their interest in the much-maligned
snakes have included in their studies his _British Reptiles_.[14] In
one portion of that work, where science is so charmingly blended with
personal observations, we are carried on to the heaths and commons to
watch our pretty little agile lizards skim across the grass, and flit
away with legs too fleet for us to follow them.

We linger on the banks of a stream where a ring snake lies in wait for
a frog; and then we are conducted into Mr. Bell’s study, where the same
harmless creature, now tamed, is nestling in his sleeve, or lapping
milk from his hand.

Most of my readers also, whether naturalists or not, are familiar
with some of the numerous works on India, its creeds, customs, and
superstitions, where mention is so frequently made of cobra-worship,
and of the natives setting saucers of milk near its hole to conciliate
and propitiate the serpent. Familiar to us all, too, is the picture of
a little child with a bowl of milk on its lap, and a snake receiving
a tap with the spoon to check the too greedy intrusion of its head
into the bowl, but into which, according to the story, it had been
accustomed and permitted to dip its tongue. Some persons place that
story in Wales; others, and with better reason, trace it to New
England. The child and its surroundings, the size of the snake, all
justify this latter belief, and that the intruder is the notorious
milk-stealer so common in the United States, the ‘black snake,’ or
Racer (introduced p. 64).

In the face of these well-known facts, it may seem strange to propose
the question, ‘Do snakes ever drink?’ and still stranger to affirm that
this was lately a disputed point among some of our scientific writers.
‘On s’ignore,’ says Schlegel, ‘si les serpents boivent, et s’il est
juste d’opiner pour la negative; toutefois on n’a jamais aperçu des
fluides dans ceux dont on a examiné l’estomac.’[15]

Schlegel, when he wrote, had not the benefit of Mr. Bell’s experience,
and as a foreigner, probably he had not read Jesse’s _Gleanings_ nor
White’s _Selborne_; nor, as a scientific student, had he time to bestow
on promiscuous works on India, which, by the way, were not so numerous
then as now. But there are several well-known milk-drinking snakes
in America which had been described by writers prior to Schlegel.
This learned author, however, puts down the milk-loving snakes among
the ‘fables’ and ‘prejudices;’ and, as we have seen, dismissed the
water-drinkers with a doubt.

Mr. Bell’s work has enjoyed upwards of thirty years’ popularity, and
his milk-drinking pet has been quoted by scores of writers of both
adult and juvenile books. Thomas Bell, F.L.S., F.G.S., was secretary
to the Royal Society; Professor of Zoology of King’s College, London;
and one of the Council of the Zoological Society of London. He was
also a ‘corresponding member’ of the learned societies of Paris and
Philadelphia, and of the Boston Society of Natural History.

As a gentleman of widely recognised learning and veracity, therefore,
it may be considered that Mr. Bell, and with good reason, entertained
no doubt whatever as to snakes drinking, and also drinking milk. Mr.
Bell, moreover, had known of the celebrated python at Paris (see chap.
xxiv.), which in 1841 evinced a thirstiness that has become historical
in all zoological annals. The circumstance was fully recorded by M.
Valenciennes at the time; when a no less distinguished ophiologist
than M. Dumeril,[16] _Professeur d’Erpétologie au Musée à Paris_,
was especially appointed to the management of the reptile department
there. That very distinguished ophidian lady, the python, need be
referred to here only as regards the drinking question, the rest of her
history coming in its place in this book. It will be remembered that
she laid eggs, and to the surprise of all, coiled herself upon them
to hatch them. ‘Pendant tout le temps d’incubation la femelle n’a pas
voulu manger’ (she began to incubate on the 6th May); ‘mais le 25^e de
mai, après vingt jours de couvaison, son gardien, Vallée, homme très
soigneux et très intelligent, la voyant plus inquiète que de coutume,
remeuée la tête, et lui présenta de l’eau dans un petit basin; elle
y plongea le bout de son museau, et l’animal en _but_ avec avidité
environs de deux verres. Elle a ensuite bu quatre fois pendant le reste
du temps de sa couvaison: le 4 juin, 13, 19, 26.’ (Her eggs began to
hatch early in July.)

The interesting invalid, ordinarily tame and gentle, had latterly
displayed anger and irritability on being disturbed, pushing away
the hand if touched; but in her present state the want of water was
so great that she evinced uneasiness to her guardian, and permitted
him to move and turn her head, so that she could dip the end of her
muzzle into the basin. The narrator argued, from this remarkable
demonstration, that the incubation (in which a rise of temperature was
observable) produced a sort of feverishness which caused her to decline
solid food, though her thirst was so great that she almost asked for

When eight of the fifteen eggs were hatched, the little pythons ate
nothing until after their first moult (which happened to them all
within a fortnight), but during those early days of their existence
they ‘_drank several times_, and also bathed themselves.’

This event perhaps established the fact beyond any doubt that snakes
do drink, so far as modern and scientific ophiologists had ventured to
decide; and M. Dumeril, from long observation, is able to tell us how.

Speaking of the tongue of a snake, this experienced naturalist informs
us that ‘cette langue fort longue sert-elle comme on l’a observée
quelquefois à faire pénétrer un peu de liquide dans la bouche, car nous
avons vu nous-même des couleuvres laper ainsi l’eau, que nous avions
placée auprès d’elles dans la cage, où nous les tenions renfermées
pour les observer à loisir.’[17]

But, as he goes on to describe, ‘quelques serpents avalent de l’eau
sans se servir de la langue pour laper. Alors ils tiennent la tête
enfoncée sous l’eau au-dessous du niveau, ils écartent un peu les
mâchoires, et font baisser le fond de la gorge, dans laquelle l’eau
descend par son propres poids.’ You can then perceive the slight
movements of swallowing, like a thirsty man gulping down a beverage (_à
la régalade_).

What follows affords an explanation of M. Schlegel’s statement that
he had never discovered water in a snake which he had dissected, this
learned author not having gone so thoroughly into the matter. ‘Cette
eau,’ says M. Dumeril, ‘sert à laver les intestines; car elle est
rendue liquide avec les fèces, elle ne parait pas expulsée par les
voies urinaires.’

M. Dumeril speaks very clearly on this point both in his introductory
preface, and again in vol. vi., under the more detailed descriptions of
each especial sense and organ.

Snakes rarely drink (that is, not every day, as most animals do),
most of them living in dry regions or forests, where for long periods
they are deprived of water. The live prey upon which they subsist
supplies them with sufficient liquid. This may be known by the natural
discharges, which are usually of a liquid nature. Nevertheless, a large
number of serpents live close to water, and love to plunge and to swim.
These truly drink,—lapping with the tongue, as above described; at
other times with the head under water, and the neck still lower, so
that the water _falls into the mouth by its own weight_, and is then
swallowed. But this, he repeats, does not go into the blood, or _very
little_ of it, _car ils rendent en grand partie_, etc., as above, its
function being principally to moisten the intestines.

Lenz, a German ophiologist of still earlier date than Schlegel,
went very conscientiously into the subject of whether snakes drink
or not,[18] having adopted various means in order to test them. His
personal experience was, however, of a more limited range.

It is worth while to bear in mind the dates of some of these writings,
both that we may watch the gradual advance of ophidian knowledge, and
also that we may the better appreciate the vast amount of time, care,
labour, and research by which we are finally put in possession of facts
of natural history.

As a comparatively modern writer, Lenz, without doubt, made very
valuable contributions to the science of ophiology, and at a time when
fact was only beginning to be sifted from fable. It will be seen that,
though writing several years before Schlegel, he had arrived at the
same conclusions.

‘The numerous snakes and other animals which inhabit arid mountains,
or plains destitute of water, can only quench their thirst with rain
or dew. Snakes require but little water as long as they live in the
open air. It is an established rule that no water is found in the maw,
stomach, or entrails of snakes killed in the open air, even when
destroyed by or in a piece of water. _Snakes are never seen to go to
drink in any part of the world._’

This last clause is, as we have now seen, a too positive assertion,
and one not subsequently borne out by other equally conscientious and
intelligent writers. Livingstone, who was a close observer of nature,
informs us that he has known some of the African snakes _come a long
way to pools and rivers to drink_. Dr. Theodore Cantor, who is one of
the best authorities on the Indian sea snakes, and who was a member
of the Zoological Society, tells us that he has seen snakes ‘both
drink and also moisten the tongue; _two distinct operations_,’ he
explains.[19] This conviction having been stated prior to Dumeril’s
elaborate and much-prized work, is valuable testimony. The majority of
snakes in India are partial to water, he tells us, with the exception
of the arboreal species, which probably obtain sufficient moisture from
the rain or dew upon the leaves; and as it is not in their nature to be
on the ground, their organization doubtless renders them independent of

We of late so often see it said of any particular snakes in captivity
that ‘they neither ate nor drank at first;’ or that ‘they drank, though
they would not eat,’ that we almost wonder their bibulous propensities
were ever doubted; especially as the majority of snakes are fond of
water, and swim readily. We are surprised, therefore, that the second
edition of Mr. Lenz’ really valuable work, published so lately as 1870,
should still retain the assertion that snakes have never been _seen_ to

Mr. Frank Buckland saw his Coronella drink frequently, though she
ate nothing; and as the discovery and captivity of this interesting
lady and her brood, born in London in 1862,[20] formed the subject of
many papers in the scientific journals at the time, one would suppose
that they would have been heard of in Germany, where the species (_C.
lævis_) is well known.

‘Though not to be tempted with food, they are very fond of water,’ says
Mr. F. Buckland.

Lenz’ experiments are, however, well worth noticing, because subsequent
observations have in many instances confirmed this author’s conclusions.

‘In confinement,’ he says, ‘snakes are more easily induced to lick up
drops sprinkled on grass than to drink from a vessel.’ Naturally so. In
their native haunts they are not accustomed to pans of water or saucers
of milk, but they _are_ accustomed to moisten their tongues on the
blades of grass or the leaves of plants which hold the drops of rain
or dew. Lenz then mentions some experiments which he himself made with
snakes. He placed a ring snake and an adder in an empty box, and kept
them there without food for a fortnight, at the end of which period he
placed them in a tub containing half an inch of water, and left them
there for half an hour. He then killed them both, and on dissection
found no water inside of them. This led him to the conclusion that
they had not drank at all; but, in the first place, had they occupied
the whole half-hour in lapping with their thread-like tongue, it may
be doubted whether any appreciable quantity could be imbibed during
that time; and in the second place, the sudden transition and strange
situation in which they found themselves would, through fright,
entirely destroy whatever inclination they might have had to appease
hunger or thirst.

It will be seen that snakes are exceedingly capricious in taking food;
and that when in an abnormal or strange locality they rarely feed for
a long while. Mr. Lenz himself is of opinion that, had he left them
longer in the water, or placed them in a dry tub where liquid could
be got at, they would or might have drunk. Thus, the experiments only
go to corroborate what all keepers of snakes have observed, viz. that
captivity or strange surroundings render them averse to feed.

M. Lenz placed his snakes among the cows in order to test the foolish
belief that obtains in some countries that snakes will ‘suck’ the
udders; but of course, and for similar reasons, even could such an
achievement be possible, the snakes attempted no such thing.

His snakes were strict members of a temperance society also, for not
even wine could tempt them to drink, though this and other liquids
were placed within reach to entice their taste. Not so Pliny’s snakes,
for he would have us believe that they show ‘a great liking for wine,’
whenever an opportunity presented itself for their tasting it!

But how came the idea to obtain that snakes suck cows,—a fact so
frequently asserted by the older naturalists? One old writer goes so
far as to state that a certain American snake ‘causes cows to give
forth bloody milk.’ And yet, to the thinking or observing person,
the origin of the belief may be easily accounted for. That snakes
have partiality for milk no longer admits of a doubt; that they like
warmth and shelter is an equally established fact. Therefore, they
find their way into cattle-sheds, and hide in the straw or any snug
corner, possibly even among the recumbent cattle; and, being there,
their ever busy exploring tongues discover a savour of milk, and the
snake is led by this intelligent tongue to the very fountain of their
favourite drop. The irritated cow would then naturally stir or kick,
and endeavour to shake off the strange intruder, who, in its turn
alarmed or angered, would bite the udder, and fetch blood. This, in the
dark ages of natural history, and during the period when the serpent
was invested with all manner of cruel and revolting wilfulness, would
suffice to give rise to the belief that has so long prevailed. The
rat snake (_Ptyas mucosus_) and the _Clothonia_ of India are ‘said’
to suck the teats of cows; so also are the ‘hoop snake’ and several
other American species, which, with their climbing propensities, may
sometimes twine themselves about the legs of cattle, and thus reach the
udders, where persons have discovered them. It is just possible that
the snakes may get the teat into their mouths, and advance upon it,
with the intention of swallowing it, not knowing that it was only a
teat, with a cow inconveniently attached to it, and not some small and
more manageable prey.

Among the American milk-drinking snakes is _Coluber eximius_, known as
the ‘milk snake,’ one of the dairy frequenters, which is said to seek
milk with avidity. This snake is mentioned by De Kay,[21] Emmons,[22]
and Holbrooke,[23] who all describe it as being very beautiful and
‘innocent’ (except in the eyes of the farmers’ wives). It is of a pale,
pearly white, sometimes tinged with pink, and with rich chocolate spots
on its back. The Racer, of egg-stealing notoriety, is also a sad milk
thief, and, like our own little ring snake, has been known to retrace
its way into dairies. Such depredations were more frequent formerly
when the snakes were more numerous. Of the Racer, Lawson[24] says,
‘This Whipster haunts the Dairies of careless Housewives, and never
misses to skim the Milk clear of the Cream.’

The same love of warmth which takes the reptiles among cattle, guides
them into dwellings, particularly during the night; and in hot
countries where nursing-women of the poorer classes lie exposed, snakes
have been found upon their breasts, and absurd stories have been told
of their sucking the teats of women. In India, Australia, and America,
such stories are common.

After all, it does not seem surprising that snakes should like milk.
Being carnivorous by nature, they would at once detect an animal
flavour in the liquid by the agency of their sensitive tongue.

Now turning to India, we find that the love of snakes for milk is
mentioned by numerous writers on the manners and customs of the Hindûs,
as well as by travellers and naturalists. Balfour[25] tells us ‘when
a snake discovers how to get at the eggs and _milk_ in a larder, no
native will on any account kill it, because it is regarded as the good
genius of the house.’ And again, ‘that the cobra is fed with _milk_ in
some of the temples where it is worshipped.’

Dr. Shortt of Madras keeps a man to attend to his cobras, and finds
they thrive excellently on sour milk, which is administered once in
ten or twelve days.[26] ‘Snakes feed on eggs and _milk_,’ says Sir J.

When we read similar facts mentioned incidentally, and with no especial
object, we may give them credence even more than if a prejudiced writer
were endeavouring to prove such or such a thing. For instance, during
the visit of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to India, the exhibition
of snakes and snake-charming formed a not unimportant item in the
programme, and furnished many columns of cobra performances and
cobra traditions to the papers. More than one of the journalists
unintentionally corroborated what Balfour and other writers tell us
about the ‘good luck’ of having a cobra in the _chuppur_ of the hut,
the fearlessness with which the children regard their ‘uncle,’ as they
call it, and their care in placing _milk_ and eggs for it each evening.

But I am reminded of a singular case which came to me through a
personal acquaintance from India who was present at the time.

Four officers sitting in a bungalow in India were deep in a game of
whist. Suddenly one of them, turning deadly pale, made signs that no
one should move or speak. In a hushed voice he exclaimed, ‘Keep still,
for God’s sake! I feel a cobra crawling about my legs!’ He knew that
timidity was one of the strongest characteristics of this snake, and
that if not disturbed or alarmed, it would in due time depart of its
own accord. All present were accustomed to the stealthy intruders, and
did not, happily, lose their presence of mind. They very noiselessly
bent down so as to take a survey beneath the table, when, sure enough,
there was the unwelcome visitor, a full-sized cobra, twining and
gliding about the legs of their hapless friend. Literally death was at
his feet! A movement, a noise, even an agitated tremble might have been

Luckily one of the four was acquainted with the milk-loving habit of
the cobra, and rising from his seat with quiet and cautious movements,
not daring to hasten, yet dreading delay, he managed to steal from
the room, while he signed the rest to remain motionless. Quickly he
crept back with a saucer of milk in his hand, and still with noiseless
movements set the saucer under the table as close to the terrible
reptile as it was safe to venture.

That fearful strain on their nerves was happily of not long duration,
for presently they were relieved by seeing the creature gradually
untwine itself and go to the milk.

Never before or since did that officer leap from his seat as he did
then, the moment he felt himself free from the coils of the cobra, and
read in the faces of his comrades that he was saved. Short thrift,
however, had Mr. Cobra, for sticks and whip-handles were freely
administered, even before the saucer was reached.

The enemy got rid of, the game was resumed; and it is worth the while
of those in India to bear this narrow escape in mind, and bring milk to
the rescue in case of similar danger.

That snakes drink, and occasionally drink milk, is sufficiently
established. Modern authorities now affirm it decidedly. Says Dr.
Günther in his great work, published by the Ray Society,[27] ‘All
snakes drink, and _die_ when deprived of water.’ Dr. Edward Nicholson,
another of our practical ophiologists, speaking of one of his pet
snakes, a _Tropidonotus_, says ‘the offer of a drink of water will at
once gain its heart.’ In watching snakes drinking, he has frequently
counted one hundred gulps before the drinker is satisfied.[28] If
_Anguis fragilis_, the common blindworm, from its snake-like form, may
be cited here, I may mention one of my own, which, after being shut up
in a box for safety during my absence from home for some days, drank
for such a long while when first released from captivity, that I was
really tired of waiting to watch her. She almost immediately went to
a flower-pot saucer of water, with which she was familiar, and which
I placed near her. For some time I watched the tongue thrown out and
withdrawn, till I began to wonder how much longer she would remain
dipping that little bifid organ. I then began to count, and she dipped
it seventy-five times more, after drinking at least as long as that
previously. Then she moved away, and explored among the books on the
table, but soon returned to the saucer and dipped her tongue again
upwards of seventy times. How much more I cannot affirm, as I could
not remain any longer waiting for her, and left her still drinking.
(‘Lizzie,’ thus named from her lizard nature, must claim a chapter
to herself in this book, for she greatly distinguished herself in
lacertine doings.)

While puzzling over this drinking question, I find a favourite author,
P. H. Gosse, affirm, ‘Snakes drink by suction, not by lapping,’ and
that ‘serpents are said to lap up fluids with their forked tongue,
which, however, seems to be ill suited to such an operation.’[29]

Then one naturally turns to the encyclopedias, where we grow still more
perplexed, for no two agree precisely on all points.

‘The use of the tongue in serpents is not exactly known.’[30] And
again, ‘It is believed that serpents never drink.’[31] It is true that
the compiler of the article _Reptilia_ quotes Schlegel a good deal;
but unfortunately that is the very point on which Schlegel speaks
doubtfully. Nor do we presume to include the learned Schlegel as one
of the inaccurately informed individuals, though he does discredit
the milk-drinkers. Of him Dumeril thus writes, or of his work rather,
which he pronounced to be ‘le plus detaillé et le plus complet qui
ait paru jusqu’ici (1844), et auquel nous serons sans cesse obligé
d’avoir recours.’ Schlegel is also quoted by Cantor, 1841; by Dr. J. E.
Gray, 1849; by Dr. A. Günther, 1864; and, in fact, by most scientific
ophiologists. Natural history is an ever-advancing science, more so,
perhaps, than any other. Linnæus and Cuvier were great in their day,
but their systems obtain no longer.

Unfortunately, a dozen book-makers and a thousand journalists seek
no farther than encyclopedias when they are ‘reading up’ a subject;
and not until too late, if at all, or after long searchings and a
realization of the importance of dates, do these wide spreaders of
information discover the error. Compilers of articles for encyclopedias
are always limited as to space, and often as to time; and life would
not be long enough to wade through _Zoological Records_ covering fifty
years, or _Annales des sciences naturelles_ which date from 1824 to the
present time. Only, the compilers of articles on the _Reptilia_ should
surely have known of Mr. Bell’s _Coluber natrix_, and of the Paris
python, and of the _Amphisbæna_ of the Zoological Gardens, all ophidian
celebrities in their day.

The mention of the Zoological Gardens reminds me of my promise
to conduct my readers thither as an agreeable change from the
book-shelves. Therefore, without further wearying them with the
conflicting statements of fifty writers, let us repair thither, and see
what Holland, the keeper, tells us about his thirsty snakes.

First, we observe that most of the cages are furnished with a tank or
a pan of water, and this not for the watersnakes only. Many of the
others, also, are lying in their bath, coiled up in apparent enjoyment.
Questioning the intelligent keeper, he tells us that when fresh
ophidian inmates arrive, they almost invariably go to the water, and
though for a time they refuse food, they _always drink_. On several
occasions some have drunk so eagerly that the water has visibly sunk in
the tank. These were the larger snakes, of course. He does ‘not believe
they would live without water.’ He then tells us the story of the
_Amphisbæna_ over again, the snake that lived for six months on milk
only, and which was chronicled in the zoological magazines of the day,
and has figured in books ever since.

Mr. Mann confirmed all these facts in his own ophidian pets, and going
to see these interesting individuals, we felt no doubt about it when a
saucer of water was in the way.

But I do feel inclined to doubt whether the use of the tongue in
‘lapping,’ as it has been called, is not rather to moisten that organ
than to quench the thirst. We shall see in the following chapter what
it does for its owner, and we shall see the necessity for this delicate
organ to be well lubricated. Both it and its sheath require to be
constantly moistened; how else could it glide in and out with that
wonderful activity? how in a dry and parched condition could it retain
its exceeding flexibility and delicacy of perception?

Unfortunately, the position of the tanks in the cages at the London
Zoological Gardens, and the stone ledge in front of them, prevent the
visitors from watching the actions of the snakes in the water, either
when swimming or drinking. Occasionally one of the inmates of the
larger cages may be seen in a pan of water, though their motions are
necessarily restricted there. One day, however, the yellow Jamaica
boa, when drinking from the pan, afforded an excellent opportunity for
observation. And he was a long time imbibing. There was no perceptible
action of the lips, which were barely parted. The snake kept its mouth
just below the level of the water, and the only action or movement
seen was at the back of the head, or on each side of the neck, like
a pulsation, as the water passed down in short gulps. This is the
‘suction’ which writers describe, a drawing in of the liquid; but the
lips do not take part in the act. When, therefore, we read that snakes
drink both by lapping and also by suction, we may surmise that the
former is for the benefit of the tongue, the latter of the body; and
a large quantity of liquid is often drawn in by this sort of suction,
very distinct from ‘sucking,’ the reputed way of enjoying milk from the
living fountain, and a process impossible to creatures that have not
soft lips and a broad tongue. The Jamaica boa drew in those perceptible
gulps for a long time, then raised his head, and rested awhile, and
presently drank again, and this several times while we were watching.
It was what Dumeril described _à la régalade_.

Mr. Sam Lockwood of New Jersey, writing in the _American Naturalist_,
vol. ix. 1875, describes the pine snake drinking. ‘It lays its head
flat upon the water, letting the lower jaw just sink a little below the
surface, when with a very uniform movement the water is drawn up into
the mouth and passed into the throat. It is true drinking, like that of
a horse.’ One that he watched drank five minutes by the clock without
taking breath. Then it paused, looked about for three minutes, and then
drank again for five minutes more. ‘In all, it drank a little over a
gill. Previously it has been without water for four weeks.’

In size this pine snake differs not much from the Jamaica boa
(_Chilobothrus inornatus_), that we watched at the Gardens, and the
manner and time were very similar. True, we did not time him by a
watch, nor could we tell exactly how much he drank, nor how long
previously he had been without drinking; but, at a guess, he could not
have been much less than five minutes without taking breath. _Anguis
fragilis_, that lapped seventy times, and stopped, and lapped again,
must also have been some minutes without breathing, because hers was
the most leisurely lapping I ever saw.





GOSSIP from the Zoological Gardens to confirm what has been so often
said, namely, that nine out of every ten of the visitors to the
Ophidarium will point to the tongue of a snake and exclaim, ‘Look
at its sting!’ seems too trivial and too defiantly challenging the
credulity of my readers, to introduce here. Nevertheless, that it is
necessary emphatically to state not only that the tongue of a snake is
not its sting, but that a snake has no sting at all, you will admit
the very next time you go there. You will hear not only the Monday,
but the _Sunday_ visitors—well dressed, and apparently well educated
persons—say to each other when watching a snake, ‘That’s its sting!’ I
must be permitted, therefore, to ‘gossip’ a moment in confirmation.

One Friday, in April 1881, just before the time when the public were
excluded at feeding hours, we were watching the movements of a pretty
little harmless snake, the rapid quivering of whose tongue denoted
excitement of some kind. Probably it was anticipating the frog in
store for it, as this was feeding day. Its tongue was unusually active,
and was exserted to its extreme length, its motions being almost
invisible in their rapidity.

Two gentlemen drew near, and also stopped before this cage. One of
them, a tall, dark man, looked like a foreigner; but he was talking
pure English to his friend, and had been talking a good deal about the
snakes, as if he were familiar with their habits. ‘From the Tropics,’
observed my companion, _sotto voce_, and looking as if we might hear
something worth knowing from this large, loud-voiced visitor.

‘See _that_?’ he presently exclaimed to his friend. ‘Look there!’

‘That thing it keeps putting out of its mouth?’

‘Yes. That’s its sting. One touch of that, just one little touch, and
you’re a dead man. There’s no cure for it!’

No less than four different parties made similar remarks in our hearing
during our short visit to the reptile house that day, and these not of
the common crowd either.

First, two lads who looked as if they ought to have known better. Next,
a party of several persons, of whom the one more particularly addressed
when his friend informed him, ‘That’s the sting that it jerks out so,’
replied, ‘Ah, but they extract it!’ Thirdly, a young gentleman remarked
to his lady companion, ‘See how it keeps darting out its sting!’ to
whom she ejaculated, ‘Oh, the fearful creature!’ Fourthly, the tall
man. And all this of poor little innocent _Tropidonotus_ (our common
ring snake), with not even a fang to injure you!

Like many other of the zoological myths not yet extinct, this
‘stinging tongue’ has its origin in mystery. Long before a deadly
serpent was examined by an intelligent reasoner, and the nature of its
fatal stroke comprehended, the mysterious ‘dart’ was seen to play;
this, to the ignorant, being the only visible and possible instrument
of such fatality. But that the fable should still obtain is amazing.
Even some learned men of the present century, if they do not happen to
have included natural history in their studies, assist in disseminating
the error. Can they, however, be acquainted with classical writers?
Pliny, to whom many of the old-time errors in natural history have
been traced, must be acquitted as regards the poisonous tongue; for
though he speaks of the ‘sting’ of a serpent, I do not recall that he
once attributed the injury to the tongue. Aristotle, whose reputation
as a naturalist ranks far higher, distinctly and frequently speaks of
the _bite_, and the degrees of injury inflicted by the various kinds
of serpent bites. It is possible that some classical writers may have
supposed the tongue to be an instrument of death, as it is certain
that some of the sacred writers did. But our inherited faith in Bible
history has, until recently, checked all doubt and even inquiry. Now,
however, that a new version of Holy Writ has been deemed essential, it
is to be hoped that an efficient naturalist is included in the Council.

In justification of the above criticism I may be permitted to quote
just one of the many unquestioning writers. The author of the _History
of Egypt_, W. Holt Yates, M.R.C.P. of London, President of the Royal
Medical Society of Edinburgh, Physician to the General Dispensary,
etc., says in a footnote (vol. i. p. 322), ‘It is a mistake to suppose
that snakes hurt only with their teeth. Some have no teeth, but only
hard gums. Others only attack with their tongue—the same end is
attained in either case by the insertion of the poison.’

Now were you to ask that writer, as I have several times asked persons
who were under the same impression, ‘What reason have you to suppose
that the snake’s tongue is poisonous?’ he would very likely reply,
‘Oh! well—it _is_ venomous. I always thought so.’ Then, reflectively,
he might add, ‘Poisonous-tongued?—“whose tongue outvenoms”—“with
deadlier tongue than thine, thou serpent”’—or some such familiar
words, proving that his idea was poetical, imaginative, and acquired he
can scarcely explain how.

What very little he knew about snakes, then, was learned from
Shakspeare—we say Shakspeare, for what other author has been read and
re-read, and committed to memory, and quoted during the last three
centuries like the Bard of Avon? The bard, genius though he was, and
wide his field of information, was certainly _not_ a naturalist. Nor
did he make any pretensions to be one. He was as unconscious of the
errors in natural history which he was handing down to posterity, as
he was unconscious of his own enduring fame; or that he would be ‘the
immortal bard’ three hundred years later, with every probability of
ever living in the human mind as such.

His idea of the poisonous tongue of a snake was the prevalent one of
his day. It was an inherited prejudice, which he had never stopped
to question, any more than nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every
thousand of his readers have ever stopped to question the fact of an
adder’s _tongue_ being poisonous, Shakspeare having affirmed that it is

People do not read Shakspeare to learn natural history, you say. True;
but his poetry, his similes, take hold of the mind, fix themselves in
the memory, and take root; and an assertion, as in the case of the
gentle little ‘blindworm,’ takes very deep root, as it seems, and
thrives for three hundred years; or naturalists of the present day
would not feel called upon to explain that it is neither ‘blind,’ nor
‘deaf,’ nor ‘venomous.’

Still you reject the idea that Shakspeare through his immense and
universal popularity is responsible for a ridiculous error. Not
Shakspeare alone, then, or culpably so. But since the idea has
prevailed for thousands of years, even to the present time, and since
persons are more likely to quote Shakspeare on the subject than any
other author, let us glance at the literature of Shakspeare’s time,
and endeavour to account for his fixed impression as to a serpent’s
tongue being poisonous. Let us also try to recall from any one of the
writers of the same era, or those who wrote in English previously, any
single line on the present subject that has become so engrafted on the
mind, so incorporated with our education, as those, for example, above
quoted. There was a host of other play-writers in Shakspeare’s time,
but very few naturalists.

Poetry, plays, and Protestantism characterized the literature of the
period. But familiar to us _by name_ as are his contemporaries, it will
be as easy to find one educated person who has read the whole of their
works, as it would be to find one educated person who has not read

There were travels and histories written, the great maritime
discoveries of the age giving birth to this new class of literature.
Hakluyt’s voyages were printed when Shakspeare was only twenty-five
years of age, and even if he read them he would not have learned much
about serpents there. Nor in Sir Walter Raleigh’s histories either,
which were written chiefly during his prison life, he being liberated
the same year that saw the death of Shakspeare, 1616.

Many other well-known authors will occur to the reader, to say nothing
of the writers of the previous eras, the great divines and scholars who
wrote in Latin, and the many English ballad-writers more likely to be
perused by ‘the Bard.’

As for natural history, it found no place on those shelves, for as a
science it did not as yet exist in England. Lord Bacon, Shakspeare’s
celebrated contemporary, did make some pretensions to be a naturalist;
but his _Novum Organum_ was written in Latin, and we are not led to
believe that the poet enjoyed any very great educational and classical
advantages, having had

  ‘Small Latin and less Greek,’

according to his friend and eulogist, Ben Jonson.

And even if Shakspeare did read what was then _the Book_ of the period,
Lord Bacon unfortunately fell into some of the popular errors, or made
very hazardous conjectures, so far as natural history was understood;
and of him Dr. Carpenter says, ‘So far from contributing to our
knowledge of natural history, he often gave additional force to error
by the weight of his authority.’

In recalling some lines from Shakspeare, the reader will find how very
familiar to the mind are the serpent similes. Some of them prove that
the poet was cognizant of a tooth being also a source of evil; but
it is evident that he thought the tongue was so also, especially the
tongue of the ‘blindworm.’

For a few out of the many in which Shakspeare’s plays abound, _vide_
_Timon of Athens_, Act iv. Scene 3: ‘The gilded newt and eyeless
venomed worm.’

_Midsummer Night’s Dream_, Act iii. Scene 2. When Hermia thinks
that Demetrius has killed Lysander while sleeping, she scathingly
ejaculates: ‘O brave touch! Could not a worm, an adder do so much? An
adder did it; for with deadlier tongue than thine, thou serpent, never
adder stung!’

In _Cymbeline_, Act iii. Scene 2, Pisanio says: ‘What false Italian, as
poisonous tongued as handed, hath prevailed on thy too ready hearing?’
Again, in Scene 4 of the same Act, Pisanio would not hear evil of his
mistress, and cries: ‘No, ‘tis slander; whose edge is sharper than the
sword, whose tongue outvenoms all the worms.’

_Henry VI._, Act ii. Scene 2, Clifford says to the King: ‘Who ‘scapes
the lurking serpent’s mortal sting!’ Act iii. Scene 2: ‘Their touch
affrights me as a serpent’s sting.... What! art thou like the adder
waxen deaf? Be poisonous too!’

_Much Ado about Nothing_, Act v. Scene 1, Antonio says: ‘As I dare take
a serpent by the tongue.’

And in _King John_, Act ii. Scene 1, Randolph says to King Philip,
‘France, thou may’st hold a serpent by the tongue!’

Not snakes only, but toads, lizards, spiders, and other ‘creeping
things,’ were thought venomous in Shakspeare’s time.

Song in _Midsummer Night’s Dream_: ‘You spotted snakes, with double
tongue.’ Then, in appeal to the ‘serpents’ not to injure the Fairy
Queen: ‘Newts and blindworms, do no wrong.’

The nearest approach to a scientific work on natural history written in
English at that time was a curious volume published in 1608, in whose
folio pages may be seen most astonishing ‘Serpentes,’ combinations
of worms and feathered fowls, saurian, ophidian, and batrachian,
wonderfully adorned with horns, gills, wings, spear-shaped or forked
tongues, and arrow-shaped tails. The zoological illustrations of that
work give us some idea of what a snake was supposed to be. Among them
is one with a human head, and another with a crown, because he is ‘the
King of Serpentes for his Magnitude or Greatnesse.’ There is also a
‘Dragon’ with horns, wings, scales, claws, two rows of robust teeth,
and an arrow-headed tongue. Mingled fable and fancy with some few
facts, these anomalies are solemnly described as ‘The Naturall Historie
of Serpentes,’ the said serpents including bees, wasps, ‘frogges,’
toads, earthworms, lizards, spiders, etc., and a ‘cockatrice.’

The author, E. Topsell, addresses the ‘gentle and pious Reader’ on the
‘publishing of this Treatise of Venomous Beasts,’ and more particularly
of ‘Serpentes, Divine, Morall, and Naturell, their Poyson and Bitings,
since the gentle and pious Reader will see how that the Historie of
Serpentes begineth at the Creation.’

[Illustration: Fabulous tongues.]

Thus we see that the ideal snake was a religious principle, carried
out in illustrations and architectural embellishments, where ‘that
old serpent the devil’ was depicted as a creature as terrible as
imagination could conceive it; and of course with a highly-developed
tongue in the form of a dart or a spear, more or less alarming.

Far in advance of Topsell, and far in advance of England, were the
naturalists of Southern Europe. Gesner, professor of philosophy at
Zurich, published his _Historia Animalium_ in 1551; and Aldrovanus,
professor of philosophy and physic at Bologna, wrote thirteen folio
volumes of natural history, four only of which were published during
his lifetime, and the rest after his death, which was in 1605. These
two authors, though out of date at the present day, have left their
names perpetuated in plants and animals examined by them.

As one of the objects of this work is to trace the origin of some of
the many errors that have obtained regarding the serpent race, and to
note the gradual enlightenment observable in successive writers, it is
a part of our duty to quote the Bible; and this we do with reverence,
emboldened by the fact that the present state of knowledge has demanded
a new translation to satisfy the intellect of the age.

Shakspeare himself might have had the Bible devoutly in his mind when
he talked of the adder’s ‘sting.’

Among the many commentators and exponents of Holy Writ, Cruden (A.D.
1794) says, ‘Some place the venom of the serpent in its gall, others
in its tongue, and others in its teeth.’ David seems to place it in
its tongue:—Ps. cxl. 3, ‘They have sharpened their tongues like a
serpent.’ So also Job, xx. 16, ‘The viper’s tongue shall slay him.’

The sacred writers, however, quite understood that serpents did bite as
well as ‘sting.’ Solomon made the same distinction that is observable
in Shakspeare, ‘biteth like a serpent, stingeth like an adder.’

In fact, the _tongue_ of an adder, whether in allusion to ‘the worm of
the Nile,’ or to our own pretty little ‘deaf-adder,’ seems still to
bear the evil character which it has borne from time immemorial.

Superstition, prejudice, and ignorance are still rampant whenever a
snake is thought of. Inherited and educated antipathies regarding them
are still so strong that some persons will not even allow themselves to
_un_learn their misconceptions; others by misrepresentations do their
best to prevent a true comprehension of their habits from being better
understood; and, again, there are those who know better, and who are
even engaged in instructing others by their pen, but who fall into the
habit of encouraging horror and hatred, instead of reason, truth, and a
tolerance towards a creature wisely produced to fulfil its part and to
perform its duties in the great balance of organized beings.

Some journalists religiously keep up the delusion about the tongue
of a snake, by using a prejudicial prefix. From a pile of newspaper
cuttings and other printed matter relative to snakes, I transcribe a
few sentences at random, to illustrate what is meant:—‘Its horrid
forked tongue.’ ‘Its slithering tongue.’ ‘Its villanous poisonous
tongue,’ etc. And if sensationalism seem to demand still more forcible
language, as, for instance, in describing an injury or an escape, our
journalist tells us of the ‘forked tongue darting defiance.’ ‘The
wicked-looking serpent tongue protruded with lightning-like swiftness.’
‘To see the reptile run its devilish tongue out at you.’ ‘Its horrid
lancinating tongue protruded,’ etc. These are only a few of such
sentences copied _verbatim_, but they are unfortunately too common,
even with the better-informed writers.

The idea of a snake being sufficiently intelligent, reasoning, and
reflective to deliberately ‘run its tongue out at you,’ as if conscious
of its own moral power and your moral weakness, is too ludicrous.
If the snake could truly inflict injury with those soft, flexible,
delicate filaments,—if it could, with one rapid touch, insert poison,
as the tall talker at the Zoological Gardens affirmed, the threatening
quiver could only be in friendly warning. Let the poor reptile at least
be thanked for that.

Our lamented friend, Frank Buckland, fell into the same error (or
inadvertency, since he quite understood that the tongue could do no
harm) when he wrote thus of the tongue in his _Curiosities of Natural
History_:—‘The tongue is generally protruded in order to intimidate
the bystanders;’ and, ‘The tongue acts as a sort of intimidation
to its aggressors;’ thus giving the snake the credit of a waggish
sort of intelligence, far more complimentary to the reptile than
to the bystander. In imagination we behold a solemn Convention of
snakes, held in ages long ago, and a resolution to this effect passed
unanimously:—‘Now these poor ignorant mortals think we can kill them
with our soft and tender tongues. Though so tall, and powerful, and
terrible to us, they look dreadfully frightened whenever we use our
tongues in our own service. Therefore, whenever any of these two-legged
creatures come near us, we will put out our tongues at them, and
frighten them off,’—a resolution which has answered admirably well
down to the present time. ‘Down to the present time’ is written and
repeated in all seriousness.

Let me be pardoned for introducing a little more gossip here, as it is
the fashion to relate what is seen and heard at the Zoological Gardens.
And so much is related, and has been related, and even printed, to
mislead the public, that, in the earnest hope and aspiration of
assisting in correcting false impressions, I claim to repeat what was
heard as well as the rest. Besides, when persons talk as loudly as if
they were delivering a lecture, and apparently with the benevolent
intention of instructing the public generally, one feels justified in
quoting them.

Eight years ago, when first contemplating this work, and anxiously
seeking to ascertain precisely what could be learned, and what was
already understood about snakes, so far as the reptile house at the
Zoological Gardens was a means of instruction, I made very careful
notes of what I saw there, and occasionally of what I _heard_ there.

In the summer of 1874 some well-dressed children, accompanied by their
parents, were watching the pythons in the largest cage, when one of
the little ones asked, ‘Papa, what is that thing that the snake keeps
putting out of its mouth?’ ‘Oh, that is its poisonous sting,’ replied
the father. The eldest girl (in her teens), with an affected shudder,
cried ‘Ugh!’ and a boy exclaimed, ‘I am glad it can’t put it through
the glass at _us_!’

August 3, 1877.—A gentleman, to all appearance well-bred and
intelligent, told his two boys, ‘That’s the sting,’ as they were
watching the play of a snake’s tongue in one of the cages. The boys
looked wonderingly at the terrible instrument, and were evidently
anxious to know more about it, and turned to ask their father. But he
had passed on, and was then calling to them to look at something else.

July 1880.—A lady, apparently the governess of two girls of about
twelve and fourteen, and of a boy of about eight, who were with her,
was conscientiously endeavouring to blend instruction with amusement,
and was telling them some strange and hitherto unheard-of facts
about the snakes; as, for instance, that the rattlesnake was now
going to ‘crush a guinea-pig by winding itself round it;’ for it was
feeding-day, and the keeper had just put poor piggy into the cage.
But the children got tired of waiting to see what did not occur; the
rattlesnake was merely investigating matters by means of its useful
tongue. ‘Now, watch it!’ cried the lady eagerly, ‘and you’ll see it
lick the guinea-pig with its poisonous tongue.’

Neither was this feat performed by the Crotalus, and as the children
got tired of waiting, and were impatient to ‘see something else,’ the
party moved on.

But the reader will be weary of hearing what the tongue of a snake is
_not_, and be desirous of knowing what it _is_; and to this purpose we
will devote another chapter.





IF only by the law of compensation, another chapter must be devoted to
the innocent tongue of a snake. It has been an object of hatred and
aversion for untold ages, and the misrepresentation of it, and the
abuse of it, would fill many chapters. Were it endowed with speech, and
the words of St. James applied to it,—‘the tongue is a fire, a world
of iniquity,’—no stronger animosity could be displayed.

Happily, this animosity is by degrees dying away; but only by degrees,
as we have seen, some writers during the last twenty years having
been undergoing a sort of transition state with regard to the use of
the tongue, inasmuch as, while they have arrived at the conviction
that it does not ‘sting,’ they are not yet quite clear as to what it
does do. Some few have even clung to the lubrication theory. _Popular
writers_, to speak more correctly, not scientific ones. Still, it is
the popular writers who most influence the casual reader. To satisfy a
passing interest, we turn to these, to the books they quote, and next
to encyclopedias, and not to scientific text-books, where we are beset
by technicalities which are in themselves a study to be first mastered.
Otherwise, from scientific works a good deal might have been learned
long ago about this exceedingly wonderful organ, the tongue of a snake.

It is evident, however, that a good many of our drawing-room
naturalists have not thought it necessary to first devote themselves to
the scientific study of a snake’s tongue before they ventured to write
about it; therefore they remained only partially enlightened. To such
an extent has the supposed ‘lubrication’ prevailed, that ophiologists
of the day have not thought it too trivial to speak of and to refute.
The same visitors to the Zoological Gardens who tell their friends or
children to look at the snake’s ‘sting,’ also wait to ‘see the snake
lick the rabbit all over before it begins to swallow it.’

Were a painter to set to work to paint a house, or a mason to whitewash
the ceiling, with a camel’s-hair pencil, it would not be a more tedious
and impossible process than that of a snake ‘licking all over with its
tongue’ the body of the animal it is about to devour. Illustrations, in
order to be as startling as possible, and to feed the educated horror
of snakes, often represent a boa or an anaconda coiled round a bull or
some other equally large and rough-coated animal, which, as the writer
informs us, ‘it was seen to lick all over and cover with its mucus.’

Let the reader reflect a moment, and he will perceive what supply
of moisture this degree of lubrication would demand. Even were the
snake’s whole body furnished with salivary glands, and were it provided
with a broad, flat tongue to work with, what must the rate of secretion
be to enable the snake to go through such a task, and to enable it to
perform it in a period of time in which a spectator (supposing he had
sufficient powers of endurance) could stand by and watch the process!

Snakes are, it is true, supplied very abundantly with a mucous saliva.
Describing the mode of swallowing, Dr. Günther says: ‘But for the
quantity of saliva discharged over the body of the prey, deglutition
would be slow.’ Slow in comparison with the feeding of other animals
it is, under any circumstances, and it would be painfully tedious,
almost impossible, for the unfortunate reptile to feed at all, were
its difficulties not relieved by this ‘abundant supply’ of saliva.
But this is not saying that the tongue performs any office in
systematic lubrication. It simply means that the mouth of the hungry
snake ‘waters’ over its food, and waters far more freely than is the
usual case with other animals. We ourselves know something of this
stimulation of the salivary glands at the sight or smell of food when
we are hungry; but snakes are beneficently provided with the salivary
apparatus (described in the first chapter), and the mouth waters
over its prey, as much when the tongue is in its sheath as when the
tongue is engaged in its own peculiar and distinct functions. What the
spectator does see is this tongue fulfilling its office of feeling,
examining, exploring, investigating, ascertaining whether the prey is
thoroughly dead, and the best way of setting to work on the great task
of swallowing the huge, rough mass. All this work the tongue does for
its owner; and we shall, as I hope, see before we have done with it,
that so far from exciting our hatred and disgust, there is perhaps no
other feature or organ belonging to the helpless snake so important
to it, so worthy of our own observation and admiration, as this
much-abused tongue.

We have an admirable opportunity for study in our visits to the
Zoological Gardens, and there the lover of nature can decide for
himself. Hours and hours has one watched, and I admit (in the early
days of my studies) _waited_, to see this lubrication which, as the
books told me, was performed by the tongue. Often and often one has
heard visitors say to each other when they have seen the prey about to
be devoured, ‘Now we shall see, or you will see’ (as the case might be)
‘the snake lick it all over before he swallows it.’

An observation to this effect was once made in our hearing while I was
on the point of asking the keeper if he had ever observed anything of
the kind, and was telling him how often it had been so stated in print.

‘Snakes never did, and never _will_, lick their prey, ma’am,’ returned
Holland emphatically; ‘but I have seen the saliva flow, it is so
plentiful.’ And so have I, and so may you, patient reader, if you are
sufficiently interested in the subject. You will soon become convinced
that such a process as ‘licking’ is impossible, and you will soon
decide that if the reptile did this instinctively, its tongue would
have developed into something more like that of a cat, strong and rough
with tiny spines, or some organ better adapted to the performance than
a thin pencil or fork of tender flesh.

It is much to be regretted that a number of anecdotes which describe
this ‘lubrication’ have been retained and quoted over and over again in
books on snakes. Writers who are conscientiously instructing us, and
who are even telling us ‘snakes do _not_ lick their prey,’ quote the
anecdotes which tell us that they _do_, and thus appear to favour the
assumed mistake.

Space will not permit of the numerous examples which might be here
introduced in proof of this. Nor is it necessary to name more than
two or three of these misleading anecdotes; the reader will at once
recognise them, for they appear everywhere.

First comes the M’Leod narrative, which has found favour with popular
writers for no less than sixty-three years! The first edition of the
_Voyage of the Alceste_, by Dr. M’Leod, the surgeon on board, was
published in London in 1817, a second edition in 1818, and a third
(so popular was the work) in 1819. His account of feeding the boa
constrictor was not the least popular part of the little book; for in
those days there were few who knew what to believe where a snake was
concerned. The account of a goat being swallowed fills several pages,
written in a style to exaggerate horrors, and apparently deny to the
reptile any right to obey nature’s laws. ‘The python fixed a deadly and
malignant eye on the goat:’ ... ‘first operation was to dart out its
forked tongue:’ ... ‘continued to grasp with its fangs:’ ... ‘began
to prepare for swallowing:’ and ‘commenced by lubricating with its
saliva:’ ... ‘commission of this murder,’ etc.

Maunder, in his _Treasury of Natural History_, quotes this, having
previously stated (under the head Boa Constrictor): ‘The prey is
then prepared for being swallowed, which the creature accomplished by
pushing the limbs into the most convenient position, and _then covering
the surface with a glutinous saliva_.’ Though not positively asserted
that the tongue is the agent in this ‘covering,’ the reader naturally
jumps to this conclusion. The ‘Penny’ and several other encyclopedias
quote the M’Leod story, among them the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, ed.
1856, notwithstanding the compiler of the article ‘Reptilia’ affirms,
‘The use of the tongue is not exactly known.’ Surely this licking over
an enormous mass of fur or wool, each time the reptile partakes of
food, would be a very important use indeed of the tongue, did such a
process take place.

Mr. Philip Henry Gosse, in his _Natural History of Reptiles_, 1860,
repeats the M’Leod story but he follows it up by also quoting a writer,
Broderip, who carefully considered the subject, and who doubted the
possibility of such a tongue performing this office.

Mr. Gosse is one of the most popular of our ‘drawing-room’ naturalists.
A careful and conscientious writer, he has contributed in his various
works a great deal of valuable information, and has done as much, if
not more, towards inducing a taste for natural history than any other
author of his day and class.

Another popular anecdote much used is that of Sir R. Ker Porter,
who (_cir._ 1820-24) sent an anaconda to the United Service Museum,
accompanied by an account of its seizing its prey. ‘In an instant every
bone is broken, and the long, fleshy tongue passes over the entire form
of the lifeless beast, leaving on it a sort of glutinous saliva which
greatly facilitates deglutition.’ This last clause was particularly
striking, and you find those three words, ‘greatly facilitates
deglutition,’ used ever since by more writers than one can enumerate.

A third of the many well-worn anecdotes in which the ‘lubrication’ is
conspicuous, is taken from a German journal, the _Ephemerides_, in
which a combat between a boa constrictor and a buffalo is described in
the approved sensational style, and this sentence occurs:—‘In order to
make the body slip down the throat more glibly, it (the snake) was seen
to lick the whole body over, and thus cover it with its mucus.’

Perhaps these three anecdotes, copied from book to book for, say, only
fifty years, have done as much to mislead regarding the second reputed
use of the tongue, as Shakspeare and his predecessors did regarding the
stinging theory.

Sir Robert Ker Porter published two very handsome quarto volumes
(illustrated) of his _Travels in Georgia, Persia, and the East_, during
the years 1817 to 1821. Such a work from a distinguished traveller in
that day would soon grow into popularity; but, like Dr. M’Leod, he does
not describe his snake by the cool light of science.

In a very able article, ‘Boa’ in the good old _Penny Cyclopedia_,
dated 1835, the writer, quoted by Mr. Philip Henry Gosse, mildly
criticises the lubrication theory, and gives at length an excellent
paper on the subject, contributed to the _Zoological Journal_ in 1826
by the distinguished naturalist, W. J. Broderip, F.L.S., etc.[32]
Very courteously Mr. Broderip discusses Dr. McLeod’s description,
and in giving an account of what he himself witnessed in the manner
of a boa feeding, speaks of ‘the secretion of lubricating mucus
being excessive,’ and that ‘the jaws dripped with the mucus which had
lubricated the parts,’ but not once mentioning the tongue as having any
part in this function. The writer in the _Penny Cyclopedia_ concludes
by saying that he had himself frequently watched the snakes while
feeding, and they ‘never covered the victim; the tongue was thrust
forth, but only,’ etc. And yet so many book-makers who must have read
this have copied the anecdotes without the comment, and have thus
popularized the lingual lubrication!






ONE more function in which the tongue has no part it is important first
to mention. ‘It is supposed to be concerned in the function of voice,
that is, hissing,’ says Mr. Frank Buckland in his _Curiosities of
Natural History_, 1860. Now, as this is an extremely popular book, and
as Mr. Buckland was a very popular writer, and much quoted and believed
in from his pleasant and genial style, and his many opportunities, it
is necessary to explain that the tongue is often or generally in its
sheath while the snake hisses, and therefore has _no part whatever_ in
the ‘function of voice.’

More recently still, a writer in 1876 is under the same impression.
It is well known that the contributors to that excellent magazine,
the _Leisure Hour_, are for the most part persons of good literary
standing. However, in the matter of snakes we are all only learners.

There are in the magazine referred to, three chapters ‘On Snakes,’
occupying, with the illustrations, about eight pages, in which the
general subject is treated.

‘It is a very general belief that the sting of a poisonous snake is in
its tongue,’ says this writer, ‘and to any one who has seen an adder
ready for attack, with its body coiled, its head and neck reared aloft,
and its long, narrow tongue, split for a considerable distance from
the point inwards, and thus resembling a two-pronged fork, vibrating
rapidly, accompanied by a hissing sound, the needle-like points of the
tongue have a decidedly stinging aspect. It need hardly be said that
the tongue is only responsible for the hissing.’ The hissing is from
the lungs (see chap. ix.), and, as may be repeated, often while the
tongue is within its sheath, the opening of which is forward in the

The tongue of a snake occupies much the same place in the lower jaw as
that of other animals; only being, while passive, within its sheath,
which opens at the tip, the tongue can move but in one direction,
namely, _forwards_.

The illustration in the _Leisure Hour_ which accompanies the above
writer’s explanation, displays a rattlesnake with widely-extended jaws,
and a tongue which, by comparison, must be from root to tip half a foot
in length, and represented as coming from far back in the throat, as if
no sheath existed.

The tongue of a snake not being so planted, and not by any possibility
intercepting the breath, it is needless to repeat that it can never
be any agent of the voice, _i.e._ ‘hissing,’ nor is it every snake
that does hiss (see chap. ix.). Illustrations conveying an entirely
erroneous impression are very much to be regretted, and unfortunately
this misplacing of the snake’s tongue is an extremely common error,
and we recognise the familiar woodcut again and again in a number of
different publications, misconceptions thus being seriously multiplied.
Bad illustrations, even more than printed errors, are responsible,
because more persons turn the leaves of a book to look at these, than
those who read the page, and a glance either instructs or misinforms
the eye.

The hissing of a snake, as we may here add, is merely an escape or
expulsion of air from the lungs, more or less quick or ‘loud,’ as
the reptile is more or less alarmed or angry. Conjecturally, one may
suppose this hissing to correspond with the agitated breathing or
panting of other animals, or of an excited person.

In the seventeenth century, when travellers were visiting for the first
time the newly-settled colonies in America and Africa, and when the
early explorers in various parts of the world were sending home stuffed
specimens of animals (in the days when taxidermy, like other sciences,
was in its infancy), a stuffed snake was furnished with a huge, broad,
fleshy tongue, big enough to crowd its entire mouth, minus teeth and
gums.[33] Whether this broad tongue was to favour the delusion of
‘licking,’ or whether the licking was presupposed from the look of the
tongue, we cannot say, but that the stuffed specimens did encourage the
delusion is clear.

Our Philosophical Society, founded about the middle of that century,
and the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of those days record the first
arrival of tropical serpents in England, and the marvellous beliefs
concerning them. From them we learn, nevertheless, that many things
said to be ‘new to science’ in our own time, were not unknown two
centuries ago.

Passing by a large number of writers on snakes, who, being convinced
that the tongue neither ‘stings’ nor ‘licks’ nor ‘aids in hissing,’
and who, therefore, cursorily dismiss it with, ‘the use of the tongue
is not known,’ let us thoroughly examine for ourselves this mysterious
organ; and this we can do with the assistance of those who have devoted
careful attention to the subject.

Quoting first our English authorities, Dr. J. E. Gray tells us: ‘Tongue
very long, retractile into a sheath at its base. Apex forked, very
long, slender, and tapering.’

Says Dr. Günther: ‘Tongue long, vermiform, forked; an organ of touch;
frequently and rapidly exserted to examine an object. The slightest
provocation brings the tongue into play.’

Rymer Jones, in his _Organization of the Animal Kingdom_, tells us that
‘in snakes the bulk of the tongue is reduced to the utmost extent. The
whole organ seems converted into a slender, bifid instrument of touch,
and is covered with a delicate membrane.’ Again, in Todd’s _Cyclopedia
of Anatomy_, the same writer says that ‘the tongue of a snake seems to
perform functions, the nature of which is not so obvious’ (as that of
some other reptiles).

Der Hœven (Clark’s translation) tells us ‘the tongue of a snake is an
organ of feeling or tact, and much used, as the antennæ of insects.’

It will be observed that while no two of the above writers use
precisely the same words, each helps us to picture the tongue
more accurately, and we glean from each some new particular. The
_Encyclopedia Britannica_, after telling us ‘the use of the tongue is
not exactly known,’ adds, ‘they (the snakes) are continually lancing it
into the air, and may possibly in this way gather moisture from grass
or herbage’ (alluding to the question of ‘drinking,’ see chap. iv.).

Professor Owen still further defines it as a pair of muscles, or
a double muscle partly connected and partly free. The reader will
prefer the learned Professor’s own words, notwithstanding the slight

In his _Anatomy of the Vertebrates_, p. 463, after describing the
prehensile character of the tongue in some reptiles, notably the toad
and the chameleon, he says: ‘In serpents the tongue takes no other
share in the prehension of food than by the degree in which it may
assist in the art of drinking. It is very long, slender, cylindrical,
protractile, consisting of a pair of muscular cylinders in close
connection along the two basal thirds, but liberated from each other,
and tapering each to a point at the anterior third; these are in
constant vibration when the tongue is protruded, and are in great
part withdrawn with the undivided body of the tongue into a sheath
when the organ is retracted.’ The pair of parallel muscles can be
distinguished in the largest of the accompanying illustrations, viz.
the tongue of a Jamaica boa of about 8 feet long. It was cut out and
given me immediately after the death of the reptile, and while soft
and flexible was carefully copied. The hair-like points diminish to an
almost invisible fineness impossible to represent with pen or pencil.
The _slender_ little tongue is that of the young _Jararaca_; and the
shortest is that of the African viperling. I have drawn only as much as
is usually exserted when in use. The entire tongues are much longer,
of a pale flesh tint, and somewhat thicker towards the root. It is
observable that the organs, like their possessors, are either shorter
and stouter, or longer and more slender.

[Illustration: Three tongues from nature (exact size).]

The reader will concur with Mr. P. H. Gosse and the _Penny Cyclopedia_,
that ‘no instrument is less adapted for licking.’

There is yet one more of our English scientific writers who must be
quoted, and who, though he wrote so far back as 1834, shows us that
even then this tongue was far better understood by the French and
German zoologists than ourselves. Roget, in his _Animal Physiology_
(one of the Bridgewater Treatises), says: ‘Hellmann has shown us that
the slender, bifurcated tongue of snakes is used for the purposes of

It is to be regretted that we have no translation of this and of
several other German ophiologists of whom mention is made by Roget and
others. Lenz gives us to understand that in 1817 Hellmann had decided
that a snake uses its tongue as an insect does its antennæ. And in
watching with unprejudiced eyes the varying play of the organ, the
similarity of action will at once be recognised.

After all, how little can we ever know of these organs beyond
conjecture! Who shall say whether each or both may not possess a
sense of which we ourselves have no true perception? Close observers
are convinced that the tongue of a snake is endowed with peculiar
sensibilities; and it is the more astonishing, therefore, that reason
and observation have so long been blinded and enslaved by prejudice
regarding it.

Some naturalists think that the sense of smell lies in antennæ. The
sense of smell itself is dull in snakes; yet they have means of
ascertaining what other animals learn by smell. Says Huxley, ‘The
great majority of the sensations we call taste are in reality complex
sensations, into which smell and even touch largely enter.’[34] It is
certain that the snake’s tongue is in constant use for some purpose or
other, though beyond what we see of its form and actions we can only
speculate, or, at best, draw conclusions from observation.

Both Dumeril and Lenz give the result of their own observations. The
former, however, devotes so many pages to the tongue and its functions
under the various headings of ‘touch,’ ‘nutrition,’ ‘the senses,’ etc.,
that it will be necessary to curtail a good deal, particularly as this
great author has been quoted by those other physiologists whose words
were given above. Of the sheath into which the tongue is received he
says:—‘Une gaîne cylindrique, charnue; mais l’extrémité de cette
langue est fourchue, ou divisée en deux pointes mobiles, vibrantes,
susceptible de se mouvoir indépendamment l’une de l’autre, de s’écarter
et d’être lancées, pour ainsi dire: ce que la fait regarder par le
vulgaire comme une sorte de darte, auquel même quelques peintres ont
donné dans leurs tableaux la forme d’un fer de flêche. Le vrai est que
cette langue est molle, humide, très faible, et que l’on a fait des
conjectures, plutôt sur les usages auquels on l’a cru destinée, que
sur l’utilité réelle dont elle peut être aux serpents dans l’acte de
la deglutition; car les serpents ne mâchent jamais leurs alimens.’[35]
‘Quoiqu’on ignore le véritable usage de la langue humide et charnue que
les serpents brandissent et font continuellement sortir de la bouche
et vibrer dans l’air, il est facile de concevoir qu’à cause de la
forme cylindrique et de son etroitesse elle ne pourrait faciliter la
mastication, quand même les dents seraient propres de cet usage.’[36]

This first volume of _Erpétologie générale_ treats of all reptiles
inclusively; but in the sixth volume, where the _ophidia_ particularly
are introduced, the tongue is, with the rest of the organs, more
minutely described. Some repetition necessarily occurs; but there is
still a good deal that will repay perusal.

After stating that in serpents the sense of touch is dull, on account
of the integument, and the absence of what may be regarded as tactile
organs, and that the sense of smell is dull, the nostrils being feebly
developed, Dumeril adds: ‘The tongue, though fleshy, very mobile, and
constantly moist, is rather an especial instrument for touch, for the
action of lapping, and for other functions, than to perceive the nature
of liquids;’ in other words, than as an organ of _taste_. ‘It is,
however, very remarkable; though smooth and even above, it is furnished
with little fringes or papillæ along the sides. Notwithstanding its
length and narrowness, it is singularly protractile and retractile; and
in its exceedingly rapid vibrations has impressed the vulgar with the
idea that it is formed with the two spear-like points. It is clothed
with a delicate skin.’[37]

Lenz made many interesting experiments. In his work he gives us the
result of these, and also what some other German ophiologists had seen
and done. He observed how entirely the snake trusted to its tongue
in any unusual circumstances; the all-important member was then in
ceaseless activity. Confined in a glass jar containing wine or any
liquid that the snake did not like, the tongue was ever agitated.
Crawling up the side, the tongue was in constant request to feel the
glass (as may be often seen at the Zoological Gardens); and on arriving
at the top, the head was turned this way and that, and then bent over
the edge, as if to make certain that no further obstacle existed; the
tongue not for one instant quiet, but exserted sometimes as far forward
as the whole length of the head, telling to its owner all that the
other senses could not discover.

Permitting it to touch his hand, he felt it like the sweep of a thread,
so light and delicate. Too fine and flexible to injure any surface, the
slightest touch of one or both the tips suffices for intelligence. Nay,
sometimes without even touching—that is, without positive contact, but
by some subtle sense, it seems to act as guide.

When the snake is excited by fear or alarm, or when in a strange place,
the activity of the tongue is so great, the vibrations are so rapid,
that the eye cannot follow them. It is like the play of electricity.

So far from participating in deglutition, the snake withdraws the
slender instrument into its sheath, which, while feeding, is safely
closed. For this highly-endowed organ is so guarded against injury,
that the reptile has not only a place of safety provided, but power
to close the mouth of its scabbard, lest dust or other irritating
particles should enter.

We have only to reflect upon and to observe the habits of snakes to
perceive the importance of their tongue to them. For the most part
nocturnal, winding their way under tangled masses of vegetation, often
in dark caves, holes, crevices, and obscure retreats, with their eyes
so placed that they can see neither before nor under them, and with
other senses only feebly developed, the tongue with its sensitive
papillæ feels its way, and conveys impressions to its owner.

Cats have their whiskers to help them in the dark; moles and mice have
their quick sense of smell to guide them; all nocturnal animals are
gifted in some manner or another, but snakes have only their tongue.

We can now imagine the helpless condition of the reptile if deprived of
the tongue! Rudolph Effeldt, of whom Lenz speaks as the ‘most eminent
observer of living snakes,’ found that when deprived of the tongue,
they would neither eat nor drink, and, of course, died after a while.
But Lenz had some snakes sent him which had been deprived of their
tongues, and he observed that though for a time dull and declining,
they did recover, and by and by ate as usual. From which we can only
conclude that snakes, like other animals, differ in their powers of
endurance. Some survive mutilation and suffering, some do not.

Another error in illustrations is to represent the tongue far extended
while the mouth is wide open. Snakes very rarely open their mouths and
use their tongues at the same time. Indeed, excepting to gape, the
snake does _not_ generally open its mouth; nor invariably keep it open
while advancing on its prey, as illustrations often represent.

Nature has further provided for the safety of the tongue by leaving a
small opening in the upper lip, or at the point of the muzzle, just
where no teeth are in the way, so that the snake can use its tongue
without exposing the sheath and mouth to injury. This ‘chink in the
rostral shield,’ to use technical language, permits the free exit of
the tongue and the independent actions of the two muscles of which
it is formed, enabling the reptile to hold the two fine tips close
together as one tip, while passing the tongue through the narrow chink,
and to expand them afterwards.

Lenz never observed any dust or small particles adhering to the tongue;
but Mr. Arthur Nicols, the author of _Zoological Notes_, informs me
that he _has_ noticed little fragments of rubbish cling to the tongue
and carried into the mouth. Dr. Cantor also says: ‘Sea snakes make no
use of the tongue while _in_ the water, but considerable use of it as
a feeler when out of the water.’ He has noticed ‘several Indian land
snakes use it to bring into the mouth various small bodies, as stones,
sand, twigs, which they swallow to stimulate digestion.’

This is curious and noteworthy. The power or volition which can control
the sheath and close the valve can, no doubt, exclude these foreign
particles; as, while lapping, the mouth must be moistened as well as
the interior of the sheath, both it and the tongue requiring frequent

But we have now reached the confines of speculation. There is enough of
real fact about this ‘horrid forked tongue’ to interest and astonish
us. We find it guarded, aided, especially provided for, and especially
constructed and endowed; especially _harmless_ also. To the owner its
importance ranks not second even to the eyes.

The importance of the antennæ to insects is evident to all who have
ever watched the play of those active and beautifully-elaborate organs,
their infinitely varying forms (often many times the length of the
insect itself), their ceaseless play and independent action. Constantly
waving, they lightly touch every contiguous object; investigating on
all sides, they convey to insect intelligence all it requires to know
regarding its environments. Like a herald or a scout, they literally
‘spy out the land,’ and thus become a guide and a guard to the tiny
feeble creature which possesses them. Through them the owner learns all
that is needful for its well-being.

Much as an insect uses these exquisitely-constructed antennæ, so does
a snake its long, slender, pliant, bifurcate, and highly-sensitive
tongue. Ever busy, ever vigilant, exploring while barely touching each
surface within reach, yet by night and by day conveying with that
slight contact all necessary information to its owner. Sent out with
the speed of a flash, it telegraphs back with like quickness the result
of its discoveries.

If we may assign intelligence to any single organ, we might affirm that
there is more of what we consider rational intelligence in the tongue
of a snake than in any other of its perceptive faculties. Probably the
most important knowledge demanded by the reptile is conveyed, or, at
least, confirmed by this organ.

‘_Colorée_,’ says Dumeril of the tongue, as botanists say of the part
of a plant ordinarily green, as, for instance, a calyx; ‘coloured,’ but
not what colour. This is precisely as we may describe the colour of a
snake’s tongue. My attention was first drawn to this on reading one of
Dr. Arthur Stradling’s communications to _Land and Water_, April 2,
1881. ‘It would be interesting to know why some snakes have red tongues
and others black,’ he writes. ‘Here beside me, in a glass case, are two
little snakes, both belonging to the same genus (_Tropidonotus_)—a
seven-banded (_T. leberis_), and a moccasin (_T. fasciatus_), both
hailing from the United States, and both alike in their habits and
choice of food; yet it is a case of _rouge et noir_ with their lingual

After reading this, I noticed the varieties of colour in all the
‘forked tongues’ that exhibited themselves at the Zoological Gardens.
Black or very dark tongues, I think, predominate; and next to black,
brownish or olive tints, resembling those of the snake itself. But
not as a rule; for some very light snakes have dark tongues, and the
converse. In two small green tree snakes of distinct genera, one had
a pale pink or flesh-coloured tongue, and the other a black one. Some
tongues are almost white, while a few are red. There seems to be as
much caprice as in the colour of the human hair and eyes; and as
physiologists have traced some sort of connection or relationship with
complexions and constitutions in these, so ophiologists may, after a
time, discover a similar relation or sympathy between the colour of a
snake’s tongue and its integument or eyes. At present, I have observed
only so far as that two entirely black and two entirely green snakes
may present four distinct colours as regards their four tongues, and
that many tints of brown, black, and pink may be seen in the tongues of
as many snakes.





ONE Friday in august 1873, while watching a large python, at the
Zoological Gardens, swallowing a duck which it had just killed, I was
struck by a singular something projecting or hanging from the side of
the snake’s mouth. It looked like a kind of tube or pipe, about one
inch and a half or two inches of which were visible. The python had
rather an awkward hold of the duck, having begun at the breast with the
neck doubled back, the head forming some temporary impediment to the
progress of the jaws upon the prey. So the strange protuberance gave
one a ‘sort of turn,’ and a shudder. It looked as if it might be some
part of the crushed bird, and then again it had the appearance of some
internal arrangement; and another shudder crept over one as the idea
suggested itself that the poor snake had ruptured its throat in some
way. What _could_ this queer thing be, hanging on one side, as you see
the tongue of a horse or dog sometimes lolling sideways over its lower
jaw? While intently pondering and observing this strange tube-like
object, in size somewhat as big as the edge of a thimble, I saw the
end of it moving of itself, an orifice contracting and closing tight,
by the loose skin puckering up, so to speak. Presently it opened, and
by and by again closed tight, as you see the breathing orifice of the
octopus contract and expand, open and close, at regular intervals, only
in the present case the intervals were not regular. This strange tube,
then, had life and volition in it! What could it be?

Suddenly a certain day of one’s childhood flashed into my mind, and a
certain scene of home. One Michaelmas Day it was, when, having stolen
surreptitiously into the kitchen to coax the cook to ‘_let_ me see
the goose!’ I found her busy preparing the bird, and clambered into a
chair to watch her. ‘What’s _that_?’ I demanded, seeing part of a long,
pipe-like looking thing lying there.

‘Oh, that’s the windpipe. That’s like what _you’ve_ got in _your_
throat; and that’s where the crumbs get to make you choke so,’ in
allusion to a recent occurrence.

I gazed with awe and interest at that very strange thing, and wondered
if it really could be like anything in my own throat, and where it
began and ended, and so on. And that goose’s windpipe was indelibly
stamped on my memory.

And now that scene came vividly back to me, for there was a windpipe
sort of look about this appendage to the snake’s jaw, only it did not
appear to be bruised or injured in any way. Nor from the position of
the duck (by this time half swallowed) could it belong to the bird.
And, again, it moved with an independent motion!

And now the snake threw up its head, to free the legs of the duck from
its folds where it had been held, and as you see horses toss up their
heads to get the grain in the bag hung on their noses, and I saw the
tube-like object still more plainly. Then, with a strange, awe-struck
feeling, came a conviction that this could be nothing less than the
poor snake’s windpipe, and that something must be very wrong with it.

I beckoned to the keeper, and pointed to it, telling him, ‘I do think
that must be its windpipe. Is it hurt?’

The keeper said, ‘No, the snake was not hurt. That he had often seen
it like that when the snakes were feeding; and that he also thought it
must be the windpipe, to enable the snake to breathe while feeding.’

Next day, with eager steps and excited curiosity, I hurried to the
British Museum reading-room, thinking I had made a wonderful discovery,
for I had never heard this strange phenomenon alluded to, and the
keeper evidently knew very little about it.

With this great secret on my mind, I flew to the well-known shelves, to
secure those books which would certainly enlighten me if information
were to be had. Alas! for my wonderful discovery, though it really had
been a portion of the windpipe which was thus extended from the mouth,
it was what had been known long ago by those physiologists who had
studied the anatomy of the ophidia, and it was as coolly described as
if it were the commonest occurrence in the world for creatures to do
what they pleased with their windpipe!

Says Professor Owen in his _Anatomy of the Vertebrates_, vol. i. p.
525: ‘The glottis of serpents can be drawn forward and protruded
from the mouth by the action of’ (certain surrounding) ‘muscles. In
marine serpents the glottis is situated very near the fore part of the
mouth, and the air can be inspired at the surface of the water without
exposure of the jaws.’

The lungs of snakes, then, are supplied with air through that moveable
tube, and the ‘glottis,’ which is the mouth or opening of what may here
be called the air-tube, not to venture on scientific terms, was what I
had seen ‘puckered up,’ as it appeared.

We may briefly remind the reader that our own throats contain two
passages, one to the lungs, the other to the stomach; and in order that
the air passage may be safely guarded from the entrance of any foreign
particles, there are various parts, valves, and muscles which come
into play with the action of swallowing, each and all having technical
names, larynx, pharynx, glottis, epiglottis, etc., which need not be
here described. But in the adaptive development of those wonderful
creatures, snakes, the entrance or mouth of the windpipe—which begins
_in_ their mouth—can not only be closed at will, but still further to
protect the passage, and also to enable the reptiles to breathe during
the long process of swallowing, they can absolutely bring the apparatus
forward, even _beyond_ their mouths; and this was what had so surprised
me on witnessing it.

The glottis, being the soft, membranous end or aperture, was what
opened and closed, expanded and contracted, by that sort of puckering
up and loosening again that was observable, and which here was rounded,
but in the higher animals is a narrow, lip-like slit.

Some physiologists, in describing this ‘air-tube’ of serpents, speak
of it as the _larynx_, which is what we unscientific folk would call
the entrance to, or the upper portion of, the true windpipe or trachea.
Others, again, affirm that they saw the ‘windpipe’ projecting. After
all, much less has been said about it than one could wish; and what
is said is somewhat conflicting, perhaps on account of the obscurity
connected with this surprising adaptation of means to necessities.
A thorough examination of the position of the trachea of snakes
_while feeding_, and a perfect realization of its functions, could
only be obtained were it possible to arrest the process of feeding
by the instantaneous death of the feeder, and while every muscle of
the snake’s mouth remained in position. Even then, one could not be
positive, as snakes are endowed with the astonishing power of carrying
out their intentions, or, in common language, ‘going on with their
business,’ even after death. That is to say, owing to the irritability
of their muscles, the action which they were about to perform (as,
for instance, springing at a foe) continues should the head be shot
off at the moment of making the attempt. In p. 56 and chap. xxi. some
remarkable elucidations of this are given.

The general appearance of a windpipe is familiar to every one. It
is formed of a series of rings or hoops, partially cartilaginous in
mammals; that is to say, they are incomplete behind, where their
ends are united by muscle and membrane, and come in contact with the
gullet; but in serpents the rings are entire, the ends of each being
joined together by an elastic substance. The rings themselves are
also connected with each other by elastic membranes, so that the
windpipe is capable of being extended like an india-rubber tube, and of
regaining its former position.

The length of it naturally varies according to the size and species
of serpent; but as a rule it is always much longer comparatively than
in man. In a full-sized rattlesnake, the trachea is about twenty
inches long. In a boa constrictor, also, though a much larger snake,
it measures about the same. In smaller snakes it is, of course, much
shorter; but there is the same singular diversity in this as we find in
other serpent anomalies, viz. a great variation in the length in snakes
of equal size, and without any very apparent reason.

Bingley, in his _Animal Biography_, 1820, describes the appearance of
a large snake (M’Leod’s celebrated boa) when gorging a goat; but the
account, like those of that time, is more sensational than scientific.
‘His cheeks were immensely dilated, and appeared to be bursting, and
his _windpipe_ projected three inches beyond his jaws.’

Broderip, a few years later, 1825, more lucidly and dispassionately
describes what he had observed. ‘I have uniformly found that the larynx
is, during the operation of swallowing, protruded sometimes as much as
a quarter of an inch beyond the edge of the dilated lower jaw. I have
seen, in company with others, the valves of the glottis open and shut,
and the dead rabbit’s fur immediately before the aperture stirred,
apparently by the serpent’s breath, when his jaws and throat were
stiff, and stretched to excess’ (_Zoological Journal_, ii. 1826). This
account is quoted from the paper entitled, ‘Some Account of the Mode in
which the Boa Constrictor takes its Prey, and of the Adaptation of its
Organization to its Habits,’ by W. J. Broderip, Esq., F.L.S. The paper
was written as a criticism of the M’Leod story.

I, also, on several occasions, saw the fur or feathers stirred by
air when the mouth or valve opened of what we may safely call the
_air-tube_, whether larynx or trachea.

Though so rarely mentioned in popular books on snakes, this
surprising modification of the breathing apparatus was described by
the indefatigable Dr. Edward Tyson, on his dissection of the first
rattlesnake that fell into the hands of the Royal Society, 1683, and
whose paper on the _Vipera caudisona_, as he named it, is quoted in
chapters xvi. and xx. ‘Over the tongue did lye the _larynx_, not formed
with that variety of cartilages as is usual in other animals, but so as
to make a rime or slit for receiving or conveying out the air. Nor was
there any epiglottis for preventing other bodies from slipping in, this
being sufficiently provided for by the strict closure of it.’[38]

Dr. Tyson examined only a dead specimen, and could not therefore
witness the action observable in life; but his remarkable accuracy in
describing the parts will be evident in comparing what he said with
Dumeril, who did observe the living reptiles. The confusion which
sometimes occurs in distinguishing the parts may be also explained by
the less complicated structure of the tube, which in higher animals
presents the nicer distinctions of the parts, glottis, epiglottis,
larynx, etc.

‘Il n’y a pas de véritable larynx, une petite languette mobile qui
s’ajuste, sur l’ouverture linéaire; c’est la glotte.... La glotte,
située au-dessous de la victime, se porte en avant, et l’acte de
respiration ne se trouve point empêché. C’est que nous avons indiqué à
l’article de la déglutition; car on voit distinctement alors la glotte
se fermer et se délater.’[39]

This _petite languette_ became a new object of curiosity, and soon
came fresh opportunities for observation, namely, when some of the
larger snakes were engaged in yawning. On account of its extreme
mobility, you do not always detect the form of this little point on
the upper lip, which as often as not presents a rounded opening; but
occasionally the little tongue—which can be nothing but an apology for
an epiglottis—is very distinct, and may be compared with the moveable,
pointed snout of some of the large pachyderms, or, still better, with
an exactly similar formation at the end of the elephant’s trunk, and
which, though for a different purpose, moves similarly.

As to the _exact position_ of this glottis when at rest, a word or two
must be said; for a number of prepositions have been used to describe
it. One writer says ‘beneath’ the tongue sheath, others say ‘beyond,’
others again ‘before;’ ‘over,’ ‘above,’ ‘behind,’ ‘in front of,’ have
been variously used, and all depending on which way the snake is
viewed; but without drawing upon half a score of prepositions to puzzle
the reader, as I myself was sorely puzzled until a yawning snake was so
kind as to afford me an ocular scrutiny of its lingual arrangements, we
can easily comprehend where a passage to the windpipe and lungs must
necessarily be, and which, it is clear, is not _under_ the tongue.
When a snake’s head is raised, as in crawling up a wall or a tree,
the glottis may be said to be ‘beneath’ or ‘under;’ but the general
position of a snake being horizontal, the mouth then opened would show
you the opening of the tongue sheath _nearest_ to you and to the front;
and beyond that, behind, over, or _upon_ the tongue sheath, is another
aperture, which is the glottis or entrance to the larynx and trachea or

So there are in fact two sheaths or tubes lying one upon the other,
viz. the tongue sheath, and upon this and parallel with it, the

After becoming better acquainted with the nature of that tube which
had impressed me so strangely, I lost no opportunity of making further
observations, and on the following feeding day at the Gardens I saw the
air-tubes of several snakes plainly. In September of that year, a new
‘Horseshoe’ snake (_Zamenis hippocrepis_) arrived from Morocco. It was
a small and very pretty snake, and while enjoying the privilege of a
private inspection, the keeper got its mouth open for me, enabling me
to see the glottis, as well as to both see and _feel_ the four upper
rows of its beautiful little teeth, closely placed, and as sharp as
the finest pins. But the action of the air-tube was very distinct.
Probably little _Zamenis_ was breathing harder and nervously under the
detention, but no word better describes the formation of the aperture
of the perfectly rounded tube, and the movement of it, than the _petite

Subsequently, there were opportunities of observing the air-tube in
two of the large African vipers, the ‘River Jack’ or ‘Nose-horned’
vipers (_Vipera rhinosceros_) occupying the same cage. Each struck a
guinea-pig and held it. One of them began to eat his before it was
quite dead, and had finished it before his friend had begun. In his
case, the air-pipe was at the side of his distended jaws. In the other,
it projected more than half an inch _beneath_, nearly in the centre.

This happened on a mild, damp day in November 1873, and after that
I saw the tube in ‘several snakes,’ but I regret the names were not
entered in my notebook at the time. In the smaller non-venomous snakes,
or in the lacertines—of which there were then a large number—I do
not remember to have observed it. They despatch their frog or mouse so
quickly that they would scarcely need a fresh supply of air meanwhile.
In the larger vipers, rattlesnakes, and constrictors, the air-tube
was undoubtedly witnessed. Winter then terminated my observations,
and afterwards a prolonged absence from town. Unfortunately, when
observations were about to be resumed, the change of the plans at
the Zoological Gardens, and the exclusion of the public, defeated my
intentions, though on one occasion I did see the windpipe of little
_Natrix torquata_ very distinctly; and this was the smallest snake in
which I had ever observed it. _Natrix_ had nearly disposed of a large
frog. The whole of it was in his mouth, which was widely expanded,
and the air-tube was protruded sideways, not _out_ of the mouth, but
sufficiently forward to enable one to distinguish its form, and the
action of the _petite languette_. The prey being unusually large, the
snake had needed air while swallowing it.

On several occasions in snakes recently dead, and of various sizes, one
has been able to notice how admirably this tube, which lies along the
mouth like a soft cushion, somewhat in the form of a parrot’s tongue,
is supplied with space in the roof, arched to fit it, the palate teeth
enclosing it on each side, while the opening, or glottis, exactly meets
the nostrils, _les arrières nez_, bringing it into communication with
the outer air.

In a little _Coluber_, just dead, I again had an opportunity of making
observations. The membranous coating was so thin and transparent that
the rings of the windpipe could be very distinctly traced from a quite
forward position in the mouth, and beginning on and over the tongue
sheath. The surrounding skin or membrane was also loose and abundant,
so that with the point of a needle the upper part of the windpipe could
be easily drawn forward _beyond_ the lips. In life the little snake
could thus have voluntarily protruded it as occasion required.

Another day the large reticulated python seemed to intentionally
gratify my curiosity by affording me a most leisurely and excellent
opportunity for observation. His head was raised, and so close to the
glass that the process of swallowing could be watched conveniently.
The final swallow, or successive efforts at the last were, as usual,
attended with frequent yawns. The glottis, as could on these occasions
be distinctly seen, was repeatedly opened and closed, and after being
extended beyond the mouth, it gradually resumed its natural position.
While the prey occupied the entire space between the gaping jaws, one
could see the air-tube pushed forward _beneath_; but as by degrees
the duck disappeared down the throat, the interior of the mouth could
be better and better observed. In this large snake the membrane or
skin was too thick to enable one to discern rings as in the little
_Coluber_; but as the larynx is merely the upper part of the trachea,
and as the glottis is the mere membranous opening to the larynx, it
seems evident that the windpipe itself is also extensible, the windpipe
being, indeed, the only portion of the air-tube sufficiently firm and
resisting to aid the purpose of respiration under such conditions.

The exact distance which the tube is extended cannot be accurately
stated. It would not be equally protruded in snakes of different sizes
nor under different conditions. Broderip saw it ‘as much as a quarter
of an inch.’ Bingley, an earlier and a less safe authority, says ‘the
windpipe projected _three inches_ beyond his jaws.’ The keeper at the
Gardens thought he had sometimes seen it ‘as much as two inches in the
largest snakes;’ and my own impression was, one inch, at least, in the
python, and almost that in the large vipers.

It is undoubtedly one of those interesting features worthy of further
investigation, and one is surprised that more accurate information
regarding it has not appeared in our later encyclopedias and in the
‘Proceedings of the Zoological Societies.’

So long ago as 1826, it was observed and confirmed by the distinguished
author of _Zoological Researches_, and _Leaves from the Notebook of
a Naturalist_. The author of _British Reptiles_, who conducted the
_Zoological Journal_ when Mr. Broderip contributed the valuable paper
above quoted, added a note by special request, stating that his own
‘not unfrequent observations have on every point been completely
confirmatory of those above recorded’ by W. J. Broderip, Esq.

A very good account of the whole is quoted in the _Penny Magazine_,
1836, and we are therein further enlightened by reading that Joseph
Henry Green, Esq., F.R.S., in one of his lectures at the Royal College
of Surgeons, alluded to Broderip’s paper ‘On the Mode in which
Constrictors swallow their Prey,’ and which had drawn his attention to
the statement about the larynx, and led him to examine the mouth of a

In process of dissection, he detected two muscles in the lower jaw,
evidently intended for the purpose of bringing the larynx forward; how
far forward and how much of the true windpipe was also brought forward,
he did not say. But this in a dead specimen could scarcely be affirmed
with certainty.

From the large size of their prey, and the jaws being stretched
open and gorged to their utmost capacity, it is plain that snakes
cannot breathe freely in the ordinary manner while feeding, a process
sometimes of an hour or more. Owing to the construction of their lungs
and their capability to contain a large volume of air, they do not
require to breathe frequently; still they do occasionally take a fresh
inspiration, and their needs are met by this wonderful arrangement of
the breathing apparatus.





FOLLOWING on the subject of the last chapter comes that of respiration;
and in connection with breathing is the ‘voice,’ so far as this class
of animals can be said to possess a voice.

As already seen in the description of the glottis, serpents do not
breathe in the ordinary way, with short and regular inspirations, but
when they do respire, they take in a supply of air to last them for
some time. Their lungs, instead of occupying one particular portion of
the body corresponding with the chest of the higher animals, are less
developed. One lung—or what Professor Owen calls the long pulmonary
bag—of snakes extends along more than half of their body; in some
species nearly to the anus. Only one lung is normal, the other is
rudimentary. The circulation is so arranged that on each contraction
of the heart only a part of the blood is exposed to the influence of
the air and becomes oxygenated, the rest returning to the parts without
having undergone the action of respiration at all. The blood is, in
consequence, poor in red corpuscles, its circulation is comparatively
languid, the reptile becomes easily torpid, and its temperature is
influenced by the surrounding atmosphere more than by the vigour of its
own functions. This is why, when not excited to activity by external
warmth, reptiles can pass a long time without food. Having no fixed
temperature to maintain, one important source of demand for food is

The air enters their lungs chiefly in a direct course from the
nostrils, only by the mouth when open. If you observe the flatness of
the head, and the very short space that can exist between the nose and
the mouth of snakes, you will readily trace the communication between
the entrance to the trachea and the outer air through the nostrils
when the glottis is not closed. Professor Owen, in his _Anatomy of
the Vertebrates_, vol. i. p. 528, describes this process fully. In
the foregoing description I have borrowed from him, as well as from
Dr. Carpenter, Todd, and others; but as there is nothing like ‘seeing
for oneself,’ I would persuade my readers to watch a snake for a few
minutes. An inspiration at intervals will be easily discerned by the
expansion of the body. You will also perceive partial or slighter
breathings, and the trunk dilating and expanding gently through a sort
of internal respiration which is going on; every now and then comes the
deeper, fuller breath.

You may perceive that sometimes one short portion of the body expands,
as if the lung in that part only were at work. This is more easily seen
in the larger snakes. I have watched these for a quarter of an hour or
more at a time, during which period only a comparatively short portion
of the body showed any signs of breathing. Schlegel, who carefully
studied this action, observed sometimes as many as thirty such partial
dilatations of the trunk and lung between two full inspirations.

In the large reticulated python I once saw that about two feet of the
body, viz. four to six feet from the head, dilated with occasional and
irregular inspirations, and no other part. By and by slight indications
of breathing were observable much lower down, many feet apart from
the previous action, while during the whole time I was watching I saw
not one full and entire inflation of the lungs. This was on a rather
chilly September afternoon, and the python had partaken of a couple of
ducks for dinner the previous day, and it was a time when inactivity is
usual. In a rattlesnake, on the same day, similar partial and irregular
respirations were observable, this serpent having caused four rats to
disappear at his last night’s supper.

Sometimes you can discern no indication whatever of breathing for a
very long time. When the reptiles are not in health, when they are
about to cast their skin, or when in a half-torpid condition, you may
observe this.

When a snake yawns—a long and leisurely proceeding—the lungs are
doubtless greatly refreshed; otherwise these reptiles do not rest with
their mouths open, and the only possible access of outer air by the
lips being through the chink appropriated to the service of the tongue
(and which is as exactly opposite the opening of the tongue-sheath as
the nostrils are opposite to the glottis), they must breathe almost
entirely through the nose, _except when yawning_.

From the elongated form of the pulmonary bag, and the large volume
of air which it contains, we can understand not only how a temporary
suspension of respiration can be supported, but we comprehend how it is
that these reptiles can remain under water for long periods, as they
often do,—not because they breathe _in_ the water, but because they
can for a while do without breathing.

Snakes have been seen to remain perfectly quiet at the bottom of a
clear stream for half an hour or more. Sometimes in this totally
quiescent state one has been supposed to be dead, until, on a stone
being thrown, it has darted away like a fish. None of the aquatic birds
or the cetaceous mammalia can remain so long under water without coming
to the surface to breathe as serpents can.

At the Zoological Gardens they remain for hours at a time in their
tanks. Often you will see a head peeping out—which, unfortunately, is
all we _can_ see—while the bath is being enjoyed, but as often the
head is also immersed, though, of course, for a shorter interval, the
snake lifting it to breathe occasionally.

We can imagine also the great assistance in swimming which this long
air-receptacle must be, these reptiles deriving from it the same
advantage, says Professor Owen, ‘as an eel from its swim-bladder.’ In
chap. XII. is described the almost swimming motion of the more active
snakes when gliding through long grass, or effecting progress over
a very smooth surface. In the water the action is similar—that is,
the progression is by lateral undulations, the tail being the chief
propelling power. Whether through the resisting medium of water, or
beating the air, so to speak, when skimming over smooth or unresisting
surfaces, this swimming motion is ever easy and graceful. In the
chapter on Tails, we shall see what an important agent in progression
is this limb, whether by pressure, as in the burrowing snakes, or by
its oar-like or paddle-like use in rapid motion.

To recapitulate the above in a few words—first, respiration warms the
blood; snakes are cold-blooded because only a portion of the blood
passes through the lungs to become oxygenated, and in proportion to the
diminution of the quantity of blood transmitted to the lungs, so does
respiration become weaker; therefore reptiles are less dependent on

Regarding the ‘voice’ of serpents, so surprising are the qualities
attributed to it, that one would imagine the existence of varieties of
snakes of widely differing organizations, if we were to believe all we
read of the sounds they produce. ‘Hissing loudly,’ or ‘whistling,’ is
the rule. No ordinary writer or traveller who says a word about a snake
ever heard it hiss anything but ‘loudly,’ a statement traceable to
the same sentiment which causes persons to talk of the ‘horrid forked
tongue.’ A benevolently-disposed snake who would warn you away with
that terrible tongue would also strengthen his argument by a prolonged
hiss, and the louder the better.

But let us turn to the hard, cold, unpoetical, unimaginative language
of science, and see what a snake can really do in the vocal expression
of its feelings.

Says Dr. Carpenter: ‘In all air-breathing vertebrata the production
of sound depends upon the passage of air through a certain portion
of the respiratory tube, which is so constructed as to set the air
in vibration. In reptiles and mammals it is at the point where the
windpipe opens into the front of the pharynx, that this vibrating
apparatus is situated. Few of the animals of the former class, however,
can produce any other sound than a _hiss_, occasioned by the passage of
air through the narrow chink by which the trachea communicates with the
pharynx; but this sound, owing to the great capacity of their lungs, is
often very much prolonged’ (_Animal Physiology_),—prolonged, but not
powerful, be it observed.

Says Professor Owen: ‘The true “_chordæ vocales_” are absent in
serpents, and the voice is reduced to a hissing sound, produced by the
action of the expired air upon the margins of the glottis’ (_Anatomy of
the Vertebrates_).

Speaking of the escape of air from the lungs, Dumeril says: ‘Lorsqu’il
est passé plus vivement il laisse entendre une sorte de vibration, qui
le plus souvent, ne consiste que dans le bruit d’un soufflement.’[40]

Sometimes, according to the position of a snake, or when the passage is
well open and uninterrupted, the hiss partakes somewhat of a whistling
sound, like the blowing through a quill. I observed this particularly
in a ‘tree boa’ (_Epicratis cenchris_), which hissed at me angrily one
day because I took the liberty of touching it when the keeper opened
its cage to arrange its blanket. The ‘hiss,’ not loud, or by any means
musical, differed from the ordinary blowing only as a current of
air passing through a round tube would differ from the same current
passing through a narrow slit. A true ‘hiss,’ such as we produce
with closed teeth in prolonging the sound of _s_, a serpent can never
express. The nearest approach to it in the human voice is when the
tongue is in the position as if we are about to say _ye_ or _he_, and
then prolong the breath; that is to say, breathe out while the tongue
is so placed before the word is uttered.

Naturally the larger the snake the stronger the ‘hiss;’ the more rapid
the expiration, the more powerful will be the volume of air with its
attendant _soufflement_.

The sound and action, as well as degree, are easily seen in the ‘puff
adder’ (_Clotho_, or _Vipera arietans_). When angry or alarmed, it
draws in a full breath, and its body swells perceptibly; then you hear
the escaping air like a prolonged sigh or blowing till the lungs are
empty. This process is repeated as long as the provocation lasts.

These alternate inspirations and expirations, with their accompanying
movements, the swelling and then diminishing of the trunk and the
regular _soufflants_, are so precisely like those of a pair of bellows,
that excepting in shape, we require no more complete comparison. The
_degree_ or strength of hiss is in this reptile very perceptible. When
recently imported and easily excited, its violent ‘puffing’ corresponds
with a very large pair of bellows; but in time it grows less alarmed
at the appearance of the human beings who unceremoniously stare at it;
and at length the puffing is very slight, ceasing altogether after
the snake becomes accustomed to its surroundings. But if molested and
alarmed, you then see the full play of the lungs, and the whole body
alternately expanding and contracting as before.

We may almost compare this pulmonary action to the panting or full
breathings of ourselves under alarm or agitation. Only, in comparison
as the lung of snakes is elongated, and there is so much of it to fill
with air, so is the sound prolonged, and the breathing a slower process.

There is another viper, the small Cape adder (_Vipera atropos_), a most
deadly little reptile, in which a similar sound to that of the ‘puff
adder’ may be heard. When this creature is disturbed, it draws in a
long breath which expands its whole body in the same manner, and then
in expelling the air, a long sort of wheeze or blowing is audible.
Even in drawing the breath in, a slight sound is heard (as it also is
in our native viper and some others); but instead of the prolonged
hiss by which most snakes display their agitation, this little adder
expresses itself in long successive blowings, like its larger relative
_arietans_, only a little less regularly. In the present instance, I
saw the lung inflated with an agitated undulating motion, as if the
fluid air were entering in little waves. I do not state positively that
this is invariably the case from having witnessed it in one specimen.
This might be the normal process, or this viper’s lungs and health may
have been impaired. I am thus precise because it is unsafe to establish
as an invariable fact in natural history what may have been seen only
occasionally, a habit which has so often led to the promulgation of
erroneous impressions.

The prolonged sound of the hiss in snakes is due to the size of the
lung, they having a large supply of air to draw upon. Some serpents
expand their bodies under excitement without any perceptible hiss:
the cobra both hisses and expands, so do some others; but all these
movements are, no doubt, connected with respiration in some way, just
as in human beings, sighing, sobbing, panting, etc., in which the
ribs take part, are only modifications of the ordinary movements of
respiration, and chiefly emotional.

Very similar also to the manner of the puff adder is that of _Vipera
rhinosceros_, one of the largest African poisonous serpents, known as
the ‘River Jack,’ being fond of water. One of these was in the London
collection for several years, and I observed that whenever disturbed,
its body swelled considerably, while the ‘hissing,’ or expulsion of
breath, alternated with this expansion.

Snakes, like other animals, probably differ in temper or in
nervousness; for while some are noted hissers, others hiss only on
great provocation, and others, again, not at all. One remarkable
example of a non-hissing snake, though from no amiability of temper,
is the little carpet viper of India (_Echis carinata_). Unless you
were positively assured by learned authorities that this exceedingly
irritable little viper never hisses, you would scarcely believe your
ears, so sibilant is the sound it causes by rustling its scales

Sir Joseph Fayrer, in the _Thanatophidia_, describes this as a very
fierce and aggressive little viper, always ready to attack and be on
the defensive. It throws itself into a double coil, and its agitated
motion causes the rough, carinated scales to rub against each other,
and make a sound like hissing, but ‘_it does not hiss_.’

This rustling is very much like the sound of the crotalus rattle, and
the dry scales must be raised in a sort of way, or ruffled, as an
alarmed hen ruffles her feathers. ‘The outer scales are prominent,
and at a different angle to the rest,’ says Fayrer. It generally lies
coiled in a compact form, often like a ‘w,’ as may be seen in the
frontispiece, with its head in the centre, but always towards the point
of supposed danger, which in a cage is facing the spectator.

Curious and wonderful is the agitation into which this carpet snake
throws itself when disturbed, every inch of it, excepting the head, in
motion. The head retains its fixed position, the eyes intently keeping
guard, while the body moves in every conceivable curve, like wheels
within wheels, yet retaining the same outline, or occupying the same
place and space, though every muscle must be in activity.

One can liken this behaviour only to what is seen in the blending
of liquids of different densities. As you look down into a glass
containing one fluid while drop after drop of another is falling, you
perceive fresh currents and curves in every direction. Watching one
of these, it has changed places with another, you lose trace of it,
each drop is lost in the commingling of the whole. So it is with this
wonderful little echis. It is almost impossible to follow with the eye
any one portion or coil of its moving length; but each inch changes
places and mingles with the rest, like blending fluids.

Speaking of an American snake (_Pituophis melanoleucus_), in which a
similar excitement is observable, Mr. Samuel Lockwood[41] likens it
to a ‘mystic wheel.’ ‘The movement consists of numberless units of
individual activities,’ he says, ‘and all regulated by and under the
perfect control of one will that is felt in every curved line.’ There
is some likeness to the ‘thousand personal activities of a regiment of
soldiers on their winding way.’ He has watched the creature ‘melting
into movements so intricate and delicate that the lithe and limbless
thing looks like gossamer incarnate.’

This Pine snake is very smooth, and in the excited actions thus
graphically described, it makes no noise like the little Indian viper;
but Mr. Lockwood’s words are so appropriate to both snakes that
the reader has only to add in imagination the rustling noise that
accompanies the quivering echis.

Among other of the ophidians remarkable for their hissing is _Psamophis
sibilans_, the ‘hissing sand snake,’ a very slender little creature.
Several mentioned by the earlier naturalists as ‘the hissing snake,’
are evidently _Heterodons_. Catesby, Lawson, and others mention one as
the ‘blowing viper;’ _Blauser_ of the Dutch, also the ‘chequered’ or
‘spreading-adder,’ which leaves no difficulty in identifying _Heterodon
platyrhinos_. An American writer indulges in a figure of speech while
describing this little Coluber by saying, ‘It emits a succession
of hisses, “sibilant sounds,” similar to letting off steam from a
small steam engine.’ He at the same time admits that it is harmless
and inoffensive in spite of its threatening aspect when flattening
its head.’ This is the ‘spread head’ alluded to in chap. xxii., an
unfortunate demonstration of alarm which has gained for it its venomous
titles. Several of this species have from time to time been added to
the collection at the Zoological Gardens, and the chief drawback to
their anticipated attractions is that they so soon become tame and
peaceful that you can scarcely provoke them to exhibit their reputed
power. I have seen one flatten its head so slightly as to be barely
noticeable, but I never heard it ‘hiss.’

‘Its spots become visibly brighter through rage,’ wrote Carver in 1796,
‘and at the same time it blows from its mouth with great force a subtle
wind that is reported to be of a nauseous smell.’ Chateaubriand, of
course, had something to say of ‘the hissing snake,’ frequent in the
warmer States of America. ‘When approached it becomes flat, appears
of different colours, and opens its mouth hissing. Great caution is
necessary not to enter the atmosphere which surrounds it. It decomposes
the air, which, imprudently inhaled, induces languor. The person wastes
away, the lungs are affected, and in the course of four months he dies
of consumption!’ Of another snake this author says, ‘He hisses like a
mountain eagle, he bellows like a bull!’

It may be objected, ‘Why occupy space by quoting such old wives’
fables?’ I reply, because they have already been so abundantly quoted;
and to such fables are in great part due the erroneous impressions
which exist to the present day. Several members of the _Heterodon_
family have from time to time been in our London collection. Friends
of mine have had _Heterodons_ in their keeping as pets; I have often
handled them, and found them gentle and inoffensive in every way. They
are indeed so popularly and peculiarly interesting that they will claim
a page presently, the present chapter being devoted exclusively to
ophidian lungs, not human lungs, supposed to be destroyed by them!

While admitting various degrees and qualities of hissing, we may give
a passing mention to Du Chaillu’s snakes, all of which appear to be of
the whistling, as well as of the ‘springing’ kind. He saw ‘an enormous
black shining snake, loathsome and horrid.’ ... ‘Then the fellow gave a
spring, and whistled in a most horrid manner.’ And when he was wounded,
he again ‘gave a sharp whistle.’ On another occasion, while a Goree man
was playing with a large Naja, ‘the air around seemed to be filled with
the whistling sound of the creature,’ and so on.

Another African snake, the ‘Green Mamba,’ has such very bad manners
that it not only hisses, but spits and darts at you. In this instance
my informant was a young lady, who had ‘seen it!’

Somewhat more perplexing, because more deserving of notice, is what
Livingstone tells us of a serpent called _Nega-put-sane_, or ‘serpent
of a kid,’ which ‘utters a cry by night exactly like the bleating of
that animal,’ and that he had ‘heard one at a spot where no kid could
possibly have been.’[42]

‘_Il canta como un gallo_,’ said Albert Seba of an astonishing snake in
Hayti and St. Domingo once.

‘Beyond a hissing and often a peculiar drumming noise, snakes emit
no sound,’ says Krefft, one of our very able authorities.[43] This
experienced writer does not positively affirm that the ‘drumming’
is produced by the voice, and it is more likely to proceed from
the beating of an agitated tail, an action which may be frequently
witnessed in excited snakes.

Dr. Otto Wucherer saw this in a South American snake, _Xenodon
colubrinus_. ‘It has the habit of striking the ground rapidly with the
tail when irritated’ (_Zoo. Soc. Proc._ 1861).

So do _Spilotes variabilis_, and some others. So also does the Pine
snake, whose tail ends in a horny tip, ‘like a four-sided spike,’ and
which vibrates like a crotalus in rudiment, or strikes the ground.

Several American naturalists have contributed interesting accounts
of this last species, known as the ‘Bull’ or ‘Pine snake,’ or ‘Pilot
snake,’ the largest of the N. American Colubers. It was this species
(_Pituophis melanoleucus_) whose actions Mr. Sam. Lockwood described as
mystic circles, and its activity as almost equal to that of the ‘Racer’
(_American Naturalist_, vol. ix. 1875). But it is called the Bull snake
because it ‘roars like a bull.’ Bartram went so far as to say like
thunder! ‘Said to hiss like thunder,’ or ‘resembling distant thunder,’
is the cautious testimony of Holbrooke, who adds, ‘but I never heard
it, though well acquainted with it.’

Mr. Lockwood minutely described one in his possession. In reading
his account we can but notice the similarity of action between this
‘Bull snake’ and the African vipers in ‘puffing,’ though regarding
the nature of the sound, the writer positively affirms that ‘there is
nothing sibilant in this blowing, not the slightest hiss about it.’
Mr. Lockwood records his experience of several that he had seen and
heard, and of a fight between one and a rat. ‘Now began that fearful
blowing. The snake slowly fills its lungs with air, and then expels it
with a bellowing sound that is really formidable.’ And again, in the
same volume, in reference to the former account, he says: ‘As there
noted, the _Pituophis_, when alarmed or enraged, slowly inflates itself
with air, thus nearly doubling its normal size along its entire length,
except the tail. It then slowly expels the air with its own peculiar
sound.’ He recalls his boyish terror on once hearing this sound, which
came upon him suddenly in a field, ‘like the restrained roaring of a
bull.’ This was in New Jersey; but the _Pituophis_ family extends to
the Western States, and to the Rocky Mountains, where ‘Bull snakes’
are frequently seen. In the reports of the United States Exploring
Expeditions, mention has been made of the prairie Bull snake, and of
others in Nebraska and as far west as California.

Some attain to seven feet in length; Holbrooke mentions one of nine
feet, and ‘as thick as your arm,’ in common parlance. An angry snake of
this size could, of course, blow with considerable force, and the term
‘bellowing’ might not unreasonably be applied to the sound; as it is
also applied to the croaking of the ‘bull frog’ (_Rana mugiens_), the
sound of which is really so like the lowing of cattle, that, on hearing
one for the first time in the woods of Virginia, I looked round, quite
expecting to see a young heifer in close proximity.[44] Probably, had
the bovine lungs sounded at the same moment, the reptilian ‘bellow’
would have proved but a feeble imitation. A sound out of place, so
to speak, or unanticipated, strikes upon the ear more forcibly than
when expected. But if one reptile, and that a very small one, can so
well imitate a bull as it is universally known the bull frog does,
why may not another do the same?—an argument which I venture to use
notwithstanding many herpetologists accept doubtfully the possibility
of a snake producing such a sound. ‘Il est difficile à concevoir
comment les serpents auraient la faculté de siffler, comme on pretend
que peuvent le faire certaines espèces de couleuvres, et comme les
poëtes se plaisent à nous les representer. Jamais nous n’avons pu
entendre qu’un soufflement très sourd, provenant de l’air qui sortait
avec plus ou moins de rapidité de l’interieur de leur poumon que l’on
voyait s’affaisser en trouvant une issue par la glotte, à travers
les trous des narines ou directement par la bouche dont la mâchoire
superieure est naturellement echanchrée. Alors la bruit était seulement
comparable à celui qui resulterait du passage rapide et continue de
l’air dans un tube ou par un tuyau sec et etroit, comme serait celui
d’une plume.’[45]

This no doubt answers to the ordinary ‘hissing’ of the majority of
snakes; but that the sound varies under certain conditions, and in the
same serpent, cannot be denied. A. R. Wallace relates an incident which
may well be introduced here, as affording both a proof of the length
of time snakes can sustain a sort of half suffocation, and also the
expression or power of ‘voice’ in breathing. A young boa was caught,
and in order to prevent its escape, its captors, while preparing a box
in which to convey it away, tied it tightly round the neck to a thick
stick, which not only fettered its movements, but appeared to nearly
stop its respiration. It lay writhing in much discomfort, sometimes
opening its mouth with a suspicious yawn, as if trying hard to
breathe. By and by, when relieved from its clog and safely consigned
to a box with bars on the top, it began to make up for loss of time by
breathing violently, ‘the expirations sounding like high-pressure steam
escaping from a locomotive. This continued for some hours, of four and
a half respirations a minute,’ when the breathing—in this case we may
say panting—gradually subsided, and then the poor thing settled down
into silence.[46]

The expression of feelings by the tail in so many snakes, producing a
sibilant sound in rustling dead leaves, and in some which are supposed
never to hiss, is a subject well worth the attention of scientific
naturalists. It would be interesting to ascertain if any peculiarity of
trachea or of glottis exist in these.





THE periodical torpor known as the winter sleep of reptiles is
intimately connected with respiration, and a chapter must now be
devoted to this subject.

‘Reptiles are obedient to the external atmosphere,’ has been aptly said
of them. Thus, they obey the sun; for if exposed to his rays, they
warm into life and activity. They obey the frost; for when exposed to
its influence, their functions grow feeble or fail altogether, and
they succumb to within a verge of lifelessness. They obey all the
intermediate variations of temperature during the changing year, by
displaying degrees of animation and activity responsive to the degree
of warmth externally which they do not possess in themselves.

Bell speaks of hibernation as ‘amongst the most remarkable and
interesting phenomena which occur in the history of animals.’ It is
not a state of suffering, like that of a warm-blooded creature that is
frozen to death; but with one common impulse, reptiles all retire, and
remain in an almost lifeless repose, with every function so nearly
suspended, that no external signs of existence are visible. For them it
is a sort of rest, and we may cease to wonder at their longevity since
they live only half their lives. It is, indeed, a convenient mode of
getting through life, reminding us of a theory or proposal ventilated
not long since, by which convicts were to be economically provided
for by submitting them to a certain freezing process, and disposing
them neatly on rows of shelves until the expiration of their term of
punishment; all to be done then was to dust them thoroughly—perhaps
scrub them a little—and restore them to the world and life again. And
they were promised to be none the worse, not even to have lost their
memory or to have acquired the rheumatism. Unfortunately the wonderful
process has never been made clear to anxious inquirers, or some others
of us, who are _not_ convicts, might gladly resort to this method of
rest occasionally, and of freezing out the worries of existence.

On the principle of political economy, this would be all very well, and
in the great routine of nature there is beneficence in the hibernation
of creatures, whether reptiles or other animals, that are sent to
sleep at the very time when food fails them. The smaller members of
the class have no longer insects and molluscs; the larger ones feed
chiefly on rodents and birds which have also retired or migrated, or on
their lesser kinsfolk, that no longer abound where most wanted by them.
Therefore, this going to sleep every winter, and doing without food
when there is no food to be had, is most convenient for a considerable
section of animated nature.

There is something strangely analogous in the almost total suspension
of vital forces in reptiles to that which vegetation undergoes.
Circulation stops, the juices become stagnant, whether in a tree or
in a snake, and it is sometimes difficult to decide in either case
whether life is extinct or not. But with returning warmth comes renewed
vitality; the fluids, whether of the animal or the vegetable organism,
are thawed by the revivifying solar rays, which set them circulating
and start the pulsation; and the animal machinery, like a watch wound
up, is set in working order again.

It is owing to this lack of warmth in themselves that snakes can live
only in hot countries, or in cooler latitudes, during the warmer
weather, and not at all in the frigid zones. In speaking of them,
Dumeril says Linnæus was right in calling them cold animals in hot
countries. ‘Aussi la plupart des Ophidiens habitent-ils les climats
chauds, et c’est en parlant d’eux que Linné a pu dire avec raison:
“Frigida æstuantium animalia.”’[47]

Dumeril describes their respiration as arbitrary, suspended, retarded,
or accelerated at will. ‘La respiration étant volontairement accélerée
ou retardée, les actions chimiques et vitales qui en resultent doivent
être naturellement excitées ou ralenties par cette cause.’[48] ‘The
electric fluid,’ says Latreille, ‘is one of the great agents in
animating living beings; and upon reptiles it operates in conjunction
with warmth in rousing them from their inactivity.’

The periodical torpor and insensibility which reptiles undergo cannot,
however, be always associated with extremes of cold, nor in all cases
called strictly a ‘_winter_’ sleep; because it is during the hottest
seasons in the tropics that they resign themselves similarly to an
almost death-like repose and temporary tomb, burying themselves in the
mud, which is hard-baked around and over them, almost hermetically
sealed until the rainy season loosens the soil, and frees them from
this literal sarcophagus. In this case the so-called ‘hibernation’ is
the result of drought. It is moisture now which revivifies them, rain
which restores their vital functions, and like the chrysalis bursting
its shell and emerging a new and brilliant creature, the reptile lives
anew, doffs his muddy coat, and reappears in all his resplendent

The prairie rattlesnake (_Crotalus confluentus_) is known to undergo
this species of torpor, which is, in fact, estivation. It is described
as having been found in this ‘stupid condition’ in the dry cañons of
the Rocky Mountains during the droughts of July and August. American
naturalists who accompany the Exploring Expeditions affirm that this
partial torpor is common to many species of snakes, and analogous to
hibernation. They are ‘sluggish, stupid, blind, striking wildly,’ says
one of the official Reports.

Snakes remain torpid on an average half the year. It is a winter sleep
in colder and temperate climates, and a summer sleep in hot ones.
The green garter-snake of the United States hibernates eight months
out of the twelve. So do some of the Australian snakes, others being
underground five months in the year, Krefft tells us. The duration of
insensibility varies, of course, with the climate and season.

Snakes in menageries have been known to manifest inactivity and
disinclination for food as early as September if the season be
unusually cold, at other times in October; but, on the contrary,
during a milder season they keep active until November, while some do
not hibernate at all. Their habits there can, however, scarcely be
cited as normal, since the artificial heat regularly maintained in the
Ophidarium never permits the rigours of an out-door winter to affect
them. Nevertheless they manifest the disposition for repose; and if
it could be so arranged that the tropical snakes could be submitted
to tropical heat and drought, and those of cooler countries to frosty
air, as in a state of nature, we might witness both estivation and
hibernation under the same roof.

A partial hibernation is observable in reptiles in captivity when,
though not absolutely inactive, they decline food. For twenty-two
weeks a python at the Zoological Gardens fasted during one winter; at
another time, twenty weeks. The large python (_reticulatus_) fasted
for one year and eleven months, covering two winters, but fed well
and retained its health after this. Meanwhile, during this prolonged
fast, should a gleam of sunshine penetrate the foggy atmosphere of our
London winters, and shine through the glass roof upon a constrictor’s
coverlet, he may slowly emerge therefrom, displaying a few feet of his
lazy length for an hour or so, thus verifying the words, ‘obedient
to the external atmosphere.’ No creatures are so susceptible of the
changes of temperature; and the same degree which caused them to seek a
retreat will, on the return of spring, reanimate them. And warmth—in
them almost another word for vitality—equally affects their appetite.
In the very height of summer, should their feeding-day prove a chilly
one, a much lighter drain on the larder is observable, while a warm,
bright day will show a heavy poulterer’s bill _in re Ophidarium_. Dr.
A. Stradling, a practical ophiologist, found that the common English
snakes ‘thrive exceedingly by reason of their increased appetites,’
when taken to the tropics. ‘It is impossible to say what degree of heat
a reptile will not stand and enjoy,’ says this writer (_Field_, July
28, 1881). ‘On the hottest days in the hottest places on earth, one
surprises snakes and lizards basking in the blazing sun-glare, on sands
and rocks which it would almost blister the hand to touch.’ Florida is
the most southern extreme of my own experience; but during a summer
there one could not rest the hand on the almost burning stones and
walls on which the reptiles delightedly reposed; and even in England,
during a hot August, my little Bournemouth lizards were positively
hot to the touch when basking in the full power of a bright noon sun.
Dumeril corroborates these facts when he says some reptiles can endure
a temperature higher than blood-heat. Sometimes in early spring he
found a snake seeming to be asleep under a very hot wall which had been
exposed to the mid-day sun, but which had been several hours in shadow.
So tenaciously had the reptile retained the heat it had then absorbed,
that though the air now felt cold, the snake imparted _une chaleur très
notable_ when he touched it. Many times, in taking up a lizard from a
sunny rock in summer, it really has _brulé les doigts_.[49] The old
fable about salamanders living in fire no doubt originates in the fact
of reptiles loving heat as they do. Many pages might be filled with
instances of this, and of their approaching fire to a suicidal extent.

Equally strange is the degree of cold to which they can sometimes
submit, and yet recover. But we must conclude that this is when they
are overcome _gradually_, not suddenly, by it, and not exposed to the
outer air so that the tissues would be injured. Dr. Carpenter mentions
reptiles having been kept three years in an ice-house, and recovering
on being gradually restored to warmth. Too recklessly acting upon this,
I deposited my pet lizards in a small, shallow box containing moss,
sand, and soft rubbish, and left them outside a window to hibernate.
They buried themselves as deeply as they could go,—only a few inches,
alas!—but a sudden and severe frost set in, and the poor little
victims were frozen stiff at the bottom of their prison-house. It was
in a bleak north-eastern aspect, and the sharp frost easily striking
through the wood, that slight box must have proved a very different
sort of nest to what they would have chosen on their native heath,—far
down, and well protected from the icy winds. In a strong, deep box, or
an earthenware jar, with sufficient earth and rubbish in it, they might
have survived.

In the Museum of Paris in 1875-76, sixteen rattlesnakes are said to
have died of cold. The heating apparatus at the Jardin des Plantes is
less effective than our own in London, where very few of the snakes
have been known to suffer from lowered temperature.

Snakes are abundantly supplied with oily fat; thick layers of it line
their intestines in autumn, and this is gradually absorbed during
their torpor. They therefore lose weight, and awake in an enfeebled
condition, only gradually recovering their normal strength after some

The power of endurance in serpents, and their independence of a large
supply of oxygen, render them important agents in the economy of
nature. In the swamps and morasses where malaria abounds, reptiles
are most numerous. Many such places under canopies of pestilential
vapours, swarm with insects, molluscs, worms, caterpillars, and the
smaller reptiles on which snakes mostly feed. They are, therefore, the
scavengers of such localities; they fulfil a great law by keeping up
the balance of nature even to the extent of rendering certain countries

Those ophidian families which prefer higher lands, sandy or rocky
districts, select the sunny hill-sides when the frost sets in, and
hide themselves under stones or in caves where, as described in the
chapter on rattlesnakes, they congregate in vast numbers. Piles and
convolutions of serpents in this condition have often been discovered,
and as often described. It is as if the small degree of animal
warmth each one possessed were harvested for their mutual good, and
to the benefit of the whole community. Nor are these assemblages
at all exclusive as to kind, but are dens of discordant materials,
where, as an American wrote, ‘the liberal terms of admission seemed
only to require the evidence of snakeship.’ Lizards, too, though
of widely-branching kinship, are guided by the same instinct, and
sometimes share the retreat.

A few years ago, near Hayward’s Heath in Sussex, some men who were
levelling the ground for building, dug out of a bank at a depth of from
four to five feet, upwards of one hundred slow worms and as many small
lizards, all in a torpid state. It was during February.

At the end of September more recently, a farmer in Wales, who with his
labourers was removing a heap of manure, came upon an extraordinary
bed of snakes and slow worms, and no less than 352 were killed,
together with an enormous quantity of eggs; ‘thousands in clusters were
destroyed.’ Three of the snakes were of immense size, and one hundred
of them nine to twelve inches long.’ These latter were probably slow
worms, and the three ‘immense’ ones ring snakes. One feels curious
to know whether judgment for this act of wanton cruelty visited that
farmer in a destruction of his crops next year by the mice and insects
from which these harmless reptiles would have saved them!

The general reptilian instincts are the same in all climates where
the temperature is similar. In Australia, as Krefft tells us, this is
a grand time among schoolboys for ‘snake-hunting.’ They lay traps of
large flat stones on open sunny ridges where the reptiles are likely
to resort. Six to ten specimens of different species are often taken
under one such stone. Even the venomous kinds may be easily captured
and transferred to a bag in their half-dormant condition. Sometimes
in lifting a stone, a dozen or more handsome and beautiful lizards
are found among their ophidian cousins. The Wallaby hunters generally
provide themselves with a collecting-bag, and thousands of snakes have
thus been transferred to museums. So expert do the hunters become,
that in eight years, the same author affirms, not one accident has
occurred from a venomous species. From May to September in Australia,
timid persons need be in no fear of snakes in the ‘scrub.’ The larger
and more dangerous species retire deep into the ground, and only the
young ones under stones. Warm days entice them out for an hour or two,
and they retire again at night, just as is the case with those of the
United States.

The ancients were aware of this hibernation of reptiles; and Pliny,
who, having sometimes a foundation of fact to build upon, is all the
more dangerous from his fabulous superstructure, writes, ‘The viper
is the only serpent that conceals itself in the earth. It can live
there without taking food for a whole year. _They are not venomous
when they are asleep_,’ he sagely adds. Vipers can live without food
for even more than a year, and so can other snakes; but this often is
irrespective of hibernation, and of this more will be said presently.

A still stronger evidence of vitality or suspended animation is
witnessed in the extraordinary custom of packing the poor wretched
snakes in air-tight bottles, which some barbarous (the word here in
both senses may be used) people adopt. A Cerastes arrived in England
in a bottle, which had been hermetically closed for six weeks, and
it revived. It was so crowded into the bottle as to look quite dead,
but revived directly it was released, and struck a fowl, which died
instantly! Sometimes a bottle or jar is literally crowded with ophidian
captives, that are certainly out of harm’s way so far as others are
concerned, and travel in a compact compass; but it stands to reason
that even when they survive this close imprisonment, they are not in a
very lively condition, and the large mortality which is found in most
collections may be imputed to a great extent to the unhealthy condition
in which they arrive after injudicious packing. Nailed up in air-tight
boxes, is a very ordinary mode of transportation, a species of cruelty
which would raise a cry of horror were the captive any other than a
despised ‘reptile!’ In connection with breathing or not breathing, and
powers of endurance, _such packing_ receives only a passing mention
here, but is one that should be thoroughly exposed in the _Animal
World_ and similar papers.

One more singular example of periodical repose, but which can scarcely
be called either hibernation or estivation, is seen in the sea snakes,
the _Hydrophidæ_ of the Eastern Ocean. Of these Dr. Cantor affirms
that they are seen so soundly asleep on the surface of the water,
that a ship passing among them does not awaken them. This is the more
remarkable because the eyes of sea snakes are organized to endure
the glare of light only when modified or subdued through water, and
are easily affected when out of it, the reptiles becoming dazzled,
and even blinded, by bright sunshine. So that we must suppose some
peculiar insensibility of nerve in these, or a cessation of active
functions during their repose analogous to the hibernation of land
snakes. Another interesting inquiry suggests itself: viz. How does
one ascertain that an open-eyed snake is ‘_asleep_’? We called that
Racer (p. 64) ‘asleep,’ as it appeared to be quite unconscious of
interruption, and did not move at our approach.




SETTING aside for the present the true death-dealing powers of
the ophidians, viz. the fangs of the poisonous families and the
constricting powers of the larger non-venomous kinds, another
_supposed_ medium of mischief, second only to the tongue, is the tail!

The old-time fables of the ‘stinging tails’ have always obtained
credence, and do so still among the ignorant classes in many countries.
Nor is the belief without some apparent reason, for the tail of a large
number of snakes, both of the poisonous and the non-poisonous families,
terminates in a horny spine more or less hard and pointed. In a few,
this sharp spine is curved with an undeniably weapon-like aspect. Some
of these thorn-like tips might even be capable of inflicting a slight
wound were the owners conscious of this, and had they a disposition to
avail themselves of it. But, as a weapon, snakes do _not_ instinctively
use their pointed tails; they are chiefly assistants in locomotion. As
a fulcrum, and sometimes a propeller, certain species make constant
and important use of them. You may observe that when in a position
of danger, many snakes trust greatly to the pressure of their tails,
whether pointed or not, as a balance or even a support. This pressure,
which is forcible, but not aggressive, no doubt gave rise in the first
instance to the belief that the snake was intentionally endeavouring to
inflict a wound—a myth which, like all the other ophidian myths, is so
hard to eradicate.

Sir Thomas Browne, in his _Pseudoxia_, more than two hundred years
ago, mentioned this as one of the ‘Vulgar Errours.’ As very little
was known of foreign snakes at that time, 1672, excepting through
classic writers, one must suppose that our poor little native _Anguis
fragilis_ was included among the weapon-tailed snakes, ‘that worm with
venomed tongue’ which does really in a remarkable manner make important
though innocent use of its very blunt tail as a means of progression.
He says, ‘That Snakes and Vipers do sting, or transmit their Mischief
by the Tail, is a common Expression, not easy to be justified.... The
Poison lying about their Teeth and communicated by Bite in such as are
destructive. And Bitings mentioned in Scripture are differentially set
down from such as Mischief by Stings.’[50] ‘God commanded Moses to
take up the Serpent by the Tail,’ Sir Thomas Browne reminds us, as if
in proof that the caudal extremity was perfectly harmless. ‘Nor are
all Snakes of such empoisoning Qualities as common Opinion presumeth,’
the author endeavours to impress upon his readers, because there are
several histories of domestic snakes from ‘Ophiophagous Nations and
such as feed on Serpents.’ Then follows an opinion equally wise and
witty. ‘Surely the destructive Delusion of Satan in this Shape hath
much enlarged the Opinion of their Mischief. Which was not so high with
the Heathens, in whom the Devil had wrought a better Opinion of this
Animal, it being sacred unto the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and the
common symbol of Sanity.’

But, alas! many spiny-tailed snakes have sprung to light in various
countries, long since Sir Thomas Browne so wisely instructed his
readers; and even now, the ‘death adder of Australia (_Acanthophis
antarctica_) is much dreaded on account of its thorn-like tail.’
Krefft’s[51] description of the repulsive aspect of this snake is
sufficiently terrifying, apart altogether from its looks alone, its
ragged-looking head, with its loose scales, thick body, and its
short, rough, unmistakeable tail, terminating in a suspicious-looking
point, as if one sharp spine had taken root there, and was capable of
inflicting a wound. The tail spine hardens only in age, he tells us,
and ‘is really not a weapon either of attack or defence.’

[Illustration: Death Adder (from Krefft’s _Snakes of Australia_).]

Another tail of evil repute belongs to the Water Viper of the United
States, vernacularly known as the ‘Thorn-tail’ snake, _Trigonocephalus
piscivorus_ of American herpetologists.

John Lawson, in his _History of Carolina_, published in 1707, was one
of the first to describe it. After him we hear of it from Catesby. The
quaint descriptions of each of these early travellers are amusing; and
from such accounts the progress of science is traced.

‘Of the Horn Snake,’ says Lawson, ‘I never saw but two that I remember.
They are like the Rattlesnake in Colour, but rather lighter. They hiss
exactly like a Goose when anything approaches them. They strike at
their Enemy with their Tail, and kill whatsoever they wound with it,
which is armed at the End with a Horny Substance like a Cock’s Spur.
This is their Weapon. I have heard it credibly reported by those who
said they were Eye-Witnesses, that a small Locust Tree, about the
Thickness of a Man’s Arm, being struck by one of these Snakes at Ten
o’clock in the Morning, then verdant and flourishing, at Four in the
Afternoon was dead, and the Leaves dead and withered.’ (Probably the
tree had been struck by lightning during the interval, a very frequent
occurrence in those parts.) ‘Doubtless, be it how it will, they are
very venomous. I think the Indians do not pretend to cure their wound.’

When Lawson travelled, setting out in December 1700, as an appointed
‘Surveyor-General’ of the newly settled colony of North Carolina, very
little was known of the natural history and productions of those parts,
and he relied on the native tribes for much of his information.

His work was dedicated ‘To His Excellency, William Lord Craven,
Palatine; The Most Noble Henry, Duke of Beaufort; The Right Hon. John
Lord Carteret; and the rest of the True and Absolute Lords, Proprietors
of the Province of Carolina in America.’

‘As a Debt of Gratitude the Sheets were laid at their Lordships’ Feet,
having nothing to recommend them but Truth, a Gift which every Author
may be Master of if he will.’

With ever so praiseworthy an _intention_ of telling ‘the Truth,’ Lawson
did not possess the scientific knowledge to enable him to guard against
error. Neither did Colonel Beverley, who wrote a _History of Virginia_,
published in London in 1722, and who perpetuated the ‘stinging tail.’
‘There is likewise a Horn Snake, so called from a Sharp Horn it carries
in its Tail, with which it assaults anything that offends it, with that
Force that, as it is said, it will strike its Tail into the Butt End of
a Musket, from whence it is not able to disengage itself.’

A few years later, Catesby went over the same ground as a professed
naturalist, and afforded a more rational account of this ‘horn snake,’
to which he assigned the name of _Vipera aquatica_, ‘Water viper,’ or
‘Water rattlesnake.’ ‘Not that it hath a Rattle. The Tail of this Viper
is small towards the End, and terminates in a blunt, horny Point, about
half an Inch long. This harmless little Thing has given a dreadful
Character to its Owner, imposing a Belief on the Credulous that he is
the terrible Horn Snake armed with Death at both Ends, thus attributing
to him another Instrument of Death besides that he had before, though
in reality of equal Truth with that of the Two-headed Amphisbæna. Yet
we are told that this fatal Horn, by a Jerk of the Tail, not only
mortally wounds Men and other Animals but if by Chance struck into a
young Tree, whose Bark is more easily penetrated than an old one, the
Tree instantly withers, and turns black and dies.’[52]

Unfortunately, in mentioning the ‘Horn snake,’ many subsequent writers,
seizing on the marvellous rather than the rational, have omitted the
qualifying ‘it is said to inflict a wound,’ and Catesby’s exposition of
the absurdity; thus handing down as a fact that the tail was truly a
terrible weapon!

It was probably this water viper which Chateaubriand had in his mind
when, towards the end of that century, he described the ‘Prickly snake,
short and thick. It has a sting in its tail, the wound of which is
mortal!’ Chateaubriand was much quoted for a long period.

Dr. J. E. Holbrooke, in his _North American Herpetology_, published
at New York in 1842, corroborates all Catesby further said regarding
the fish-loving tastes of the ‘Thorn-tail’ snake, and which obtained
for it the specific name _piscivorus_. It frequents damp and swampy
places, and is never seen far from water. In the summer (during
Catesby’s time), great numbers might be seen lying on the low boughs
of trees overhanging a river, whence they would drop into the water
and pursue the fish with great swiftness. Few fish exceed its velocity
in swimming. _Cenchris_ or _Trigonocephalus piscivorus_ is the name by
which American herpetologists now recognise it. It is becoming rare
where formerly it abounded, but is still found in the wilder districts
of the less settled States, and in the hot weather may be seen lying
motionless on the low branches, and often so like a portion of the
bough as not to be observed till the sudden plunge tells that a deadly
snake was close at hand. It is a cannibal besides, and other snakes
are afraid of it and give it a wide berth. The horny spine (which is
a mere hardening and consolidation of the terminal scales) and another
feature, namely the ‘pit’ in its cheeks, described in chap. xxi., prove
it to be allied to the rattlesnake. It is therefore included among the
_Crotalidæ_, of which more hereafter.[53]

A number of the ‘Pit vipers’ and _Trigonocephali_ are furnished with
hard-pointed tails, and when they vibrate them rapidly, as many snakes
do under excitement, the rustling against the dead leaves produces a
sound very similar to the sibilation of the true _Crotalus_ tail.

[Illustration: Tail of _Lachesis mutus_ (exact size).]

_Trigonocephalus contortrix_, the ‘Copper-head,’ is another of these.
Also the renowned ‘Bushmaster’ of Guiana and Brazil (_Lachesis mutus_,
or _Crotalus mutus_), of which latter Darwin wrote, confirming Cuvier’s
reasons for making it a sub-genus of the rattlesnake:—‘I observed a
fact which appears to me very curious, as showing how every character,
even though it may be independent of structure, has a tendency to vary
by slow degrees. The extremity of the tail of this snake is terminated
by a horny point, which is slightly enlarged, and as the animal glides
along, it constantly vibrates the last inch or so; and this part,
striking against the dry grass and brushwood, produces a rattling
noise which can be distinctly heard at the distance of six feet. As
often as the animal was irritated or surprised, its tail was shaken,
and its vibrations were extremely rapid. This _Trigonocephalus_ has,
therefore, in some respects the structure of a viper with the habits of
a rattlesnake.’

Dr. Günther and Sir Joseph Fayrer both mention a peculiarity of this
kind in some of the Eastern representatives of the _Crotalus_, viz.
the _Trimeresuri_, Indian tree snakes. The former writes: ‘Some have
prehensile tails, which, when not so occupied, vibrate rapidly,
producing a rustling sound among the leaves.’[54] Others of the family
have horny tails.

Dr. Andrew Smith, in his _Zoology of South Africa_, mentions _Vipera
caudalis_ especially, as having a ‘tail distinctly recognised, at the
termination of his very thick body, and which is not often seen.’ In
the vipers, however, more than others, tails are distinguishable,
those of many of them being short as well as suddenly tapering to a
point. The deadly Puff adder is called _Brachyura_ on this account, its
tail being extremely short for the size of the snake. One exceedingly
dangerous kind in St. Lucia is known as the ‘Rat-tailed snake.’ For
climbing, and as a propelling power, this slender tail can be of little
service. In St. Lucia is also a ‘Rat snake,’ _Crebo_ or _Cribo_ in
vernacular (_Spilotes variabilis_), one of the active non-venomous
kinds which, not content with rats and mice for food, wages war on its
most venomous fellow-reptiles; as the ‘Racer’ and the ‘King snake’
do against the rattlesnake of the United States. This _Crebo_ is a
graceful, elegant creature, and on account of its twofold virtues of
mouser and ‘rat-tail’ catcher, is domesticated and petted in some of
the islands.[55]

In many of the Colubrine snakes it is almost impossible to distinguish
where the ribs cease and the tail begins, except by the anus, so very
gradually does the body taper. Nor does there appear to be any certain
rule about the _length_ of tails, which in some snakes are even longer
than their bodies, and in others not one-tenth the length.

In giving the length of a few snakes (not in feet or inches, but in
the number of their vertebræ), the reader will obtain a clear idea of
this variation in tails. One species of rattlesnake has 194 vertebræ,
of which 168 support each a pair of ribs, leaving 24 for its tail,
or one-eighth. The python has 291 vertebræ, of which the 3d to the
251st support a pair of ribs, leaving 40 for its tail, or less than
one-seventh of its length.

Let me explain a seeming discrepancy of arithmetic. The spine of the
boa constrictor consists of 304 vertebræ, of which 2 next the head
support no ribs, and 252 support each a pair of ribs. Taking away the
first two, which, having _no ribs_, may be said to form the neck of the
snake, that leaves fifty joints for the tail, or about one-sixth of the
entire length. Our little sums, therefore, are as follows, in reckoning
the vertebræ:—


  Neck,               2   Neck,               2   Neck,         2
  Supporting ribs,  168   Supporting ribs,  252   With ribs,  249
  Tail,              24   Tail,              50   Tail,        40
                   ——                    ——              ——
           Total,   194            Total,   304       Total,  291

Though in form the ‘neck’ of a snake is often as undistinguishable as
the tail—‘une tête sans col, et une queue, dont l’origine se confond
avec le reste du corps,’ as Dumeril expresses it—there is the one
invariable rule belonging to it, namely, that the first two joints of
a snake’s spine are ribless, and that the ribs begin at the third.
Physiologists tell us a snake has no neck, and for reasons which will
be explained in the next chapter; yet, by way of distinction, all speak
of ‘the neck’ as an accepted fact.

No invariable rule as to tails can, however, be established, either as
regards length, shape, or character. Firstly, the length of the tail
varies from inches to feet in snakes of nearly the same size. Secondly,
both venomous and harmless ones are occasionally furnished with horny
tips, and both vibrate them with equal rapidity. Thirdly, snakes that
have long _spineless_ tails also vibrate them rapidly; as do snakes
with short spineless tails; so that one cannot say that spines are
confined to one genus, any more than is their use or their action.
The vibration of the tail is, in fact, only ‘an outlet for suppressed
energy,’ as Professor Shaler of the United States has lucidly put it.
Excitement displays itself in the tail of a snake as much as in the
tail of a dog. This may be observed at the Ophidarium, or wherever
an active snake can be watched. In the rattlesnake it is, of course,
more conspicuous, and always audible when agitated; but many others
similarly display their feelings in their eloquent caudal terminations.

A handsome young python, of about eight feet long, at the Zoological
Gardens, has a tail of which the last few inches taper so suddenly that
the extreme end of this reptile appears almost ludicrously trivial for
so fine a possessor. One inch of this—hardly thicker than a rat’s
tail—you may see wriggling so rapidly that you can scarcely follow its
movements, or believe that it is a part of the large quiescent body to
which it is attached. In pursuit of its prey the python itself glides
with slow dignity, while the trifling little terminal inch or so of
tail is in a perpetual but most _un_dignified wriggle.

In the ‘Racer,’ already familiar to the reader, the tail is one-fourth
the length of the body; in the ‘milk snake’ (_Coluber eximius_),
introduced in chapter iv., it is one-fifth. The extensive variation in
tails may be comprehended by their number of vertebræ, which in some
snakes amount to 200, and in others are reduced to 5.

Of the practical uses of the snake’s tail, the _natural_ uses,—those
above mentioned being either imaginary ones, or a mere expression
of feeling,—the prehensile power is one of the greatest. ‘Strictly
speaking, the true prehensile tail is found only in the boa,’ Schlegel,
Owen, and other physiologists tell us; but that statement refers to
some peculiar anatomical construction, enabling the tail to twine and
grasp with extraordinary force, because nearly all snakes can manage to
climb, or to raise themselves when occasion requires it, making use of
their tails, as was stated at the commencement of this chapter. ‘Even
the clumsy, ugly death adder can climb well,’ Krefft assures us, and
that it can support itself against a wall with only a portion of its
tail on the ground.

Many writers and observers, in describing this power or force in
the snake, have given rise to the idea that snakes can _stand_ on
their tails. Erect themselves nearly upright they certainly do, even
without extraneous support for a few moments, and _with_ support for a
considerable time.

Cobras can do this. A personal friend, Colonel C——, when in India,
once heard a sort of muffled sound at his door, which caused him to
open it suddenly, when a cobra, which had raised itself three or more
feet against it, fell straight into the room. He sprang quickly aside,
and ran to fetch a stick, but when he got back the cobra was gone.

But to return to their prehensile powers. Snakes which are not habitual
climbers are often found in trees, suspending themselves from or
supporting themselves upon the branches, as instanced in the chapter
on the egg-eaters. The _Hamadryad_ is also much in trees, as its name
implies, and is seen hanging from the branches. This latter, and also
the Indian tree snakes, _Trimeresuri_, are poisonous, and far removed
from the boas with the true prehensile tail. Familiar to every one are
illustrations of tropical scenery, in which the boa constrictor and
the anaconda, hanging from trees, are important features. Dumeril, in
general terms, says: ‘Les ophidiens rampent, glissent, s’accrochent,
se suspendent, gravissent en s’aidant de la totalité de leur corps,
sautent, s’élancent, bondissent, nagent, et plongent,’[56] in every
one of which movements the tail is an important agent. _S’accrocher_
and _se suspendre_ must be mainly by the agency of the tail. Schlegel
follows up his statement, ‘tail strictly prehensile found only in
boas,’ by explaining, nevertheless, that a short tail is sufficiently
vigorous to _attach_ itself to any point, and support the whole
body.[57] In the non-venomous tree snakes the tail is long and slender,
and no squirrel or bird is more active and at home in a tree than
these. They glide, swing, climb, and almost fly from branch to branch,
scarcely disturbing a leaf.

Our ‘excellent egg merchant,’ introduced as the Racer, though a
ground snake, is equally at home in a tree, and holds on by its tail
with remarkable adroitness, but then the Racer or ‘Pilot snake’ is a
true boa also. (The true ‘boa’ is distinguished by its dentition and
formation of jaw-bones, the term ‘boa,’ so variously and perplexingly
used by some of the older naturalists, being now restricted to certain
non-venomous species which possess such anatomical structure.)

Lawson’s description of this ‘Racer’ is graphic. ‘The long black Snake
frequents the Land altogether, and is the nimblest Creature living. His
Bite has no more Venom than a Prick with a Pin. He is the best Mouser
that can be; for he leaves not one of that Vermin alive where he comes.
He also kills the Rattlesnake wherever he meets him by twisting his
Head about the Neck of the Rattlesnake, and whipping him to Death with
his Tail. This Whipster, for all his Agility, is so brittle that when
he is pursued, and gets his Head into the Hole of a Tree, if anybody
gets hold of the other End, he will twist and break himself in the

Lawson does not appear to have understood the nature of constrictors.
‘Whipping’ the rattlesnake was probably only the tail lashed in anger,
or used in controlling the exceedingly active movements of the captor.
As for its ‘breaking itself in halves,’ many exaggerated stories are
told by unscientific spectators of the ‘brittleness’ of snakes, the
simple explanation being that all are alike irritated and terrified
when rendered helpless by their tail being fettered, and may then
struggle until they injure themselves. The common blindworm (_Anguis
fragilis_) has been seen to so-call ‘break itself in halves;’ but this
will be explained in its place (chap. xxv.).

This sensitiveness—_sensibility_, one may almost term it—in the
tail of snakes has been pointed out by the late Frank Buckland, Dr.
Stradling, and others of like practical experience, affording useful
information in case of danger. ‘If attacked by a boa constrictor, it
is of no use to pull and haul, but catch held of the tip of the tail
and unwind him.’ Also, ‘when striking, aim at the tail. The spinal cord
there being only thinly covered with bone, it is more easily wounded;
and when the spine is broken, the animal is disabled.’[58]

Certain it is, that by the muscular power of the tail snakes perform
wonderful feats, not only erecting themselves, and maintaining their
balance for a short time, as a long pole is balanced by an acrobat
on his chin or his nose; hanging by an inch or so of the tip, as an
acrobat hangs for a time on one foot or one finger; raising themselves
against a smooth surface, as you see the large pythons at the Gardens
do against the smooth sides or glass fronts of their cages, even to the
very top, but springing, ‘executing leaps,’ as Roget and others term
it. For though the ‘leap’ is not strictly like the action of a frog or
a grasshopper, or a man whose two limbs act in concert and together,
the result is the same,—the reptile accomplishes a long distance with
quickness, decision, and aim. Professor Owen[59] calls it a saltatory
motion, ‘the sudden extension of the coils of the body reacting upon
the point of earth on which the tail presses, throwing the serpent
forward.’ Sometimes, when the creature lies closely coiled, the sudden
unbending has the effect of a spiral spring; and occasionally, when
the tail is brought suddenly up to the head, and the serpent springs
forward again, and continues to do this in pursuit, as has often been
witnessed, the effect is that of a rolling hoop, and has given rise to
a belief among the ignorant that the reptile really rolls along.

One in America, known as the ‘Hoop snake,’ is reported to ‘roll down
hill,’ the idea originating possibly from the optical illusion in
consequence of the rapid changes of position—an effect which we see in
that amusing toy, the zoetrope.

The ‘black snake’ of Australia, _Hoplocephalus pseudechis_, is one of
the very active venomous kinds, whose motions in pursuit or escape are
almost like leaps, and present the appearance of a hoop or circle.
Reputed ‘hoop snakes’ are there also. The reptile rapidly extends
itself to full length, then brings up its posterior portion in a loop,
and so springs forward again, continuing to do this with amazing

The most easy and natural convolutions of a snake are _lateral_. As
closely as their body can be coiled on a given space, as close as a
ribbon or a rope, they can curl themselves round sideways, that is,
with the ventral scales all prone to the ground, and the vertebral
column upwards; nor could they, from the construction of their spine,
coil themselves similarly in a vertical position, as a hedgehog and
a dormouse roll themselves up. But temporarily and partially they
_can_ bend themselves vertically; for you see a snake often with a
part of its body raised vertically against a wall, while the rest is
horizontally along the ground, and consequently one part is at right
angles with the other part, and as the creature rises against the wall
every joint has in turn taken this position. Also, when coiled round
a branch, you do occasionally see that the curves are not invariably
and unexceptionally lateral, but sometimes vertical, although not so
closely so as in the more natural coils. I have very narrowly observed
this, because the ‘hoop’-like motion is often ridiculed; but it seems
a not impossible action when a large circle is described by the body,
though close coils would be less possible.[60]

A clergyman of Australia had a narrow escape from one of these
‘rolling’ creatures. His daughter gave me an account of the
circumstance, she also, when a resident there, having been well
acquainted with such scenes. Her father accidentally trod on one of
those dangerous serpents, which immediately made a spring at him,
but which he expertly eluded, and took to his heels with all speed,
knowing the vicious nature of that snake. Looking back, he saw the
reptile pursuing him with ‘strides’ or ‘bounds,’ stretching itself to
full length, then bringing up its tail and springing forward again
with terrific vigour. In its excitement it seemed almost to fly, now
gaining on him, and now, as an occasional obstacle had to be avoided,
giving his victim some slight advantage. For the space of three whole
fields, ‘paddocks,’ he was thus chased, he the while using his utmost
speed. His home was in the bush, and when, almost dropping with
excessive fatigue and terror, he came within sight of it, one of his
farm-servants saw him thus tearing along, and, guessing the cause,
seized his gun, and hastened to meet the fugitive, and put an end to
the chase.

Du Chaillu’s snakes were almost always ‘springing’ at him, and very
probably some of them did so. At the same time, most of his snakes had
‘fangs’ as well; but then, in his ‘_Wild Life_’ he witnessed many other

As a rule, the most active are the non-venomous kinds; yet among
the venomous colubrines, the slender _elapidæ_, of which the above
Australian snake is one, we find much activity.

Mr. P. H. Gosse was struck with the amazing springing power of the
yellow Jamaica boa (_Chilobothrus inornatus_), and by a similar use
of its tail as a propelling power.[61] It rears itself up and leaps
an incredible distance, he tells us; one covered nearly twenty feet
in such a spring, but that was on the incline of a hill. He noticed
another suspending itself from a branch, not with its tail _curled_
round, but with a mere tip of it lying longitudinally, pressure alone
supporting the reptile. The slightest contact suffices to maintain the

There is still one more offending tail to describe. It belongs to a
West Indian relative of our own little ‘blindworm,’ bearing also the
family name, and for more justifiable reasons, inasmuch as the eyes
of the Jamaica species really are not easily distinguished. It is
worm-like in aspect, and of about the same size as _Anguis fragilis_,
similarly smooth and polished, and so active that it is difficult to
hold it. _Typhlops lumbricalis_ is its name, the first word signifying
blind, and the second worm-like. It moves backwards and forwards with
equal facility, and is therefore commonly called the ‘two-headed
snake.’ The coloured people are dreadfully afraid of its short blunt
tail, which they think can ‘sting,’ and which terminates in a minute
horny nipple on a shining round plate or scale. Being a burrowing
snake, this hard, protected tail is of great use as a fulcrum; but when
off the ground, taken up by the hand, for instance, the little shining
worm makes still further use of its tail, as its English cousin does,
pressing the tip firmly against the fingers, or whatever surface is
near it, to support itself, and to the terror of those who hold it, and
who forthwith dash it down, though it is wholly powerless to injure.

In Australia it has some allies, whose tails are remarkably developed
into this useful point. The reptiles being as round as rulers and as
smooth, the difficulty of progression without this aid as a fulcrum
will be evident. Below are three tails, which will suffice to
exemplify their purpose and utility.

A curious modification is seen in the centre tail, belonging to
_Uropeltis philippinus_, which, as the name implies, terminates in a
round disk or shield. This snake is also one of the smooth cylindrical
forms, ‘admirably adapted to burrowing,’ says Dr. Günther. Its
truncated appearance is as if it were chopped clean in halves.

[Illustration: Tails of three burrowing snakes.]

Another is the _Cylindrophis_, from its form. Several of the burrowing
family are remarkable for a similarity of head and tail, obscure
features, inconspicuous eyes, and very small mouth, rendering it
difficult on first sight to decide which is the head and which the
tail. All being feeble, inoffensive, and entirely harmless, the evil
attached to them of having ‘two heads’ is only another proof of the
prejudice and animosity displayed towards every creature in the shape
of a snake, however innocent. These poor little ‘blindworms,’ admirably
organized to dig and burrow and find their food in deep and hidden
places, have their uses. In countries where dangerous ants swarm, we
might well tremble for the consequences, had not nature anticipated
such evils by providing insectivorous reptiles, as well as birds and
ant-eaters, to keep them in check.

We must not omit one other of the family of burrowing snakes, which
from the very earliest ages has been supposititiously endowed with two
heads. Its name, _Amphisbæna_, or ‘double-walker’ (going both ways),
however, is well merited, because, like _Typhlops_, it can progress
either way, forwards or backwards, with equal facility. This is the one
alluded to by Catesby (p. 174). We can comprehend the advantage of the
retrogressing power to these otherwise unprotected little reptiles,
when they cautiously peep from their narrow burrow in the ground, and
espy one of their many enemies in the shape of a much larger ophidian,
or a carnivorous bird. Quick as thought, back they glide, and are safe.
Living chiefly among the ants, on which they feed, their cuirass of
hard, polished, close-set scales protects them from a bite or sting.
Another beautiful provision of nature is, that the young ones, on being
hatched, find food ready at hand—at mouth, rather—the eggs having
been laid, or the young ones born, in the nest of the ants.

Of this harmless and useful reptile, Pliny seriously wrote: ‘The
amphisbæna has two heads; that is, it has a second one at its tail, as
though one mouth were too little for the discharge of all its venom!’

Even at the present day this belief in ‘two heads,’ or ‘two tails,’ and
‘death at both ends,’ is not wholly eradicated, and not merely among
the lower classes either.

It only remains to say that when two heads have really appeared—and
there are several such cases on record—they are simply monstrosities,
malformations, as found in other animals occasionally. An example of
this kind may be seen at the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Another was described by Frank Buckland in _Land and Water_, April
1872. It was sent to him by his friend Dr. Bowerbank of St. Leonard’s.

A curious jumble of the _Amphisbæna_ and the Cobra, with its elevated
and expanded neck, is found in the _Philosophical Transactions_, vol.
iii. p. 863, for 1665. There had been a correspondence on the subject
of two heads, and a reader was evidently sceptical, for the writer thus
protests that he is telling the truth:—

‘There are indeed such Serpents in these Parts (Java Naja) which have
an Head on each End of their Body, called _Capra capella_. They are
esteemed Sacred by these People, and fortunate to those in whose House
and Lands they are found; but pernicious to whomsoever doth them Harm.’

This credulous gentleman writes from the East, and cannot corroborate
what he has been told by a personal acquaintance with even an
Amphisbæna, which might really deceive a casual observer. But that
the belief prevailed extensively prior to this, we find from a
distinguished physician of his day, F. Hermandez, or Fernandez, who, in
his work, _Animalium Mexicanum_, 1628, represents a creature that would
fill one of these pages, with two heads like a ram with wattles and
other ample appendages, and distinguishes it as _Amphisbæna Europæa_.

[Illustration: _Amphisbæna Europæa._]

‘It is not for us to question the Ancients,’ says the much too
modest author, betraying a lurking misgiving as to the reality of
the creature, but nevertheless doing his best to represent it as his
imagination depicts it. It is here much reduced in size, but may be
found on p. 797 of the above very interesting volume.

Sir Thomas Browne includes this among his ‘Vulgar Errours,’ and traces
it to Nicander, Galen, and other classic writers, but to ‘Ælian
most confidently.’ He discusses the creature with dispassionate
intelligence, and shows us that ‘poets have been more reasonable than
philosophers’ about it.[62] Again, if such a thing there were, it were
not to be obtruded by the name of _Amphisbæna_, or as an animal of one
denomination, with a duplicity of hearts and heads,’ he argues, giving
honour to the head, and therefore that the creature must be dual.

There are frequently some of the smooth, ruler-like snakes in our
London Reptilium; their very small eyes and mouth, and blunt, shapeless
head, render it difficult to decide at the moment between head and
tail. Any with sheep’s heads we are not likely to see, and those that
have had the malformation of two reptilian heads generally present
something of two necks as well. The writers, however, whom we have
quoted were not thinking of monstrosities, but had profound faith in a
veritable _Amphisbæna Europæa_, which an artist with an unscientific
imagination has handed down to posterity!





BEFORE discussing the most remarkable of all ophidian caudal
appendages, the _Crotalus_ rattle, and the many speculations regarding
it, we will enumerate some other acrobatic achievements of which snakes
are capable; as, in accounting for these, some interesting facts
appertaining to their anatomical structure can be described.

A humorous journalist has said, ‘There is apparently nothing that a
snake can _not_ do, except swallow a porcupine.’[63] Presuming that
he alludes to physical feats, he is not far from wrong. For all that,
the Western pioneers of America tell us of yet one more thing that
these reptiles cannot accomplish, and that is, cross over a rope
of horse-hair. Having by accident discovered that they turn aside
from this, some Western settlers, when camping out, have effectually
entrenched themselves within a circle of horse-hair rope as a barrier
to rattlesnakes while sleeping.

Let us try to account for this.

Many of my readers have seen the cast-off coat of a snake. Those who
have not can have the pleasure of examining one or several the next
time they go to the Zoological Gardens, where the obliging keeper
will cheerfully exhibit them. Others at a distance may not enjoy this
facility, and for these the accompanying diagrams may be a slight

[Illustration: Portion of slough of a rattlesnake (exact size).

Ventral scales of the same, and a section.]

The whole cuticle or epidermis of a serpent is composed of these
overlapping scales, of which the above illustrations are only
fragments. Thus when we speak of their _scales_, we do not mean
distinct and separable laminæ, like the scales of some fishes, each
of which may be scraped or plucked off, and which overlie each other
like the feathers of birds. The covering of a snake is one entire
piece, loose-fitting, and so arranged as to lie in those scale-like
folds which accommodate themselves to every movement of the body. The
ventral or under scales are, in fact, a regular kilting, as may be seen
by the section; and the upper ones correspond somewhat with what our
lady friends call the shell or the leaf pattern in knitting work. The
outer or exposed folds are stronger, thicker, and more hardened than
the inner parts, just as the knitter ‘throws up’ her pattern with a
coarser wool or larger needles, and knits the less conspicuous parts in
a softer material. The naked space of thinner skin between these scales
being very considerable, one can therefore easily understand how,
when a snake would attempt to pass over a horse-hair rope, the sharp,
prickly hairs, standing out _chevaux-de-frise_ fashion, would insinuate
themselves unpleasantly in those softer and more vulnerable interstices
which become exposed by the sinuations of the body. Probably, if we
knew it, or had an opportunity of observing, we should ascertain that
snakes do not crawl over furze bushes, or thistles, or the prickly pear
(_opuntia_), or any similar vegetation of tropical climates, and for
the same reason. The close-scaled burrowing snakes, with their hard
and strong cuirass all round them, might have nothing to fear from a
furze bush; but this is mere speculation. That fine, sharp spines or
prickles, and therefore a horse-hair rope, would incommode the tender
intermediate epidermal folds of other snakes, we can well suppose. Had
they sense enough to _leap_ the obstacle, this they could easily do,
after the manner of ‘leaping’ already described; but the ‘leap’ is only
an instinctive action used in pursuit or escape; and it may be equally
instinctive to turn aside from uncomfortable obstacles, whether prickly
pears or horse-hair ropes.

Mr. Ruskin, in his highly-entertaining lecture on ‘Snakes,’ at the
London Institution, March 1880 (a lecture which, by the way, was
artistic, poetic, figurative, imaginative—‘Snakes’ from a Ruskin, but
not a zoological, point of view), remarked ‘that no scientific book
tells us why the reptile _is_ a “serpent,” _i.e._ serpentine in its
motions, and why it cannot go straight.’ Now, may not the fact that
snakes have acquired these ever-varying sinuations arise from their
sensitiveness to the slightest, and what would be to other creatures
almost impalpable, obstructions in their path?—mere inequalities which
in their lazy nature it is easier, they know not why, to circumvent
than to surmount; because they _can_ go straight, and _do_ go straight
when the way is plain.

Rymer Jones, in his _Organization of the Animal Kingdom_, thinks that
their sense of touch from the nature of their integument must be
extremely imperfect; they being ‘deprived of any limbs which can be
regarded as tactile organs,’ p. 753. But close observation leads one
to agree rather with a much older writer, Roget, who, in his _Animal
Physiology_, intimates that the peculiar conformation of serpents must
be exceedingly favourable to the acquisition of correct perceptions of
touch, and that these perceptions which lead to a perfect acquaintance
with the tangible properties of surrounding bodies must contribute much
to the sagacity of snakes;—that their whole body is a hand, conferring
some of the advantages of that instrument.

That this latter faculty is strictly and marvellously the case, we
shall presently see, owing to the flexibility of the spine, and its
capability of grasping and twining round objects of almost any shape,
and of taking, as Roget says, ‘their exact measure.’ For this grasping
power is not confined to the constricting snakes only. In all snakes
a great flexibility is abundantly provided for in the construction
of ‘these lithe and elegant beings,’ as Rymer Jones in unprejudiced
language calls them (p. 724 of the book above quoted); ‘the spinal
column admits the utmost pliancy of motion in any required direction.’

Though snakes have no limbs externally, ‘the work of hands, feet, and
fins is performed by a modification of the vertebral column.’[64]
‘Except flying, there is no limit to their locomotion,’ said Professor
Huxley in _his_ lecture on ‘Snakes,’ a few weeks previously to that of
Ruskin, and under the same roof. To both these lectures we shall again
refer, as the reader will feel sure that all coming from such sources
must add value to the present writer’s arguments.

As ‘flying,’ the swift motions of many snakes have been described by
ancient writers, as, for example, the ‘flying serpents’ of Scripture,
though these are by many supposed to be the _Dracunculi_, the earliest
known of human parasites. The astonishing movements of serpents were,
however, in superstitious ages ascribed to supernatural agency. Says
Pliny: ‘The Jaculus darts from trees, flies through the air as if
it were hurled from an engine.’ The ‘wisest of men’ admitted that
the actions of serpents were beyond his comprehension; ‘the way of a
serpent on a rock’ was ‘too wonderful’ for him.

Even in intermediate ages, when travellers and naturalists began to
confront fiction with fact, even in the days of Buffon and Lacepède,
a serpent was regarded as a living allegory rather than a zoological
reality by many intelligent, albeit unscientific persons. Of such
was Chateaubriand, whose contemplation of the serpent partook of
religious awe. ‘Everything is mysterious, secret, astonishing in this
incomprehensible reptile. His movements differ from those of all
other animals. It is impossible to say where his locomotive principle
lies, for he has neither fins, nor feet, nor wings; and yet he flits
like a shadow, he vanishes as if by magic, he reappears, and is gone
again like a light azure vapour on the gleams of a sabre in the dark.
Now he curls himself into a circle, and projects a tongue of fire;
now standing erect upon the extremity of his tail he moves as if by
enchantment. He rolls himself into a ball, rises and falls like a
spiral line, gives to his rings the undulations of a wave, twines round
the branches of trees, glides under the grass of the meadow, or skims
along the surface of the water,’ and so forth.[65]

Excepting the ‘tongue of fire,’ the whole of this poetic description is
so far true and unexaggerated, that Chateaubriand has not attributed
to the reptile one action of which it is not capable, and which, to
the untutored mind, might well seem supernatural. Roget, Schlegel,
Huxley, and others tell us the same things in the language of science.
To quote them all is impossible; the reader will be content with one
scientific assurance of ophidian capabilities, not less poetic than

Professor Owen, in describing the bony structure of the Ophidia,
and in allusion to the scriptural text—‘Upon thy belly shalt thou
go’—affirms that so far from the reptiles being degraded from a higher
type, their whole organization demonstrates how exquisitely their parts
are adapted to their necessities, and thus proceeds: ‘They can outclimb
the monkey, outswim the fish, outleap the jerboa, and suddenly loosing
the coils of their crouching spiral, they can spring into the air and
seize the bird upon its wing.’

The active snakes can always ‘leap’ their own length, whether upwards
to seize a bird, or horizontally, and, as in the case of the Jamaica
boa (described p. 186), can leap much farther from a similar impetus
when the direction is _downwards_. Indeed, they can let themselves fall
from a certain elevation with an additional impetus to progress, as a
boy first runs in order to leap a ditch.

‘With neither hands nor talons, they can out-wrestle the athlete,
and crush their prey in the embrace of their ponderous, overlapping
folds.... Instead of licking up its food as it glides along, the
serpent uplifts its crushed prey, and presents it grasped in its
death-like coil, as in a hand, to its gaping mouth.’[66]

A similarly graphic account is given by Rymer Jones, p. 718 of his
work,[67] that will be read with interest by those who wish to pursue
the study scientifically.

In watching the larger constricting snakes while feeding, you see
how _dexterously_ they manage.—(One may use this word here, because
those above quoted, ‘as in a hand,’ are literally, scientifically
true; therefore we may suppose fingers as well as a hand, and say how
dexterously the creatures bring their coils to their aid.)

They have quickly strangled and begun to eat, say an opossum or
a turkey buzzard, when a part of the prey not swallowed offers
some impediment to the expanded jaws; the wings or legs may be
inconveniently extended, or have become wedged between some immoveable
obstacles—a log, a narrow space, or under a portion of themselves.
Their mouth, the only apparent grasping agent, is already occupied, and
a strain sufficiently powerful, while the jaws are thus retaining the
prey, would be painful to the feeder, might even drag back the food,
to the injury of the engaged teeth. How does the reptile proceed in
this emergency? With the lightness and deftness of enormous strength,
it applies two folds of its body, two loops of its own coils, and with
them drags forth, lifts up, or otherwise adjusts its prey in a more
convenient position—in fact, ‘presents it as in a hand’ to its own

A very remarkable instance of a constricting snake thus using its
coils is related by Dr. Elliott Coues, of the United States army,
late surgeon and naturalist to the United States Northern Boundary
Commission. He witnessed one of those frequent combats between the
Racer and the Rattlesnake, in which the former—and in far less time
than it takes to read one line of this page—threw two folds or coils
round his adversary, one coil of the anterior portion of his own body
round one part, and a second coil of the posterior portion of his own
body round another part, and then, by a sudden extension of himself,
tore the rattlesnake in halves. And this was done with greater ease
and swiftness than we could snap a thread which we must first secure
round the fingers of our two hands. As if indeed possessed of two
hands, the constrictor snapped his foe in twain. This is Lawson’s
‘Whipster,’ p. 182.

The coiling of the constricting snakes is like lightning; you cannot
follow the movements. In this case death must have been instantaneous,
and indeed it is doubtful whether any beast or bird of prey puts his
victim to a more speedy and less torturing death than the constrictors
when following their own instincts.

Repairing to the Zoological Gardens in the hope of witnessing the
wonderful adaptation of coils to manual uses, after reading what
Roget and Owen had affirmed, one soon had a favourable opportunity
in watching a python. It was, I think, in June 1874, and the poor
python had a ruptured side. In spite of which—as my zoological notes
record—‘it helped by the folds of its body to get the wings of the
duck down flat and close, so as to swallow it more easily. With reason
does Roget say, “Its whole body is a hand,” for it used its loops to
hold and to push and to flatten in a manner truly intelligent.’

Such was my first entry and observation. Subsequently, and indeed
almost on every feeding day, the same kind of thing was to be seen at
the Gardens. Many such examples are recorded in my notebook; but of
these one or two later notes will suffice to illustrate the subject.

[Illustration: ‘Totsey,’ a python born in the Gardens, June 30, 1877,
taking her supper, Sept. 24, 1880.]

A young python was hanging from a branch, more than half its body
curved as in the accompanying sketch, remaining motionless and
quiescent, watching some sparrows which the keeper had just put into
the cage. The birds, eyeing certain insects among the gravel, seemed
all unconscious of the pair of glistening eyes looking down upon them.
Suddenly a movement, a flicker, like the flash of a whip, and the snake
had changed its position. Too quick for us to follow the motion, but in
that flash of time it now hung like a pendulum, with a sparrow almost
hidden in its coils. The snake had precisely measured its distance,
reached down, and recoiled with the swiftness of an elastic spring.
After a few minutes, _feeling_ that its prey was dead, it prepared to
swallow it, holding it encircled in a portion of its body, while the
head was free to commence the usual examination. Still hanging there,
it held and devoured the bird.

On another occasion, one of the larger pythons caught a guinea-pig
in the same manner. This also was so quick in its movements that one
scarcely knew what had happened until the snake was seen to have
changed its position, some of the anterior coils had embraced a
something, and a quadruped was missing. This snake also still hung
while eating its meal, the whole process occupying less than ten
minutes. In both these cases we saw the prehensile tail in its natural
use, while the rest of the body was free for action.

One of the most remarkable cases of what we may call independent
constricting powers, that is, two or more parts of the reptile being
engaged at the same time, was in some very hungry, or very greedy, or
very sagacious little constrictors, the ‘four-rayed snakes,’ _Elaphis

They are slender for their length, which may be from three to five
feet, of an inconspicuous colour, but with two black lines on each
side, running the whole length of their body; hence their name,
‘four-lined,’ or ‘four-rayed.’ In the present instance, there were in
the same cage three of these, also one young royal python, one small
common boa, and one ‘thick-necked tree boa’ (_Epicratis cenchris_), all
constrictors. The day was close and warm for April, and the snakes,
reviving from their winter torpor, seemed particularly active and
lively. Probably they had not fed much of late, and thought now was
their opportunity, for the keeper no sooner threw the birds—finches,
and plenty of them for all—into the cage, than there was a general
scuffle. Each of the six snakes seized its bird and entwined it,
then on the part of the reptiles all was comparatively still. The
rest of the poor little birds, fluttering hither and thither, were,
however, not disregarded, for although each snake was constricting its
captive, several of them captured another bird by pressing it beneath
them, and holding it down with a disengaged part of themselves. One
of the four-rayed snakes felt its held-down victim struggling, and
instantaneously a second coil was thrown round it. Then another caught
a second bird in its mouth, for its head and neck were not occupied
with the bird already held, and in order to have coils at its disposal,
slipped down its first captive, or rather passed itself onwards to
constrict the second, the earlier coils not changing in form in the
slightest degree, any more than a ring passed down a cord would change
its form. The next moment I saw one of those two hungry ones with
three birds under its control. It had already begun to eat the first,
a second was coiled about eight inches behind, and a good deal of
the posterior portion of the reptile was still disengaged when a bird
passed across its tail, and instantly that was captured. All this was
done by a sense of feeling only, as the snakes did not once turn their
heads. Two of these ‘four-rayed’ snakes were so close together, so
rapid in their movements, so excited and eager for their prey, that
which of them first began his bird, and which one caught the third, it
is impossible to affirm confidently.

Whenever either of them was in the same position for one quiet minute,
a few hurried strokes of the pencil fixed them in my notebook, and of
the hasty though faithful sketches thus made, I present three to the
reader on the opposite page.

April 1st, 1881.—After this date nothing more was to be seen!
Henceforth visitors were to be excluded, and the reptiles were to be
fed _after sunset_.

Now, however painfully and sympathetically we may regard those poor
little birds so unceremoniously seized, crushed, and devoured, we can
but reverently, and almost with awe, admire the astonishing facility
with which these limbless, toolless reptiles provide themselves
with food. With still deeper awe and reverence we shall admire when
we examine their anatomical structure, and see by what marvellous
development it has been adapted to their necessities.

We feel sadly for the finches, it is true; because finches are often
our pets, and are sweet songsters. Were a toad or a rat thus treated,
we should care less, perhaps; because there is as much repugnance
towards toads and ‘vermin,’ as towards snakes.

[Illustration: First bird caught and a second held down.

First bird dead, the second coiled, and a third bird caught.

First bird half eaten, two others in coils.

_April 1st, 1881._]

But if the finches did not become the prey of snakes, they would become
the victims of bird-catchers and milliners; and if they escaped these
wanton spoilers, they would fall victims to birds of prey, as much
larger birds fall victims to our own need of food.

Reptiles also have existence and requirements, and an organization
adapted to such requirements. This should be their claim upon our
tolerance; and if they do not win our admiration, we cannot deny them
the right to live, the right to feed according to their instincts,
and to secure their natural food in their own way, which—begging the
reader to pardon this feeble moralizing—we find to be a very wonderful

Though the term ‘reptile’ is applied to a whole tribe of crawling
creatures, whether four-legged or limbless, that are covered with
scales, horny plates, or a skin more or less hardened, imbricated, or
rugose (viz. crocodiles, lizards, frogs, toads, serpents, and their
congeners), snakes are more truly reptiles, being limbless, from
_repo_, to creep. Hence serpents (from _serpo_, to creep, and its
derivatives serpentine, serpentize, etc., from _serpens_, winding)
have been separated from the rest. The true serpents, therefore, are
those without feet, and which move only close to the ground, by the
sinuations of their body.

We have seen that the constricting snakes use this body as a substitute
for hands, literally _managing_ with it; but though they are externally
legless, and _apodal_ (without feet), the truth is that few creatures,
none perhaps, not even millipedes, are more liberally furnished with
legs and feet than serpents. One curious exception to general rules is,
that while other creatures have the same number of feet as legs, that
is, one foot to each leg, a snake has only one foot to each pair of

Many of my observant readers have already discovered for themselves
where and what these numerous legs and feet are. In the early days of
my ophidian studies, which then consisted chiefly of observations, I
noticed the action of limbs beneath the skin of the pythons as they
moved about, and more particularly when they were climbing up the glass
in front of their cages, and as in the case of the glottis, I thought
I had made a grand discovery; and so I had, as far as myself was

Deductions from personal observation, which in the history of many
sciences have again and again been claimed as original discoveries by
rival thinkers or experimentalists, no doubt _were_ original on the
part of each.

Probably, also, many other persons have noticed this leg-like action
of the ribs, but who, not being specially interested in snakeology,
have never troubled themselves to ascertain ‘further particulars,’ or
cared whether any one else had observed this or not. But it _is_ a very
evident and unmistakeable action, and one quite worth studying on your
next visit to the Reptilium.

Books on ophiology tell us that Sir Joseph Banks was the first to
observe this limb-like action of the ribs. Sir Everard—then Mr.—Home,
F.R.S, and the most distinguished anatomist of his time, was, however,
the first to publish a scientific description of the fact; his account
and the illustrations accompanying it having been subsequently adopted
by most ophiologists.

In vol. cii. of the _Philosophical Transactions_ of 1812, p. 163, is a
paper which was read before the Royal Society in February of that year,
by Everard Home, Esq., F.R.S. It is entitled, ‘Observations to show
that the Progressive Motion of Snakes is partly performed by the Ribs.’

We give his introductory words, not only because the ‘discovery’ was
a great event in the history of ophiology, but as showing that to see
and examine a foreign snake was at that time a rare if not a novel
occurrence. He tells us that on a former occasion in 1804, he had
described the anterior ribs of a cobra, those which form the ‘hood.’ At
that time he was ‘not in possession of the bodies of snakes,’ so that
he could compare their structure, but had _since_ found out a good deal
more about their anatomy, and then he proceeds: ‘A Coluber of unusual
size lately brought to London to be exhibited, was shown to Sir Joseph
Banks. The animal was lively and moved along the carpet briskly; while
it was doing so, Sir Joseph thought he saw the ribs come forward in
succession, like the feet of a caterpillar. This remark he immediately
communicated to me, and gave me an opportunity of seeing the snake
and making my own observations. The fact was already established, and
I could feel the ribs with my fingers as they were brought forward.
I placed my hand under the snake, and the ribs were felt distinctly
upon the palm as the animal passed over it. This becomes the more
interesting discovery as it constitutes a new species of progressive
motion, and one widely different from those already known.’

The ‘unusually large Coluber’ was probably a python. Had a previous
opportunity presented itself to this scientific and thoughtful
observer, Sir Joseph Banks might not have been the one to carry off
the palm in this discovery. Home had already described the peculiarity
of the cobra’s anterior ribs (chap. xviii.), and, as already suggested,
it is scarcely possible to watch one of those larger constrictors
_without_ perceiving the mode of progression. We shall see in the
course of this book that snake observers have arrived at the same
conclusions on several points, while wholly ignorant of what others had
said or decided regarding the same.

In the previous chapter the number of vertebræ forming the spinal
column of three or four snakes was given, but this number varies
greatly, not only in snakes but in species. In some species there are
above 400 vertebræ or joints in a snake’s spine. But here is a puzzle
that baffles the student. ‘Every one knows,’ says Schlegel, ‘that their
number differs’ (speaking of the vertebræ), ‘not only according to the
species, but also in individuals, so that sometimes we find in serpents
of the same species a difference of thirty or forty vertebræ more or

Taking this literally according to the text, one might expect to find
one ring-snake in a family of ten measuring two feet, while his brother
measured two yards, and a third four feet, and so on, as if each had a
different number of vertebræ.

‘The same species,’ that is, two anacondas or two cobras! ‘A
mistranslation,’ one naturally decided, and proceeded to consult the
original. But no. The translator had faithfully and unquestioningly
followed the original French; but the fact was so irreconcilable that I
sought Dr. Günther’s kind assistance in comprehending the passage.

‘Evidently an oversight. Manifestly impossible,’ that learned authority
at once decided. (As Schlegel stands high as a scientific ophiologist,
the misprint is pointed out for the benefit of future students.)

Thus lengths, _as to the number of vertebræ_, vary in species of the
same genus, but _not_ in ‘individuals of the same species.’ And this
alone is sufficiently perplexing.

For example, we read in one work that a rattlesnake has 194 vertebræ,
and in another that ‘it,’ viz. ‘a rattlesnake,’ has 207 vertebræ. Both
equally correct, because two distinct species are described. Again,
Dr. Carpenter, in his _Animal Physiology_ (edition of 1872), gives a
table of the vertebræ of various animals, in which ‘a python’ has 422
joints, while Owen gives ‘a python’ 291 joints, each learned anatomist
having examined a different species. By these facts we comprehend what
Schlegel intended to say.

The little constrictors caught their finches with five feet of body
at their disposal. An anaconda, with five yards of body to work with,
might with equal ease coil three opossums.

‘The skeleton of a snake exhibits the greatest possible simplicity
to which a vertebrate animal can be reduced,’ says Roget. It is
‘merely a lengthened spinal column.’ It is ‘simple’ in the same way
that botanists call a stem simple when it has no branches, or bracts,
or leaves, to interrupt its uniformity. For this reason, having no
limbs, and therefore none of those bones which in quadrupeds connect
the limbs to the trunk, the spine is, in unscientific language, alike
all the way down; ‘_un corps tout en tronc_.’ And because those two
first joints of the spine which have no ribs attached to them are in
form precisely like the other joints, physiologists tell us that a
snake has ‘no neck.’ By way of simplifying matters we just now called
those two joints an invariable neck. But in the way of _cervical_ or
neck vertebræ, however, we must bear in mind that a true anatomical
neck, in the eyes of science, a snake has not. Some of the four-legged
reptiles have a true neck, that is, they have cervical vertebræ which
differ from dorsal, lumbar, etc. vertebræ, as we ourselves and mammals
in general have; because four-legged reptiles have a breast-bone and
limbs to support, and their neck varies in length. For example, a
tortoise has nine cervical or neck joints, a monitor lizard six, and a
salamander only one.

But so also do the necks of mammals vary very greatly _in length_,
while all, without exception, are formed of seven joints, _only seven
vertebræ_; a man, a whale, a giraffe, and a mouse possess each seven
cervical vertebræ, different in form from the rest of the joints of the
spinal column. We might say that in appearance a whale has no neck,
but its seven neck joints are flat and close as seven cards or seven
pennies, while those of the giraffe are extraordinarily prolonged; and
in ourselves—well, of course, the reader will admit the perfection
of symmetry in our own necks, and the seven joints, therefore, are
precisely of the proper size.

While the spine of a snake is ‘simple’ in respect of its joints being
all formed on the same plan, it is the reverse of simple in its
wonderfully complex structure. Professor Huxley, in his delightful
lecture, said that ‘the most beautiful piece of anatomy he knew was
the vertebra of a snake.’ Professor Owen thus anatomically describes
it: ‘The vertebræ of serpents articulate with each other by eight
joints, in addition to those of the cup and ball on the centrum; and
interlock by parts reciprocally receiving and entering one another,
like the joints called tenon and mortice in carpentry’ (_Anatomy of the
Vertebrates_, p. 54).

[Illustration: Front and back view of a vertebra.]

Bearing in mind that each of these highly complicated joints supports
a pair of moveable ribs, and that the ends of these ribs are connected
by muscles with the large stiff scutes or scales crossing the under
surface of the body (see illustrations, p. 193), which move with the
ribs, one foot-like scale to each pair, we comprehend how snakes exceed
millipedes in the number of their _limbs_, if not true legs, and how
they excel the insect also in variety of movement. Those ‘ball and
socket’ joints admit of free lateral flexion, and every variety of
curvature—‘_the utmost pliancy of motion_,’ to repeat the words of
Rymer Jones; and also of that surprisingly independent motion which
enables the constrictors to surpass even the _Bimana_ (except practised
experts) in doing _several things at once_.

Thoughtful persons who can contemplate this wondrous organization with
due reverence, and witness it in activity—as we admiringly observe the
works of a watch in motion—will forget to censure those who supply
food to this piece of animated mechanism, and even pardon a hungry
little snake for so expertly securing three birds at once.

Think of 300 back-bones and 300 pairs of legs, all requiring wholesome
exercise. Some snakes have 300 pairs of ribs—each pair capable of
independent motion, and articulated with that complex spine; and each
pair moving together, and carrying along with them a foot in the shape
of a broad ventral scale. ‘This scutum by its posterior edge lays hold
of the ground,’ says Sir Everard Home, ‘and becomes a fixed point
whence to set out anew.’

The hold which the ventral scales have of the ground obviously renders
it easier for the reptiles to pass over a rough than a smooth surface;
what are obstacles to other creatures are facilities to them. But they
appear to be never at a loss. On a boarded room, or even a marble
floor, they will manage progression of some sort,—many by the pressure
of the tail to push themselves forward, and others with an action that
can be compared only with swimming. With the same rapid, undulating
motion as swimming, the active snakes skim through the grass, or over
soft herbage, on which they seem to make no impression. Their swift
sinuations are almost invisible to the eye. You only know that a snake
_was_ there, and now has vanished. The ‘Rat’ snake of Ceylon (_Ptyas
mucosus_) (see frontispiece) and the ‘Pilot’ snakes of America are
among the best known of these swift-flitting or gliding creatures.

Rats are fleet little quadrupeds, but their enemies, the Rat snakes
of India, are more than their match. Sir Emerson Tennant, in his
_History of Ceylon_, describes an encounter with one. _Ptyas mucosus_
caught a rat, and both captor and captive were promptly covered with
a glass shade to be watched. With an instinct to escape stronger than
hunger, _Ptyas_ relinquished his hold, and manifested uneasiness. Then
the glass shade was raised a trifle, and instantly away ran the rat;
but the snake was after it like a flash, caught it, and glided away
swiftly, with head erect and the rat in its mouth.

At one of the Davis lectures at the Zoological Gardens, a fine Rat
snake in the Society’s collection was exhibited, and was permitted to
be handled by a favoured few. To hold it _still_ was not possible,
for the creature glided through the hand, and entwined itself about
one as if a dozen snakes had you in possession. It was very tame, and
accustomed to be handled by the keeper, whose especial pet it was;
otherwise _Ptyas_ is a powerful snake, and quite capable of strangling
you should it take a fancy to constrict your neck. On another occasion
this same snake constricted my arm sufficiently to make my fingers
swell; but that was not so much in anger as for safety, because it
did not like to be fettered in its movements, or to be somewhat
unceremoniously examined. A younger and less tame specimen tried to
bite me, and squeezed my fingers blue by constricting them.

There is no circumventing these ‘lithe and elegant beings.’ They will
get into your pocket, or up your sleeve; and while you think you have
the head safely in your hand, the whole twelve feet of snake will have
glided through, and be making its way to the book shelves, or where you
least expect to see it.

When frequently handling the young constrictors, one has been able
to _feel_ as well as to observe the action of the ribs. As they pass
through the hand, you feel them expanded, so as to present a flatter
under surface. In _Ptyas_ the back is remarkably keeled when crawling,
a section of his body presenting the form of the middle diagram given


Schlegel describes the forms which the bodies of various snakes assume
in swimming, climbing, clinging, etc. Sometimes they are laterally
compressed, at others flattened. The three figures above are on a much
reduced scale, but give an idea of the sections of three different
snakes, though each snake is capable of several such changes of form.
When snakes climb against the glass of their cages, you may easily
discern the flattening of their bodies. In this action there seems to
be a compressing power, any hold of the scutæ against a polished plane
being, of course, impossible; yet without holding they seem to cling;
and the ribs advance in wave-like intervals just the same, with an
intermediate space at rest until in turn the wave is there and passes
on, while from an anterior portion another wave approaches, and so on.
Yet the _compressure_ strikes one forcibly. There is also the evident
support of the tail in a large python thus crawling to the very top of
his cage.

Mr. Gosse observed the dilatation and flattening of the body in the
climbing snakes, and that they had no more difficulty in gliding up a
tree or a wall in a straight line than on the ground. In the _Anecdotes
of Serpents_, revised for the Messrs. W. & R. Chambers, of Edinburgh,
in 1875, from the tract by the late John Keast Lord, I also recorded my
observations on this peculiarity.

Some young Jamaica boas crawled to the top of their cage as soon as
they were born. I saw them the same day; _held_ them, as well as it
was possible to hold threads of quicksilver; _felt_ them, too, for
the exceedingly juvenile constrictors tied up my fingers cleverly. So
did some young boa constrictors, born alive at the Gardens, June 30,
1877. They were from fifteen to twenty inches in length, and had teeth
sufficiently developed to draw blood from Holland’s hand, showing fight
and ingratitude at the same time. They were exceedingly active, and fed
on young mice, which they constricted instinctively. One of them, known
as ‘Totsey,’ subsequently _hung_ for her portrait, as on p. 201.

In vol. xx. of _Nature_, p. 528, is a very clever paper on the
progression of snakes, by H. F. Hutchinson, who has evidently
observed them closely. He arrives at the conclusion that they have
three different modes, viz. ‘on smooth plane surfaces by means of
their rib-legs;’ ... ‘through high grass by rapid, almost invisible,
sinuous onward movement, like swimming;’ in climbing straight walls
or ascending smooth surfaces by creating a vacuum with the ventral
scales. He reminds us that cobras, kraits, the rat snake, and other
slender and active kinds are constantly found on house roofs, walls,
straight smooth trees, etc., and asks how they got there. He has seen
the ‘abdominal scales creating a vacuum like the pedal scales of house
lizards.’ He put some active little snakes on the ground, where there
was no hold for the scutæ, and they ‘flew about in all directions.’ He
saw that they moved on by these quick, sinuous curves—‘rapid wriggles.’

In company with my esteemed friend, Mr. Robert Chambers of Edinburgh,
we made similar experiments by placing some of the smooth-scaled,
active snakes on a boarded floor. Being extremely wild, they displayed
their anger and skill to perfection, and literally _swam_ along,
scarcely touching the floor, and so swiftly that we had difficulty in
pursuing and securing them again. Some very young _Tropidonoti_ when
disturbed flew or ‘swam’ about their cage in the same manner. We also
saw pythons climb up a window-frame, and a corner of the room where no
visible hold could be obtained; and after the example of Sir Everard
Home, we allowed the reptiles to crawl over our hands, when we could
feel the expansion and flattening of the body by the spreading of the
ribs. I incline to agree, therefore, with the writer in _Nature_, that
there is a sort of vacuum created by the ventral scales. Dr. Stradling
observed that on occasions of retreat, some snakes move in such rapid
and ever-varying sinuations as to baffle you completely when you
attempt to lay hold of them; the part you thought to grasp is gone.[69]
Such are the movements of _Pituophis_ and of _Echis_ (p. 151).

At the risk of being tedious, a few more words must be added on this
subject of progression, because we so constantly see it asserted that
snakes ‘move with difficulty over smooth surfaces.’ Their actions have
not excited sufficient attention and study. Have you ever watched them
moving about in their bath at the Zoological Gardens? The motions of
a python once particularly struck me. The earthenware pan was smooth
polished ware, and with enough water in it to render it smoother, if
that be possible. The reptile was not swimming, for the thicker part
of its body was not even wholly submersed. The pan was too shallow
for that, and too small to permit of any portion of the python being
fully extended. It moved in ever-varying coils and curves, yet with
the greatest ease, its head slightly raised, so that the nostrils and
mouth were out of water. It seemed to be enjoying its bath, as it
actively glided, turned, and curved in that wonderful fashion which
Ruskin described as ‘a bit one way, a bit another, and some of him not
at all.’ There could be no hold for the scutæ in this case, nor could
I detect any action of the ribs as in crawling over a less smooth
surface. The creature seemed to move by its easy sinuations, and with
no more effort than you see in the fish at an aquarium. Perfectly
incomprehensible is this lax and leisurely movement in shallow
water. Even the inert little slow-worm astonishes us by its physical
achievements, which will be duly described in its especial chapter.

But among the most characteristically active are the small and slender
tree snakes, the _Dryadidæ_ and _Dendrophidæ_, mostly of a brilliant
green. These and the Whip snakes are exceedingly long and slender,
the tails of many of them very gradually diminishing to a fine and
attenuated point. Some of them are closely allied to the lizards, and
skim and dash through the foliage with a scarcely perceptible weight.
These are the true acrobats, full of gracile ease and activity. Many
are over four feet in length, and not much thicker than a pencil.

They are found in the hot countries of both hemispheres. The Siamese
call some of them ‘sunbeams,’ from their combination of grace and
splendour, and in Brazil some have the brilliant tints of the
humming-birds. These little creatures in your hand feel like soft,
fine, satin cords endowed with life.

Dr. Wucherer, writing from Brazil, enthusiastically declared that he
was always delighted to find one of them in his garden. He discovered
them coiled in a bird’s nest, their body of two feet long occupying a
space no larger than the hollow of your hand. ‘In an instant they dart
upwards between the branches and over the leaves, which scarcely bend
beneath their weight. A moment more, and you have lost them.’[70]

Krefft, of Australia, had some of the active snakes, which were
confined in an empty room, but one day could not be found. At last they
were discovered upon the moulding of a door, nine feet from the floor!
They must have climbed up the smooth wood-work in their own mysterious

Ere concluding this chapter, one slight exception to the extremely
‘simple’ spinal column must be named. This is that certain families,
more nearly allied to the lizards, or most far removed from the vipers,
have rudiments of pelvic bones, or those which in bipeds connect the
legs with the trunk. In a few families there is even a pair of these
rudiments externally, though only in the form of a spur or claw, as
seen in the boa constrictor, the pythons, and some of the blindworms,
and usually more developed in the male.

There is, however, the true skeleton of a claw beneath the skin,
composed of several bones, and presenting somewhat the form of a bird’s
claw, hinting at the common ancestry between snakes and lizards. These
spurs, though mere vestiges of limbs, must still be of some use to the
large constrictors when climbing trees and hanging from the branches.
They are found in the boa, python, eryx, and tortrix, four groups
which approach the lizard characteristics; also in _Boa aquatica_, the





THE frequent allusion to water snakes in the preceding chapters seems
to render this a suitable place to describe them more in detail; and
among them are of course the sea snakes, and ‘The Great Sea Serpent’
must not be omitted.

In many books on natural history, particularly if herpetology occupy
any space, we find the subject wound up with a chapter on ‘The Sea
Serpent,’ forming a sort of apologetic little addendum, as if the
creature of questionable existence must claim no space in the heart of
the volume, yet is not quite so unimportant as to be omitted altogether.

On the part of some other authors, a total and summary dismissal of the
‘monster’ is apt to exclude with it any reference to the smaller sea
snakes, whose actual existence is therefore a fact less known than it
should be; and many persons, seeing the doubt cast upon the celebrated
individual whose reputed reappearance on the prorogation of Parliament
has become an annual joke, conclude that all sea snakes are similarly

Admitting it to be a dubious creature, with neither name nor
ancestry in ophidian annals, I must not give it precedence of the
recognised water snakes; but it shall figure in the heart of my book

‘_Fresh-water snakes_’ form the fourth, and ‘_Sea snakes_’ the fifth
of the five groups into which Dr. Günther has separated the ophidian
families; but the gradations between the land and the fresh-water
species, and between the latter and the salt-water snakes or the true
_Hydrophidæ_, are, like all other herpetological features, extremely
close. There are water-loving land snakes and land-frequenting water
snakes, that is, those which are equally at home in both. In the
true water species, however, we find modifications of ordinary rules
which show them to be peculiarly protected and adapted for an aquatic

One notable characteristic in all, both salt-water and fresh, is the
position of the nostrils on the top of the snout, and in many these are
protected by a valve which closes at will. As air-breathing animals
they must come to the surface, but the timid, stealthy ophidian
instinct which seeks to hide from observation can be indulged even
in the water, with the nostrils so situated that only a very small
surface of the head need be exposed. Could we examine the interior
of the mouth we should doubtless find some slight variation in the
position of the glottis also. In a foregoing chapter we saw that the
trachea opens exactly opposite to and close behind what Dumeril calls
the ‘arrière-narines;’ ‘leur glotte qui est à deux lèvres et qui
represente un larynx très simple, s’ouvre dans la bouche derrière
le fourreau de la langue ... elle s’élève pour se presenter dilatée
sous les arrière-narines.’[71] The glottis of water snakes must have a
still more upward direction to present itself to those air passages.
Perhaps water snakes do not require to yawn so frequently as is the
habit of their terrestrial relatives; and if they do, it must be a rare
privilege to be able to inspect the process, as one can so frequently
do with the pythons and vipers at home. Our authorities do not give us
much information on this point.[72]

Their moderately long tapering tail is used as a propelling power.
Exteriorly, too, water snakes have smooth non-imbricated scales, though
exceptions exist in those species which frequent both land and water,
as the _Tropidonoti_, a large family of which our common English ring
snake is a member, and which, as their name denotes, have all keeled
scales, from τρόπις, τρόπιδος, _a keel_. These, also, can elevate
their ribs, and so flatten the body in the water, another assistant in

A marked exception to the smooth-scaled, water-loving snakes is the
African viper, known as the ‘River Jack’ from its partiality to water.
_Vipera rhinosceros_, from the spinous scales which have the appearance
of horns on its nose, is allied to those described in the 18th chapter.
Though not strictly a water snake, it much frequents it, and glides
through it with ease, the more remarkable because, in common with those
other ‘horned vipers’ of Africa, it has a short, insignificant little
tail, which can be of little use as a propelling power. Altogether,
it is one of the ugliest and most ferocious-looking of the whole
serpent tribe, with a thick, heavy body, a dingy, rough exterior, and
strongly-carinated scales. Excepting in colour, and a more horizontal
inclination of its horns, it is not unlike the _V. nasicornis_ of the
coloured illustration, chap. xviii.

While all the _Homalopsidæ_ or true fresh-water snakes are innocent,
there are many other venomous kinds known as ‘water serpents,’ both
in Africa and America. For example, the ‘water viper,’ or ‘water
moccasin,’ _Cenchris piscivorus_, whose aquatic and fish-eating
propensities were described in the chapter on Tails. This ‘thorn-tail’
viper has not, however, the nostrils of the true fresh-water snakes or
_Homalopsidæ_. In Australia also are several poisonous species, known
vernacularly as ‘water snakes;’ but strictly speaking, and on the
authority of Günther, the true _Homalopsidæ_ are all non-venomous.

To describe these more minutely from Günther, Krefft, and Dr. E.
Nicholson, ‘they have a body moderately cylindrical, a tail somewhat
compressed at the root, and more or less prehensile. Many of them have
a distinctly prehensile tail, by which they hold on to projecting
objects;’ and in times of storms and strong currents we can imagine
the importance of this security to them. Their eyes, though prominent,
are small, and thus less exposed to injury; and the nostrils, as
already stated, are on the upper surface of the head, and provided
with a valvule. Another peculiarity is that the last or back tooth of
the maxillary bone is a grooved fang, a transitional tooth between an
ordinary one and a fang; but there is no evidence of any poisonous
saliva connected with it. Indeed, as we may repeat, Dr. Günther
distinctly affirms that all the fresh-water snakes are harmless and
_thoroughly aquatic_, though a few are occasionally found on the
beach. They inhabit rivers and estuaries, feeding on fish, and rarely
coming to land; some of them frequent brackish waters, and even enter
the sea. These latter in their organization approach the true marine
serpents. One Indian example, _Hydrinus_, is semi-pelagic. They are all
viviparous, producing their young in the water; and they belong to the
tropical or semi-tropical regions. In Australia they are found only
in the far north; but in America some so-called ‘water snakes,’ which
spend most of their time in the water, frequent rivers which are frozen
over in winter, during which season they probably undergo hibernation
in holes near the banks.

Several of the older naturalists describe ‘water snakes’ in words which
leave us no doubt as to the _numbers_, though of their name we cannot
be so certain. Carver in 1796 mentioned some small islands near the
western end of Lake Erie, so infested with snakes that it was dangerous
to land upon them. It is impossible that any place can produce a
greater number of all kinds of snakes, particularly the ‘water snake,’
than this. He says: ‘The lake is covered near the banks of the islands
with the large pond lily, the leaves of which lie on the surface of the
water so thick as to cover it entirely for many acres together, and
on each of these lay wreaths of water snakes, amounting to myriads,
basking in the sun.’ A sight of the last century this. I have passed
over that part of Lake Erie and through the Detroit river, and remember
the islands and the water-lilies and other attractive objects, but
‘wreaths of water snakes’ were not of these.

Lawson, too, can assure us of their habitat, but not their name, and
his account is of worth chiefly to verify their swarming numbers. It is
possible that some of those which he describes are now extinct or very
rare. ‘Of water Snakes there are four sorts. The first is of the Horn
Snake’s Colour, though less.’ (This might be the young of the ‘water
moccasin,’ _Cenchris_, or _Trigonoceph. piscivorus_.) ‘The next is a
very long Snake, differing in Colour, and will make nothing to swim
over a River a League wide. They hang upon Birches and other Trees by
the Water Side. I had the Fortune once to have one of them leap into
my Boat as I was going up a narrow River. The Boat was full of Mats,
which I was glad to take out and so get rid of him. They are reckoned
poisonous. A third is much of an English Adder Colour, but always
frequents the Salts, and lies under the drift Seaweed, where they are
in Abundance, and are accounted mischievous when they bite. The last
is of a sooty, black Colour, and frequents Ponds and Ditches. What his
Qualities are, I cannot tell.’

Catesby is responsible for having called _Tropidonotus fasciatus_
‘the brown water viper,’ a stumbling-block to many ever since, much
confusion existing between this and the true ‘water viper,’ the
dangerous moccasin snake. Occasionally they are very dark. They are
rather thick and viperish-looking as well, but are perfectly harmless.

This is the snake to which almost this book owes its origin, the
specimens at the Zoological Gardens called ‘Moccasins’ tripping me up
at the outset, as my preface sets forth. Holbrooke describes it as
spending most of its time in the water, or about pond and river banks.
It swims rapidly, and hundreds may be seen darting in all directions
through the water. They are very common in the United States, and might
have formed the ‘wreathed myriads’ on Lake Erie formerly. In summer
they roost on the lower branches of trees, overhanging the water, like
_Trigonocephalus piscivorus_, the true ‘water moccasin,’ or ‘cotton
mouth.’ At the time of writing there are examples of both these at
the Gardens, the harmless ‘moccasin,’ a rather handsome snake, and
the venomous one (not there recognised as the well-known moccasin of
the United States), so nearly black that we can account for its being
occasionally called the ‘black water viper.’

It is probably _Tropidonotus_ which Parker Gilmore describes as ‘water
vipers.’[73] At Vincennes in Indiana, he says, ‘On the side where some
alder bushes grow in the water, I have seen, on a very warm and bright
day, such numbers of water vipers twined round the limbs and trunks
which margin the pond, that it would be almost impossible to wade a
yard without being within reach of one of them. They certainly have all
the appearance of being venomous; the inhabitants say, however, they
are harmless. They feed principally on fish, frogs, and small birds.’

Of American water snakes, the anaconda deserves special mention. Of
it Seba says, ‘Ce serpent habite plus les eaux que les rochers;’ and
in its having the nostrils situated on the top of the head, and in
possessing some other features in common with the _Homalopsidæ_, we
are justified in calling it a water serpent, notwithstanding it is a
true constrictor. ‘Mother of waters,’ the aborigines of South America
call it. It is the _Boa aquatica_ of Neuwied, and _Eunectes murinus_
of Wagler, the latter name being the one most frequently used by
modern herpetologists. Dumeril adopts it, _l’Eunect murin_, giving the
origin of the generic name, _bon nageur_, from the Greek εὐ, _bien_,
_fort_, and νηϰτής, _nageur_—_qui nage bien_. As to the meaning of the
specific name _murinus_, there can be but little doubt, though some
have attributed it to its mouse-coloured skin or spots. _Le mangeur de
rats_, Bonnat called it; _le rativoro_, Lacepède. Seba, who was one of
the first to describe it, says, ‘Il font guerre aux rats;’ and Bonnat,
on his authority, says, ‘Il se nourrit d’une espèce de rats.’ ‘Serpent
d’Amerique à moucheteur de tortue,’ Seba also describes it, and with
‘jolies écailles magnifiquement madrées de grandes taches, semblable de
celles des tortues; taches semées sans ordres, grands, petits,’ etc.
_Murinus_, therefore, clearly refers to its food, not its colour.

Dumeril’s description is of more scientific exactness: ‘Pas de
fossettes aux lèvres. On peut aisément reconnaitre les Eunectes seul
entre les boa, ils ont les narines percées à la face supérieure du bout
du museau et directement tournées vers le ciel.’ These, being extremely
small, and with a power to close hermetically, declare its aquatic
habits. Its eyes are prominent, and so placed that the reptile can see
before it, and also below—that is, down into the waters.

On first sight it might be a matter of wonder that so large a serpent
should condescend to a meal of rats and mice; but to explain this we
must again go back to the early naturalists, when we discover that what
Seba called _le rat d’Amerique_ was a rodent quite worth constricting
for dinner. Under the order _Muridæ_ were included in those days a
number of the larger rodents, such as the Paca, _Mus Braziliensis_; the
Coypu, _Mus coypus_; _Myopotamus_, the Capybara; the Murine opossum,
and several others, aquatic in their habits, and large enough to
attract the ‘Giant of the Waters.’

From the vernacular _Matatoro_, or ‘Bull killer,’ also a whole century
of misrepresentations have arisen, the said ‘bull’ being really as
small in proportion as the ‘rats’ and ‘mice’ were large. ‘The deer
swallower’ is another of its local titles, showing that it is a serpent
of varying tastes. Stories are told of this ‘monster’ killing itself
in attempting to gorge large animals with enormously extended horns,
animals not to be found among the Brazilian fauna; and familiar to
most persons are the illustrations of anacondas of untraceable length,
the posterior portion coiled round a branch fifty feet high, and the
anterior coiled round a bull as big as a prize ox. These illustrations
are the offspring of ignorance rather than reality, and though
occasionally _Eunectes_ might come to grief by attacking a somewhat
unmanageable meal, yet its recognised specific, _murinus_ or _murina_,
points more clearly the true nature of its food, viz. rodents of at
most some two feet long.

No less exaggerated than its appetite is its length. Possibly anacondas
may have attained greater size formerly when there were fewer enemies
than at present, if it be true, as some have affirmed, that serpents
grow all their lives. Thirty feet is the utmost length on record.
Wallace affirms that he has never seen one exceeding twenty feet. Those
individuals at the Zoological Gardens have rarely exceeded this, and
Günther gives twenty-two feet as their average length in the present

Of those known in South Africa as ‘water snakes,’ one is _Avusamans_
vernacularly, a black one and common, and another, _Iffulu_, of a
beautiful bright green. Mr. Woodward, whose scientific egg-sucker
has been already mentioned in chap. iii., states that both these are
poisonous, that he never saw the green one out of water, and that
it is unsafe to bathe where they are. On referring to Dr. Andrew
Smith’s _Zoology of South Africa_, I am not able to identify these
with certainty, and do not, therefore, give the above as scientific

But before concluding this part of the subject, I would add a word or
two on the importance of an accurate description of the snake, as far
as possible, when one is found in some unusual situation; because a
snake being found in the water is no proof that it is a water snake, or
even that it was there by choice. Livingstone, in his _Expedition to
the Zambesi_, p. 150, describes the number of venomous creatures, such
as scorpions, centipedes, etc., that were found on board, ‘having been
brought into the ship with wood.’ ‘Snakes also came sometimes with the
wood, but oftener floated down the river to us, climbing easily by the
chain cable. Some poisonous ones were caught in the cabin. A green one
was there several weeks, hiding in the daytime.’

Often in newspapers are stories of ‘sea snakes’ as having appeared
quite out of their geographical range. These on investigation may
reasonably be traced to land snakes which have been carried out by the
tidal rivers. In _Land and Water_ of Jan. 5, 1878, was such a story.
Again, March 31, the following year, a correspondent, ‘J. J. A.,’ on
‘Animal Life in New Caledonia,’ stated that the sea inside the reefs
is sometimes covered with both dead and living creatures carried out
by the violence of the currents after heavy rains. ‘The flooded rivers
rush with great force from the mountains,’ and numbers of reptiles were
among the victims of that force. He saw ‘incredible numbers of snakes,’
and described the common sea snakes as ‘stupid, fearless things, that
will not get out of your way.... The small sand-islands are literally
alive with them.’ The writer made no pretensions to be a naturalist, or
to state confidently what the snakes were specifically. New Caledonia
would seem to be rather beyond the range of sea snakes proper, and
those ‘incredible numbers’ may have been only land snakes involuntarily
taking a sea bath, or certain species frequenting brackish waters, like
those in South Carolina described by Lawson.

About the same time an American newspaper contained an account given
by Captain O. A. Pitfield, of the steamship _Mexico_, who stated that
he had ‘passed through a tangled mass of snakes’ off the Tortuga
islands, at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. The ship was ‘more
than an hour’ in passing them. ‘They were of all sizes, from the
ordinary green water snake of two feet long, to monsters, genuine “sea
serpents,” of fourteen to fifteen feet in length.’ I replied to both
these communications at the time (_Land and Water_, April 5, 1879),
inviting further information, and describing the features by which
true water and true sea snakes could be easily distinguished. Nothing
further appeared on the subject, and I have little doubt but that, in
both cases, the ‘shoals of sea snakes’ were land species that had been
merely carried out to sea by force of rivers. I have since been more
strongly inclined to this opinion on learning from Dr. Stradling that
similar transportations of snakes occur through the force of some of
the South American rivers. ‘Do you know the snakes which belong to the
River Plate proper?’ he asks me by letter. ‘So many are brought down by
floods from Paraguay—even the big constrictors—that it is difficult
to determine from occasional specimens.’

I could not, unfortunately, refer to any books that afforded much
information on this subject; for amongst the greatest literary needs
experienced by an ophiologist is some complete and special work on
the South American snakes, corresponding with Günther’s _Reptiles of
British India_, and Krefft’s _Snakes of Australia_.

Other writers have mentioned the occurrence of boa constrictors and
anacondas far out at sea occasionally, beguiling the unsophisticated
into reporting a veritable ‘sea serpent’ to the _Times_ by the first
homeward-bound mail.




THE modifications of ordinary forms which are seen in the fresh-water
snakes are still more beautifully developed in the _Hydrophidæ_, or
true marine serpents. The former, being never out of easy reach of
shore, could easily find a safe harbour from violent torrents, in holes
in the banks or among the strong aquatic weeds along the borders of
lakes and rivers; and to be enabled to hold on to these in times of
danger or of repose, they possess a prehensile power of tail. In a
rough and stormy ocean, a much more powerful propeller and rudder would
be necessary for the guidance of the reptile, and to afford resistance
against the denser medium of sea water; therefore the tail of sea
snakes is not only prehensile but strongly compressed, so as to almost
form a vertical fin, answering altogether to that of a fish. This is
their most conspicuous and striking feature, and one that would leave
no doubt in the mind of the observer between the true marine and those
fresh-water species which may by accident drift out to sea by force of

Another distinguishing feature is the absence of ventral scales in
most of the species. In land snakes we saw how admirably adapted are
the broad, ventral plates for assisting those reptiles over rough
surfaces, as affording hold; but the _Hydrophidæ_ requiring no such aid
in a fluid, those scutæ would be useless; they are therefore, excepting
in one or two species, entirely absent, or but slightly developed, and
the belly is ridged instead, like the keel of a boat.

[Illustration: Portion of the under side of a sea snake, above and
below the anus, with no distinction in tail scales.]

The nostrils are small, placed horizontally on the top of the snout,
as in the _Homalopsidæ_, and in most of the sea snakes they are
contiguous. They are, moreover, furnished with a valve, which is under
control of the will, opening to admit air, and closing to exclude water
when diving. For, be it remembered, these marine reptiles breathe
through their nostrils even more entirely than terrestrial snakes, the
latter being better able to indulge their yawning propensities, or to
occasionally respire slightly, and through parted lips and the tongue
chink as well. Sea snakes, on the contrary, not requiring the continual
use of their tongue to feel and explore surroundings, and not using
it below water, are not provided with the little centre chink for its
exsertion; but the middle plate of the upper lip, _i.e._ the ‘rostral
shield’ (see illus. p. 238), is altogether of a different form. Indeed,
the centre plates or shields in both lips are conspicuously modified,
the upper one often inclining downwards in a point which fits into the
lower one shaped to receive it, so that the mouth is firmly closed
to keep out the water. Less required, the tongue is shorter and less
developed, the tips are less hair-like, as only these, if at all,
are exposed to the sea water, and a very small notch on each side of
the pointed rostral shield of some permits the slight egress of these
tips. When out of their natural element, the tongue is brought into
more active service, for then the bewildered reptiles require its
assistance, and it is then seen to be exserted as in land snakes. Their
lungs extend the whole length of the body to the anus, and by retaining
a large supply of air, these animals are enabled to float easily, as
they do for a long while on the surface of the calm tropical seas, not
only while sleeping, as mentioned in the chapter on hibernation, but in
pure enjoyment, and probably in the lazy _postprandial_ condition.

As has been already stated, the eyes of sea snakes are adapted to
see better through the medium of water than through the brilliant
atmosphere of their native latitudes. They are very small, and soon
blinded by light; consequently, though among the swiftest and most
gracile of serpents in their native element, the movements of the
_Hydrophidæ_ on land are uncertain and ‘maladroit.’

Some forty years ago, Dr. Theodore Cantor, F.Z.S., devoted a good deal
of time to the study of the pelagic serpents, and wrote a somewhat
detailed account of them to the Zoological Society. His paper,
published in the _Zoological Society Transactions_, 1842, vol. ii., was
considered the most important that had as yet appeared. He, therefore,
has been one of our first authorities. Subsequently we are indebted to
Günther, Dr. E. Nicholson, Gerard Krefft, and Sir Joseph Fayrer for the
results of their individual observations. In my foregoing descriptions
I have culled from each of these, and as most modern writers on this
subject merely reproduce from the works of Günther, Cantor, and Fayrer,
I will keep chiefly to these in what further has to be said of sea

First, they belong to the tropical seas of the Eastern hemisphere,
and are most numerous in the Indian Ocean, where they abound. The
geographical range of a few is, however, somewhat extensive, viz. from
Madagascar and that part of the African coast to northern Australia,
the Bay of Bengal, and even to the western coasts of Panama; while
others are restricted to certain localities. All are highly venomous.
They are wild and ferocious as well, and therefore peculiarly
dangerous, and are the great dread of fishermen, who carefully avoid
them. Accidents, nevertheless, frequently happen through their being
caught in the nets, when, from their exceeding activity, it is
difficult to disengage them and set them free again. When out of the
water they try to bite at the nearest objects, and being dazzled by the
light, strike wildly, unable to aim correctly. Cantor informs us that
he has known them to turn and strike their own bodies in their rage,
and that he has found difficulty in disengaging their fangs and teeth
from their own flesh.

Owing to the great danger attending their capture, and also the almost
impossibility of keeping them alive when out of the sea, less is
accurately known of the pelagic than most other snakes. Even if placed
in a large hole in the ground filled with sea water, or a capacious
tank similarly supplied, they die very rapidly. Sir Joseph Fayrer
in his experiments resorted to every means in order to keep them
alive, but informs us that their exceeding delicacy caused their rapid
death in spite of the utmost care. Dr. Vincent Richards, however, has
succeeded in keeping some alive several weeks.

In length they vary from two to ten feet. Krefft says that the largest
he ever saw was nine feet long. Günther states that they sometimes
attain twelve feet, and sea snakes of even fourteen feet in length have
been occasionally reported, though not perhaps from well authenticated
sources. It is probable that, like all other reptiles, they attain
their greatest proportions in the hottest regions.

Though purely oceanic, and no more found in fresh water than on dry
ground, yet they come some distance up the rivers as far as brackish
water. When washed on shore by the surf, they are helpless and blind,
and at such times ‘peaceable,’ by reason of their helplessness.
Occasionally they are seen coiled up asleep on the beach, where they
have probably been washed by the tide, and where the next tide will no
doubt release them from their uncongenial bed. Those species which have
a less keeled body and the partially developed ventral scales might
even manage to get back to sea independently of the tide. Even those
without ventral scales contrive to wriggle along in their own fashion.

Such an occurrence is related by Mr. E. H. Pringle in the _Field_
newspaper of 3d September 1881. He tracked an _Enhydrina_ fifty feet
along the sands, making its way back to the sea from a salt-water pool,
where it had probably been left by the tide. This species is the one
peculiarly favoured in having tiny orifices for the egress of the
tongue tips on each side of its lobulated snout.

[Illustration: _Enhydrina._ From Fayrer’s _Thanatophidia_.]

Its profile, being somewhat remarkable, is here presented to the
reader, who will perhaps detect a certain determination in that very
beak-like snout. This species is found along the Burman coast. Another,
though keeping to its native element, has explored the Pacific to the
very borders of America, and has been seen on the western coast of
Panama. This is _Pelamis bicolor_, of distinct black and yellow, like
a striped satin ribbon. The back is black, and the belly brown or
yellowish, and its rather short, flat tail is spotted with a bluish
colour as well. None of his relatives venture so far from the oriental
islands as _Pelamis_. His presence as far north as New Caledonia has
not, that I am aware of, been authoritatively recorded; we cannot
suggest, therefore, the probability of ‘J. J. A.’s’ sea snakes, ‘stupid
and fearless,’ being ‘incredible numbers’ of the _Pelamis_ family. Dr.
Stradling affirms that they are ‘not unfrequently met with along the
eastern coast of South America, and that one found its way on board the
royal mail steamship _Douro_, and concealed itself under the covering
of the patent lead, having probably climbed up the quarter line as she
lay made fast to the wharf at Santos.’[74]

Some slight controversy on the possibility of _Pelamis_ ‘climbing’
followed this statement. But Mr. F. Buckland also recorded one ‘which
crawled up the anchor-chain of a man-of-war, when she was moored in
the mouth of the Ganges. The midshipman of the watch saw something
moving along the chain, and without thinking went to pick it up, when
it turned upon him, and bit him. The poor young midshipman did not live
many hours after the accident’ (_Land and Water_, Nov. 15, 1879).

In the same issue the writer described one which was caught in the
telegraph wire of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company. One of the
cables was being raised, and when it came to the surface, the snake
was found coiled tightly round it. _Hydrophis_ was here exercising his
prehensile powers, not understanding the reason of the violent motion.
Snakes, as has been already affirmed, are not restricted in their
acrobatic achievements; so that even sea snakes, not naturally either
climbers or crawlers, can do both on an occasion.

The more interesting question regarding Dr. Stradling’s cable climber
is, was it a true _Pelamis_, or one of the _Hydrophidæ_ at all? If so,
it was more likely to be an entirely distinct species from those of the
oriental seas. Either Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope would be far
too southward for their range, they being essentially tropical. When
Panama comes to be severed by water communication, some enterprising
_Pelamis_ or _Enhydrina_ may find its way through, and get down even to
Santos; but at present, as Dr. Stradling did not _see_ the snake, but
only _heard_ of it, the evidence of the presence of _Hydrophidæ_ on the
eastern coast of South America cannot be fully established.

[Illustration: Natural size.

Same magnified.

Sea snakes’ scales. From the _Thanatophidia_.]

A further facility to their agile and graceful movements in the water
are their smooth, non-imbricated, or only slightly imbricated scales.
These, though mostly hexagonal, and laid side by side, different from
those of land snakes, yet vary much in size and form; and the head
shields particularly are so abnormal, that, as Günther affirms, you can
tell a sea snake at once by them (see illustrations, chap. xviii.).

To distinguish a pelagic from a fresh-water snake is, however, far
easier than to distinguish species among themselves. They present great
varieties of form and colour, but the transitions are very gradual,
and the female is generally larger than the male, and sometimes of a
different colour, which adds to the difficulty.

They are all viviparous, and produce their young in the water, where
the little ones are at once able to take care of themselves, and feed
on small fish or molluscs. The full-grown _Hydrophidæ_ feed on fish
corresponding with their own dimensions, and swallowed head foremost.
Even spiny fish are managed by them, notwithstanding that they have a
smaller jaw than most land snakes. Being killed by the poison of the
bite on being caught, Günther explains, the muscles of the fish are
relaxed, and the prey being commenced at the head, the armature does
not interfere, but folds back flat as the fish is gradually drawn into
the jaws.

An interesting study to the lover of nature it is to watch the
wonderful movements of these sea reptiles. Swimming and diving with
equal facility, flashing into sight and disappearing again in twos or
scores, or in large shoals, pursuing fish, many of them of bright
colouring, they offer constant amusement to the beholder. Sometimes,
when the sailors are throwing their nets, they disappear beneath the
waves, and are no longer seen for half an hour or more; when presently,
far away from the spot where they vanished so suddenly, up they come to
the surface again, to sport once more, or take in a fresh supply of air.

Pity they possess such evil qualities to blind us to their beauties,
for they rank among the most venomous of serpents. They belong to the
sub-order of venomous colubrine snakes, or _Ophidia colubriformes
Venenosi_, those which outwardly have the aspect of harmless snakes,
while yet furnished with poison fangs. In the chapter on Dentition,
these distinctions, facilitated by the illustrations, are more fully
explained; here it need only be said that though they have smaller
jaws and shorter fangs than many other venomous snakes of their size,
the virus is plentiful, and so active that the danger from the bite is
great. All the pelagic serpents have also a few simple teeth behind
the fangs; therefore, as Fayrer warns the natives, it does not do to
trust to the _appearance_ of the wound, which, though looking like the
bite of a harmless snake, would demand immediate remedies. A certain
conviction of danger is that the bite being inflicted in salt water,
would leave no doubt as to the nature of the snake. Even a painless
wound it is not safe to trust; and Sir Joseph Fayrer gives several such
warnings among his cases of bite from sea snakes, two of which I will

Captain S——, while bathing in a tidal river, felt what he thought was
the pinch of a crab on his leg, but took no notice of it, and after
his bath called on some friends, being to all appearance exceedingly
well. He remained about an hour, playing the concertina to amuse the
children, and declaring himself never in better health. In about two
hours, feeling strange symptoms of suffocation, enlargement of the
tongue, and a rigidity of muscles, he sent for a doctor, but still
having no suspicion of danger. The next morning a native detected
the peculiar symptoms which usually follow the bite of a sea snake;
and Captain S——, then examining the foot which the supposed crab
had nipped, found marks of fangs no bigger than mosquito bites on
the tendon Achilles near the ankle. Immediate steps were taken, and
remedies applied which seemed to promise favourable results for a time;
but in the evening of the third day the victim was seized with spasms,
and died, seventy-one hours after the accident. In this case, owing to
the sound health of the captain, and no local pain ensuing to warn him,
together with the stimulants and remedies applied, and the bite being
where absorption was slow, his death was protracted; otherwise death
often occurs within twenty-four hours from that species of snake.[75]

The second case was that of a man who was bitten in the finger by a sea
snake, and thinking lightly of it, used no means whatever to arrest the
poison, and was dead in four hours.

In some cases the victim becomes quickly insensible, when, if no aid is
near, he never wakes to consciousness. Immediate stimulants revive the
patient, and if he can be kept awake, these, with local applications,
_at once applied_, may save his life. ‘Hope itself is a powerful
stimulant,’ adds the learned experimentalist.

Many other cases are given by Fayrer of bites by sea snakes, some of
which yielded to remedies and others were fatal; but for these the
reader is referred to the _Thanatophidia_.

Dr. Cantor had previously made many experiments on various dumb
creatures in order to ascertain the virulence of the poison of these
hitherto unstudied reptiles. He found that a fowl died in violent
spasms eight minutes after a bite; and a second fowl, bitten directly
afterwards by the same snake, with its half-exhausted venom, in ten
minutes. Fish died in ten minutes; a tortoise in twenty-eight minutes,
from the bite of another species; and a harmless snake was paralyzed
within half an hour.

Among the fresh-water snakes, Dr. Günther tells us of one, _Hydrinus_,
which is semi-pelagic, and which indulges in little excursions down the
rivers to exchange greetings with his marine relatives, some of whom,
on their part, occasionally go a certain distance up the rivers. Again,
among the sea snakes is one who rambles for change of air or diversity
of diet over the fields and far away. In him, Dr. Günther describes one
of those many transitions found in every class and order throughout
nature. _Platurus_ is his name; he has the ventral scales of land
snakes to enable him to wander over the salt water marshes which he
loves. His nostrils are on the side of his head instead of on the top,
and his head shields differ from those of all his relatives. His venom
fangs are small, and his tail is not prehensile, presenting the united
characters of fresh and salt water and land snakes. Thus we have links
between sea and land snakes, between fresh water and salt, and between
these latter and fishes, for in many instances the affinities are so
close that naturalists have doubted in which class to place them.
When that remarkable animal, the _Lepidosiren_, which Darwin calls a
living fossil, was first brought from Africa some thirty years ago,
it was found to present so many characteristics in common with both
reptiles and fishes, that it was for some time a mooted question in
which class to place it. In appearance it more resembles the former,
with its four curious filamentary limbs, which Owen considers ‘the
beginnings of organs which attain full functional development in the
higher vertebrates.’ The same high authority has decided that the
only character which absolutely distinguishes fishes from reptiles,
so closely are some of them allied, is whether or not there is an
open passage from the nostrils to the mouth; and the ‘Lepidosiren’ is
now known as ‘the mud-fish of the Gambia,’ the ichthyic characters

Sea snakes were not unknown to the ancients. Aristotle mentions
them (Taylor’s Translation, 1812, Book ii. vol. 6), ‘Of sanguineous
animals, however, there remains the genus of serpents. But they partake
of the nature both of terrestrial and aquatic animals. For most of
them are terrestrial, and not a few are aquatic, and which live in
potable water. There are also marine serpents similar in form to the
terrestrial genus, except that their head more resembles that of a
conger. There are, however, many genera of marine serpents, and they
are an all-various colour; but they are not generated in very deep

These latter words suggest what has not been mentioned as a positive
fact, while yet in part it is corroborated by Cantor, who tells us
that the young sea snakes feed on soft-shelled molluscs; we may argue,
therefore, that the mother snakes come into shallow water to give
birth to their young, where small fish and suitable food may abound.
Aristotle was evidently aware of the distinctions between fresh and
salt water snakes, and gives us the former as frequenting rivers
(‘potable waters’).

The Greek mariners who frequented the tropical seas knew of the
poisonous snakes with wholesome dread. Sir Emerson Tennant tells us
that the fishermen on the west coast of Ceylon are still in perpetual
fear of them. They say there are some with the head hooded like the
cobra, that coil themselves up like serpents on land, not only biting
with their teeth, but ‘crushing their prey in their coils.’

The ‘hood’ part of the story is not borne out by any scientific writer;
and as for the ‘crushing in coils,’ the sailors may possibly mistake
the prehensile actions of holding on—even to a large fish—possibly
for the action of crushing in the way of constricting. In
self-protection, or for safety, venomous serpents do entwine themselves
pretty tightly round an object sometimes. An instance of this was just
now given. But constricting for the purpose of killing is happily
confined to the non-venomous families. It would indeed be terrible if
the ‘giants of the waters’ could both constrict and bite with poison
fang; and of this a word or two will be said in the following chapter.
Admittedly but little has been accurately ascertained about the marine
serpents in comparison with the terrestrial ones. And there really
may be species hitherto unobserved. The great sea serpent question is
not yet satisfactorily settled; and among the lesser kind, the true
pelagians, varieties are frequently occurring. Krefft describes one in
the Australian Museum which, not being like any other that he had seen,
he sets down as a new type. Forty-eight distinct species were described
by Cantor. The whole family comprises seven genera, four of which
belong to the Indian Ocean.





THE question of varieties and of constriction brings us to ‘The Great
Sea Serpent;’ for, putting all the evidence together, if the creature
exist at all he must be a constrictor.

I do not intend to trouble my readers with the detailed history of this
great unknown, for his literature would more than exceed the limits of
this whole volume. Those who are sufficiently interested in him will
find ample reading in most of the encyclopedias, which again refer
us to various books in which he has figured from his first supposed
appearance in modern times.

Ever and again, when a new ‘sea monster’ has been reported, the
newspapers take up the theme, and often give a _resumé_ of its history,
from Bishop Pontoppidan’s down to the most recent specimen. References
to the most important of the journalistic authorities usually accompany
the more detailed accounts; but among them an excellent abridgement of
‘sea serpent’ literature, which appeared in the _Illustrated London
News_ of October 1848, is worth studying. Another of interest was in
the _Echo_ of January 15, 1877. In _Silliman’s Journal of Science_,
1835, was also an excellent paper. One of the best digests is that
given by P. H. Gosse, in his _Romance of Natural History_, of the ed.
1860. This author, after weighing all the published evidence both from
ordinary and scientific sources, and presenting it in a well-arranged
and lucid form, sums up as follows:—

‘In conclusion, I express my own confident persuasion that there exists
some oceanic animal of immense proportions, which has not yet been
received into the category of scientific zoology; and my strong opinion
that it possesses close affinities with the fossil _enaliosauria_ of
the lias.’

Having respect for the opinion of so thoughtful a writer, and further
encouraged by the fact that some of our most eminent physiologists have
not thought it beneath them to give their attention to the various
serpentine appearances which from time to time are seen at sea, and
that the majority of them believe in the possibility of an unknown
marine reptile, let us accept this idea as the basis of an endeavour to
lay before my readers another summing up of evidence gathered from the
still more recent writings on ‘The Great Sea Serpent’ of modern times.

Those who have honoured this book with attentive perusal thus far,
will have become initiated in certain ophidian manners, actions, and
appearances which would enable them at once to identify a snake were
they to have a complete view of one. But to those who are not familiar
with such peculiarities, and possess only a vague idea of the ophidian
form, many a merely elongated outline at sea may be, and has been,
set down as a ‘serpent,’ which on closer inspection, or by the light
of science, has proved something entirely different. Ribbon-fish,
strings of porpoises and other cetaceans, long lines of sea-birds on
the surface of the waves, even logs of drifting wood or bamboo, with
bunches of seaweed doing service as ‘manes’ or ‘fins,’ have in turn,
and by the aid of the imagination, been dubbed ‘the sea serpent’
again and again. These may be dismissed by the mere mention of a few
such as examples. For instance, in _Nature_, vol. xviii., 1878, Dr.
Dean describes a reported ‘sea serpent,’ which resolved itself into
a flight of birds. E. H. Pringle describes the serpentine appearance
of a bamboo swaying up and down, which at a distance had deceived the
beholders into the idea of the sea serpent; others explained that long
lines of birds or of sea-weeds had again similarly deceived sailors. In
_Land and Water_, Sept. 22, 1877, we read that the crew of the barque
_Aberfoyle_, off the coast of Scotland, thought they really had got
one this time, and approaching the ‘monster,’ lowered and manned a
boat, and seized a harpoon to ‘catch’ the singularly passive creature,
which proved to be a mass of ‘a sort of jelly-fish description,’
some of which they bottled and corked down air-tight; but, alas! it

Again, in _Nature_, Feb. 10, 1881, an imaginary sea serpent seen from
the _City of Baltimore_ (a ship in which the present writer crossed the
Atlantic, though unfortunately not on that voyage) was pronounced to be
a species of whale, the _Zeuglodontia_.

One more out of scores of similar reports, which go to show that if
some unknown marine animal of a longish form is caught, those who
have anything to do with it immediately label it ‘the sea serpent.’
In _Land and Water_, Aug. 24, 1878, Mr. Frank Buckland published a
communication from an Australian correspondent, regarding a ‘most
remarkable fish,’ of nearly fifteen feet long, and eight inches in
diameter at the thickest part. It has ‘no scales,’ but ‘a skin like
polished silver,’ is of a tapering form, has a very queer mouth,
a ‘mane’ on the neck, and ‘two feelers under the chin, thirty-two
inches long.’ And this unsnake-like thing was taken to the Mechanics’
Institute of that town, and unhesitatingly. labelled ‘Sea Serpent!’ Dr.
Buckland suggested that it was a ribbon fish.

Thus, we may repeat that it is almost impossible for an unscientific
person even to _see_, far less to describe, unfamiliar living forms in
a manner that would prove sound data for zoologists to decide upon.

In a rather detailed communication to _Land and Water_ on this subject,
by Dr. Andrew Wilson, September 15, 1877, he also reminds us how easily
and frequently we may trace supposed resemblances to animals or faces,
where none can possibly exist; as, for instance, ‘in the gnarled trunks
and branches of trees.’ Much more true resemblances to serpentine
forms are really seen at sea; as, for example, those ‘floating trunks
and roots of trees serving as a nucleus, around which sea-weed has
collected.’ In one instance, as Dr. Wilson relates, some such object,
seen from the deck of a yacht, was so deceptive even to intelligent men
who scrutinized it through the telescope, that the course of the ship
was changed on purpose to inspect it closely. Dr. Wilson regrets the
unfortunate discredit which has been cast upon all sea-serpent stories
through such erroneous observations, causing even the more trustworthy
accounts to be received with almost universal ridicule, and as already
observed in the opening of chap. xiii., almost to the ignoring of the
true sea snakes, which are too often included among the mythical.

Briefly to enumerate some of those which appear to have recently had
the chiefest claims to attention as really living creatures, otherwise
than flights of birds or shoals of fish, but making due allowance for
unscientific observations, and vague or exaggerated representations, we
find that gigantic marine animals were observed as follows:—

 1734. Off Greenland.

 1740. Off Norway; described by Bishop Pontoppidan as 600 feet in

 1809. Off the Hebrides.

 1815. Near Boston, U.S.

 1817. Ditto.

 1819. Ditto. From 80 to 250 yards in length!

 1819. One seen for a month off Norway.

 1822. Ditto; and again 600 feet long.

 1827. Ditto.

 1829. Mr. Davidson, surgeon, R.N., described one seen in the Indian
 seas as precisely similar to that seen afterwards from the _Dædalus_
 in 1848. He wrote of it during the controversy that passed regarding
 the latter. Mr. Gosse regarded his testimony as of much value.

 1833. One seen by five British officers off Halifax, and described by
 P. H. Gosse.

 1837. Again off Norway.

 1846. Off Norway, and in the same locality as one seen about one
 hundred years previously; also during the hottest part of the summer.
 This individual had two ‘fins,’ and ‘the movements were like those of
 a snake forty to fifty feet long.’

 1848. The one seen from the _Dædalus_.

 1850. Off Norway.

 1851. Ditto.

 1852. One described by Captain Steele, mentioned by Gosse.

 1857. One described by Captain Harrison, and considered trustworthy

 1875. One seen from the _Pauline_, July 8, in lat. 5° 30´ S., long.
 35° W. Also on July 13, ‘a similar serpent’ seen from the same barque

 1875. September 11. ‘An enormous marine salamander’ in the Straits of
 Malacca, seen from the _Nestor_.

 1877. Large marine animal seen from the royal yacht _Osborne_ off

 1879. Colonel Leathes, of Herring Fleet Hall, Yarmouth, informs Mr.
 F. Buckland of sea serpents seen from the _White Adder_ off Aden, and
 again off New Guinea and the Cape. (See _Land and Water_, Sept. 6,

In the above list we are struck by the fact that the coast of Norway
and the northern seas _during the hottest weather_ are the favourite
playgrounds of these gigantic marine animals, though as for the
‘600’ feet, we must first be assured of Norwegian measurement before
forming any estimate beyond that the creatures were doubtless of great
length. ‘Witnesses of unimpeachable character’ have produced so much
trustworthy evidence as far as Norway is concerned, that no doubt any
longer exists there as to ‘the’ or _a_ ‘marine animal’ of enormous
length. ‘There is scarcely a sailor who has not seen one,’ it has been
broadly stated; and Norwegians wonder that English naturalists are so
sceptical on the subject.

Of still more marvellous proportions was the one seen off the American
coast in 1819, and which is vaguely described as from 80 to 250 yards!
That outdoes Norway altogether; but then, of course, an American sea
serpent _would_ exceed all others.

Next to the Norwegian, the American coast was at one time so favoured
by strange marine ‘monsters,’ that they were commonly reported as ‘the
American sea serpent.’ Excepting these northern Atlantic visitants,
others have been observed mostly in the eastern seas, rarely in the

This has given rise to the question, ‘How is it that they are seen
almost exclusively in the north?’ One reason may be that there are
more persons to see them, and because marine traffic is far greater
in the north than in similar southern latitudes; and another reason
may be, that the rocky coasts of both continents in those latitudes
may afford congenial retreats for mammoth marine reptiles. We have
seen that reptiles exist for a very long period without breathing,
and even without air; as, for instance, those encased in baked mud in
the tropics, and those frozen up or bottled up tight and hermetically
sealed, as the examples given in preceding chapters.

From long observation of ophidian habits, I venture to offer certain
suggestions in addition to published opinions; and I may remind my
readers that as all reptiles undergo a species of hibernation, we may
reasonably conclude that these huge marine ones form no exception to
the rule. They may lie for months dormant in the deep recesses of the
ocean, and reappear during the long days and hot weather like their
land relatives. It seems strange that so far from this having been
taken into consideration, it has become the fashion to ridicule the
‘reappearance of the great sea serpent’ at the very time when all other
reptiles reappear as a matter of course. Long days are more favourable
for observations, and probably log-books record many other creatures,
whether mammal, bird, or fish, seen during the summer and not in other
seasons, as well as ‘sea serpents.’ Not because this is the slack time
of journalists, therefore, who are supposed to be at their wits’ end
for subjects, but simply because ships coming home at this time bring
reports of their summer observations.

It is much to be regretted that these reports have come to be
associated with ‘the gigantic gooseberry,’ and such seasonable wonders,
because the door to investigation is thus closed. It is also, to be
regretted that many hoaxes have undeniably been committed to print,
really to fill up newspaper columns, and feed a love of the marvellous.
Professor Owen’s words may well be repeated here, ‘It is far harder to
establish a truth than to kill an untruth.’

One more little matter is also to be seriously deplored; and this
is the unscientific habit of calling all these unfamiliar animals
‘monsters,’ a word signifying truly a _monstrosity_, a creature with
two heads, a beast with five or six legs instead of four, or other such
malformations. These are truly monsters, and to use the term otherwise
only creates mistaken impressions. Inadvertently even scientific men
fall into this habit; naturalists and well-known authorities are seen
in print to talk of these sea ‘monsters,’ but who in the same page
denounce exaggerated expressions.

In _Land and Water_ of September 8, 1877, several of our distinguished
naturalists contributed papers on the evidence of the officers of
the royal yacht _Osborne_, relative to a large marine animal seen
off Sicily on June 3 of that year. Professor Owen also acceded to
an earnest request to add a few words on the subject, and it was
noticeable that more than once in his few pithy lines this eminent
authority delicately hinted at the mistake of calling animals
‘_monsters_’ without just reason for so doing: ‘The phenomena were
not necessarily caused by a _monster_,’ he writes; ‘and the words
... denote rather a cetacean than a _monster_.’ Again, ‘There are no
grounds for calling it a _monster_.’

On the occasion referred to, the official reports of the animal seen
were sent to the Admiralty; and the Right Hon. R. A. Cross, then
Secretary of State for the Home Department, requested the opinion of
Mr. Frank Buckland on the matter, the result being a full account given
to the readers of _Land and Water_, to which Mr. F. Buckland was so
popular a contributor. In addition to Owen’s valued opinion, the public
were favoured with able papers by Mr. A. D. Bartlett, of the Zoological
Gardens, Captain David Gray, of the whaling ship _Eclipse_, Mr. Henry
Lee, and Frank Buckland himself.

From the discrepancies in the records of the four officers, and the
sketches of nothing in nature which accompanied those records, not one
of those able writers ventured an assertion as to what the strange
animal could possibly be. The captain—Commander Pearson—‘saw the
fish through a telescope;’ a ‘seal-shaped head of immense size, large
flappers, and part of a huge body.’

Lieutenant Haynes saw ‘a ridge of fins above the surface of the water,
extending about thirty feet, and varying from five to six feet in
height.’ Through the telescope he saw ‘a head, two flappers, and about
_thirty_ feet of an animal’s shoulder; the shoulder was about _fifteen_
feet across.’ The animal propelled itself by its two ‘fins.’

Mr. Douglas M. Forsyth saw ‘a huge monster, having a head about fifteen
to twenty feet in length.’ The part of the body not in the water ‘was
certainly not under forty-five or fifty feet in length.’

Mr. Moore, the engineer, observed ‘an uneven ridge of what appeared
to be the fins of a fish above the surface of the water, varying in
height, and as near as he could judge, from seven to eight feet above
the water, and extending about forty feet along the surface.’

Though we are not able to say what this strange animal really was, we
can positively affirm what it was _not_. A snake has neither fins,
flippers, flappers, nor ‘shoulders fifteen feet broad;’ therefore
this assuredly was no ‘sea serpent.’ Nor would it be introduced here,
excepting as inviting further comment on its mysterious existence.

And curious enough it is to remark the persistence with which all these
anomalies are announced as ‘_the_ sea serpent,’ as if the sea produced
but one solitary specimen, which is now the shape of a ‘turtle;’ next
of a ‘frog,’ with ‘one hundred and fifty feet of tail;’ then a creature
with ‘fins’ and a ‘mane,’ ‘flippers’ and ‘flappers’ and ‘ridges of
fins.’ All these appendages are one after the other described, and yet
as belonging to a ‘serpent,’ which has no such appendages.

A few of the recorders do really describe something more of the true
ophidian, and those who do this, not being familiar with ophidian
manners, are more useful as witnesses than those who at once report a
‘serpent,’ and afterwards proceed unknowingly to disprove their own

Among the more noteworthy, the following account, copied from the
Liverpool papers at the time, is worth considering:—

 ‘The story of the mate and crew of the barque _Pauline_, of London,
 said to have arrived in port from a twenty months’ voyage to Akyab,
 about having seen a “sea serpent” while on a voyage in the Indian
 seas, was yesterday declared to on oath before Mr. Raffles, the
 stipendiary magistrate at the police court. The affidavit was made in
 consequence of the doubtfulness with which

anything about the sea serpent has hitherto been received; and to show
the genuine character of the story, it has been placed judicially on
record. The following is a copy of the declaration, which will be
regarded as unprecedented in its way:—

‘“_Borough of Liverpool, in the County Palatine of Lancaster, to wit._

 ‘“We, the undersigned, captain, officers, and crew of the barque
 _Pauline_ (of London), of Liverpool, in the county of Lancaster, in
 the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, do solemnly and
 sincerely declare that, on July 8, 1875, in lat. 5° 13´ S., long. 35°
 W., we observed three large sperm whales, and one of them was gripped
 round the body with two turns of what appeared to be a huge serpent.
 The head and tail appeared to have a length beyond the coils of about
 thirty feet, and its girth eight or nine feet. The serpent whirled its
 victim round and round for about fifteen minutes, and then suddenly
 dragged the whale to the bottom, head first.

  ‘“GEORGE DREVAR, _Master_.

       *       *       *       *       *

 ‘“Again, on July 13, a similar serpent was seen about two hundred
 yards off, shooting itself along the surface, head and neck being out
 of the water several feet. This was seen only by the captain and one
 ordinary seaman, whose signatures are affixed.

  ‘“GEORGE DREVAR, _Master_.

       *       *       *       *       *

 ‘“A few moments after, it was seen elevated some sixty feet
 perpendicularly in the air, by the chief officer and the following
 able seamen, whose signatures are also affixed:—


       *       *       *       *       *

 ‘“And we make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing the
 same to be true, and by virtue of the provisions of an Act made and
 passed in the sixth year of the reign of his late Majesty, intituled
 an Act to repeal an Act of the present session of Parliament,
 intituled an Act for the more effectual abolition of oaths and
 affirmations, taken and made in various departments of the State, and
 to substitute declarations in lieu thereof, and for the more entire
 suppression of voluntary and extra-judicial oaths and affidavits, and
 to make other provisions for the abolition of unnecessary oaths.

  ‘“GEORGE DREVAR, _Master_.
  ‘“WILLIAM LEWARN, _Steward_.
  ‘“HORATIO THOMPSON, _Chief Officer_.
  ‘“JOHN HENDERSON LANDELLS, _Second Officer_.

 ‘“Severally declared and subscribed at Liverpool aforesaid, the tenth
 day of January, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven, before
 T. S. Raffles, J.P. for Liverpool.”’

In the above descriptions there is no mention of fins, flippers, or
mane, but simply the manners of a huge constrictor, with the head
and the tail free, and the middle portion of its body engaged in
crushing the prey, a process which may at any time be seen in a captive
constrictor seizing its food. The ‘whirling its victim’ was, no doubt,
in the struggle between the two, the whale using its powerful efforts
to escape, but being overcome at last. Nor in comparison with the size
of the described serpent would a whale be impracticably large.

Again, in the next one seen, the true serpent motion is unintentionally
exhibited in the ‘shooting itself along the surface, the head and neck
being several feet out of water.’ Snakes continually advance with their
heads elevated; and their rapid, darting movements are well expressed
by ‘shooting.’

‘A few minutes after, it was seen elevated some sixty feet
perpendicularly in the air.’ _Sixty feet_ at a guess. Unless some mast,
the precise height of which was known, or some other perpendicular
object were in close proximity, it would be exceedingly difficult to
estimate the height. To an unaccustomed eye even twenty or thirty
feet of snake suddenly darting upright from the waves would be a
startling and bewildering spectacle; yet we know that land snakes raise
themselves in this manner one-third, one-half, or for a moment even
more than that; ‘stand erect,’ some physiologists have stated (see
p. 181); so again, unintentionally, and by those not likely to be
familiar with ophidian capabilities, is a natural action described.

In several other instances, the animal seen has raised its head many
feet, and ‘let it down suddenly;’ exactly what land snakes do.

The one seen from on board H.M.S. _Dædalus_ in 1848 is considered one
of the most circumstantially recorded evidences of some really existing
serpentine animal within the memory of many still living. It was much
commented upon in the journals of that year, and claims a passing
mention here.

Captain M’Quhæ, who commanded the _Dædalus_, in an official report to
the Admiralty, gave the date of the ‘monster’s’ appearance as August
6, 1848, and its exact locality in the afternoon of that day as lat.
24° 44’ S., and long. 9° 22’ E., which would be somewhere between the
Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena. In his own mind the captain had
no doubt whatever as to the nature of the animal, which he simply
reported as an ‘enormous serpent, with head and shoulders kept about
four feet constantly above the surface of the sea; and as nearly as
we could approximate, by comparing it with the length of what our
main-topsail yard would show in the water, there was, at the very
least, sixty feet of the animal _à fleur d’eau_, no portion of which
was, to our perception, used in propelling it through the water, either
by vertical or horizontal undulations. There seemed to be as much as
thirty to forty feet of tail as well.’ The animal passed the ship
‘rapidly, but so close under our lee-quarter, that, had it been a man
of my acquaintance, I should easily have recognised his features with
the naked eye.’ The size of the creature is given as about fifteen
or sixteen inches diameter in the neck ‘behind the head, which was,
without doubt, that of a snake.’ No fins were seen, but ‘something like
the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of seaweed washing about its
back.’ Its progress was about fifteen miles an hour, and it remained
twenty minutes in sight.

Lieutenant Drummond, also of the _Dædalus_, reported what he saw, and
from his log-book, while the captain’s was from memory. The lieutenant
thought he saw ‘a back fin ten feet long, and also a tail fin.’ The
head was ‘rather raised, and occasionally dipping, and gave him the
idea of that of a large eel.’

Without being an ophiologist, Captain M’Quhæ also unintentionally
describes a creature of ophidian habits and proportions. He
inadvertently says ‘shoulders,’ when, as my readers know, a snake has
anatomically no shoulders, any more than ‘neck.’ But for all that, the
raised head, and the absence of any striking movements in the part
visible, are the manners of a serpent in the water, when propelled
by its tail, which would be out of sight; and the captain simply
describing what he saw, but giving no name, those acquainted with
herpetology would at once decide that he described a long-necked and
slender reptile of some sort, perhaps some enormous saurian, whose feet
were under water, if not a serpent.

There were many learned discussions concerning this creature, and for
these I refer my reader to the journals and scientific publications of
the time. No one doubted the fact that some strange animal was seen,
but the wisest refrained from giving it a name. Very similar was the
verdict on the more recent object seen from the _Osborne_ in 1877;
but in those thirty intervening years a vast stride had been made in
zoological knowledge; and in the very able papers written on this later
phenomenon, we now find a general disposition to accept the fact that
there _are_ gigantic forms of marine animals existing, that have not as
yet been scientifically described and received into systematic zoology.

Mr. A. D. Bartlett, in the discussion already alluded to, after
dispassionately reviewing and criticizing the evidence of H.M.’s
officers, thus concludes:—

 ‘When we consider the vast extent of the ocean, its great depth,
 the rocky, cavernous nature of the bottom,—of many parts of which
 we know really nothing,—who can say what may be hidden for ages,
 and may still remain a mystery for generations yet to come; for we
 have evidence on land that there exists some of the largest mammals,
 probably by thousands, of which only one solitary individual has been
 caught or brought to notice. I allude to the Hairy-eared Two-horned
 Rhinoceros (_R. lasiotis_), captured in 1868 at Chittagong (where it
 was found stranded in the mud), and now known as an inhabitant of the
 Zoological Gardens.

 ‘This animal remains unique, and no part or portion was previously
 known to exist in any museum at home or abroad.

 ‘(We have here an instance of the existence of a species found on the
 continent of India, where for many years collectors and naturalists
 have worked and published lists of all the animals met with, and have
 hitherto failed to meet with or obtain any knowledge of this great

 ‘May I not therefore presume that in the vast and mighty ocean,
 animals, perhaps of nocturnal habits (and therefore never, except by
 some extraordinary accident, forced into sight), may exist, whose form
 may resemble the extinct reptiles whose fossil remains we find in such

 ‘As far as I am able to judge from the evidence before me, I have
 reason to believe that aquatic reptiles of vast size have been seen
 and described by those persons who have endeavoured to explain what
 they have witnessed.

 ‘One thing is certain, that many well-known reptiles have the power
 of remaining for long periods (months, in fact) at the bottom, under
 water or imbedded in soft mud, being so provided with organs of
 circulation and respiration that they need not come to the surface
 to breathe. The large crocodiles, alligators, and turtles have this
 power, and I see no valid reason to doubt but that there may and do
 exist in the unknown regions of the ocean, creatures so constructed.

 ‘It may be argued that if such animals still live, they must from
 time to time die, and their bodies would float, and their carcases
 would be found, or parts of them would wash on shore. To this I say:
 however reasonable such arguments may appear, most animals that die
 or are killed in the water, sink at first to the bottom, where they
 are likely to have the flesh and soft parts devoured by other animals,
 such as crustacea, fishes, etc. etc., and sinking in the deep, the
 bones, being heavier than the other parts, may soon become imbedded,
 and thus concealed from sight.’

It was gratifying to me to find my own ideas of hibernation thus
supported, the above allusion to the probability of temporary repose in
marine reptiles being the first I had met with.

Mr. Henry Lee, in the same issue, reminds us that the existence of
gigantic cuttle-fish was popularly disbelieved until within the past
five or six years, during which period several specimens—some of them
fifty feet in total length—have been taken, and all doubts upon the
subject have been removed. He argues, also, that during the deep-sea
dredgings of H.M. ships _Lightning_, _Porcupine_, and _Challenger_,
many new species of mollusca, supposed to have been extinct ever since
the Chalk epoch, were brought to light, and that there were brought up
by the deep-sea trawlings from great depths _fishes of unknown species,
which could not exist near the surface owing to the distension and
rupture of their air-bladder when removed from the pressure of deep

Forcibly suggestive are such facts of still further undiscovered
denizens of the deep! And as to _what_ they are, fish, mammal, or
reptile, or a compound of either two or all three of these, why doubt
_any_ possibility when we know that on land are similarly complicated
organisms which so lately have perplexed our most able physiologists?
Take, for example, that curious anomaly, the mud-fish of the Gambia,
_Lepidosiren_, referred to in the last chapter, and which, to look at,
is as much like a lizard as a fish, with its four singular appendages
where either legs or fins might be. Again, we have that paradox in
nature—bird, reptile, and quadruped combined—in the Australian
_Platypus_, a semi-aquatic animal. ‘These two fresh-water animals
are,’ says Darwin, ‘among the most anomalous forms now found in the
world; and like fossils, they connect, to a certain extent, orders
at present widely sundered in the natural scale.’[76] Other equally
remarkable links between the various groups might be cited to prepare
us for any marine anomalies which may hereafter surprise us. Taking
into consideration, also, that many of our smaller aquatic animals
have their representatives on a huge scale in the ocean, why should
there not be gigantic ophidian forms to correspond with the terrestrial
pythons and anacondas? As in point of size salt-water fishes exceed
those of our rivers, and as the enormous marine mammalia exceed those
on land, we might the rather wonder if there were not _one_ ‘great
sea serpent,’ but many unsuspected species of reptiles, compound
ophiosaurians, or saurophidians, or who shall say what, in those
inaccessible depths.

‘How is it none have ever been captured?’ it is asked. In reply, Has
any one ever captured a swiftly-retreating land snake escaping pursuit?
Who can overtake or circumvent it when in its tropical vigour? And
how vastly must the powers and swiftness of those immense pelagians
exceed the kinds with which we are familiar! ‘Then, Why have no bones
been found?’ Mr. Bartlett’s reason is one of those assigned, and in
addition I may suggest that the love of locality, so strong in land
reptiles, may also exist in marine ones, which probably retire to the
recesses of their submarine habitats to die.

‘How is it none have ever been killed?’ Well! A cannon ball on the
instant, and not much less, would be required to ‘kill it on the spot,’
as some have sagely recommended.

Mr. Henry Lee, among others, does not regard capture as impossible
and in support of my own speculations—more correctly speaking
_imagination_, perhaps—I give the concluding words of his paper:—

 ‘I therefore think it by no means impossible—first, that there may
 be gigantic marine animals unknown to science having their ordinary
 _habitat_ in the great depths of the sea, only occasionally coming
 to the surface, and perhaps avoiding habitually the light of day;
 and, second, that there may still exist, though supposed to have been
 long extinct, some of the old sea reptiles whose fossil remains tell
 of their magnitude and habits, or others of species unknown even to

 ‘The evidence is, to my mind, conclusive that enormous animals, with
 which zoologists are at present unacquainted, exist in the “great and
 wide sea,” and I look forward hopefully to the capture of one or more
 of them, and the settlement of this vexed question.’

I cannot conclude this chapter without further reference to one
other of our very popular physiologists, Dr. Andrew Wilson. The week
following that in which Owen, Captain Gray, and Messrs. Lee, Buckland,
and Bartlett contributed their opinions to _Land and Water_, September
8, 1877, Dr. Wilson also favoured its readers with two closely written
pages on ‘The Sea Serpent of Science.’ Some of his introductory words
have been already quoted. He then presents the claims to attention
which these various ‘sea monsters’ offer, as reported by thoroughly
trustworthy witnesses, suggesting that the idea of a ‘serpent’ is too

Notwithstanding much already said, the opinion of Dr. Wilson will be
valued by many of my readers, and I therefore give portions in his own

 ‘As far as I have been able to ascertain, zoologists and other writers
 on this subject have never made allowance for the _abnormal and huge
 development of ordinary marine animals_. My own convictions on this
 matter find in these the most reasonable and likely explanation of the
 personality of the sea serpent, and also the reconciliation of such
 discrepancies as the various narratives may be shown to evince.... I
 think we may build up a most reasonable case both for their existence
 and for the explanation of their true nature, by taking into account
 the fact that _the term “sea serpent,” as ordinarily employed, must be
 extended to include other forms of vertebrate animals which possess
 elongated bodies: and that cases of the abnormally large development
 of ordinary serpents and of serpent-like animals will reasonably
 account for the occurrence of the animals popularly named “sea
 serpents.”_ ...

 ‘Whilst to my mind the only feasible explanation of the narrative of
 the crew of the _Pauline_ must be founded on the idea that the animals
 observed by them were gigantic snakes, the habits of the animals
 in attacking the whales evidently point to a close correspondence
 with those of terrestrial serpents of large size, such as the boas
 and pythons; whilst the fact of the animals being described in the
 various narratives as swimming with the head out of the water would
 seem to indicate that, like all reptiles, they were air-breathers,
 and required to come more or less frequently to the surface for the
 purpose of respiration.’

Apology is due to so eminent a physiologist for having first given
expression to my own opinion on the _Pauline_ serpent, though in
tardily quoting a high authority I may risk suspicion of plagiarism.
I must be permitted to explain, therefore, that on seeing the subject
ventilated in _Land and Water_ (to which I had for some years been a
contributor on ophidian matters), I also, though uninvited, prepared a
paper on ‘the sea serpent.’ In a letter to the Editors, I even presumed
to criticise part of what had lately appeared, enclosing MS. with yet

In reply, I was informed that the subject would not be continued or
‘re-opened,’ and my returned MS. is still before me, much of it now
for the first time being presented to the public. To proceed with Dr.

 ‘The most important feature in my theory, ... and that which really
 constitutes the strong point of this explanation, is the probability
 of the development of a huge or gigantic size of ordinary marine

 ‘Is there anything more improbable, I ask, in the idea of a gigantic
 development of an ordinary marine snake into a veritable giant of its
 race; or, for that matter, in the existence of distinct species of
 monster sea serpents, than in the production of huge cuttle-fishes,
 which, until within the past few years, remained unknown to the
 foremost pioneers of science? In the idea of the gigantic developments
 of snakes or snake-like animals, be they fishes or reptiles, I hold we
 have at least a feasible and rational explanation of the primary fact
 of the actual existence of such organisms.’

In a most interesting lecture on ‘Zoological Myths,’ delivered at St.
George’s Hall, January 2, 1881, Dr. Andrew Wilson again laid much
stress on the ‘gigantic development of an ordinary marine snake into’
one of those amazing individuals which, say, at the very least, are
over a hundred feet in length!

How long would the poison fang of such a reptile be? How many ounces of
venom would its glands contain? Or does the Dr. wish us to understand
that as the vertebræ of a _Hydrophis_ has gradually developed into
the complicated structure of a constrictor, so has the poison-fang
become gradually obsolete? Appalling, indeed, would it be were those
enormous developments armed with poison-fangs! Monarchs of the deep
they truly would be. Happily, venomous serpents are restricted in
their size; but an interesting speculation has been opened in the
above theory of abnormal development, and I trust it may be followed
up by abler reasoners than the present humble writer. In the previous
chapter the distinguishing characteristics of the true marine snakes
were described, and I feel more disposed to agree with Dr. Andrew
Wilson when he says, ‘_or for the matter of that, in the existence of
distinct species of monster sea serpents_,’ than in the development of
a small venomous one into an amazing constrictor. Except the ‘monster.’
Why should not the gigantic forms be perfect in themselves, with an
inherited anatomical structure? In volume xviii. of _Nature_, 1878, Dr.
Andrew Wilson again discusses the sea serpent, and thus concludes:’ ...
and as a firm believer from the standpoint of zoology that the large
development of the marine ophidians of warmer seas offers the true
explanation of the sea-serpent mystery.’

Their physical constitution, then, as well as structure, must have very
much changed to enable them to exist so far from the tropics.

And still there are the creatures with flippers, and flappers, and fins
to decide upon. And then the gigantic salamander with a hundred and
fifty feet of tail! But these not being ophidians, and certainly not
‘sea serpents,’ must not intrude themselves here.

In their enormous development alone the supporters of Darwin may justly
exult, for surely in them we shall see ‘the survival of the fittest.’





FROM the peculiar rattling appendage, with which this snake is armed,
it has excited the notice of European explorers since the very first
settlement of the American Continent. Whenever a traveller attempted
any printed account of the New World and its products, mention was made
of this ‘viper with the bell.’

By and by, in 1762, a live specimen was brought to England, where it
arrested the attention of the members of the Royal Society and the
scientific ‘Chirugions’ of the day.

From this time the rattlesnake began to be honoured with a literature
of its own—one which equals if not exceeds in interest that of any
other ophidian history handed down to us; for Cleopatra’s asp has its
literature, and the _Cobra capella_, and M’Leod’s boa, and some few
other distinguished ophidians, but none so voluminous and inexhaustible
as the American _Crotalus_ with its sonorous tail.

And despite the attention of naturalists for above two hundred years,
it is not yet done with. First its rattle, then its fangs, next its
maternal affection and the security offered to its young in ‘its own
bosom,’ then its ‘pit,’ and again its rattle—each and all in turn
have continued to occupy the pen of zoologists as, with the advance of
science, fresh light has been thrown upon ophiology.

American naturalists have continually something new to tell us about
the _Crotalus_, and not even yet have they decided among themselves of
what precise use that remarkable rattle is, either to its owner or its

The various theories regarding its construction, mode of growth, its
age and supposed uses, will occupy the second part of the present
subject; other rattlesnake features will come in their places, but
first an outline of what the early English writers had to say about it
will not be devoid of interest.

Natural history as a science was then in its infancy. The Royal Society
of England had as yet no existence; snakes were ‘insects,’ because they
lay eggs; insects were ‘serpents,’ because they creep; and the majority
of all such ‘creeping things’ were ‘venomous,’ of course.

In those early days of science there was little or no recognition of
species, two, or at most three, different kinds of rattlesnakes being
named. The distinguishing rattle seemed enough to separate them from
all other snakes: they were ‘the vipers with the bell,’ or ‘the vipers
with the sounding tail.’ ‘Vipers’ they were at once decided to be,
conformably with the old idea that vipers, in distinction to every
other kind of snake, produced their young alive. In this respect those
early observers were correct; and from their general characteristics
they are still _vipers_ in the eyes of science: that is, they belong
to the sub-order _Viperina_, though their dentition more than any other
feature separates them from the rest, and we know now that several
non-venomous snakes produce live young as well as the vipers.

In appearance the rattlesnake is so well known that a minute
description of it is uncalled for. Throughout the whole genera of the
_Crotalidæ_ the viperine character is seen in the broad, angular,
flattish head; the thinner neck, distinct between it and the thicker
body; a short, tapering tail, and a generally repulsive appearance with
an evil expression about it, as if no further warning were required to
announce its deadly qualities.

Nevertheless, many of the rattlesnakes possess an undeniably handsome
exterior. Their colours are for the most part dark and rich, relieved
with lighter markings and velvety black; often wearing a brilliant
prismatic hue, which still further enriches their tints. And then the
rattle at once announces the name of its owner.

It is not easy to decide on the writer or traveller from whom we
get the first mention of the rattlesnake, which has an extensive
geographical range on both the American continents. It was undoubtedly
some South American explorer early in the sixteenth century, and long
before any settlement in the New World had been made by the English.

In a rare old book, the first edition of which was published in London,
1614, viz. ‘_Samvel Purchas. His Pilgrimage in all Ages; being an
account of all the Places discovered since the Creation of the World_,’
we hear of many Spanish and Portuguese authors who are but little known
in England, and from each and all of whom the indefatigable ‘Pilgrim’
has culled information. Indeed, the book is a careful compilation
from all the previous writers of any worth, though those only who
mentioned the Brazilian serpents need be here introduced to the reader.
These, in describing some unchanging peculiarities, and in giving us
the vernacular names then common, have been of much use in assisting
subsequent writers to identify certain species.

Hakluyt, Hernandez, Master Anthony Kniuet, and many others are quoted
by Purchas, but of them all, ‘No man hath written so absolute a
Discourse of Brazil as was taken from a Portugall Frier and sold to
Master Hakluit,’ he tells us; giving at the same time a history of the
persecution and imprisonment of this unfortunate friar, whose unusual
intelligence seems to have rendered him an object of suspicion. Thus do
we who come after benefit by the misfortunes of our predecessors, and
thus has the stolen ‘Discourse’ of the sixteenth century been turned to
account for our edification in the nineteenth.

In the Portuguese friar’s description of animals, it is not difficult
to separate the true snakes from the ‘Serpentes with foure Legges and
a Taile,’ or to identify the rattlesnakes among them. Says the writer,
‘The Boycininga is a Snake called of the Bell: it is of a great Poison,
but it maketh such a Noise with a Bell it hath in its Tayle that it
catcheth very few: though it be so swift that they call it the flying
Snake. His Length is twelve or thirteen Spannes long. There is another
_Boycininpeba_. This also hath a Bell, but smaller. It is blacke and
very venomous.’

These two may be _Crotalus horridus_ and _Crotalus durissus_, the two
commonest; or they may be only one species of a different size, age,
and colouring—a confusion which frequently occurs with even more
recent and more scientific worthies than the good ‘Pilgrim’ Purchas. In
a later edition he says: ‘Other Serpents there are that carrie upon the
Tippe of their Tayle a certaine little roundelle, like a Bell, which
ringeth as they goe.’

Marcgrave, in his _Travels in Brazil_, 1648, further helps us to label
the right snake with the long vernaculars by figuring a rattlesnake
and calling it by the same name, only with an additional syllable,
_Boicinininga_, _quem Cascavel_, the latter euphonious Spanish word,
for a little round bell, having widely obtained ever since.

As soon as the first English colony was settled in North America, the
rattlesnake again comes upon the stage. Captain John Smith, whom we may
call the founder of Virginia (since it was owing to his good judgment,
endurance, and intelligence that the colony did not share the fate of
Sir W. Raleigh’s adventurers), tells us of the ornaments worn by the
Indians, and the favour in which certain _Rattells_ were held by them
as amulets. In his _Generall Historie of Virginia_, 1632, Captain Smith
describes their barbarous adornments,—birds’ claws, serpent skins,
feathers with a ‘rattell’ tied on to them, which ‘Rattells they take
from the Taile of a Snake,’ and regard with superstitious veneration.

With the spirit of enterprise which marked that era, and the discovery
of new countries and strange creatures, ‘Natural History’ began to be a
recognised science in Europe. Aldrovanus and Gesner had produced their
ponderous tomes, and the authors quoted by Purchas were eagerly read
by Ingenious Chirugions, who in England appear to have taken the lead
in science; while at Florence an assembly of ‘Knowing Physicians’ were
experimentalizing with all the Vipers procurable in Southern Europe,
holding council as to the source of their ‘Mischiefs’ and specific
‘Remedies for their Bitings,’ etc., with just such tests with the
‘Master Teeth’ of both living and dead vipers as have of late again
occupied the attention of living scientists. In 1660 the learned Redi
of Florence published his book on Vipers, and soon after M. Moyse
Charas, a Frenchman, produced a work which would not be a bad textbook
even now.

And for the Scientific World what greater stimulus could arise than
the foundation of the ROYAL SOCIETY by Charles II., and the channel
for ventilating discoveries and inventions which their published
_Transactions_ afforded? Very early in these do we find that viper
poison was engaging professional attention, and soon did communications
appear from those ‘knowing physicians’ at Florence. A correspondence
sprang up between M.D.’s of England, France, and Italy; and the
details of their experiments proved very inciting to the members of
the Royal Society of London, who with the limited subjects at their
disposal—virtually only our own little English viper—also set
themselves to work to analyze the ‘Poyson Bag.’

One enthusiast, Mr. Platt, addressing the Royal Society from Florence,
with an account of some of the experiments then going on, made mention
of the M. Charas who had written such an important work, and ended by
hoping to animate the _virtuosi_ here to ‘do something that may be not
unworthy your knowlege.’[77]

That the work of M. Moyse Charas was translated into English the
following year, proves that the English _virtuosi_ had really become
‘animated’ in the looked-for direction.[78]

In the preface of his book we read: ‘If Reflexion be made on the many
Wonders that are found in the Body of this Animal’ (the viper), ‘it
will be easily granted that it cannot be inquir’d into with too much
Exactness: and that it is not a Work that can be finish’t at one or two

This little digression from the rattlesnake is not without its object;
for from this correspondence through the _Philosophical Transactions_
we may date the birth of ophiological science in England; and the
reader will be able to place himself on that standpoint in order to
reciprocate the kind of interest with which such an entirely strange
and as yet unknown serpent as a rattlesnake was received a short time

In vol. x. 1676, there is ‘An Account of Virginia, its Situation,
Temperature,’ etc., communicated by Mr. Thomas Glover, ‘an ingenious
Chirugion that hath lived some years in the Country.’

This gentleman tells us of the climate and productions of the new
colony, not omitting those of the animal and vegetable kingdoms;
among the various strange creatures which he describes in the crude
language of the time are five or six sorts of snakes, amongst which
‘the Rattlesnake is the most remarkable, being about the bigness of a
Man’s Legg, and for the most part a yard and a half long. He hath a
Rattle at the End of his Tail, wherewith he maketh a Noise when any one
approacheth nigh him: which seemeth to be a peculiar Providence of God
to warn People to avoid the Danger; for this Creature is so venomous
that the Bite of it is of most dangerous Consequence, unless they make
use of the proper Antidote, of which I shall take occasion to speak
somewhat hereafter.’

Such accounts, coupled with the interest awakened in the members of
the Royal Society by the Florentine experimentalists, caused the first
arrival of a rattlesnake in England to be a grand era in ophiological
annals; and with its eventful appearance began its scientific history.

The published records of the _Philosophical Transactions_ again
perpetuate the impressions it created, and also many collateral points
of interest.

A paper entitled _Vipera Caudisona Americana; or, The Anatomy of a
Rattle-Snake_, was read by Dr. Edward Tyson, of the Royal Medical
College of London, in 1683; who dissected one at the repository of the
Royal Society in Jan. 1682. (The above scientific name is erroneously
attributed to Laurenti, 1768.)

That nothing of much value to science was previously known about
the reptile we gather from Dr. Tyson’s introductory words. ‘It were
mightily to be wisht that we had the most compleat account of so
_Curious_ an _Animal_. This which we _Dissected_ was sent to Mr. Henry
Loades, a merchant in London, from Virginia, who was pleased not only
to gratify the _Curiosity_ of the Royal Society, in showing it them
alive, but likewise gave it them when dead.’

Thus did Mr. Loades unconsciously immortalize himself in the history
of rattlesnakes. Merchants in those days were not F.Z.S.’s; and it is
probable that he thought of nothing beyond ingratiating himself with
the members of a learned Society by presenting them with a ‘serpente’
dead, whose ‘Bell’ had excited their curiosity when living; and he
little dreamed that the origin and use of this strange _bell_ would not
be determined two hundred years afterwards.

Says Dr. Tyson: ‘I find the inward parts so conformable to those of a
Viper that I have taken the liberty of placing it in that Classe and
(since it has not that I know of any Latine Name) of giving it that of
_Vipera Caudisona_: for as I am informed by Merchants ‘tis Viviparous,
and the Epithet sufficiently differences it from those that have no

This scholarly anatomist had evidently devoted much careful labour to
the task of hunting up all the literature that could throw any light on
his much-prized specimen. He had no doubt been one of those ‘animated’
by the Florentine savants, and had made himself acquainted with all
the viperine characters. He had doubtless read all that had already
appeared in the _Philosophical Transactions_, and also the narratives
of such _voyageurs_ as Hakluyt, Hernandez, Piso, and Marcgravius.

Among the useful results of his researches he is able to give us many,
we may say most, of its vernaculars in the countries of the New World
settled by Europeans up to that date; and as in subsequent books of
travel we hear of the rattlesnake frequently under these vernaculars,
until, as of later years, its ordinary English name has been familiar
to all, we have had a good deal to thank him for, were it only this.

In addition to the authors already named, he gives us Guliemus Piso,
Johnston, Merembergius, and ‘others that have wrot of it, and its
anatomy, under the names of Boigininga or Boiginininga and Boiquira,
which are its Brazile Names. By the Portuguese it is called Casca
vela and Tangador: by the Dutch, Raetel Sclange; by those of Mexico,
Teutlaco-cauehqui or Teuhtlacotl zauhqui, _i.e. Domina Serpentum_: and
from its swift motion on the Rocks like the wind, Hoacoatl.’

Minutely and scientifically was that ‘viper with the sounding tail’
dissected and studied out by Dr. Tyson just two hundred years ago; and
the excellent illustrations with which his description was elucidated
were subsequently used in many first-class physiological works.

Not even the ‘pit’ escaped the notice of that nice anatomist,—the
‘nasal fosse,’ or ‘sort of second nostril,’ as it was for a long while
called,—and its use conjectured, and which has given to a very large
group of venomous serpents the name of ‘pit vipers,’ the peculiar
orifice not being confined to the American _Crotalus_ alone (see chap.

‘Between the nostrils and eyes are two other orifices which at first
I took to be Ears,’ he tells us, speaking of this ‘pit,’ ‘but after
found they only led into a Bone that had a pretty large cavity, but
no perforation.’ He had seen that vipers—the European vipers which
he had previously known—had not these orifices. Then he comments on
the great Provision of Nature in furnishing the strong, smooth ‘belly
scales,’ (see illustration, p. 193), and the ‘very long trachea of 20
inches. _Nature_ is mightily provident in supplying them with _Air_, in
bestowing on them so large a Receptacle for receiving it.’

Tyson quotes from the ‘contests between the noble Italian Redi, and
the Frenchman M. Charas,’ as to the source of the poison in vipers,
and makes discoveries for himself, as for instance the mobility of the
jaw in elevating and depressing the fang, the structure of the teeth,
and various other matters which in this book are discussed in their
several chapters, but which were then for the first time scientifically
described in English by Tyson.

True that a little traditional gossip about the rattle, which he had
gathered from less competent sources, creeps in towards the conclusion
of the paper. While the learned M.D. writes from his own observations
and scientific knowledge, he affords valuable information; and we can
dispense with the hearsay of the day. However, all honour be to Dr.
Tyson of two hundred years ago, who was the first to give us ‘The
Anatomy of the Rattlesnake,’ and its first scientific name.

As the two American continents became more widely known to Europeans,
and Englishmen were seized with a desire to visit the new colonies,
books of travels and descriptions multiplied too rapidly for even a
passing mention in these pages; though wherever the slightest approach
to natural history was included, the rattlesnake figured conspicuously.
Of those works frequently quoted by naturalists, Seba’s _Rerum
Naturalium Thesauri_ in 1735, of four ponderous volumes, containing
text in both Latin and French, and profusely illustrated, must not be
omitted, though about the _Crotalus_ he has not much new to tell us.
He quotes Tyson and others, and explains that the many nearly similar
names are ‘_selon la difference de prononciation des Bresiliens,
qui la nomme aussi Boiquira_;’ and he thinks all these names ‘_ne
désignent qu’une seule et même vipère_.’ To these various titles of
‘one and the same viper,’ we shall refer again in chap. xxiii. To
the list he adds that the English call it ‘rattlesnake;’ the French,
‘_serpent à sonnettes_;’ and Latin authors, _Anguis crotalophorus_
(or the rattle-bearing snake). He also gives us another Mexican name,
‘_Ecacoatl, qui signifie le Vent, parce qu’elle rampe avec une extrème
vitesse sur les rochers_.’

This extreme activity in the rattlesnake is not in accordance with
our alien experience. Still we hear of it from more than one writer
and in widely separated habitats. The Mexican and Brazilian words may
have alluded to the rapidity of motion in striking its prey, and which
in its swiftness can scarcely be followed. Or it is possible that the
reptile which as a captive in our chilling climate is so slow and
sluggish, may, when stimulated by a tropical sun and under peculiar
excitement, occasionally exhibit a vivacity incredible to us who see it
only in menageries. Regarding other species of viperine snakes, we have
sometimes similar evidence; and there is nothing in the structure of
the _Crotalus_ to contradict it.

One more of the unpronounceable Mexican names we must inflict on the
reader, to show how this serpent was distinguished among all others
even in length of title. F. Fernandez, or Hernandez, in his _Animalium
Mexicanum_, p. 63, A.D. 1628, calls it Teuchlacotzauhqui, because it
surpasses all others in ‘_l’horrible bruit de sa sonnette_.’

As may be supposed, anybody who could see this remarkable snake on its
native soil was ready to tell something about it; and from the time
that Dr. Tyson dissected his specimen and made it better known to the
‘Curious,’ many other communications saw light through the pages of
the _Philosophical Transactions_ during the next few years.

In experimenting to discover the source of the ‘mischief,’ one skilful
‘Chyrurgeon’ proved that the gall of vipers is not venomous, only

A Mr. John Clayton, in an _Account of the Beasts in Virginia_, 1694,
tells us the rattlesnake’s ‘Tayle is composed of perished Joynts like
a dry Husk. The Old shake and shiver these Rattles with wonderful
Nimbleness; the Snake is a Majestick sort of Creature, and will scarce
meddle with anything unless provoked.’ He also describes the ‘fistulous
Teeth’ and the poison being injected through these ‘into the very mass
of the blood.’ Effective remedies are spoken of, as if not much doubt
of a cure existed. An Indian was bitten in the arm, who ‘clapt a hot
burning coal thereon and singed it stoutly.’

In Italy experiments still went on, and a Mr. C. J. Sprengle wrote to
the Royal Society from Milan (1722), that in a room opened at the top
were sixty vipers from all parts of Italy. ‘Whereupon we catch’d some
mice and threw them in, one at a time, among all that number of vipers;
but not one concerned himself about the mice, only one pregnant viper
who interchanged eyes with the mouse, which took a turn or two, giving
now and then a squeak, and then ran with great swiftness into the chops
of the viper, where it gradually sunk down the gullet.’ And from this
sinister proceeding on the part of the viper, Mr. Sprengle argues a
fact generally borne out in zoological collections ever since, namely,
that venomous snakes in captivity will not eat until they become

And so by degrees these many interesting ophiological facts have been
worked out and established. In 1733, vol. xxxviii., some experiments
made by Sir Hans Sloane are recorded. A dog was made to tread on a
rattlesnake which bit him. In one minute of time the dog was paralytic
in the hinder legs, and was dead in less than three minutes.

Another subject of subsequent interest and even importance was some
observations made by Sir Hans Sloane on the ‘Charms, Inchantments, or
Fascinations of Snakes,’ in reply to communications by Paul Dudley,
Esq., F.R.S., and Col. Beverley, both of whom believed that the
rattlesnake could bring a bird or a squirrel from a tree into their
mouths by the power of their eye.

A word on fascination will come in its place, but as a part of
rattlesnake history Sir Hans Sloane may be quoted here. And yet a
reason so long ago suggested by him, who _thoughtfully_ watched a
snake, seems almost entirely to have escaped notice. He thinks ‘the
whole mystery of charming or enchanting any Creature is simply this.
Small Animals or Birds bitten, the poison allows them time to run a
little way (as perhaps a bird to fly up into a tree), where the snakes
watch them with great earnestness, till they fall down, when the snakes
swallow them.’[79]

Sir Hans Sloane quotes a good deal from the work by Colonel
Beverley,[80] and the observations made by him; particularly one which
the author remarks is a ‘curiosity which he never met with in print,’
viz. the instinct which displays itself so strongly _after death_ in
the rattlesnake. A man chopped off the head and a few inches of the
neck of a rattlesnake, and then on touching the ‘springing teeth with
a stick, the head gave a sudden champ with its mouth,’ thus displaying
the impulse to bite. He noticed the action of the springing teeth ‘when
they are raised, which I take to be only at the will of the snake to do
mischief.’ Strange to tell, many of the above peculiarities have been
described as ‘new to science’ within forty years.

But among those who wrote of our American colonies, Lawson must not
be omitted. Describing the ‘Insects of Carolina,’ viz. alligators,
rattlesnakes, water snakes, swamp snakes, frogs, great loach, lizards,
worms, etc., he tells us what was then new about the subject of this

‘The Rattlesnakes are found on all the Main of America that I ever had
any Account of: being so called from the Rattle at the End of their
Tails, which is a Connexion of jointed Coverings of an excrementitious
Matter, betwixt the Substance of a Nail and a Horn, though each Tegment
is very thin. Nature seems to have designed these on purpose to give
Warning of such an approaching Danger as the venomous Bite of these
Snakes is. Some of them grow to a very great Bigness, as six Feet
in Length; their Middle being the Thickness of the Small of a lusty
Man’s Leg. They are of an orange, tawny, and blackish Colour on the
Back, differing (as all Snakes do) in Colour on the Belly; being of an
Ash Colour inclining to Lead. The Male is easily distinguished from
the Female by a black Velvet Spot on his Head; and besides his Head
is smaller-shaped and long. Their Bite is venomous if not speedily
remedied; especially if the Wound be in a Vein, Nerve, Tendon, or
Sinew, when it is very difficult to cure. The Indians are the best
Physicians for the Bite of these, and all other venomous Creatures of
this Country. The Rattle-Snakes are accounted the peaceablest in the
World, for they never attack any One or injure them unless trodden
upon or molested. The most Danger of being bit by these Snakes is for
those that survey Land in Carolina; yet I never heard of any Surveyor
that was killed or hurt by them. I have myself gone over several of
this Sort; yet it pleased God I never came to any Harm. They have the
Power or Art (I know not which to call it) to charm Squirrels, Hares,
Partridges, or any such Thing, in such a Manner that they run directly
into their Mouths. This I have seen,’ and so forth.... ‘Rattle-Snakes
have many small Teeth of which I cannot see they make any Use; for they
swallow every Thing whole; but the Teeth which poison are only four;
two on each side of their Upper-Jaws. These are bent like a Sickle,
and hang loose, as if by a Joint. Towards the setting on of these,
there is in each Tooth a little Hole, wherein you may just get in the
Point of a small Needle. And here it is that the Poison comes out and
follows the Wound made by the Point of their Teeth. They are much more
venomous in the Months of June and July than they are in March, April,
or September. The hotter the Weather the more poisonous. Neither may
we suppose they can renew their Poison as oft as they will; for we
have had a Person bit by one of these who never rightly recovered it,
and very hardly escaped with Life; and a second Person bit in the same
Place by the same Snake and received no more Harm than if bitten with a
Rat. They cast their Skins every Year and commonly abide in the Place
where the old Skin lies. These cast Skins are used for Physick, and
the Rattles are reckoned good to expedite the Birth.’ ... ‘Gall mixed
with Clay and made into Pills are kept for Use and accounted a noble
Remedy.’ ... ‘This Snake has two Nostrils on each Side its Nose. Their
Venom I have Reason to believe effects no Harm any otherwise than when
darted into the Wound by the Serpent’s Teeth.’

This description, being an early and excellent illustration of what has
since been termed ‘Practical Natural History,’ is given at length, and
because Lawson has been a good deal quoted by subsequent writers.

So again is Catesby, who went to Virginia in 1712, staying seven
years ‘to gratify a passionate desire to view animal and vegetable
productions in their native country.’ He was the first to figure and
to describe two distinct species. It is admitted that he did much
for natural history, and his drawings are by far the best that had
as yet appeared. Catesby therefore claims a conspicuous place among
rattlesnake historians.

By this time, 1731, nine or ten of the American colonies had celebrated
their first centenary, and had made considerable advances towards
civilisation. In the parts visited by Catesby a good deal of the old
English refinement marked the character and manners of the people. But
a little domestic incident in the house where he was staying is related
by him, and affords us an insight of a less attractive character in
plantation life.

The largest rattlesnake Catesby ever saw was eight feet long, and
weighed eight or nine pounds. ‘This Monster was gliding into the House
of Col. Blake, and had certainly taken up his Abode there undiscovered,
had not the Domestic Animals alarmed the Family with their repeated
Outcries: the Hogs, Dogs, and Poultry united in their Hatred to him,
showing the greatest Consternation by erecting their Bristles and
Feathers, and showing their Wrath and Indignation surrounded him; but
carefully kept their Distance, while he, regardless of their Threats,
glided slowly along.’

It was not at all an uncommon occurrence for rattlesnakes to come into
houses at that time, nor indeed has it been long since then in secluded

Catesby himself had a narrow escape once, when he occupied a room on
the ground floor, and a rattlesnake was found snugly coiled in his bed.

Notwithstanding a growing acquaintance with the rattlesnake among the
F.R.S.’s, to the general public it was still almost unknown.

Even in the middle of the eighteenth century an itinerant exhibitor
could say what he pleased about it to a too credulous public. An
extract from an old newspaper suggests an ancestral Barnum joining
hands with a journalist to make a fortune out of one thus exhibited.
Not so much was expected of journalists in those days; but even now,
so far as snakes are concerned, a vast number of errors creep into


 ‘This exotic Animal is extremely well worthy the Observation of
 the Curious: Its Eyes are of great Lustre, even equal to that of a
 Diamond, and its Skin so exquisitely mottled and of such surpassing
 Beauty as baffles the Art of the most celebrated Painter: It is about
 five Feet long, and so sagacious, that it will rattle whenever the
 Keeper commands it: There is not the least cause for Fear, though
 it were at Liberty in the Room: but that the Ladies may be under no
 Apprehension on that Account, it is kept in a Glass-Case. It is very
 Active, and is the first ever shown alive in England.’—From _The
 General Advertiser_, LONDON, Sat., Jan. 4th, 1752.

Any ‘sagacity’ displayed in this exhibition was on the part of the
keeper, who had discovered the exceeding timidity of this reptile, and
had observed that it used its rattle whenever alarmed or provoked.
However, the timidity answered very well for obedience, and no doubt
drew many spectators.

A notable feature in the rattlesnake was its fecundity and prevalence.

This we gather from all who in the early days of American history
had anything to tell us of the country and its inhabitants. Whether
the subject of their pen were Topography, Indians, or Productions, a
rattlesnake crept in. Collateral evidence of this kind, given with no
motive for exaggeration, nor even as ‘natural history,’ may therefore
be accredited.

A slaughter of rattlesnakes was as much an annual custom as the
slaughter of hogs. Regularly as a crop of hay came a crop of
rattlesnakes. On account of the oil manufactured from their fat, the
slaughter partook also of a commercial character; but more commonly
it was a war of extinction, like the battles with the Indians.
Usually an annual, frequently a biennial, crusade was undertaken, the
settlers being well acquainted with their habits and retreats. It was
a well-known fact that, towards the close of summer, and on the first
indication of frost, the reptiles returned simultaneously and in vast
numbers to a favourite spot. Not only hundreds but thousands make for
this winter rendezvous year after year.

Catlin, the Indian historian, tells us that near Wilkesbarre, in
Pennsylvania, his birth-place, was a cavern in the mountains called
Rattlesnake Den; and to this cavern the snakes made an annual
pilgrimage, collecting from vast distances, no matter what obstacles
were in their way. Across rivers and lakes, and up mountain sides,
straight to their Den they would go, and in those unapproachable
caverns lie _en masse_ in a torpid state until aroused by the coming
summer, when they would venture forth again and descend into the

These were the times for the grand _battues_, one of which, an event of
Catlin’s boyhood, is narrated by him.

One of the first spring days, when the creatures creep out to sun
themselves for only a few hours, retiring again at night, was the time
chosen for the onslaught. The snakes were known to come forth from
Rattlesnake Den on to a certain ledge of rock near their cavern; and a
council of war was held as to the best approach and mode of attack. Ten
years previously a similar war had been waged, when the reptiles had
been almost exterminated; but of late so many accidents had occurred
among the inhabitants through the fast-increasing serpents, that the
farmers agreed to climb to the den and once more reduce their numbers.
The boy Catlin was privileged to be of the party, and he was told
to creep cautiously to an overhanging rock, whence he could see the
reptiles sunning themselves on their ledge below. The rest of the party
stood in readiness, club in hand. At a signal young Catlin fired a
fowling-piece into their midst. There was a knot of them ‘like a huge
mat wound and twisted and interlocked together, with all their heads
like scores of hydras standing up from the mass.’ Into this horrible
cluster he ‘let fly,’ when the party, rushing with their clubs, broke
the spine of hundreds by a single blow to each, while hundreds more
were saving themselves by a quick return to their den.

While counting the five or six hundred slain, and holding another
council of war on the battle-field, a rattle was heard of one which in
the death-struggle had escaped over a ledge instead of into its cave.
With a forked stick a man approached that misguided reptile and held
down its head, while another brave expert seized it by the neck so
close to its head that it could not turn and bite him.

It was a very large snake, and young Catlin, inspired by the sudden
thought, exclaimed, ‘Tie a powder-horn to its tail and fasten a slow
fuse to it, and let it go back into its den.’

‘George, you are the best hunter in the Valley of Ocquago!’ cried the
man who held the snake; and forthwith the plan was agreed upon.

The largest powder-horn in the party was filled to the brim from the
other horns, and tied to the snake’s tail by a string of several feet
long; and to the horn was fixed a slow fuse of about a yard in length,
made of wetted, twisted tow, in which gunpowder was rolled. This
accomplished while the reptile was still firmly held, it was then set
free close to the mouth of its den, the whole party speedily escaping
to a safe distance.

Listening, they heard the horn rattling over the rocky floor as the
snake was carrying it home into the midst of its comrades, when, after
the silence of a minute or so, an explosion like a clap of thunder
shook the ground on which they stood, and blue streams issued forth
between the crevices around the den, and a thick volume from its mouth.

Rattlesnake Den was thus cleared of its inhabitants for many long years.

Catlin affirms that the Valley of the Wyoming used to be more infested
with these terrible pests than any other portion of the globe. Every
summer the lives of persons as well as cattle were destroyed by them,
and the ‘happy little valley’ would have been rendered uninhabitable
but for the periodical _battues_.[81]

Howe in his Histories of Ohio and of Virginia relates many similar
facts. A Mr. Stone, one of the first settlers of the ‘Western Reserve’
along the shore of Lake Erie, has immortalized himself as a slayer of
rattlesnakes. They were ‘in great plenty along the track,’ and he being
the first to ‘survey’ the land in 1796, had the honour of doing battle
with them. In Trumbull County they abounded. One year, about the first
of May 1799, a large party armed with cudgels proceeded to a sunny
level of rock on which hosts of the reptiles had crept. Approaching
cautiously, step by step, the enemy came upon them suddenly, and then
began to cudgel with all their might. Hot and furious was the fight;
the rattles were ringing as the snakes beat a retreat up the hill, and
the ground was strewed with the slain: four hundred and eighty-six were
that day collected, most of them over five feet in length.

In another of these spring campaigns eight hundred rattlesnakes were
killed, including a few of their relatives the copper-head, and
hundreds more of harmless snakes of which the slayers ‘took no account.’

Holbrooke records that once in New York State two men in three days
killed 1104 rattlesnakes on an eastern slope of Tongue mountain.

Many hairbreadth escapes during these adventures form the subjects of
exciting stories in the domestic annals of American settlers, but are
becoming more and more histories of the past. In many localities where
formerly rattlesnakes swarmed, they have almost totally disappeared or
have become very rare. Probably with their friends the Indians, they
will in time become wholly extinct.

New species have, however, been discovered by the explorers of the new
Western States and in Tropical America, where, in the sparsely-settled
districts, they still come into houses as of yore, and where the
rattlesnake campaign is still an annual sport for the venturesome
pioneers. In 1872, two thousand of the species _Crotalus confluentus_
were killed in the Yellowstone Region.

One other question in the history of the rattlesnake—‘Does it swallow
its young in times of danger?’ or more correctly speaking, ‘Does
it receive its young into its œsophagus as a place of safety?’—is
considered in chap. xxvii.

Other discussions of modern times, both in assemblies of zoologists
and through printed correspondence, have been on the rattle, when and
why vibrated, how affected by damp, etc., all claiming a place in
rattlesnake history, but considered elsewhere in this work. A whole
volume might be written on this rattling tail, evolved out of the
scant materials of the sixteenth century into the prolific matter of
the nineteenth. You can scarcely take up one of the many scientific
journals of the United States, in which zoology forms a part, without
finding mention of a rattlesnake. Within a very few years the subject
has been popularized in our own zoological journals also.

In connection with the venom come of course the cures, concerning
which the experiments of Dr. Weir Mitchell form a notable point in
rattlesnake history. But serpent venom and its remedies, so far as lies
within my province to discuss them, come also in a special chapter.

In concluding this one, I will roughly enumerate the species of
rattlesnakes now best known. We have seen that formerly only one or
two different kinds were noticed, and the subsequent multiplication
of species is due almost as much to science and to a more careful
observation of the distinguishing features, as to the discovery of
absolutely new ones.

The frequent Exploring Expeditions fitted out by the United States
Government for Geographical Boundaries, Pacific Railroads, Geological
Surveys, etc., with always a zoologist on their Staff of Scientific
Men, have added much to our knowledge of natural history; and in the
Reports and Bulletins of these may be sifted out information in every
branch of Science. Thus in _Crotalus_ chronicles, our two original
rattlesnakes have increased and are still increasing. In 1831, the
late Dr. J. E. Gray, of the British Museum Natural History Department,
enumerated six genera and eleven species belonging to America. In 1860,
Dr. Weir Mitchell gave about twenty species as belonging to two genera
only, and distinguished by their head scales.

As this book has no scientific pretensions, and as its aim is rather to
interest a large class of readers than systematically to instruct the
few, I will not attempt a list of genera and species with all their
perplexing names, if indeed a true list of all the now known species
even exist. They are distinguished by the shields or plates on the
head, and by the varying tails. Some have rattles so small as barely to
entitle them to the name of _Crotalus_.

Then, again, a new name is frequently adopted by the discoverer of
a new feature; and a number of American genera, _minus_ a rattle
altogether, are included among the _Crotalidæ_, an anomaly which will
be presently explained. Here we have to do with only the rattlesnake
proper, viz. the ‘Viper with the Bell,’ _Vipera caudisona_ of Tyson,
and the _Crotalus_ of Linnæus.

This word _Crotalus_, simply a rattle, from the Greek word _crotalon_,
and the Latin _crotalia_ and _crotalum_, a kind of castanets, is as
suitable as any that could possibly have been assigned to the snake;
and most of the generic names are compounds of it: _Crotalophorus_,
rattle-bearing; _Crotalina_, little rattle; _Crotaloidæ_;
_Urocrotalon_, rattling tail; or simply _Crotalus_. Then the specific
name more especially describes the snake in colour, size, character,
locality, etc., as _Oregonus_, from Oregon; _Kirtlandii_, from Dr.
Kirtland of Ohio, who first described that species; _horridus_, from
the hideous, terrible character of this large snake; _miliarius_, a
very small one; _caudisona_, sounding tail; and so on.

Their geographical range is from about 45° north, to the Gulf of
Mexico, Texas, and southward; and in South America to about the same
degree of climate and temperature as in the northern latitudes. They
are most virulent in the hottest seasons, the tropical regions, and
according to their size; though, as is the case with other venomous
snakes, a small species in hot weather and with a large store of venom
may be more noxious than the largest in a half-torpid state and with a
small supply of venom.

There is one known as the ‘Prairie rattlesnake;’ another frequents the
marshy districts of Ohio; another, the swamps of the Southern States
along the coast; a fourth is known as the ‘Western rattlesnake;’ some
of the 20 species described in the United States being more abundant in
the mountainous regions, others near the rivers.

In the wilder regions of Central and South America they also abound;
but less is known of them where there are no United States Exploring
Expeditions to record them.





THIS _Crepitaculum caude_, as an American has called it, has been the
theme of many speculations. Its origin and its use have been discussed
alike by the scientific and the unscientific, nor have they even now
arrived at any very definite conclusions on these two points. There
are theories as to its development, its form and size, its age and its
utility, the caprice witnessed in all of these adding to the romance
of its history; and whether its length increases by a link annually,
or on each occasion of desquamation, have been among the questions
connected with it. If we believe what the American Indians declare,
an additional joint to the rattle grows whenever a human being falls
a victim to that particular snake—a tradition more poetical than
rational. The Indians also think the rattle vibrates more in dry than
in wet weather, and are therefore cautious in traversing the woods
during rainy seasons. This belief has given rise to the idea that the
rattle is affected by damp—a fact which was affirmed so long ago
as 1722.[82] The most reasonable clue to this is, that there may be
less to disturb the reptile at a time when all animated nature is to a
certain extent inclined to retirement and repose; for if the reptile
be disturbed, rain or no rain, the rattle vibrates. In English as well
as in American scientific journals, the subject of the rattle is ever
and again ventilated by physiologists, and new suggestions are thrown
out. In the present chapter I will endeavour to give a sort of digest
of all these theories, venturing to offer in addition the results of my
own observations. Appended is a drawing of the first rattle I ever saw
or had in my possession. It is associated with a delightful visit of
several months to some very dear friends in Iowa, and it recalls more
particularly one lovely September afternoon. We were driving along a
wild country road, where the prairie on either side was radiant with
its floral carpet, and where the Mississippi gleamed like a succession
of lakes between the wooded and picturesque bluffs that formed the
background to the east.

Suddenly the horses refused to advance, and without any visible reason
to _me_; but the friend who was driving us recognised, in what seemed
to be merely a little dry twig in the middle of the road, nothing less
than a young rattlesnake.

Now, to see a rattlesnake and to hear its rattle had been the great
ambition of my prairie sojourn, and as my friend threw the reins to his
wife and alighted to deal a death-blow, I entreated him to spare it for
a few minutes only that I might examine and hear the as yet unfamiliar

Alas! the creature had no rattle. ‘It is too young: there is only
the _button_,’ as my friend called the rudimentary promise of one. I
profited by the occasion, however, to have a good though disappointed
look, not unmixed with contempt, at the juvenile Crotalus, being so
very small and unworthy the ceremony. A foot or so in length, it began
to make its escape into the long grass, when by one quick stamp of his
heel our champion disabled it.

Then, throwing it into a pool of water, he remounted, and the horses
fearlessly proceeded.

[Illustration: A fully developed rattle of a rather small snake (life

A few days after this, to compensate my disappointment, I was presented
with a ‘full-grown rattle’ from a Kentucky snake, and here it is.

Asking how he knew it was ‘full grown,’ my friend explained that the
links being all of a nearly uniform size, proved that the snake had
also attained a certain growth during the development of that rattle.
This will be more readily comprehended on seeing the next specimen,
which is the rattle of a Mexican snake during early and rapid growth,
and a very perfect one, presenting no flaw or friction; proving that it
has not been subject to very long or very rough usage.

[Illustration: A very perfect rattle (natural size).]

In texture this is scarcely so stout as the shaft of a quill, nor so
pale, but almost as transparent. As regards size, the terminal link or
‘button’ may be compared to the nail of a young child, the intermediate
links gradually increasing with the growth of the snake to the nails of
older children, and the largest link to that of a full-grown person.
From the form of this rattle—an accurate copy of the original—we
may infer that it grew rapidly at first, and that the snake was large
during the development of the later links.

The next, reduced in size, is the rattle of a snake which had attained
full growth, but from which the younger or earlier links with the
terminal ‘button’ are gone.

[Illustration: Portion of a long rattle, much reduced in size.]

Extending this specimen by imaginary converging lines, we form an idea
of what its length might have been if perfect, probably about twenty
joints, which is a not unusual number; but we perceive at once that
a rattle, as we happen to see it, is no criterion of its age or its
original form. Rarely is a snake seen with a long rattle perfect and
entire. But whenever it gradually tapers and ends with the pointed
terminal link, we may decide that that rattle has escaped injury from
its earliest development.

In form it is not unsymmetrical, and in substance it is horny, like
hair, nails, quills, and hardened skin, a sort of dense and corneous
integument, yet less solid than horns and claws. The links, being
only interlocked and yet elastic, can be easily separated, and are
consequently easily injured. An animal treading on the rattle of a
snake would cause a portion at least to be lost; or in being drawn
among roots and entangled vegetation, a rattle might easily get
damaged: the number of links can never, therefore, be an infallible
clue to the age of the reptile.

Like hair, horns, nails, it is also subject to a caprice in growth,
or to the vigour of the individual; at one time comparatively at a
stand-still, at another growing rapidly; in one season gaining perhaps
several links, in another season none.

Neither does the number of joints bear any relation to the casting of
the skin, any more than the growth of hair or nails depends on the
healing of a scar. The slough, cast more or less frequently, may leave
the rattle intact, or a new link may appear at such a time. Dr. Cotton,
of Tennessee, had a rattlesnake which shed its skin on an average twice
a year, and he observed a new link to the rattle on each shedding.
On the contrary, a rattlesnake at the London Zoological Gardens,
and in the collection for about ten years, had never a rattle worth
mentioning. Quite a young snake of only 15 inches when brought, it grew
into a fine healthy specimen, fully five feet long, and yet had never
more than what Americans call the button—not quite even that, but
merely an abortive pretence of unhealthy growth, as if one or two links
were consolidated. I watched that rattle for several years with much
interest. Thus it was when my attention was first drawn towards it;
and though it sometimes gave promise of growing, and once did indeed
gain another link, it soon got broken off, and never attained more than
three misshapen joints.

[Illustration: All there was of it! From life.]

Though no rattle is ordinarily developed until the snakeling is some
months old, several cases are on record where young snakes have been
born with the ‘button,’ and even with perfectly formed links. Mr.
Benjamin Smith Barton, an American who wrote a good deal about the
Crotalus, communicated to Prof. Zimmermann in 1800 that he had found
in a parent some young ones with three rattles, _i.e._ ‘links,’ each.
Similar and more recent cases are on record.

[Illustration: Transparent rattle (p. 296), held against the light.]

In colour a rattle is of a dark brown, or dull rusty black,
occasionally lighter when fresh and uninjured, and then more plainly
displaying its horny texture. In the Mexican rattle (p. 296) the
links were semi-transparent; sufficiently so to enable us to trace
the form of the interior links if held against the light. This
afforded an admirable opportunity to comprehend the structure and
the production of the sound, which is simply and truly a rattling of
these loosely-fitting links as they are partially embraced, each one
by the previous link. That is to say, each new link grows up into
its predecessor, pushing it forward towards the tip of the rattle.
Through this unusually clear rattle you can trace each link passing up
and fitting into the preceding (prior) one, just as so many thimbles
or cups would fit into each other. Only, in the case of thimbles or
cups, there is nothing to keep them in place, and the slightest shake
would detach the whole pile; whereas the lobes or bulging sections of
each link prevent any such detachment in a rattle, except by force or

The next is the rattle of a small Oregon snake. This, as is
observable, is old and very much worn; so much so, indeed, that one has
to handle it with care. It is, however, pulled apart intentionally to
show that the links vary in form from those of the tapering specimen.
Any rattle can thus be separated without much effort, as, owing to the
elasticity of the substance, not much resistance presents itself. The
links are just loose enough to produce that sibilant effect, like the
rustling of dry leaves, or of ripe beans in a pod; or still more, like
the seed vessel of our own native plant the Yellow Rattle, _Rhinanthus
Crista galli_, and the American ‘Rattle-Box,’ _Crotalaria sagittalis_.

[Illustration: Small divided rattle.]

Yet just so securely fitting it is as to permit of the continual
vibration without loss of links.

What we _see_, therefore, is only the base or lower lobe of each joint,
the rest running up into the next two or even three bases, as may be
traced in the section here given.

[Illustration: Section of rattle.]

In reading about the construction of a rattle, some perplexity may
occur from the various adverbs before, behind, first, last, previous
link, etc., some referring to age, others to place. Descriptions
of the rattle met with in popular physiological works prove the
above perplexities, and verify what is so often demonstrated, viz.
the ‘inability of unscientific persons to read scientific matter
correctly.’ The ‘last’ link means the one last grown, not the end one
of the tail; ‘pushing the preceding one _forward_’ is not towards the
_head_ of the reptile, but literally _outward_ and _backward_ towards
the tip of the tail. ‘Previous’ may mean in time, or the age of the
link, or it may mean position; but a knowledge of the development
assists the comprehension of such passages.

In the above illustrations it will be seen that not only do rattles
differ in form in various species of snakes, but that the links
themselves differ in form in one and the same rattle. Some of them are
broader than others, some wider, and some more compressed. In all the
above drawings I carefully and faithfully copied the originals. And
in this variability we can only refer again to claws, nails, horns,
feathers, etc., which are seen to differ in the same individual,
according to health, season, or accident.

Where great numbers of rattlesnakes have been killed in one locality,
as, for instance, during the ‘spring campaigns,’ their tails
have presented on an average from fifteen to twenty links each.
Holbrooke[83] has seen one of twenty-one links. A Crotalus at the
London Reptilium had twenty-five links at one time; then ten of them
got broken off, but still a respectably-sized rattle remained. The
longer the rattle, the greater the risk of injury. Oliver Wendell
Holmes, in his wonderful story _Elsie Venner_, states that a snake
in the locality where the Rocklands ‘Rattlesnake Den’ existed, had
forty joints in its rattle, and was supposed, after Indian traditions,
to have killed forty people. He tells us that the inhabitants of
those parts were remarkable for acute hearing even in old age, from
the practice of keeping their ears open for the sound of the rattle
whenever they were walking through grass or in the woods. And whenever
they heard the rattling of a dry bean-pod, they would exclaim, ‘Lord,
have mercy upon us!’ the sound so strongly resembling that of the
dreaded Crotalus.

Another American naturalist records a snake with forty-four links
to its rattle, but adds that this occurrence is rare and ‘a great
curiosity.’ So one would imagine, and that the fortunate possessor of
such an ensign must have flourished in smooth places. More favoured
still was a snake mentioned in the vol. of the _Philosophical
Transactions_ just now quoted, and in which Paul Dudley had ‘heard it
attested by a Man of Credit that he had killed a Rattlesnake that had
between 70 and 80 Rattles (_i.e._ links), and with a sprinkling of grey
Hairs, like Bristles, all over its Body.’ As this venerable Crotalus
must have rusticated nearly two hundred years ago, we must accept the
tale or tail with caution.

The family of the _Crotalidæ_, it will be borne in mind, embraces a
large number of serpents with only a rudimentary rattle; a number with
only the horny spine (see p. 176); and a few with a rattle so small
even when fully developed, that they are received into the family by
courtesy rather than by their ‘sounding tail.’


A small snake with this pretence of a rattle is dangerous because it is
so indistinctly heard.

This is also the case with _Crotalus miliarius_, whose rattle is so
feeble as to be scarcely audible a few feet off.

So much for the size of rattles. Now for the development of them.

The theory that the rattle is the remains of cast-off cuticle, as some
herpetologists have supposed, may be dismissed at once; for what would
cause such vestiges to harden into a complicated and symmetrical form?

To Dumeril we owe some of our best conceptions of the growth of the
rattle, which, whether it has or has not been evolved from the mere
horny spine that terminates the tails of so many snakes, has certainly
_now_ an express provision for its production.

Like hair, claws, or nails, the rattle is horny matter excreted and
hardened. In his _Elementary Lessons in Physiology_, Prof. Huxley
shows us how in the growth of a nail new epidermic cells are added to
the base, constraining it to move forward. ‘The nail, thus constantly
receiving additions from below and from behind, slides forward over
its bed and projects beyond the end of the finger.’ If the reader will
look at his finger nail, and suppose the end bone of the Crotalus spine
to be the ‘bed’ of the nail, he will to a certain extent be able to
comprehend how the rattle grows out; but that the links become detached
in succession is a phenomenon so astonishing and at the same time so
difficult to comprehend, that few naturalists have ventured to state
positively how this occurs. Conjecturally only and diffidently do I,
therefore, presume to offer a supposition; and if my readers will
once more pardon reference to human nails, and lend the aid of their
imagination, they may be able to evolve a true theory out of my crude

The young readers of _Aunt Judy’s Magazine_ were also, a few years
ago,[84] invited to lend the aid of their pink little finger nails to
the illustrative development of a supposed rattle; and we will again
imagine the whole tip of a finger to be covered with a round nail-cap,
proceeding from the first joint, and to have grown so from birth. In
growing out, this curious, cup-like nail, being never cut, would become
hollow like a thimble. Pointed or tapering it would of course be,
because, as the baby finger grew, the base or new portion of nail grew
larger with it. We will also suppose that the joint whence the nail
sprang was in constant activity, and so articulated that it _could_
move with a quick and regular action or vibration; the hollow nail-cap,
having attained a certain size, would become withered, and (as the
constant bending of a piece of card or metal in time divides it) would
be worn, and at length detached at its base. Meanwhile the growth of
nail has not been arrested, but a new cap is forming within. The old,
dry, and withered cap has now nothing to retain it, and would drop off,
on account of its simple, conical form, like a loose-fitting thimble.
But Dumeril explains to us that the terminal bones of the rattlesnake’s
spine present a peculiar form, several of them coalescing.

 ‘Dans les Crotales cette extremité de la queue, au lieu d’être
 pointue, se trouve comme tronquée, et, par une bizarrerie que nous
 n’expliquons pas, il paraîtrait que les trois dernières pièces de la
 colonne vertébrale se seraient soudées entre elles, et comme aplaties
 pour composer un seul os triangulaire, avec trois bourrelets latéraux
 simulant des restes d’apophyses transverses des vertèbres, ainsi
 qu’on les voir souvent dans les trois dernières pièces du coccyx
 chez l’homme. Cet os anormale a été disséqué chez un Crotale, on a
 reconnu qu’il est recouvert d’une sorte de matière cartilagineuse dans
 laquelle aurait été secretée la substance cornée, comme un epiderme
 solide, qui conserve en effet extérieurement la forme de la pièce
 osseuse, sur laquelle elle a été en quelque sorte moulée et qu’elle
 semble destinée ainsi à protéger contre l’exfoliation, comme cela
 s’observe dans ceux des animaux ruminants dont la corne revêt les
 chevilles osseuse du véritable coronal prolongé en pointe et devenu de
 cette façon une arme d’attaque, et surtout de defence.’[85]

Dumeril also tells us that the peculiar structure of those few terminal
vertebræ, with their knobs or pads (‘_bourrelets_’) upon which the skin
is moulded, tends to a movement lateral rather than up and down,—that
quick action which we perceive when the rattle is being vibrated.
Thus the horny covering takes the form of this bone with its lobes
or bulges, which instead of permitting the supposed cup-like nail to
fall off as in our finger illustration, causes the links as they are
pushed out to hang or cling together; and we can only suppose that the
constant action loosens, and not only loosens when dead or detached,
but loosens, that is to say, enlarges, the link while growing. For if
you examine the spine of a skeleton Crotalus and the rattle that grew
upon that spine, you will perceive that the links are a great deal
larger than the ‘_pièce osseuse sur laquelle elle a été en quelque
sorte moulée_.’

There is one other peculiarity observable in a detached rattle, which I
cannot pretend to explain in any way. If you hold one up by its base or
largest link, you will find it invariably hangs in a slight curve and
not perpendicularly. You can straighten it, but you will not be able to
curve it in the opposite direction, proving that it naturally inclines
one way, whether to the right or the left of the animal while living, I
cannot assert. But it is a curious feature, and one that can no doubt
be accounted for by scientific observers. Thus, as in the illustration
below, you can curve a rattle so as to discern the interior links on
one side, but not on the other. I have made the attempt with many
rattles, but always with the same result. The centre fig. below is a

[Illustration: Natural position when held.

Straightened by force.

This fine specimen, natural size, and also the Tapering Rattle, both
from Mexico, were lent to me by J. G. Braden, Esq. of Lewes, and copied

Not the least important of all the speculations to which the rattling
tail has given rise, is the question, ‘Of what use is it?’ for we know
that nothing exists in vain. Apart from the fact that the American
savages make some medicinal use of the rattle, this elaborated,
curious, and not unsightly instrument has as yet had no special and
determined office assigned to it to the advantage of its possessor,
though theories regarding it are numerous.

Formerly, when only the dangerous powers of the reptile were
understood, it was sufficient to say of it in a tone of pious
thankfulness, that the Almighty had so armed this serpent as a warning
to its enemies. Some of those early writers introduce the rattlesnake
to us as the most benevolent and disinterested of dumb animals,
conscientiously living up to his duties, obedient to that ‘peculiar
Providence’ which has given him a rattle ‘to warn the inadvertent
intruder of danger.’ ‘He maketh such a noise that he catcheth very
few,’ an evidence of imprudence wholly inconsistent with his inherited
‘wisdom.’ Indeed, between the character given of this ‘superb reptile’
by Chateaubriand, and the self-sacrificing qualities assigned it by
some other writers, we can only wonder how a hungry rattlesnake ever
managed to survive at all, and how it is that the race is not extinct
long ago.

That the early and unscientific travellers, speaking from a thankful
experience of having escaped a rattlesnake through _hearing_ where
it was, should seek no further for the utility of the rattle, is not
much to be wondered at. But so lately as 1871 one of our popular
physiologists, whose work is a textbook, has expatiated on this
theme so positively that it is necessary to quote his words on this
‘admirable provision of nature,’ which apparently has elaborated a
unique appendage for the purpose of starving its proprietor!

‘The intention of this organ is so obvious, that the most obtuse
cannot contemplate it without at once appreciating the beauty of the
contrivance.... It (the snake) announces the place of its concealment,
even when at rest, to caution the inadvertent intruder against too near
an approach.’[86]

If all the venomous serpents were thus beneficently armed (the cobras
of India especially), the crusade against snakes would be at an end, or
never need have been instituted; for supposing the heedless loiterer to
have been a bird, squirrel, guinea-pig, or any of the lesser mammalia
which form the food of most snakes, these happy creatures would have
had the world to themselves long ago, while vipers had kindly starved
themselves out of all traces.

‘Every creature of God is good,’ we must repeat and ponder over. Even
a deadly rattlesnake, and every part of that rattlesnake, has its
appointed use.

The ‘inadvertence’ (in this instance on the part of the writer who thus
expressed himself) has not been without its use as well, for a more
careful attention has been given to the rattle in consequence; and much
controversy has since arisen among some of the ablest herpetologists,
particularly in America, where much that was new and suggestive soon
found its way into the scientific journals.

Briefly to summarize some of the arguments, I will repeat a few of them
as suggested by some well-known naturalists. In that able periodical,
the _American Naturalist_, vol. vi. 1872, the subject was thoroughly
discussed. Professor Shaler, in a paper on ‘The Rattlesnake and Natural
Selection,’ admitted that whereas he had hitherto thought and taught
that the rattle did more harm than good to its owner, he now knew that
the sound is so similar to that of the stridulating insects upon which
some birds feed, that he had no doubt of its use in attracting these
to the snake. He himself had mistaken the sound for a locust. ‘Does
it invite its enemies or entice its prey?’ he asks. ‘Those snakes
that can best attract birds, are best fed.’ In reply to this, a Mr.
J. W. Beal of Michigan affirmed that he had often mistaken the sound
for grasshoppers; which educed many similar accounts from persons who
had been in danger of treading on a Crotalus through ‘inadvertent
approach,’ supposing that only an insect were there. A child had taken
it for a cicada, some one else for a locust, etc. Any one who is
acquainted with the wild parts of the American Continent, is familiar
with the ceaseless chirps and whizzings of those ubiquitous insects
which are furnished with the stridulating apparatus, and which lead you
almost to expect to see a scissors-grinder behind every tree. These
are all the more deceptive on account of their varying cadences, now
louder, now softer, approaching or receding, just as the sound of the
rattle varies by increased or less rapid vibrations, or according to
its individual size and strength. In a paper read before the Zoological
Society by Mr. A. R. Wallace in 1871, he invited attention to this fact
of the resemblance between the sound of the rattle and the singing of a
cricket, and that its use seemed to be to decoy insectivorous animals.

Dr. Elliott Coues is also of this opinion, viz. that to an unpractised
ear the sound cannot be distinguished from the crepitation of the large
Western grasshopper. A case has been reported, he tells us, of a bird
observed to be drawn within reach, thinking it was a grasshopper. Dr.
Coues also affirms that the sound has been heard when no perceptible
irritation disturbed the snake.[87]

Thus we see that the ‘inadvertent intruder,’ so far from being warned
away, is beguiled to his injury, both in the case of human beings not
quick to discriminate sounds, or not having rattlesnakes in their
minds, and with animals in their early experience who perhaps hear one
for the first time.

Another question is, ‘Does the snake sound its rattles when seeking to
capture prey?’

The editor of the _American Naturalist_ in the volume already quoted,
thinks they do not systematically set up a rattling for this purpose;
and as far as observation of snakes in confinement can be of use, this
opinion may be confirmed. Probably a captive snake may have learned
by experience that, hungry or not, it must wait for its periodical
dinner, and that its ‘dinner bell’ avails it nothing. Nevertheless, we
do not find that the snake uses its rattle upon food being placed in
its cage, unless the rat or the guinea-pig come tumbling unexpectedly
or unceremoniously upon the snake, when it would sound its rattle in
alarm; but it waits quietly, silently, rather receding than advancing
towards the destined prey, and then, after cautious observation,
stealthily approaching to give the fatal bite. Mr. Arthur Nicols,
author of _Zoological Notes_, etc., has there discussed this point,
but dismisses it by declaring he has no faith in ‘the dinner-bell

Nor can the rattle be designed to terrify enemies or as a menace, since
the sound would invite the attack of those very animals which the snake
has most cause to fear, namely goats, hogs, and the large carnivorous
birds that devour it. If, besides, it were used as a warning, why have
the young ones, which are more in need of protection, no rattle?

Darwin, in the sixth edition of his _Origin of Species_, 1872, writes
as follows, p. 162:—

‘It is admitted that the rattlesnake has a poison-fang for its own
defence and for the destruction of its prey; but some authors suppose
that at the same time it is furnished with a rattle for its own injury,
namely to warn its prey. I would almost as soon believe that the cat
curls the end of its tail when preparing to spring in order to warn
the doomed mouse. It is a much more probable view that the rattlesnake
uses its rattle, the cobra expands its frill, and the puffadder swells
whilst hissing so loudly and harshly, in order to alarm the many birds
and beasts which are known to attack even the most venomous species.
Snakes act on the same principle which makes a hen ruffle her feathers
and expand her wings when a dog approaches her chickens.’ This profound
thinker, then, is one of those who include the rattle among ‘the many
ways by which animals endeavour to frighten away their enemies.’

We may reasonably conclude that the _Crotalus_, in common with other
snakes, also with dogs and cats, expresses a variety of feelings with
its sounding tail, fear being the most predominant one. The Indians
recognise its utility as a warning by gratefully abstaining from
killing one that rattles. They superstitiously regard it as protective
to themselves if not to the snake, and they in turn carefully protect
the reptile. Backwoodsmen display little or no fear when they _hear_
the _Crotalus_, and though they do not spare it, regard it with less
bitter animosity than they display towards its cousin the Copper-head;
because, as a facetious writer has testified of it, ‘it never bites
without provocation, living up to the laws of honour, and by his
rattles giving challenge in an honourable way.’

That the sound has a language of its own is known by the fact that
when disturbed and one rattle is sprung, all other rattlesnakes within
hearing take up the chorus. That the sexes also understand each other
through crotaline eloquence is generally believed. In fact, to each
other and to themselves they have, no doubt, as many variations in the
use of their rattles, as any other animal in the expression of its
tail; and probably all the above enumerated examples are at one time or
another its legitimate uses. Those who have most closely observed them
have detected a variety of cadences in one and the same rattle.

Those also who have carefully watched rattlesnakes under various
circumstances, must perceive that timidity is one of the strongest
features in this reptile. In chap. xxx. I will give examples of this.
Already convinced by observation, I attributed to excessive timidity
the chief agitation of the rattle, when writing on the Ophidia in the
_Dublin University Magazine_, December 1875, and again in _Aunt Judy’s
Magazine_, July 1877. Fear causes some snakes to puff themselves;
others to expand or flatten the body; fear excites the cobra to erect
its anterior ribs and display its ‘hood;’ and, above all, fear causes
most snakes to hiss. Fear is coupled with anger, in these attempts
to do their best towards repelling the offender. Dr. E. Coues, in
speaking of the rattle, supposes it to have possibly ‘resulted in the
course of time from the continual agitation of the caudal extremity
of these _highly nervous and irritable creatures_.’ Dr. Weir Mitchell
has known captive snakes to vibrate the rattle for hours at a time;
and probably, if there were opportunities of becoming more intimately
acquainted with crotaline idiosyncrasies, we should discover some
snakes to be more or less afflicted with temper, nervousness, terror,
or other emotions which induce an animal to express its feelings in its
own way.

But the most remarkable peculiarity in this snake is that no other
way _is_ in its power: _a rattlesnake never hisses_. Throughout the
numerous arguments, theories, explanations, and suggestions, there is
such an absence of allusion to this fact that we must suppose it to
be very little known. Says Dumeril in describing _les petits étuis
cornés, comparé à celui que feraient plusieurs grelots peu sonorés:
‘Les Crotales diffèrent de tous les autres serpents connus par la
faculté qu’ils ont de produire des sons sourds et rapides, cu plutôt
des bruits continus et prolongés à l’aide d’un organe spécial, qui
supléerait—pour ainsi dire—à la voix, dont ces serpents sont toujours
privés.’_[89] But the sibilations of the rattle are often so like
hissing that they have been compared to the whistling of wind among
the leaves, to the escape of water through a pipe, to the whizzing of
insects, the rattling of seed pods, and many similar sounds, showing at
the same time the character of the noise and its variability.

Concisely recapitulating what this rattle does, we understand that in
the first place it is a substitute for the voice—so far as hissing can
be called voice; and that what would cause other excessively nervous,
timid, terrified snakes to hiss, causes the rattle to vibrate. It may
attract insectivorous birds; it may alarm other timid creatures; it
may summon its mate; and, as is well known, it has sympathy with its
mate; for a second rattle is almost sure to be sounded, and they have
been observed to sound in pairs or numbers responsively—it may be
to express anger, fear, and for aught we know _pleasure_, in a state
of liberty and enjoyment, feelings expressed by the tail of other

Why it is formed as it is, so wholly different from all other tails;
from what it has been evolved; and how long in evolving,—all these are
problems to be solved by future Darwins and future Evolutionists.

This chapter, therefore, closes with only feeble speculations after
feeble attempts to explain an inexplicable phenomenon. The simplest and
truest solution seems to be found in those few words, ‘_qui supléerait
à la voix, dont ces serpents sont toujours privés_.’

Again, we wonder whether in the non-hissing serpents any peculiarity of
trachea may be observed.





HAVING decided that in animal organization nothing exists without its
especial use; assuming also that the peculiar development of cuticle
forming the rattle is to supply the deficiency of voice, we are next
induced to examine those other appendages in serpents which are also
modifications of the integument, such as the ‘horns’ of the Cerastes,
the tentacles, snout-protuberances, and developments occasionally seen
about the head of snakes, and which have all, no doubt, their uses.

‘Serpents are naked,’ says Günther—that is, they have no separate
epidermal productions in the way of fur, feathers, hair, or wool,
and all the variations of form in scales are but the folds of the
epidermis.[90] The ‘variations of form’ include, therefore, the
appendages above mentioned.

The heads of most snakes are covered with non-imbricated plates or
shields. The form and position of these shields are in a great measure
used in classification; ‘are of the greatest value for distinction
of species and genera.’[91] For this reason each and all of the head
shields are specially named.

Ophiologists differ slightly in distinguishing them as regards
assigning the exact position of some of the shields, which, like all
other ophidian features, vary in closely allied species. As, for
example, while one naturalist may decide that a certain shield is
exactly over the eye, another may consider it somewhat to the right or
the left.

Günther’s classification being the one now generally adopted, I copy
the names assigned by him, and the diagrams given in his work.


_Fig. 1._ Top of the head of a Colubrine snake. _r_, rostral; _f’_,
anterior frontal; _f_, posterior frontal; _v_, vertical; _s_,
supraciliary; _o_, occipital; _t_, temporal.

_Fig. 2._ Profile of the same. _t_, temporal; _p_, posterior ocular or
orbital; _a_, anterior ocular or præorbital; _l_, loreal; _n_, nasals;
_uu_, upper labials; **, lower labials.

_Fig. 3._ Under side of the same. **, lower labials; _cc_,
chin-shields; _m_, mental or median lower labial.]

It will be observed that some of these shields can be seen both in the
profile and the others as well; as, for instance, the temporal and the
labial or lip shields. The study of them is simplified by the initial
letter of each name being used in reference to them. The names used
also speak for themselves; as _mental_, the chin shield; _nasals_, near
the nostril; _rostral_, the beak shields.

Ophiologists in deciding species, etc., enumerate those which are more
than a pair as ‘upper labials’ so many, ‘lower labials’ so many. In
some snakes these shields are so large as to cover nearly the entire
head; in others, they are almost inconspicuously small, or absent
altogether, and much varied, as we shall see.

In the vipers the head is generally covered with small, rigid,
imbricated, or overlapping scales instead of plates, and in some
the scales are so extremely fine and closely arranged as almost
to represent short bristles. This is noticeable in the African
‘nose-horned viper’ (_Vipera nasicornis_), p. 322, where they present a
curiously complicated structure.

[Illustration: Magnified carinated scale.

Magnified head-scale of _Vipera nasicornis_, of the
coloured illustration.]

Too minute to examine except under the magnifying-glass, or to attempt
to illustrate, we can convey only a general idea of these curious viper
scales, which to the touch are spinous, and rough as a coarse brush.
They must form an unpleasant perch for a bird, if it be true that the
latter is enticed by the horns of some vipers to come and peck at them,
as at a worm. These rigid head-scales become gradually larger and more
simple on the body, but are still comparatively small for so large a
serpent. In some few of the viperine snakes, plates are present as
well as the fine scales, though chiefly about the nose and mouth,
exceptions which are now and then found in non-venomous ones also.
The preceding three illustrations are the head shields of a Colubrine
snake, in which a greater uniformity prevails. Below are given four
other types, though even here variations are constantly occurring.


_Fig. a._ One of the Indian _Crotalidæ_. It has two conspicuous
supraciliary shields, two equally conspicuous anterior frontals over
the nostril. The rest are small, and those on the top are absent
altogether. The scales are all finely carinated.

_Fig. b._ The head of a Colubrine snake in which the same scales appear
as those in Fig. 1 of the preceding page, viz. two orbitals, etc., but
are all much smaller, and do not therefore more than half cover the

_Fig. c._ The head of a sea snake, which as to design is really pretty,
and, as Günther affirms, so different from land snakes in respect to
head shields, that without any further investigation an ophiologist can
at once distinguish the _hydrophidæ_.

_Fig. d._ The head of a viper in which only very small supraciliary
and nasal (or anterior frontal) shields are seen. The angular form of
the viperine head is here noteworthy. In some of the Tropical American
viperine species (the _Crotalidæ_) the angular head is so marked as
to be separated into a genus—the _Trigonocephali_, three-cornered
heads. One head is sagittate or arrow-shaped to such an extent that the
serpent is known as the _Fer de lance_, the dreaded _Trigonocephalus
lanceolatus_ of the Antilles. There are _Trigonocephali_ among the
Indian Thanatophidia also.

One other very remarkable exception must not be omitted—namely, that
in pythons may be seen an angular head, which makes the neck thin and
conspicuous, only in a less degree; and also the absence of large head
shields. In addition to this, many of the pythons have particularly
short and very pointed tails—three singular viperine features in
non-venomous snakes, which can only be inherited from a common ancestry.

Another caprice is seen in the carinated or keel-shaped body scales,
which are found in venomous and non-venomous, land and water, ground
and tree snakes indifferently; though I think one may be safe in
affirming that none of the true vipers have unkeeled and polished
scales. Nicholson has observed that in several allied species, some
have and some have not the keel, and that those without do as well as
those with. ‘The history of the keel is not known,’ says this author.
In appearance it reminds one of the mid-rib of a leaf or of a feather,
and may probably be an inherited feature in common with birds whose
reptilian ancestry in process of ages had fluttered their scales into
feathers. In fact, in many snakes where no keel is found, there is
some slight indication of a centre line, even if it take the form of
a groove or depression. In the _Tropidonoti_ the keel is so developed
as to distinguish the group; yet many with keels have comparatively
smooth skins. The carinated scales of vipers (from _carina_, a keel)
are sharply defined, like the keel at the prow of a ship, or like the
breast-bone of the swift-flying birds which Mr. Sclater, in one of
his zoological lectures, described as the carinate birds. It is these
sharply-defined, stiff; and dull scales belonging to the vipers which
produce the rustling noise when the snake is agitated, as described in
the little Indian _Echis carinata_ in the chapter on hissing. In the
_Cerastes_ I have witnessed the same agitated convolutions accompanied
by the audible rustling produced by the rough scales. See illus. p. 317.

What are called ‘horns’ in some of the African vipers are
curiously-modified scales, which, under close examination, present the
appearance of half-curled leaves, sometimes of ears, like those of a
rabbit or a mouse. Being only cuticle, and liable to injury, these
‘horns’ vary in size and colour as well as form.

[Illustration: The sloughed horns of _Vipera nasicornis_ (exact size).]

The accompanying figure is from the slough of the _Vipera nasicornis_
of the coloured illustration. They were not reversed in desquamation,
but came off with a portion of the fine spiny head scales. They were
so dry and shrivelled at the time, that it is hard to conceive how
they could possibly be reversed, the rest of the bristly head-scales
peeling off in pieces. Yet we cannot conclude from this that the horns
are _never reversed_ in sloughing; the individual in question having
undergone long captivity in a close box during her journey from West
Africa, and arriving at the Zoological Gardens in such a miserable
plight that it was difficult to distinguish species or colouring for
many days. In this condition she remained for five weeks, when one fine
Sunday afternoon she presented the Society with forty-six viperlings.



Mother over five feet long, Viperling 9 inches.]

Soon after this event she discarded her way-worn and bedraggled
garment, and shone resplendent in gorgeous colouring, as presented to
the reader in the coloured illustration.

Her portrait was not taken until some weeks afterwards, when the horns
were therefore a little dry and shrivelled again. With the new dress
they presented a well-defined and perfect curve, tapering to a point,
and without any break in their outline. By degrees they became curled
in the manner here represented. Her colours were of a rich prismatic
hue on the sides, where the brilliant tints are so blended that to
paint them is impossible. Only on the back and in the darker markings
can the pattern be fairly represented. Her children all resembled her
in their rich tints, and were so handsome that one almost forgot their
evil propensities.

Forty of them died within a week. I begged hard for one of the
deceased. The keeper of course had no power in his hands. All were
wanted for scientific experimentalists. Alas, I was no scientist, but
only a woman! The following Sunday, when I was at the Gardens, the
forty-first baby viper had just died. The Superintendent ‘happened
along,’ and was greeted with another appeal from me. He would ‘consider
of it’ and let me know ‘to-morrow.’ ‘Oh, why not _now_?’ pleaded the
reader’s devoted servant. ‘You can’t want forty-one little dead vipers!’

Suddenly to the rescue appeared on the scene no less a personage
than Dr. Günther, and to him I urged my request. ‘Well,’ said he in
response to my eagerness, ‘one of Our Council is here, and’—Yes, the
F.Z.S. referred to had, with the Superintendent, just passed the iron
barrier to view the interesting little survivors, and Dr. Günther
followed, while I discreetly remained outside. My suspense was not of
long duration, for soon reappeared the amiable Superintendent daintily
carrying a little paper bag which might have contained bon-bons.
‘Fortunately,’ said he, ‘two of Our Council happen to be here, and so,’
etc., and I became the happy possessor of the scarcely cold viperling,
here faithfully represented by the side of its mother. Exultantly I
carried it off to a sequestered spot,—thinking chiefly of _you_, dear
readers,—and examined its ‘horns,’ which wore the appearance of an
ornamental top-knot rather than horns. They were like a bow, or two
little ears, or half-unfolded leaves. Its colouring was gorgeous, but
the pattern is too fine and complicated to represent on so small a
scale. The black triangular mark on the head of both mother and child
was like velvet in its density. Nor was this appearance lessened
under the lens; for quickly I ran off with my treasure, and spent
a delightful ‘evening at home’ in studying its ‘points,’ not even
excepting those of tongue and fangs. The former is represented on p.
120, and the latter on p. 360. The other results of my investigations
come under their separate heads in this book.

Another of the horned serpents, _Vipera cornuta_, has a cluster of
leaf-like scales in three distinct pairs decorating its nose. These in
the individual at the Zoological Gardens were particularly ear-like,
and there was a remarkable peculiarity about them which was not found
in either of the other horned specimens when dead. It was, that when
one horn was moved divergently with the finger, its fellow moved
_without being touched_ to correspond, and when let go _both_ sprang
back to their original position. I at first was merely feeling and
examining them when this singularly sympathetic movement arrested my
attention. Then I tried it with each of the six scales or ‘horns’
several times, and always with the same result. Whichever one of them
was held back, the opposite one diverged at a corresponding angle.


1. Natural position.

2. Three held back to their utmost.

3. Three held back partly.]

Their natural position is nearly erect, and when one horn—say the
longest to the right in Fig. 1—was pressed or pulled outwards, we
might suppose that in a dead specimen it would drag its fellow that way
also, should any movement at all take place; instead of which, it flew
off in the opposite direction, like two negative or two positive poles
repelling each other. If I pressed the three to the right as much as in
the centre figure, the other three receded similarly to the left. Each
pair acted in concert in this remarkable manner, or each two pairs, or
all three pairs.

The three sketches are given merely in illustration of a phenomenon
which I cannot attempt to explain or even to comprehend. They
were drawn from memory, and are not therefore offered as exact
representations, though near enough to serve our purpose. The movement
seems to argue some peculiar muscular or nervous connection between
each pair. The serpent had not been long dead; and as no others of
this species have since been at the Gardens, I cannot tell whether
the same sympathetic movement would be seen in the living viper. I
have attentively watched the horns of the other vipers, but never
detected the slightest voluntary action in them. Nor do the horns of
_V. nasicornis_ respond to the touch in the same way. A third of the
horned vipers is the _Cerastes_ of classic times. Illustrators of books
from descriptions only have presented us with this serpent adorned
with horns like a young heifer. They are simply scaly appendages like
the rest, but when perfect do certainly curve backwards and upwards
in a rather bovine fashion. It happened that a _Cerastes_ was brought
to the Gardens just after the six-horned viper had died, affording me
a happy opportunity of examining it. It was of this viper that Pliny
wrote: ‘It moves its little horns, often 4 in number, to attract
birds, the rest of its body lying concealed.’ It is the habit of all
those inhabiting sandy deserts thus to hide themselves, probably to
escape the scorching, drying sunshine, and with perhaps the nose and
upper part of the head exposed for breathing. I have carefully watched
several of the horned vipers for a long while together, but have never
detected the slightest volitional movement in their horns. A bird might
come and peck at them, nevertheless. Another belonging to South Africa
(_Lophophrys_) has a bunch of irregular and much shorter horns standing
erect and apparently unpaired. Incipient horny scales often accompany
the regular pairs, making it difficult to decide exactly which was
Pliny’s of the ‘four horns,’ and which is the _Hexacornis_ of Shaw.
Varieties exist and add to the perplexity; probably also hybrids occur
among these as among non-viperine snakes.

A curious variety of the nasal appendages appears in the _Langaha_ with
the _crête de coq_; only the crest is on the snout instead of on the

These spurs are merely modifications of the epidermis like the rest;
but are, no doubt, endowed with peculiar sensitiveness, so that
possibly they act as a sort of herald in the dark, like a cat’s

[Illustration: Profile of _Langaha_.]

There are the pointed-nosed Dryophidians also, with scaly
protuberances, and others with variously-elongated snouts terminating
in long, scaly, horn-like appendages, all, no doubt, more or less
sensitive, to enable the owners to feel their way, or ascertain the
nature of their surroundings, especially if they are of nocturnal

In some of the tree snakes, notably _Passerita_, there is no appendage,
but the long snout is itself endowed with mobility. This is a nocturnal
snake; a harmless and exceedingly slender, graceful creature.

[Illustration: Profile of _Passerita_.]

But of these curious developments or prolongations, one of the Indian
fresh-water snakes presents a remarkable example, almost allying
it to some of the fishes with long tentacular appendages. _Herpeton
tentaculum_ is its name, its pair of tentacles being scaly and
flexible, and in appearance somewhat like the African viper’s horns,
sticking out horizontally from its snout. They are employed under water
as organs of touch, and probably to discern food.

These are some of the most striking head-appendages; though in the way
of pug-nosed ophidians and curious profiles we might give a whole page
of illustrations.

In the acrobatic chapter, mention was made of a pair of rudimentary
hind limbs in some of the boas. Externally the derm is condensed into
‘claws’ or ‘hooks.’ In form they are merely long, simple appendages,
which in the largest boas are about as big as a finger. Claws and hooks
they are in the matter of use, being a pair, and they no doubt assist
the climbing snakes in grasping.

As a condensed form of the tegument, they are included in this chapter;
but as they are truly vestiges of limbs, I will digress a moment to add
a word.

Says Darwin on rudimentary and atrophied limbs: ‘The disuse of parts
leads to their reduced size: and the result is inherited.’ Some tame
little lizards in my possession—our native species—when crawling
about their cages scratching the sand or pushing their way among the
moss and rubbish, frequently made use of their fore legs only, allowing
the hind legs to drag after them, not because the latter were in any
way injured, but simply because the lizards could do well enough
without them. They were folded back or permitted to lie passively
prone against the tail, while the arms and exquisite little hands were
sufficient for the work required. They reminded one of Darwin’s words,
and though my style of talking to my pets was such as to suit lizard
comprehension solely, I did sometimes warn them in plain English. ‘If
you don’t give your legs sufficient exercise, they will dwindle away by
and by, and your descendants will have no hind legs at all!’

After thus moralizing to the unheeding lacertines, it was with secret
gratification that one heard Professor Huxley, in his Lecture on
‘Snakes’ at the London Institution, Dec. 1, 1879, say—as nearly as I
can remember—‘In evolution or a gradual change, the lizard found it
profitable to lose its legs and become a snake; all modifications are
an improvement to the creature, putting it in a better condition.’ In
this ‘better condition,’ therefore, does the slow-worm find itself,
when it glides noiselessly, and almost without stirring a blade of
grass, into its burrow. In other lizards one may sometimes observe
that the _hind_ legs are most used in scratching and pushing the earth
away. Thus, in the constricting snakes—these descendants of some
pre-ophidian lizards—the unused limbs have become obsolete; and the
spine, gaining strength with increased action, has at length become to
the constrictors their hands, feet, arms, and legs, and endowed with
those wondrous capabilities which were described in chap. xii.

To return to the integument. As one of its developments, the hood of
the cobra may be included in this chapter, the skin here exhibiting
its extensile or expansive construction. It is the longer ribs, about
twenty pairs nearest the head (see p. 33), which really do form
the hood. These anterior ribs, gradually increasing in length and
decreasing again, are not connected with the ventral scales in the
same way as those on which the snake progresses, but can be elevated
or expanded in the manner familiar to the reader; they then support
the extended skin exactly in the way that the ribs of a lined parasol
support the fabric; only while the ribs of the parasol spring from a
common centre, the ribs of the cobra are attached to its vertebræ,
requiring no other agency than the will of the owner. The action of
the ribs as expressive of emotion, in several species of snakes, was
mentioned page 150. In the ‘hooded’ snakes (_naja_), it is seen in an
extreme degree. Facing you, the angry cobra displays these umbra-like
expanded ribs, while the form of the ‘neck’ or vertebral column in the
centre is prominently perceptible. When at rest, they all lie flat one
over the other, like the ribs of a closed parasol.

In the way of external peculiarities the ‘gular fissure’ may be
mentioned. It is merely a slight groove or crease extending from
the chin longitudinally under the throat for a few inches or more,
according to the size of the snake; a sort of wrinkle (_fosse_) to
admit of expansion during the swallowing of prey.

Externally snakes have no indication of ears; therefore, in the way of
integument, there is nothing to describe in their organ of hearing. But
the eye covering is a beautiful and wonderful arrangement.

Snakes have no eyelids, and can therefore never close their eyes, a
fact which has given rise to a vulgar belief that they never sleep.
Their eyes are, however, well developed, particularly in those
snakes which live above ground, and are covered with a transparent
layer of the epidermis, forming a capsule which is moulted with
the cuticle. Physiologists tell us that it is moistened with the
lachrymal fluid. Bright and glistening is the serpent’s eye, except
previous to desquamation, when, from the new skin forming beneath, it
becomes opaque and dull, and the snake is blind for a few days more or
less, according to its health at the time. Rymer Jones considers the
transparent membrane cast with the slough a real eyelid in a framework
of regular scales; Huxley (in the lecture already alluded to) said
snakes’ eyelids are as if our two eyelids were joined. In form and
appearance this moulted cuticle is singularly clear and shapely: on the
outer side, like a miniature watchglass; but within it is a perfect
cup, standing up and out from the surrounding scales like a cup in a
saucer, the rounded base of which is the transparent skin, as here seen.

[Illustration: Illustration of eye covering.]

For the process of sloughing or casting the skin, the term
desquamation—literally, an unscaling—is often used; but this word
seems rather to imply an unhealthy action, as if the cuticle peels off
in pieces, than the normal operation, which is to shed it entire.

It is a matter of surprise—if we are to believe what we read—that
few naturalists seem to have witnessed this process, so as to be able
to describe it from their own observations; but this must be due more
to lack of interest than of opportunity, since the occurrence is very
frequent. Those in the vicinity of Zoological Gardens have no excuse
for not observing it; yet so lately as Oct. 1879, we find a writer in
_Nature_, vol. xx. p. 530, attempting to describe the ‘skin-shedding,’
with the admission that he has never witnessed the process, nor, he
believes, ‘has any observer’! He thinks snakes shed the skin ‘as if you
turned a narrow hem, or a glove-finger by a knotted thread fastened at
the tip,’ and which of course would draw the tip _inside_ the finger.
The glove tip is to represent the tail of the snake, which, as he
supposes, adhering _at the tip_, is drawn along _inwards_ as the snake
proceeds to crawl out of its own mouth, or its cuticle’s mouth—which
has already become loosened round the lips. This, in the mind of that
writer, satisfactorily accounts for the skin being usually found
reversed! Can he have never seen a silkworm change its skin; or found
the slough of a common caterpillar adhering to its tail; or observed
the appearance of its mouth previous to the moulting? True, a slow-worm
sometimes leaves its slough in a crumpled-up condition, exactly like
the silk-worm’s. This I have seen. On the other hand, the same little
reptile, on another occasion, crawled out of its coat, leaving it
perfect and unreversed through its entire length. Both sloughs have
been preserved. As a more general rule the slough is reversed; but in
the process it folds back and over the body, _outside_ of it, in the
manner of a stocking drawn off from knee-wards, and turning back till
entirely reversed it leaves the foot. This common and apt illustration
is easily understood if we suppose the top of the stocking to be the
mouth of the slough, and the toe its tail. But as the toes might
sometimes slip out of a stocking when nearly off, so does the tail
of a snake sometimes slip out; this portion therefore is often found
_unreversed_. More than a hundred years ago the sloughing of snakes was
understood and described in the _Phil. Trans._ for 1747, vol. xl.; as
also of lizards ‘slipping off their skins as vipers do.’ Some young
vipers changed at six weeks old, and again in two months after that.
‘They always began at the mouth,’ said the writer. The process has been
witnessed and described by many since that, though more by foreign than
by English naturalists.

Some of the older writers have told us that ‘a snake frequents the spot
where it has cast its skin,’ or, in other words, that it selects that
locality for its nest—a fact as curiously stated as if you related of
a person that he chose for his home the house in which he performed his
toilet. Snakes have a strong affection for locality; and where their
nest is, there, or near it, their garments are naturally renewed.

Another mooted question has been the precise period of sloughing;
formerly the accepted opinion was that once a year, viz. in the spring,
was the usual habit. This was probably from so many coils of skins
being found at this season. That they do change in the spring may
be established as an almost invariable rule; but not then only. No
precise periods can be given with certainty, because it depends on the
individual, its health and surroundings. The ophidian is a fastidious
creature, and when his garment becomes soiled or uncomfortable he
discards it. Thus after hibernation, when for some months numbers
of snakes have been coiled in masses in a cave or under stones
and rubbish, and they emerge into daylight, aroused by the sun’s
revivifying rays, what more natural than to cast off the old winter
garb for a more comfortable suit?

Almost invariably, soon after a long journey, and on being established
in a new home, a snake re-attires. We have seen what their travelling
cages are! Closely nailed up, and often in air-tight boxes in which the
poor things are tumbled over and over with as little mercy as ceremony
during removal from one conveyance to another, they arrive—as in the
case of the African viper (coloured illustration)—in such a pitiable
plight that it is next to impossible to identify them. Another almost
invariable rule is sloughing soon after birth—that is, in from a
week to a fortnight; also, during early and rapid growth, the young
snake will change frequently. Most ophiologists fix upon two months
as an average time, taking one snake with another; for while one may
desquamate every few weeks, another may keep his coat unsoiled for six

Sir Joseph Fayrer made careful notes on this subject. He had one cobra
which changed in rather less than a month—viz. first on Oct. 17th,
next on Nov. 10th, and again on Dec. 7th. A _Liophis_ at the London
Gardens changed every few weeks, and a _Ptyas_—he of the lecture
exhibition (p. 214)—changed almost once a month on an average.

A curiously beautiful object is the cast-off coat, and well worth
an examination. You discern the exact form of the reptile’s head,
mouth, and nostrils, the exquisitely transparent eye-covering, the
various forms of the overlapping or imbricated folds or ‘scales,’ and
how admirably the broad ventral plates are adapted for locomotion;
particularly noteworthy too is the perfect reversion of this coat of
some feet or some yards in length, turned inside out as you may turn a

The first time I watched the process was with the celebrated Hamadryad
soon after it was installed as a distinguished inmate at the Zoological
Gardens. The interest attached to this _Ophiophagus_ or snake-eater had
caused me to observe it on all possible occasions; and as the whole
front of its cage was clear glass at that time, the spectator could
easily see all that occurred within.

Will the reader once more accompany me in imagination to the Gardens,
and see how a snake performs its toilet? I have watched many since
then, and have observed the same proceeding in them all, those in
good health and able to assist themselves; in others it is a literal
desquamation or peeling off of scales or fragments in a dry state.
Encouraged by the very recent statement in a highly scientific journal,
that no one is supposed ever to have witnessed the sloughing of snakes,
I venture to again describe what I saw, having already done so in
the _Dublin University Magazine_ in Dec. 1875, and in _Aunt Judy’s
Magazine_ (Sept. 1874), and elsewhere.

We stand before the cage of the interesting Hamadryad (_Ophiophagus
elaps_). His name at once tells us that he is fond of trees as well
as of snakes; but, alas! there is no tree in his cage, not even an
old bough on which to exercise his climbing propensities. He is
wonderfully restless to-day, crawling ceaselessly about as if in
search of something. This, however, cannot be his object; for his head
is not raised in observation, but is close to the shingle, as if too
heavy to lift. He seems to be pushing it before him in a very strange
manner, and is evidently suffering discomfort of some sort. All round
his cage he goes, against the edge of the tank, still pushing and
rubbing his head, now under his blanket, or against any projecting
surface, under again, close to the floor, restlessly on and on in these
untiring perambulations; what can be the cause? After a tedious while
‘Ophio’—as his admirers call him—varies his movements, but only to
turn the chin upwards and push his head sideways over the shingle.
Now the other side he pushes along: the action is like that of a cat
rubbing her head against your chair. Now he turns his head completely
over, so that the top of it may come in for its share of rubbing;
and such for a considerable time are his persistent movements, while
we watch him wonderingly, and at length point him out to the keeper

‘Going to change,’ said Holland. ‘That’s the way they always do.’

To you and me, dear reader, the sight is novel and interesting; so let
us continue to watch, glad that nothing more serious is the matter with
this rare and valuable snake than doffing an old coat.

And soon we see the skin separating at the lips, where, no doubt, it
has caused irritation and induced that incessant rubbing. Now the
entire upper lip is free, and the loose portion laps back as Ophio
pursues his course. Next we see the skin of the under lip detaching
itself; and that is also reversed, the two portions above and below
the jaw increasing every moment and folding farther and farther back
with the ceaseless friction until they look like a cape or hood round
Ophio’s neck, from which his clean bright head emerges. Hitherto the
process has been tedious, but now the ribs are reached, and they take
part in the work and facilitate matters greatly. The snake has no
longer to rub himself so vigorously, but simply to keep moving; and at
every step, so to speak—that is, with every pair of ribs in succession
beginning at the neck—the large ventral scale belonging to that pair
is shoved off, carrying with it the complete circle of scales. With an
almost imperceptible nudge each pair of ribs eases off a portion, which
continually lengthening as it is vacated, and reversed of course, folds
back more and more, till Ophio looks as if he were crawling out of a
silken tube. As he thus proceeds, now very rapidly, he emerges bright
and beautiful—six inches, a foot, two feet; and all the while each
pair of ribs successively performs its part with that nudging sort of
action, like elbowing off a coat sleeve. If we had begun to count from
the very first pair, and if he had not gone under his blanket during
the process, we could have told the precise number of pairs of ribs
which he has to assist his toilet. He had two yards and a half of old
coat to walk out of, but this he achieves in far less time than it
took him to get his head clear. In his native tree or jungle he would
have found leaves and underbrush to aid the operation; and it would
be a great kindness to snakes in captivity to provide them with wisps
of straw, when sloughing, or some rough rubbish in their cages. Soft
blankets and smooth wood-work do not offer sufficient resistance for

The constricting snakes are less at a loss. From their pliancy of
motion, and their habits of coiling—from the fact of their ‘whole body
being a hand,’ as we have already seen, they can assist themselves by
their own coils passing through them, and so helping to drag off the

Those who have kept snakes tell us that the tame ones will even leave
the slough in the hand, if you hold them during the process, and permit
them to pass gently through the closed fingers. Owen, in his _Anatomy
of the Vertebrates_, mentions as a not unfrequent action, that when the
head is free from the slough the snake brings forward the tail, and
coils it transversely round the head, then pushes itself through the
coil, threading its body through this caudal ring.

But we have left our captive with still about a foot and a half of
garment to get rid of and this is not much less difficult to accomplish
than the head-gear. He has arrived at the last pair of ribs, and
now, without such agency to free the tail cuticle, he more than ever
needs some opposing obstacle. He has only his blanket, however, to
pass under; and at last, by dragging himself along, the process is
completed, the extreme few inches sliding off unreversed.

On several subsequent occasions the Hamadryad has left the entire
tail, often _nearly_ all of it, unreversed, as do many other snakes.
Sometimes by a succession of jerks they manage to get rid of this
portion; sometimes a comrade happens to pass over the slough—a great
assistance, as affording resistance. I observed this particularly in
a small constrictor, one of the three that entrapped two or three
sparrows in as many coils at the same moment. In this case the whole
process occupied less than ten minutes. After rubbing its head against
the gravel, and turning it completely over to free itself from
the upper shields, its ribs took chief part as usual, and I noted
particularly that each pair moved in concert, and not alternately. This
little snake went round close under the slanting edge of his bath-pan,
which afforded him some assistance, and by the time he reappeared in
front the whole slough was discarded, excepting a few inches of tail.
These few inches caused some trouble, until his friend the python
happened to pass over it, when with one final jerk the slough was free
and entire from lip to tip. It was the quickest and most complete
sloughing I have ever watched.

When all was over, the large, beautiful black eyes of this four-striped
or ‘four-rayed’ snake were particularly brilliant, as the little
constrictor looked about and watched observantly, rejoicing in his
newly-found faculty, after the blindness of the preceding days. Often
the snakes are shy, and change at night; the tamer ones, however,
undress when it suits them, affording frequent opportunities for

The slough when first discarded is moist and flabby; but it soon dries,
and then in substance is as much like what is called ‘gold-beater’s
skin’ as anything else, though a stronger texture is observable in the
head-shields and the ventral scales.

The size of the scales does not appear to bear any very regular
correspondence with the size of their owner; for you will notice that
some snakes only three feet in length, have larger scales than others
three yards in length. Some of the immense pythons have smaller scales
than a rattlesnake; and again, snakes of similar dimensions have scales
different both in size and form. As great a variety is seen in the form
and arrangement of scales as of shields.

Snakes are to a certain extent invalids previous to the shedding of
their skin, temporarily blind, courting retirement, and declining food;
but they recover triumphantly the moment the slough is discarded.
They then appear to rejoice in a new existence, their functions are in
fullest activity, their appetite keen. At this time the poisonous kinds
are most to be dreaded, probably from the venom having accumulated
during the quiescent condition.

At this time, too, their colours show to the greatest advantage, their
eyes are brightest, and their personal comfort no doubt is enhanced in
every way.

Before taking leave of the integument, a few words about the markings
or patterns and colouring of serpents may not come amiss. Mr. Ruskin,
in his celebrated lecture on Snakes, exhibited to his delighted
audience a fine anaconda skin, and drew attention to the ‘disorderly
spots, without system,’ with which this snake is marked. _Taches à
tortue_, as it was at first described; and by Dumeril as marked ‘_avec
de grandes taches semées sans ordre_.’ Notwithstanding the irregularity
the skin is handsome. The oval spots of various sizes and at unequal
distances have still a character of their own, as much as the spots of
the leopard or the stripes of the zebra, no two of which are placed
with mathematical precision. Mr. Ruskin had but few kind words to
bestow on ophidian reptiles, but the disorderly patterns of their coats
he greatly disapproved. Moreover, the great artist was inclined to
pronounce a sweeping verdict on the conspicuous ‘ugliness of the whole
_poisonous_ families’ without exception.

Now unfortunately we have had occasion to lament the good looks of many
venomous kinds which are easily mistaken for harmless snakes. Some
of the American _elapidæ_ are amongst the most beautiful, with their
black, white, and crimson rings. The African viper and her young one
baffle the artist’s palette in their prismatic hues, as do several
other of the horned snakes. Indeed, for rich colourings the venomous
kinds rather carry the day. The _form_, it is true, is often clumsy
and ungraceful in the vipers, but as an exception we have ‘_vipera
elegans_,’ and others of less ugly and slighter forms.

Since the subject was thus presented to us, I have, however, observed
the markings more closely; and it really is curious as well as
interesting to note how very nearly the various patterns approach to a
perfectly geometrical design, yet failing in the same manner that a bad
workman would fail in imitating the pattern given him to copy.

[Illustration: Plan of design.]

To Dr. Stradling I am indebted for a very handsome boa skin from
Brazil. Spread upon the carpet it is like a piece of oilcloth, and at
the first glance I exclaimed, ‘Even Mr. Ruskin could not disapprove of
this.’ But on closer inspection one was obliged to admit ‘disorder’
throughout. The skin is about ten feet long, and the whole way down the
centre of the back runs a pattern which an accomplished artificer would
thus represent. There is evident intention of two straight lines with
points at equal distances, a very pretty centre of rich brown, picked
out with darker shades and spots of white. Throughout the entire ten
feet of skin most of the points and intermediate centres had a splash
or spot of white, and most of the points were opposite, but no two feet
consecutively could I find with better finished markings than this.

[Illustration: Exact pattern with the lateral spots.]

The outer spots also were evidently of triangular intentions, and
for the most part occupying the spaces midway between the points.
These, of lighter tints, also run the whole length of the snake, the
pattern of course diminishing with the size tailwards, but varying in
no other way. The question is not whether the strictly geometrical or
the less perfect design would be the handsomer, or we might give the
preference to the pattern as we find it; but looking closely at any
elaborately-marked snake, it certainly _is_ curious to perceive that
in every case there is this same attempt at something too difficult to
accomplish, as when a novice in fancy-work does her stitches wrong.
The same thing is seen in the snakes of the frontispiece, and the same
is seen again even in this simple pattern, a chain running down the
back of little _Echis carinata_. The spaces are unequal, the black
cross bands imperfect, and the centre spots some round, some oval, some
almost absent.

[Illustration: Pattern of a snake.]

May we conclude that this incompleteness is a sign that the design is
not fixed by long inheritance? But if it were so, and presented to us
with geometrical precision, it is doubtful whether we could admire it





IN the preceding pages it may have been observed that the adage, ‘There
are no rules without exceptions,’ occurs so frequently in ophidian
physiology that the latter are almost in the majority. Concerning the
teeth especially, the forms of dentition in the various families, the
distinction of species by them, the size and position of poison fangs,
etc., the rules involve so many exceptions that we can perhaps render
the subject less perplexing by dispensing with rules altogether. ‘The
gradations of teeth are very imperceptible,’ said Prof. Huxley in
his lecture at the London Institution. So numerous are their stages
of development that there is really no well-defined gap between the
venomous and the non-venomous species. ‘We do not know for certain
whether the ordinary teeth are poisonous or not,’ Huxley also said.
The recent researches into the nature of salivary secretions will
throw more light on this subject. A large non-venomous snake, like
other normally harmless animals, if biting angrily, with its abundant
salivary glands pouring secretions into its mouth, might inflict a
very ugly wound, especially on a feeble or frightened victim.

A few rules may, however, safely be offered as ‘without exception,’ and
these I will point out in order to clear the way a little towards a
better comprehension of the exceptional ones.

All true snakes, poisonous or not, that have teeth at all, have the six
jaws described in the first chapter, viz. the right and left upper jaw,
the right and left lower jaw, and the right and left palate jaw. The
latter are called ‘jaws,’ not anatomically, but merely as answering the
same purpose, being furnished with teeth; each true jaw and the palate
being considered as two or a pair, on account of the independent action
imparted to each by the especial muscles and the elastic tissue which
unites them, where in the higher animals they are consolidated.

With but one exception (the _egg-eating Oligodon_ or _Anodon_ family)
all other true serpents, whether venomous or not, possess the two rows
of palate teeth.

All can move or use each of the six jaws, or any two, three, or more of
them independently, as we observed in feeding, some of the six holding
the prey while others move on. Some writers have conveyed the idea
that there is a regular alternation and even rotation of the jaws in
feeding, No. 1, 2, and so on in succession till all the six have moved,
and then No. 1 in its turn again; but observation inclines me rather
to decide that there is no other rule than the feeder’s individual
convenience, according to what its teeth may be grasping, any more than
there is in other creatures that without reflection or intent, and not
strictly in turn, eat now on one side of the mouth and now on the
other (except in the case of some poor mortal with the toothache, when,
having only the two jaws, his distressful efforts are chiefly directed
towards relieving that side of its ordinary duties). Snakes, for aught
we know, may have the toothache: loose teeth they frequently have; they
suffer from gum and mouth affections too, and no doubt can at such
times relieve a whole jaw of its work.

In all true snakes the teeth are long, conical, and curved: not planted
perpendicularly, but directed backwards; these long, fine, claw-shaped
instruments presenting a formidable obstacle against the retreat of a
creature once seized by them. Their arrangement is a species of trap,
like the wires of a mouse-trap: to enter being easy enough, but to
escape against the spikes being impossible.

All snakes renew their teeth throughout life. Except fishes, therefore,
no creatures are so abundantly supplied with teeth as are the Ophidia.

On account of this continual loss and replacement of teeth, the number
is rarely so fixed and determinate as to be characteristic of the
species. Probably no two snakes, not even brothers and sisters of the
same brood, may possess precisely the same number of teeth at a given
age; because they are so easily loosened and lost, that the normal
number might rarely occur in all the members of the same family at the
same time. In the scientific language of Rymer Jones, ‘the facility for
developing new tooth germs is unlimited, and the phenomena of dental
decadence and replacement are manifested in every period of life.’

Says Nicholson, ‘The teeth are replaced not merely when accident has
broken off the old ones, but they are all shed at more or less regular
intervals, coinciding with the casting of the epidermis.’ Not on _each
occasion_ of sloughing, as we may, I think, understand this, but, like
the casting of cuticle, contingently, according to the condition of the
individual. Not altogether, either, or at certain periods of life, as
a child loses his first teeth and gets a second crop, or as an adult
cuts his wisdom teeth, but ‘a crop of young teeth work their way into
the intervals of the old teeth, and gradually expel these latter.’ All
the spaces and depressions between the maxillary and palatine rows are
occupied by the matrix of tooth germs. Not a cut can be made in this
part of the palate without the knife turning up a number of young teeth
in every stage of development.[92]

Independently of this accidental number, the maxillary presents certain
phases which characterize families. For instance, a true viperine snake
has in the upper jaw fangs _only_: non-venomous snakes have a whole row
of from fifteen to twenty-five maxillary teeth, and in intermediate
species their normal numbers vary considerably. Some of the highly
poisonous families, notably the cobras and the sea snakes, have a few
simple teeth in addition to fangs. The length of the jaw, therefore,
diminishes in proportion to the number of teeth it bears. Only the
viperine snakes are limited to the poison fang in the upper jaw; but
fangs, like the simple teeth, are shed, broken, or lost, and renewed

Behind the one in use—the functional fang—others in various stages of
development are found—‘a perfect storehouse of new fangs,’ as Mr. F.
Buckland in his facetious style called them; ‘lying one behind another
like a row of pandean pipes.’ In the skeletons of viperine snakes these
may readily be observed. In the living example they are enclosed in a
capsule, hidden by the loose gum sheath, called a gingeval envelope. So
when the functional fang meets with an accident, or falls out in the
order of things, the supplementary fangs in turn supply its place, each
becoming in time firmly fixed to the jaw-bone, and ready to perform the
office of its predecessor.

Poison fangs succeed each other from behind, _forwards_; the simple
teeth from the inner side, _outwards_.

Before proceeding further, it may be well to explain that what is
meant by the _true_ snakes in the foregoing rules, are those which do
not possess the lizard features; _Anguis fragilis_, and some of the
burrowing snakes which approach the lizards, not having the palate
teeth. But here again we are tripped up with exceptions, since we are
told that in dentition the boas are allied to the lizards; yet they
have palate teeth.

The importance of dentition in distinguishing snakes is seen in the
names assigned to them from their teeth alone. In giving a few of these
terms we enable the reader to perceive at once, not only how very
varied are the systems of dentition, but in what way they vary, the
words themselves conveying the description.

The names here given are without reference to venomous or non-venomous
serpents, but only as belonging to certain families whose teeth present
characteristics sufficiently marked to be named by them.

From _odous_, _odontos_, a tooth.

  Anodon,     Toothless.
  Boodon,     Ox tooth.
  Cynodon,    Dog’s tooth.
  Deirodon,   Neck tooth.
  Dinodon,    Double tooth.
  Glyphodon,  Grooved or carved tooth.
  Heterodon,  Abnormal tooth.
  Isodon,     Equal toothed.
  Lycodon,    Wolf’s tooth.
  Ogmodon,    Furrowed or grooved tooth.
  Oligodon,   Few toothed.
  Rachiodon,  Spine toothed.
  Sepedon,    Noxious tooth, or a tooth causing putridity.
  Tomodon,    Stump tooth.
  Xenodon,    Strange tooth.

In Dumeril’s system very many families, including sometimes several of
the above, are grouped according to their teeth, thus:—

      _Aglyphodontes_,   Teeth not carved or notched.
      _Holodontes_,      Whole or entire teeth.
      _Anholodontes_,    Without whole or entire teeth.
      _Aproterodontes_,  Without front teeth.
      _Isodontiens_,     With even teeth.
      _Apistoglyphes_,   Grooved at the back, or the back teeth grooved.
      _Proteroglyphes_,  Grooved in front, or the front teeth grooved.
      _Solenoglyphes_,   Cut or carved with a canal.
  And some others whose names are equally descriptive.

These various characters, with the exception of _Aproterodontes_, which
refers to the under jaw, have reference to the upper jaw only. It might
be tedious to the reader to enter into a minute description of each of
the above groups: sufficient for our present purpose is it to show that
such varieties exist, and that a simple, even row of teeth, as a family
distinction, is oftener the exception than the rule. Some of the teeth
increase in size posteriorly, others are largest anteriorly; others,
again, are larger towards the middle of the jaw, and decrease at either
end. Some harmless snakes have ‘fangs,’ that is to say, fang-like
teeth, but not connected with any poison gland, and at the back
instead of the front of the jaw. Again, there are some non-venomous
species that have the power of moving these fang-like teeth, raising
or depressing them as vipers move their fangs, and as will be further
described presently. Some grooved teeth convey an acrid saliva, others
are without any modification of saliva, the long teeth being of use in
holding thick-skinned prey.

Thus we find every gradation both in number and in form until we come
to the true fang, the ‘murderous tooth’ of the terrible cobra, the
_hydrophidæ_, and the _viperidæ_. And noteworthy it is that the fewer
the teeth in the maxillary bone the more terrible are they. Fig. A of
the four illustrations given opposite is the jaw-bone of the Indian
Rat snake, _Ptyas mucosus_, already ‘honourably mentioned’ in these
pages. The illustration being taken from Fayrer’s _Thanatophidia_,
may be received as a faithful representation. This conveys a good
idea of jaws generally in non-venomous snakes of that size, say from
six to ten feet long. In some of the smaller kinds the jaw and palate
teeth are so fine as to be almost imperceptible to the naked eye. To
the touch they feel like points of the finest pins. Draw your finger
along or press it against a row of ‘minikin pins,’ and you will form a
correct idea of these tiny weapons. I have often _felt_ when I could
not _see_ them in the mouth of a small harmless snake. Pass the tip of
your little finger gently along them towards the throat, and they are
almost imperceptible even to the touch; but in withdrawing your finger
_against_ the points, you feel how excessively fine they are.

The accompanying illustrations are from nature, and exemplify the
various lengths of jaw in four snakes, not differing very greatly in

[Illustration: Four jaws. From Fayrer’s _Thanatophidia of India_.]

_Fig. A._ _Ptyas mucosus_, with simple teeth only. That they are not
very regular is probably owing to the stages of growth in those that
have replaced others.

_Fig. B._ A venomous snake, _Bungarus_, the ‘Krait,’ with a fixed fang
in front and a few simple teeth behind it.

_Fig. C._ Jaw of the cobra, with a longer fixed fang, and one or two
simple teeth behind it.

_Fig. D._ The shortest jaw of them all, that of the Indian viper
_Daboia_, in which the maxillary is reduced to a mere wedge of
bone. These, with four or five reserve fangs, are here folded back
‘depressed.’ A few palate teeth are also seen.

Having given a slight sketch of the various forms of dentition, and
arrived at ‘fangs,’ we may recapitulate, in what Nicholson calls
‘roughly speaking,’ four stages of development in these latter.

_First_, the ‘fangs’ of the harmless snakes, such as _Lycodon_,
_Xenodon_, _Heterodon_, etc., which have no poison gland, but whose
saliva may be slightly and occasionally injurious.

_Secondly_, those having a salivary gland secreting poison and a
grooved fang in front of some simple teeth, _Hydrophidæ_.

_Thirdly_, the maxillary bone shorter, bearing one poison fang with a
perfect canal, and one or two teeth behind it. In some of these there
is a slight mobility.

_Fourthly_, the maxillary bone so reduced as to be higher than long,
and bearing only a single tooth, viz. a long, curved, and very mobile
fang, _Viperina_.

These four classes, be it observed, are only designated ‘roughly
speaking.’ Nicholson describes a close gradation in the development of
the poison glands also to correspond with those almost imperceptible
stages. The poison gland is after all only a modified salivary gland.
It lies behind the eye, whence the venom is conveyed by a duct to the
base of the fang, down along it, and sometimes through it, and is
emitted at what we may for the present call the point, into the wound
made by it, something on the principle of an insect’s sting. As when
inserting the sting the pressure forces the poison out of a gland at
its base, so does the pressure of certain muscles act upon the poison
gland when a snake opens its mouth to strike. In some of the most
venomous, viz. the viperine families, the largely developed glands give
that peculiar breadth to the head. There is a hideous, repulsive look
about some of these, that seems to announce their deadly character,
even to those who see one for the first time. The evil expression of
the eye, with its linear pupil; the peculiar curve of the mouth, with
its very wide gape downwards, and then up again, are unmistakeably
treacherous, venomous, vicious.

Like all other animal secretions, the poison is produced, expended,
and renewed, but not always with equal rapidity; climate, season, and
temperature, as well as the vigour of the reptile, influencing this
secretion. The hotter the weather, the more active the serpent and all
its functions. When the poison gland is full and the snake angry, you
may see the venom exuding from the point of the fang, and by a forcible
expiration the reptile can eject it. I have seen this in the little
_Echis carinata_ and its congener the _Cerastes_. I am not certain
whether the _Cerastes_ hisses or not, but under terror or excitement
it moves itself about in ‘mystic coils’ as Echis does, producing a
similar rustling noise with its scales; but both of them, if angry,
will strike at you with a sound which may be compared with a sneeze or
a spit, at the same time _gnashing_ their mobile fangs and letting you
see that they have plenty of venom at your service. They may almost be
said to ‘spit’ at you, though literally it is the mouth ‘watering with
poison,’ combined with the natural impulse to strike, which produces
this effect. We can, however, by this judge of the force with which the
venom is expelled, which in a large viper must be considerable.

Travellers have told us that a serpent ‘spouts poison into your eye.’
If an angry one strike, but miss its aim, the poison is then seen to
fly from its mouth, sometimes to a distance of several feet. Whether a
snake is so good a marksman as to take certain aim with this terrible
projectile, or whether he possess sufficient intelligence to attempt
it, we may doubt. Dr. Andrew Smith tells us that this belief prevails
among the natives of South Africa.

A bright object always attracts snakes, and some victimized traveller’s
eyes may have been remarkably brilliant, and in consequence smarted
under the accident. Be that as it may, the poison is sometimes so
abundant that you may see it flow from the mouth over the prey. The
glands being excited, just as are the salivary glands of mammals, the
mouth ‘waters’ with poison. In the Hamadryad I have seen it flow, or
more correctly ‘dribble,’ down over the snake it was eating. This
noxious secretion assists digestion in the same way that the ordinary
saliva in the human mouth does. Says Dr. Carpenter, ‘The saliva
prepares food for the business of the stomach; and if the ordinary
operations of mastication and insalivation be neglected, the stomach
has to do the whole work of preparation as well as its own especial
duty of the digestion.’ That the digestive powers of snakes are strong,
we know from the fact that nearly all animal substances are converted
to nutriment in the stomach of a healthy snake. The abundant saliva
must be a powerful agent in the process, because mastication takes no
share in the work. This has become more than mere conjecture, since
recent experiments have shown that snake venom possesses strong peptic
qualities; that, like pancreatic juice, it will even dissolve raw meat
and albuminous substances. Recent experiments have also shown that
the salivary gland is the laboratory in which the poison of venomous
serpents is elaborated; that ordinary saliva is there intensified,
concentrated, and endowed with its toxic properties.

During the two hundred years that have witnessed the development of
natural history into a science, many and various have been the methods
of zoological and particularly of ophiological classification. A
few of these methods are sketched out in chap. ii. It will be seen
that the character of the teeth had not for a long while much weight
in classifying snakes. According to Schlegel, Klein in 1755 was
the first to separate the venomous from the non-venomous snakes in
classification. But after him Linnæus, then the greatest naturalist of
modern times, distinguished snakes chiefly by the form of the ventral
and sub-caudal plates; so that in the six genera which he established
(_Amphisbæna_, _Cecilia_, _Crotalus_, _Boa_, _Coluber_, and _Anguis_),
rattlesnakes and boas, colubers and vipers, with others of the most
opposite characters, were jumbled up together; and the little burrowing
blindworm and the venomous sea snakes were supposed to be related,
because they neither of them had ventral scales! On account of his
vast researches and great reputation, subsequent naturalists were slow
to entirely overthrow his system and to venture on reforms of their
own, and our cyclopedias are suffering to the present day from the
confusion of the various methods of classification adopted by so many
naturalists, as a few quotations presently will show. Dandin, 1802,
though his work was reckoned by Schlegel the most complete up to his
time, comprehended all the venomous snakes under the head of ‘vipers.’
Cuvier divided the vipers (with _crochets mobiles_) from those with
fixed fangs; but yet was unsound in many other respects, confounding
the _Elapidæ_ with the _Viperidæ_, although he professed to separate
them. Another confusion arose out of the word _cobra_, Portuguese
for snake, so that wherever the Portuguese settled most snakes were
_Cobras_. In India the English have retained the name _Cobra_ for the
snakes with the hood, which name is now confined to the one group,

‘The characters of dentition offer in a great many cases a decisive
method for distinguishing the species,’ says Günther; ‘but as regards
the combination of species into genera and families, it is of no
greater importance than any other external character by itself....
Still I am always glad to use the dentition as one of the characters of
genera and species whenever possible—namely, whenever it corresponds
with the mode of life, the general habits, and the physiology.’[93]

Since the publication of Dr. Günther’s work, _The Reptiles of British
India_, 1864, the distinctions of the various types of dentition
seem to have been more clearly comprehended; and as this work is the
accepted authority among English ophiologists, and will best commend
itself to the reader, it shall be our guide in the present attempt to
simplify much complication.

The five groups of snakes described in chap. ii. are divided into three
sub-orders of Ophidia as follows:—1. _Ophidia colubriformes_ (the
harmless snakes). 2. _Ophidia colubriformes venenosi_ (those which, not
having the viperine aspect just now described, are the more dangerous
from their innocent appearance). 3. _Ophidia viperiformes_ (the
viperine snakes).

Although apparently named from their form only, it is the teeth which
have chiefly to do with these latter distinctions, as will be seen on
reference to the dotted examples of upper jaws. The first have the six
rows of simple teeth (four above, as seen, and the lower jaw teeth),
in all from 80 to 100 perhaps. The second have the two rows of palate
teeth, the lower jaw teeth, and a _fixed_ fang on each upper jaw, with
one, two, or more simple teeth in addition. The Australian poisonous
serpents are nearly all of this group, the only viperish-looking one,
the ‘Death adder,’ having fixed fangs like the cobras. The sea snakes
and the _Elapidæ_ are included. The third have only four rows of simple
teeth, viz. those of the lower jaws and those of the palate, with a
solitary moveable fang in each upper jaw.

[Illustration: From Fayrer’s _Thanatophidia_. The four larger dots
represent fangs.]

Fayrer divides the poisonous snakes of India, again, into four
families, viz. _Elapidæ_ and _Hydrophidæ_, with fixed fangs; and
_Viperidæ_ and _Crotalidæ_, with mobile fangs.

But without so many perplexing distinctions, I hope to be able to
interest the reader in that wonderful piece of mechanism, the poison
fang, and by the aid of the authorities to represent it in simple

We have long been accustomed to read that a serpent’s fang is a
‘perforated tooth’ or a ‘hollow tube,’ as if a miniature tusk had a
hole bored through its entire length, the poison entering at the root
and flowing out again at the point. This is not strictly the case.
Fangs in their construction are not absolutely ‘hollow,’ with ivory on
the outside and pulp on the inside, but are as if you had flattened
out an ivory tusk and folded or wrapped it over again, so as to form a
pointed tube. It would then have dentine both on the outer and inner
surface. This involution may be compared with that seen in a long
narrow leaf, in which the larva of an insect has enwrapped itself. The
various degrees of involution are extremely close, as also would be
the forms of leaves and the extent of curling which each caterpillar
had effected. Some fangs are folded so as to leave the—_join_, we
will call it, easily perceptible. Others leave a groove more or
less evident; while in others the fold is so complete as to have
disappeared entirely. Schlegel, in describing the insensible passage
from solid teeth to fangs, affirms that traces of the groove are always
perceptible: ‘_On découvre toujours les traces de la fente qui réunit
les deux orifices pour le venin._’[94]

[Illustration: Two fangs magnified, showing the slit more or less
complete. _c_, a section. From Fayrer’s _Thanatophidia_.]

In a mixed collection of thirty odd fangs of various snakes lent to
me by Holland, the keeper, for examination, and sent all together in a
little box, there were few in which I could not discern the join. The
keeper was not sure to which snakes each belonged, excepting one or two
of the largest, which were those of a puff adder. Those of the larger
_Crotalidæ_ I could identify by the peculiar curve. In a functional
fang of the ‘bushmaster’ (_Lachesis mutus_), which I myself took from
its jaw, there is a well-defined line, like a crack, the whole way
down, from the base to the slit; in a rattlesnake fang, also in my
possession, there is a faint appearance of this line or join; and in a
young Crotalus fang it is still there,—only a faint crack, such as you
would contemplate with alarm in your egg-shell china, still there it is.

It is scarcely necessary to explain that fangs differ in size in
different families, as well as proportionately to the size of the
possessor. In sea snakes they are not much larger than the simple teeth
behind them. In the Cobra they are larger than in the Bungarus; in the
viper they attain their largest size.

But in one respect all fangs agree, and that is in their delicacy and
fineness. Under the microscope, the stronger the lens the greater the
degree of exquisite polish and sharpness revealed. To handle those
of very young vipers is as difficult as it would be to handle fine
needle-points of similar length. One can compare them with nothing
else, except perhaps the fine thorns of the sweet briar, which are
equally unmanageable, and, as compared with manufactured articles,
equally exquisite.

Sir Samuel Baker describes the fangs (both functional and
supplementary) of a puff adder which he found. His words, if not
strictly scientific, are so graphic as to convey a true idea of these
terrible weapons. The viper was five feet four inches long, and fifteen
inches in girth in its largest part. The head was two and a half inches
broad. Sir Samuel counted ‘eight teeth’ (fangs), and secured five of
them, the two most prominent being nearly one inch long. ‘The poison
fangs are artfully contrived, by some diabolical freak of nature, as
pointed tubes, through which the poison is injected into the base of
the wound inflicted. The extreme point of the fang is solid, and is so
finely sharpened that beneath a powerful microscope it is perfectly
smooth, although the point of the finest needle is rough!’[95] He
describes the aperture in the fang as like a tiny slit cut in a quill.

This ‘slit’ is a very important feature in the fang, and is the cause
of much trouble in deciding whether a bitten person has been poisoned
or not. It is in reality a very small space _near_ the point, where the
involution of the fang is incomplete, that is, where it has remained
unjoined. This is to permit the emission of the venom. It is not
close to the point, which, as Sir S. Baker affirms, is solid. Being
solid, it is stronger and sharper, penetrating the skin of the victim
more easily, and making way for the venom which in viperine fangs
then follows and escapes through the slit into the wound. By this we
comprehend how a person may receive a puncture only, or a scratch with
this extreme but solid point, but not deep enough for the poison to
enter. The space between the lines at _a_ in the next illustration
shows where this slit in the fang is found. In the larger fangs it
may be readily discerned with the naked eye: under a magnifying glass
it is distinguishable in all. It is distinct in the fangs of the young
Jararacas now before me, and extends nearly half-way up the fang in

The examples of fangs here given are all from nature, and as near to
the exact size as it is possible to be in delineating objects of such
exceeding fineness and delicacy. Excepting the _Xenodon’s_ and the baby
viper’s, the others belong to the _Crotalidæ_, whose fangs are mostly
distinguishable by a slight double curve or flange. The viperine fang
is a continuous curve (see _f_), but in the _Crotalus_ the point curves
very slightly back again and downwards.

For the Brazilian specimens, I am indebted to Dr. Arthur Stradling, who
presented me with the snakes, out of whose jaws I myself procured them.
In this _Lachesis_ there were two fangs _visible_ on one side, and
only one on the other, viz. the functional pair, and one nearly ready
to replace one of these. In addition to the pair were four reserve
fangs hidden under the functional one on the right side. I say ‘under,’
because anatomically they were _beneath_, though locally _above_ when
the snake was in its natural position. All these five fangs I got from
only one side, and in addition some others too small to represent.
There may be yet more in the membranous capsule, as mine was a sadly
unscientific search for them, and without any very powerful magnifier.
Like Charas, I ‘grovelled’ for them! From a young _Jararaca_ I also got
out the functional and four or five supplementary fangs from one side,
also an exceedingly small and short jaw-bone, leaving the other side
undisturbed. Even the principal fang (_d_) is too fine to represent
faithfully in printer’s ink; the others are to the naked eye and to the
touch almost impalpable. When we reflect on the exquisite sharpness and
finish of these minute weapons, and the fatal injury they are capable
of inflicting, we are filled with awe and amazement at the virulence of
the subtle fluid which oozes through that almost invisible aperture.
The brother of this tiny African viper (_f_), when only a few hours
old, struck a mouse, which was dead in less than one minute. The whole
forty-six of them (p. 321) were born with the ‘murderous teeth’ in
their vicious little jaws. The fang here represented was loose in its
mouth. A pair of perfect functional fangs remained.

[Illustration: Fangs and some simple teeth from my specimens.

  _a._ Functional fang and four supplementary fangs from _Lachesis
       mutus_ (Brazil).
  _b._ Rattlesnake fang.
  _c._ Fang of young rattlesnake (Brazil).
  _d._ Fang of young _Jararaca_ (Brazil).
  _e._ Pseudo ‘fang’ of _Xenodon_ (Brazil).
  _f._ Loose fang from the mouth of _Vipera nasicornis_, aged one week.
  _g._ Portion of palate bone bearing four teeth, from _Lachesis mutus_
  _h._ Two lower teeth from the same.]

Picture to yourselves the intensity of that invisible molecule of
venom, which could ooze through an equally invisible aperture in this
last diminutive weapon, and be fatal to life in a minute of time! From
the effects observed on victims, I am inclined to place these large
African vipers amongst the most venomous of all serpents of their size.

It may be of interest to remark that the fang of the baby viper found
loose in its mouth does not resemble those remaining, either in form
or structure. That it cannot be a jaw tooth is evident from its size.
Jaw and palate teeth there are, but discernible only to the touch,
and under a magnifying glass. The fixed fang from the side on which
I found this loose one, is a trifle shorter, and much finer than its
fellow. In the loose one here given I can hardly discern any involution
at all, but on touching it with the inky point of a fine needle, the
stain shows it be hollow, and clearly so, at its base. In the two fixed
fangs, however, the involution is so incomplete that, minute as they
are, the point of a very fine needle can be drawn all down them without
slipping off.

One of them, the larger, on being touched with ink, revealed this
open groove or incomplete involution so distinctly that I tried the
other and was convinced at once. The loose one may be a first and
only half-developed fang. They are almost as transparent as glass. I
requested the keeper to look into the mouths of those subsequently
dead, but he found no other loose fangs. Of the remaining forty-five
deceased, let us hope those into whose hands they have fallen will be
able to throw some further light on the development of fangs in very
young vipers. Fayrer tells us that a young cobra is not venomous until
it has cast its first skin, which is usually within a fortnight. White
of Selborne found no trace of fangs in young vipers which he examined
with a lens; but these had not yet been born. The possible cause of
functional development in this little viper’s fangs may be found in
chap. xxiv. of this work.

Another erroneous impression regarding fangs has been produced by
confusing those that are ‘fixed’ and those that are ‘moveable.’ All
truly are fixed firmly into the jaw; but in the viperine snakes the
very short bone itself is moveable by a volitionary action, so that it
partially ‘rotates,’ and with it the fang. The _Elapidæ_ have fixed or
‘permanently erect’ fangs, and when the mouth is closed these fit into
a depression in the lower jaw. Viperine fangs only can be erected or
depressed at pleasure. It is those which spring into place for use like
a pen-knife half opened, and which when at rest are folded back, like
the knife shut up again. This action has been most lucidly described by
Coues in connection with the _Crotalidæ_, under which head I will quote
from his paper. Schlegel himself is not very clear in his distinctions
between those serpents that have ‘moveable’ fangs and those which have
not, but Cuvier had already described them as _crochets mobiles_.
Indeed, it is since the date of Schlegel’s work that more complete
investigations have revealed closer anatomical distinctions. We
therefore find in some of our highest-class encyclopedias, if not of
recent date, mis-statements regarding fangs which unfortunately have
been quoted in many works. ‘Venomous serpents depress their fangs,’
says Schlegel’s translator, true to the text, but as if it were common
to all. Describing deglutition, Schlegel says ‘the same in all’ ‘_sans
en excepter les venimeux, qui lors de cet acte redressent leur crochets
et les cachent dans la gaine des gencives, pour ne point les exposer
à des injures_.’[96] This, however, is the case with the _Viperina_
only. It is common, for the reasons just now assigned, to find the
cobra classed among the vipers, in some popular encyclopedias; and in
one, a valuable and generally trustworthy American edition of 1875, we
read, ‘moveable fangs like the cobra, viper, and rattlesnake.’ A cobra
has _not_ moveable fangs. Another, an excellent English edition, but of
not very recent date, includes _all_ venomous snakes under the head of
‘vipers;’ a third in general terms states that ‘venomous snakes have no
teeth in the upper jaws, excepting the fangs, and that the opening of
the mouth brings these into position;’ whereas it is now known that a
viper can open its mouth and yet keep its fangs depressed and sheathed.
In several other encyclopedias the description of fangs is suited to
vipers only.

It is not necessary to designate names, as these things will be set
right in the new editions. They are mentioned more with a view to
show that ophiology has advanced with rapid strides of late, rather
than presumptuously to criticise our standard works. Perhaps in
another twenty years my own poor efforts will be exposed as ‘old-time

The renewal of poison fangs is another subject of interest to
ophiologists: how the next supplementary fang becomes fixed,
_anchylosed_ to the jaw-bone; and how and when the connection with
the poison duct is completed. Mr. Tombes, in a paper read before the
Royal Society in 1875, describes a ‘scaffolding’ of bone thrown out
to meet and grasp the new fang, to ‘interdigitate and fix it in its
place; this soft bone rapidly developing and hardening.’ Sufficiently
marvellous is the functional fang in itself; the insertion of the
venom, a mode of subcutaneous injection invented long before the
doctors thought of it. ‘A most perfect hypodermic syringe,’ Huxley
calls it. Suddenly the hypodermic syringe is removed, say by accident,
by force, or by gradual decay, and all connection with the gland is cut
off; yet within a given period a second, a third, an unlimited number
in turn replace it: the connection is restored and the hypodermic
syringe is ready for action again. How the new one is brought into
relation with the poison duct has afforded much speculation, and
in the American scientific journals, as well as those of Europe,
papers on this subject appear from time to time. Dr. Weir Mitchell of
Philadelphia affirms that when the fang is lost by natural process
it is replaced in a few days: when by violence, several weeks elapse
before the next is firmly fixed.[97] He speaks of the rattlesnake
chiefly. Fayrer gives the periods in several cobra experiments. In one
cobra whose fangs were carefully drawn out on Oct. 7th, new fangs were
‘anchylosed’ to the bone in twenty-four days. In another, thirty-one
days elapsed before the new ones were ready for use; and in two others,
eighteen days. In all of these cases the new fangs were capable of
inflicting deadly injury by the time stated.

But the perfection of mechanism culminates in the viper fangs; and
reasoning from analogy, the intensity of poison in their glands also.
When at rest, these lie supine along the jaw, but can be ‘erected,’
_i.e._ sprung down, for use by a special muscle. The two fangs above
the dotted illustration of viperine dentition (p. 355) show both
positions. Nicholson affirms that the Indian viper Daboia can inject
as much poison in half a second as a cobra can in three seconds; ‘that
whereas a cobra’s virus flows in small droplets, the viper’s runs in
a fine stream.’ Though a much smaller snake than the cobra, Daboia’s
fangs are nearly double the size, as may be observed by comparing the
figs. _C_ and _D_ (p. 349). There seems reason to believe also that
this viper (which in its features Fayrer considers a true Indian type)
can inflict injury with more than the pair of functional fangs. ‘In
reference to the connection of the poison fangs with the maxillary
bones,’ says this learned experimentalist, ‘I would note that second
or even third supplementary fangs may be anchylosed with the principal
one to the maxillary bone. I have before me the skull of a Daboia, for
which I am indebted to Mr. Sceva, in which this is the case; and where
there are five well-developed poison fangs on each side, of which on
one side two are anchylosed to the bone.’[98] (Described by Mr. Tombes,
_Phil. Trans._ vol. clxvi. p. 146.)

This may explain what we so often read in the description of venomous
snakes found with two, three, or more fangs on each side. In my
_Lachesis_ two were distinctly visible before I began to dig for those
hidden in the loose membrane, of which there seemed an abundance, and
I am nearly certain that the second one had its own particular sheath.
The spirit in which the specimen had so long been immersed, as well as
my awkward probings, forbid me to speak with certainty regarding this
second sheath.

After one of his rattlesnake bites—twenty days after—Dr. Stradling
informed me by letter: ‘My little _durissus_ is shedding its skin; but
when that is over, I shall certainly examine its mouth. Now that my arm
is on the verge of ulceration, I find what I had not noticed before,
that each puncture is _double_—two large ones and a tiny second one,
about 1/12 inch behind each, standing out in black relief against the
scarlet skin.’

Neither of these experimentalists stated positively that the reserve
fangs were in connection with the duct, a phenomenon which I believe
is still unexplained. Fayrer removed the functional fangs from an
_Echis carinata_, and observed that there were no others fixed at the
time, though there were others loose in the mucous membrane. _On the
fifth day another pair were anchylosed and ready for use!_ As will be
presently seen, this little viper of sixteen or eighteen inches (almost
too small to recognise near the great python in the frontispiece),
displays corresponding vigour both in the potency of its venom and in
the renewal of its weapons.

From the foregoing illustrations of numerous pointed teeth, the
question might arise, ‘How are they disposed of when the mouth is
closed? and from the narrow space which is apparent in the flat head
of a snake, and the close fit of the jaws, how do the four or six rows
meet without interfering with each other?’ This difficulty is obviated
by the teeth _not_ closing one upon the other as ours do. Nor are the
palate teeth in the centre, or they would wound the upper part of the
trachea and the tongue sheath, which occupy considerable space. They
close down on each side of these organs. ‘Every relief on one surface
fits into a corresponding depression on the other surface, and accurate
apposition of every part is obtained,’ Nicholson explains to us. ‘The
four upper rows of teeth divide the roof into three parts, and the
lower jaw teeth fit between the upper maxillary and palatine teeth.’

There remains yet much more to describe in connection with the poison
fang, which might come in the present chapter; but as the two following
will treat of the _Viperidæ_ and the _Crotalidæ_—the dentition being
the same in both—the viperine fangs shall claim further space under
those heads. These three consecutive chapters, and also chap. xxii.
on some exceptional forms of dentition, must necessarily be somewhat
blended; but I divide them thus in order to present the distinct
families more clearly, and render the subject less tedious to the





THOUGH the ensuing chapter will be devoted more exclusively to the
_Crotalidæ_ or rattlesnakes, it were well to repeat here that the two
families _Viperidæ_ and _Crotalidæ_ comprise the sub-order of Ophidia
‘VIPERINA,’—those that have the isolated, moveable fangs, the term
_isolated_ having reference to the functional fang only. It may appear
incongruous to present the illustration of a viperine jaw with a whole
cluster of fangs, while affirming that there is the one pair only; but
the pair in use are ‘solitary,’ because the jaw bears no simple teeth,
as in those with fixed or permanently erect fangs.

The first observation of the mobility of the viperine fang and its
peculiar structure is ascribed to Felix Fontana,[99] an eminent
naturalist and Professor of Philosophy at Pisa, in the eighteenth
century. He formed the cabinet of Natural History at Florence, and died
1805, in his 75th year. But the _mobility_ or action of rattlesnake
fangs was known long prior to Fontana, and he probably borrowed the
expression ‘dog-teeth’ from the old Virginia writers who thus called
the fangs. Purchas (1614), quoted in chap. xvi., describes ‘venomous
Serpentes, one ten Spannes long, with great Tuskes, which they hide and
stretch out at pleasure.’[100] And again, in describing ‘foure kinds
of venomous Snakes. The first is greatest, Jararacucu, that is great
Jararaca, and they are ten Spannes long: they have great Tuskes hidden
in the Mouth along their Gummes, and when they bite they stretch them
like a Finger of the Hand; they have their Poyson in their Gummes,
their Teeth crooked, and a Stroake vpon them whereby the Poison
runneth. Others say they have it within the Tooth which is hollow
within. It hath so vehement a Poison that in foure-and-twentie Houres
and lesse it killeth a Man.’[101]

There can be no doubt but that viperine fangs are here described, those
belonging to the South American _Crotalidæ_, under their vernacular
but then their only names. Dr. Ed. Tyson, who dissected the first
rattlesnake that was handed over to science (p. 275), quite understood
the mobility of the fangs, and of the existence of supplementary teeth,
though not fully comprehending the nature of these latter; which ‘I
could not perceive were fastened to any Bone, but to Muscles or Tendons
there. These Fangs were not to be perceived upon first opening the
Mouth, they lying couched under a strong Membrane or Sheath, but so as
did make a large Riseing there on the Outside of the lesser Teeth of
the Maxilla’ (meaning the reserve fangs), ‘but at Pleasure when alive
they could raise them to do Execution with, not unlike as a Lyon or a
Cat does its Claws.’[102]

He found seven reserve fangs on each side; and though they were not, as
he tells us, ‘fastened to any bone,’ the illustration represents them
growing in regular order according to size in the jaw.

In another paper read before the Royal Society in 1726, also anterior
to Fontana, on the ‘Fangs of the Rattlesnake,’ the writer, Captain
Hall, describes the dissection, which was under the direction of Sir
Hans Sloane; and ‘then the Muscles that raise the poisonous Fangs
appear.’ This anatomist also found reserve fangs. ‘Putting by this
Membrane, the fatal Fangs appear, which on first View seemed only one
on each Side, till searching further there appeared four more. The
first and largest is fixed in a Bone;’ four others were loose in the

Several of the old authors quoted in the chapter on Rattlesnake History
of the Seventeenth Century were quite aware of the action of the
‘Springing Teeth,’ ‘Master Teeth,’ or ‘Canine Teeth,’ as the fangs were
variously called; and Lawson, 1707, describes ‘the Teeth which poison
are two on each side of the Upper Jaws. These are bent like a Sickle,
and hang loose as if by a Joint.’ Fontana’s observations were possibly
of greater scientific importance, otherwise it is singular that his
equally thoughtful predecessors, from whom he no doubt culled much
important information, should have been overlooked.

In these viperine fangs there is an analogy between the vipers and the
lophius, a fish with moveable teeth; only in the fish, as Owen tells
us, the action is not volitional,—the teeth bend back to admit food,
and then by elastic muscles spring up again to retain it.

The true nature of the reserve fangs was surmised by Mr. John Bartram,
who in 1734 wrote from German Town, in the American colonies, to a
F.R.S., ‘On a Cluster of Small Teeth at the Root of each Fang or Great
Tooth.’[104] He had a rattlesnake, ‘now a Rarity near our Settlements,’
and dissected it, when he ‘found in the Head what has not been observed
before by any that I can remember; _i.e._ a Cluster of Teeth on each
side of the Upper Jaw at the Root of the Great Fangs through which
the Poison is ejected. In the same Case that the two main Teeth were
sheathed in, lay four others at the Root of each Tooth in a Cluster of
the same Shape and Figure as the great ones, and I am apt to think for
the same Use and Purposes, if by an Accident the main Teeth happen to
be broken. May not these be placed to supply a Defect successively, for
the Support of this Creature?’

Mr. Bartram was singularly correct in his diffidently-offered surmises;
nor is it likely that in such a remote district as German Town then
was, he had ready access to foreign publications, or would have claimed
originality had he been cognisant of the work of M. Moyse Charas,
_New Experiments upon Vipers_, translated from the original French
in 1673. Charas, after describing the ‘_Great Teeth_,’ refers to the
‘smaller teeth’ (reserve fangs) ‘that are there in a Nursery, and are,
if we may say so, in expectation to serve instead of the many Teeth,
whether these come to fail of their force, or fall out of themselves.’
The author, to add weight to conclusions evidently originating from
personal investigations, tells us that he had ‘taken Pains to grovel
with a good deal of Patience in the Gums of innumerable Vipers.’

The Italian Redi, even prior to Charas, had also ‘grovelled’ in
the gums of Vipers, and observed the canal or slit in the fang,
‘_si fendono per lo lungo dalla radice alla punta_,’ and that these
canaliculated teeth in the moveable jaws (_ossi mobili_) were for the
conveyance of the venom.[105]

Thus, one hundred years prior to the work of Fontana, the structure of
the viperine jaw was understood and described by several—we may almost
say many—anatomists, to whom let due honour be rendered for their
individual and independent researches; from all of which Fontana had
doubtless benefited.

And so from numerous sources we might go on culling and quoting;
_Philosophical Transactions_ of France, Florence, Germany, and America,
as well as of England, showing us that little by little the scientific
workers examine, compare, correspond, till out of their life’s labours
a fact is established that may be printed and learned in six lines, but
which—as is well worth remembering—often represents the brain and
eyes and time of ages of scientists.

Next to engage attention was the _structure_ of the fang and the
‘involution’ described in the last chapter. A paper on this subject by
Thos. Smith, Esq., F.R.S., was read before the Royal Society in 1818.
Mr. Smith claims to have been the first to observe this involution as
being altogether different from the perforation of the pulp originally
supposed to be the case. He first noticed the slit in a cobra’s fang
(he being in India), and afterwards in a Hydrus (sea snake), and it
led him to further investigations. With a microscope the slit was
perceptible in a rattlesnake fang (which was also observed by the
present writer before reading this account).

One more paper in the _Philosophical Transactions_ on this subject
must be commended to the interested student. It is the one already
quoted (p. 363), ‘On the Succession of Poison Fangs,’ by Charles
Tombes, M.A., vol. clxvi. p. 470, 1876. In this paper is presented the
result of all the most recent investigations, enriched by still deeper
researches, but of too scientific a character to be introduced in this
simple narrative of the progress of ophiology. We may, however, say
that Mr. Tombes finds the character or function of succession differs
in the vipers from that of the venomous colubrines; and this, as the
construction of their fangs and maxillary jaw differs, is what we might
look for.

A few more words descriptive of the external aspect of the _Viperidæ_
may summarize what has already been said of them. Schlegel suggests
that their ‘noxious character is expressed in all their parts.’
With the exception of brilliant colouring, this may be accepted as
a rule. The broad, flat, angular head, rendering the ‘neck’ thin
and conspicuous, has gained for many of them the generic, sometimes
specific name of _Trigonocephalus_. From their deadly qualities,
_Clotho_, _Severa Atrox_, _Lachesis_, and _Atropos_ are among their
names; while _caudalis_ and _brachyura_ describe the short, thin tail
as opposed to the long and tapering tails of most colubrines. The true
vipers—those that have not the nasal fosse—belong particularly to
Africa, the _Crotalidæ_ proper to America, the chief distinction being
that the _Crotalidæ_ have and the _Viperidæ_ have _not_ the ‘pit’ (see
p. 277), of which more in the next chapter. The rigid, lanceolate
scales covering the head are another viperine characteristic; also
thick, heavy bodies, tapering at each end, and rough, carinated scales.
They inhabit for the most part dry, arid deserts and sandy uncultivated
places of the Old World, Africa being their most congenial habitat. The
coloured viper and young one convey a good idea of their general aspect.

Ophiologists do not agree in the arrangement of genera and species,
on account of the forms running so much into each other. Gray gives
nine genera and twenty species; Wallace, three genera and twenty-two
species; and Dumeril, six genera and seventeen species. The Death
adder of Australia (p. 172) is a heterogeneous species. Its aspect
is viperine, yet it has not viperine fangs, and does not therefore
belong to this chapter. Schlegel thinks it ought not to be separated
from the true vipers, but Krefft does not state positively that it is
viviparous, so it is altogether anomalous.

The researches of Dr. Weir Mitchel of Philadelphia have been of great
value to ophiologists. For two whole years he gave the best portion
of his time to the study of rattlesnakes, having a number of them
under constant observation. An exhaustive paper by him was published
in the _Smithsonian Contributions_, Washington, D.C., in 1860, giving
details of experiments with the venom and the treatments adopted. But
of especial interest here are his observations on the fangs and their
volitional action, it having previously been supposed that the mere
opening of the mouth brought the fangs into position, which is not the
case. As the _Crotalus_ can move each side of its mouth independently,
so it can use one or both fangs. ‘When the mouth is opened widely,
it still has perfect control over the fang, raising or depressing it
at will.’ Dr. Mitchel saw that though both fangs were present, both
were not always used. When a viperine snake yawns extensively, as it
so often does, you may sometimes perceive the fangs partially erected
or entirely so, or the ‘vibratile motion’ in them observed by Fayrer.
When the snake is angry, this vibratile action is much like that of
a cat gnashing the teeth; but when only in a yawn, the partial and
unequal erection of one or both fangs has the appearance of being
involuntary. In this I speak from observation. The effect is similar to
that seen about a person’s mouth in trying to suppress a yawn—a sort
of convulsive, nervous twitching. Whatever the cause, you perceive the
fangs moving, but _not_ moving always in accord.

The shedding or replacement of the fangs is, Dr. Mitchel thinks, a
regular process, as in the teeth of some fishes, though not regular
as to time. Sometimes, but not always, they are shed with the casting
of the cuticle. He ‘cannot suppose that the almost mature secondaries
are awaiting an accident;’ which agrees precisely with the opinions
of Dr. Edward Nicholson and other physiologists quoted in the last
chapter: ‘A crop of young teeth’ (or of fangs) ‘work their way into the
intervals of the old teeth, and gradually expel these latter.’ When
lost by accident or by violence, therefore, the process of replacement
is slower, as we can readily conceive, the ‘secondary’ next in turn not
being as yet ready for duty.

Though the American scientific journals devoted to zoology are rich
in ophidian literature, there are few available to English students;
and I regret I am unable to ascertain from across the Atlantic the
latest researches and conclusions regarding this and several other
correlative points. To Professor Martin Duncan I am indebted for the
loan of a volume which forms one of the ‘Bulletins’ of the United
States Geological Surveys, containing a valuable ‘Report’ on the
Crotalus by Dr. Elliot Coues, of the United States army, late surgeon
and naturalist to the United States Northern Boundary Commission, 1878.

It is these frequent Exploring Expeditions of America that have done so
much to enrich science in all its branches; as to them are appointed
efficient geologists, botanists, naturalists, and other scientists, who
send in their ‘Reports’ to Government, to be soon reproduced in the
form of large, handsomely-illustrated volumes. Copies of these (often
consisting of ten to eighteen thick quartos) are presented to the
members of Congress, governors of States, and to many others in office,
also to literary institutions. You may have access to them in almost
every large town in America; and there is no information connected
with the history and natural productions of the nation (including
the aborigines) that cannot be found in their pages. And as our
Transatlantic cousins are always exploring some new territory, and have
still untold square miles of mountain and valley to explore, their
scientific ‘Reports’ in huge quarto tomes can be more easily imagined
than counted.

This little digression from the viperine fangs is by way of introducing
Dr. Elliot Coues. The volume in question was not forthcoming at the
British Museum, therefore I ventured to trouble Professor Duncan with
some inquiries, which were kindly responded to by the sight of the work

There is in Dr. Coues’ paper a good deal of what has been here already
described; but there is also so much that is of additional interest,
that for the benefit of those students who are not within reach of the
British Museum (where, no doubt, the fast arriving quartos will get
catalogued in due time), I will transcribe from the text some of the
passages as relating to viperine fangs generally.

‘The active instruments are a pair of fangs.’ ... They are ‘somewhat
conical and scythe shaped, with an extremely fine point; the
convexity looks forward, the front downward and backward’ (referring
to the slight double curve in the Crotalus fang as shown in the
illustration, p. 360). They are hollow by folding, ‘till they meet,
converting an exterior surface first into a groove, finally into a
tube.’ ... The fang is ‘moveable, and was formerly supposed to be
hinged in its socket. But it is firmly socketed, and the maxillary
itself moves, which rocks to and fro by a singular contrivance. The
maxillary is a small, stout, triangular bone, moveably articulated
above with a smaller bone, the lachrymal, which is itself hinged upon
the frontal.... This forward impulse of the palatal and pterygoid
is communicated to the maxillary, against which they abut, causing
the latter to rotate upon the lachrymal. In this rocking forward of
the maxillary, the socket of the fang, and with it the tooth itself,
rotates in such a manner that the apex of the tooth describes the arc
of a circle, and finally points downward instead of backward. This
protrusion of the fang is not an automatic motion, consequent upon the
mere opening of the mouth, as formerly supposed, but a volitional act,
as the reverse motion, viz. the folding back of the fang, also is;
so that in simply feeding the fangs are not erected.’ (But I think I
may affirm positively that sometimes the vipers do use their fangs in
feeding. When they open their mouths—or rather the jaws alternately
very wide—I have seen first one and then the other fang occasionally
engaged in the food and again disengaged unsheathed. On other occasions
the fangs have been folded. In some large African vipers, the ‘River
Jack’ and others that were in the Society’s Gardens a few years ago, I
was able to observe this easily.)

The fang is folded back ‘with an action comparable to the shutting of
the blade of a pocket-knife; ... one set of muscles prepares the fangs
for action, the other set stows them away when not wanted.... The
fangs are further protected by a contrivance for sheathing them, like
a sword in its scabbard. A fold of mucous membrane envelops the tooth
like a hood.... The erection causes the sheath to slip, like the finger
of a glove, and gather in folds round its base.... It can be examined
without dissection.’ (And with the naked eye in a large viper, even
during life, you may sometimes perceive this sheath or hood half off.)
‘Each developing fang is enclosed in a separate capsule,’ says Dr.
Mitchel, which is just what I thought I saw in ‘grovelling’ up the poor
Bushmaster’s reserve fangs. There was an immense deal of loose skin to
remove, which under skilful manipulation would doubtless have presented
the form of sheaths of various sizes. At last I came to a great deep
cavity as big as a bean or a hazel nut, and this I left neat and
uninjured for some one else to explore. It might have been the poison
gland! The young Jararaca’s mouth is too small to reveal its mysteries.

But now we come to the most amazing of all the wondrous detail of
this living hypodermic syringe. Those who have seen a viper or a
rattlesnake strike its prey, are cognisant of the lightning-like
rapidity of the action. So swift is it that often a spectator is not
sure whether the snake touched the victim or not. A flicker, a flash,
and the bite has been given. Dr. Mitchel, describing the singular
inactivity of rattlesnakes in confinement, points out the striking
contrast between this repose and the perilous rapidity of their
stroke. Now let us look at the amount of business transacted in that
flash of time. Says Dr. Elliot Coues: ‘The train of action is first
reaching the object; secondly, the blow; thirdly, the penetration;
fourthly, the injection; and fifthly, the enlargement of the wound
(the latter by dragging upon it the whole weight of the body by the
contraction of certain muscles, which cause the fangs to be buried
deeper and thus enlarge the puncture); and all these five actions
accomplished in that instantaneous stroke!’ This is what Fayrer means
when explaining that ‘the real bite is when the snake seizes, retains
its hold, and thoroughly imbeds its fangs.’ ‘Sometimes the lower teeth
and the palatine become entangled (and sometimes a fang is left in the
wound).... The force of ejection may be seen when a serpent striking
violently misses its aim, and the stream has been seen to spirt five
or six feet. A blow given in anger is always accompanied by the spirt
of venom, even if the fangs fail to engage.’ ... Another curious piece
of mechanism, and one not previously described that I am aware of, is
a provision for the fangs when they fail to bite. ‘A serpent always
snaps his jaws together, and thoroughly _closes them_ when he strikes;
therefore, if the fangs failed to engage, they would penetrate the
lower jaw. But there is a certain movement among the loose bones of the
skull (perhaps not yet thoroughly made out), the result of which is
to spread the points of the fangs apart, so that they clear the inner
sides of the under jaw, instead of injuring them.’ Coues here describes
rattlesnakes particularly, but no doubt the same extends throughout the
viperines.... ‘In a large snake the entire gland may be an inch long
and one-fourth as wide, having the capacity of ten or fifteen drops
of fluid. There is no special reservoir for the venom other than the
central cavity of the gland. Formerly there was thought to be such a
storehouse; but when the tooth is folded back, certain muscles press
or compress the canal to prevent a wasteful flow: in other words, the
communication is shut off!’

In this wonderful exhibition of the ivory hypodermic syringe there
has not, I trust, been so much repetition as to render the subject
tedious. Presented in such graphic language and from such a source, it
must attract almost every intelligent reader, while the viperine fang
is absolutely acting before his eyes. On this subject, then, no more
need be said; though on the Crotalus family generally some interesting
matter still remains to be told.




IN the several chapters in which the rattlesnake has been introduced,
the reader has seen that for about 250 years it has been an object of
interest and of study among naturalists, and that first one and then
another has made fresh examinations of its various parts, giving to the
world new items of information as the results of such observations.

And can there remain anything further to find out about it? we may
ask in surprise. Yes, there is. There yet remains to comprehend and
decide upon one feature which thus far has defeated conjecture and
investigation—the ‘pit’ (p. 277). Possibly among the indefatigable
observers in the land of rattlesnakes, recent labours may have been
rewarded by some new evidence of the utility of this peculiar orifice,
and already their zoological journals may have enlightened ophiologists
on its functions. At the present moment I am not aware of such
information; and time will not permit of further delay to enable me to
send a message of inquiry across the great deep.

Hitherto the pit has certainly plagued not only zoologists, but all
classifiers of the Ophidia; because serpents that have this facial
depression embrace so many widely differing genera, some of them
resembling in all other respects the true vipers, and others the
rattlesnakes, so that they have come to be distinguished as the ‘pit

One of our most able biologists, A. R. Wallace, in his _Geographical
Distribution of Animals_,[106] informs us that ‘the _Crotalidæ_,
including the deadly rattlesnakes, abound most in the oriental regions’
(though not a single rattlesnake is found there, or in the Old World at
all). Let us seek for the reason of this apparent incongruity, and how
it is that a large number of serpents which have no rattle come to be
placed among those which have an instrument specially constructed to
produce a rattling sound.

Not to weary the reader by attempting to describe the various systems
of classification adopted by the many herpetologists who were the
contemporaries and immediate successors of Linnæus, we will rather
invite his imagination to picture the geographical history of our
globe during that age. Travels, explorations, the establishment of
new colonies, and the settlement of new territories marked the era;
and, as a sequence, new and hitherto unknown fauna were continually
brought home to Europe. We have seen, too, how natural history had been
growing into a science, and how travellers and zoologists stimulated
each other by their researches and writings. To recall a few of the
names with whom reptiles are associated, and to remind the reader that
one arranged them according to their scales, another their form, a
fourth their teeth, a fifth their habits, and so on, and that even
at the present day the classification of them is far from complete,
the present writer will be absolved from attempting anything beyond

Studying snakes towards the end of the last century, were Laurenti,
Buffon, Bonnat, Lacepède, Klein, Seba, etc.

In the early part of the present century were Latreille, Shaw,
Daudin, Oppel, Merrem, Wagler, Neuwied, Cuvier, and many others till
we come to Gray, Fitzinger, and Dumeril, 1844. This last author, in
his introduction to _Les serpents solenoglyphes, dit Thanatophides_,
including the most deadly snakes, devotes several pages to the subject
of the ‘pit,’ and why it had especially occupied the attention of
those herpetologists who were endeavouring to improve the previously
imperfect systems. Wagler in 1824 assigned the name _Bothrops_ (from
βὀθρος, any hole, or pit, or hollow dug) to vipers with the pit that
had only scales and no plates or shields on their head, separating
these from the rattlesnakes and from those that have shields (see
illus. p. 318). This nomenclature of Wagler’s did not commend itself to
other herpetologists, and Fitzinger, in his _Systema Reptilium_, 1843,
extending the group, retained the name for one of the five families
into which he divided all the venomous snakes. Fitzinger’s fifth
family, the _Bothrophides_, included some of the Indian pit vipers; but
as some of these latter have shields on their head, they could not be
admitted into Wagler’s group with scales only. As the present object is
to demonstrate some of the perplexities of naturalists, and to arrive
at the reason why so many snakes without the _crotalon_ are called
_Crotalidæ_, we will quote Dumeril’s reasons, inviting the reader to
picture to himself the interest with which new examples were brought
home for investigation, and the obstacles presenting themselves to
herpetologists, who find one feature claiming alliance to this snake,
while another feature points an alliance to an entirely opposite one.

So Dumeril shows us why some of the herpetologists wished to admit
_every species that has the nasal fosse_ under the generic name
_Bothrophidæ_, and others would have limited the term to a few, because
the name does not suit them all equally well. ‘_Beaucoup d’autres
serpents presentent aussi des enfoncements creusés sur la tête et sur
le bord des lèvres._’ These depressions, called by Professor Owen
‘secreting follicles,’ may be easily distinguished on the upper lip
of some of the larger constrictors. In the Reticulated python you can
count these pits like deep dimples round the mouth. In the Diamond
snake (_Morelia spilotes_) they are remarkably deep along the lower lip.

Of those ‘follicles’ in the _Crotalidæ_ Dumeril writes: ‘_Les fossettes
paraissent devoir être des organes particuliers dont l’usage ou la
fonction n’est pas connu il est vraix, mais qui semble avoir quelque
importance par leur position constante entre les orifices réels des
narines et les yeux, at leur structure anatomique assez compliquée.
À cause de la grande analogie qu’ils ont tous avec les serpents à
sonnettes, nous avons preféré appeler ceux-ci les crotaliens._’[107]

The above words are under the head of ‘_Les Crotaliens_,’ a name
retained, he had already explained why. ‘_Les solenoglyphes qui ont les
narines doubles en apparence seront pour nous les Crotaliens quoique
cette dénomination puisse, à tort, porter à croire que ces espèces
font du bruit avec leur queue: elle indique seulement leur rapports
avec les crotales établis d’après la présence des fausses narines
ou fossettes dont nous venons de parler. On nomme quelquefois ces
Ophidiens Bothrops._’[108] ... ‘_Comme ce caractère conviendrait à tous
les Crotaliens parcequ’ils ont tous des fossettes dites lacrymales, ce
nom (Bothrops) deviant par conséquent trop général._’[109]

In retaining _Bothrops_ as a generic distinction, a large number of
non-venomous and constricting serpents must have been included, which
probably induced Wagler’s opposers to say of him that he ‘created a
system in which the venomous and non-venomous were huddled together
pell mell.’

Thus we see that on account of the nasal fosse the Indian crotaline
snakes could not be true vipers; they could not be exclusively
_Bothrophidæ_, for the reasons given above, and they certainly are not
rattlesnakes; but for want of a better name they are ‘_Crotalidæ_,’ as
they have (minus the rattle) more features in common with rattlesnakes
than with any others.

In the slough of a rattlesnake you may see the form of this pit. It is
lined with scales, and reversed in sloughing, perfectly shaped as a
tiny glove finger.

When Dr. J. E. Gray, F.R.S., etc., edited a short-lived little magazine
in 1831 called the _Zoological Miscellany_, the whole of the known
_Crotalidæ_ consisted of ten genera and thirty species, of which
sixteen species belonged to Asia and its adjacent islands, one to South
Africa, and the rest to America. When he published his catalogue of
snakes belonging to the British Museum in 1849, he enumerated eleven
genera and thirty-seven species. Wallace, 1876, gives eleven genera and
forty species, the eastern examples of which belong to India, Siam,
Java, Borneo, Tartary, Thibet, Japan, and Formosa. Still more recently
some belonging to the Western States of America have, I believe, been
added by Cope or Coues, the latter informing us that up to the date of
his paper, 1878, eighteen species and upwards of the rattlesnake proper
had been described in the United States, nearly all in the west and
south-west. So, as those vast deserts are being explored, new species
are continually discovered.

Of the Indian species of _Crotalidæ_, those minus a rattle, Fayrer
says that they are chiefly in Malaya and Indo-China. Many of them,
the _Trimeresuri_, are arboreal, and like the foliage in colour. They
have the viperine aspect, but are ‘less formidable than their American
congeners,’ being of much smaller dimensions. Only one, _Halys_, has
anything approaching to a rudimentary rattle, a tail ending in a spine.
Of the _Trimeresuri_, the tree species, Fayrer affirms that few deaths
are ascribed to them. Some attain to above three feet in length. He
thinks a feeble person might die of their bite. They are of a sluggish
habit, and lie quietly hidden among the leaves of low bushes and ferns.
They will even suffer themselves to be moved without attempting to
bite, but one that was pressed to the ground with a stick struck so
hard as to break both its fangs. They feed chiefly on insects. Their
habits are crepuscular if not nocturnal, and Fayrer does not state
positively that they or any of the Indian _Crotalidæ_ are viviparous.

Of the principal American _Crotalidæ_ that are not true rattlesnakes,
the ‘Bushmaster’ (_Lachesis mutus_) stands first. This is undoubtedly
the largest venomous serpent known. In length it equals the Hamadryad;
and in thickness, the large African vipers. On looking closely at the
illustration of this reptile’s tail (p. 176), it will be seen that
in addition to the spine which terminates it, there are several rows
of fine, elaborated scales, which under the microscope appear almost
as curiously pointed as those on the head of _Vipera nasicornis_.
Dumeril thus describes the tail: ‘_Ponctuée, et précédée de dix ou
douze rangées d’écailles épineuses, un peu courbées en crochets à
la pointe._’ This is the snake called _Crotalus muet_, or ‘dumb
rattlesnake,’ by Linnæus, and which is supposed to simulate the sound
of the rattle by vibrating this point against the leaves; but many
other snakes do this whether their tail is pointed or not, as we saw
in chap. xi. Any small thing, such as a twig rustling among dead
leaves, would produce the same sound. The near approach of _Lachesis_
to _Crotalus horridus_ of the same habitat is, however, seen in this
rudimentary rattle, the agitation of which may similarly be attributed
to the timidity of these ‘highly nervous and irritable creatures,’ to
repeat Coues’ words; for deadly as they are, timidity strongly displays
itself. Watching the venomous snakes when their food is dropped into
their cages, their excessive caution, amounting to cowardice, is
remarkable, and this with the rattlesnakes especially. One will fix
its eyes on the rat which is running about, and shrink back terrified
if it approach too closely. Then if the quadruped is a moment quiet,
the snake appears to be considering whether it will be advisable to
attack it or not. Stealthily and slowly it approaches its head, but on
the slightest movement of the little animal, recedes in alarm, and is
some time before it makes a second venture. I have seen a rattlesnake
thus timidly advancing and recoiling three or four times before it
has the courage to give the fatal stroke. Even after the bite it
watches its victim with a steadiness in which terror is the strongest
expression; and when the rat has remained motionless for a time, and
the rattlesnake ventures near to investigate and make sure it is
dead, one faint gasp or dying struggle will cause the reptile to dart
back in excessive alarm, and wait again some minutes before venturing
near. After long and patient observations, I am still doubtful whether
stupidity or timidity predominates in viperine natures.

Of the other well-known and formidable American _Crotalidæ_ is the
‘_Fer de lance_’ (_Trigonocephalus lanceolatus_) of the Antilles
and Central America. This has also a pointed tail. The Jararaca of
Gray (_Craspedocephalus Braziliensis_) is another, but without the
point. Of the true rattlesnakes, Dumeril gave five genera in 1844,
viz. _Crotalophorus_, _Crotalus_, _Caudisona_, _Urocrotalon_, and

From the two species originally known, we see how they have gradually
multiplied as the country has been more thoroughly explored. In 1860,
Dr. Weir Mitchel affirmed that twenty species had been then described;
probably the most recent ‘Reports’ or Bulletins will tell us of yet
others. And these latter are exclusive of the non-rattle-bearing

Dr. Mitchel’s experiments were with the northern species, chiefly
_Cro. durissus_; and as a relief from this wearisome classification,
some of his observations will be welcome. One very noteworthy result
is that the Crotalus does occasionally produce a sound independently
of the rattle. Not a prolonged hiss, or by any means so loud as the
innocent snakes, but merely ‘the expiration of air from the lungs just
before striking.’ I have never observed or heard this in our London
rattlesnakes, but it no doubt is of the same character and degree of
sound as that produced by the _Cerastes_ and the little _Echis_, and
which more resembled a short, feeble, spitting sound. Still, as we are
informed by Dumeril that rattlesnakes are ‘deprived of voice,’ it is
interesting to know that, on the authority of Dr. Weir Mitchel, some
slight sound, though not a regular hiss, does sometimes accompany the
action of striking.

An inquiry has lately met the eye in one of our scientific journals
as to whether a rattlesnake drinks. Dr. Mitchel clears away all
doubts on that subject by impressing upon those who keep these
creatures the importance of giving them plenty of water, particularly
when changing the skin. Deprived of it, the cuticle comes off
unhealthily—_desquamates_, in fact, in bits. At the casting of the
cuticle, or previous to the process, they will not only drink, he tells
us, but lie for hours in the water. When they were disinclined to eat,
and had fasted long enough to endanger their health, he fed them by
force with milk and insects, and the way he managed was to get their
mouths open and insert a tunnel a safe distance down their throat.
While held in this position, a repast consisting of insects and milk
was pushed down the tube of the tunnel in sufficient quantities. The
most surprising circumstance in connection with this style of feeding,
and also with the process adopted by Dr. Shortt of Madras in filling
his cobras ‘as full as they could hold’ with sour milk, is that these
fastidious and frightened reptiles did not disgorge the diet. Both
experimentalists, however, found it answer, reminding us of some
advice given to the keeper at the London Ophidarium in the case of the
Hamadryad, which, having no snakes to dine off one winter, elected to
fast. To force frogs or fish down its throat was suggested; but no one
could be found brave enough to undertake the task, and happily ‘Ophio’
survived till a relay of ring snakes arrived.

Both Mitchel and Coues corroborate what has been observed by others
regarding the increased virulence of the bite when moulting; but both
are of opinion that this is owing to an accumulation of venom, as the
snakes have not been feeding or expending their store for some days.
Even while not feeding, their venom is secreted all the same, and they
survive many months, even a whole year and more, without food. Dumeril
mentions one that lived twenty-five months without feeding.

A startling and almost horrifying demonstration of what physiologists
would perhaps attribute to nervous or to muscular irritability is
described by Dr. Mitchel, namely, an action that had been begun in
life, carried out in a headless snake. On p. 281 was described the
astonishment of Colonel Beverley, who observed the severed head of a
rattlesnake attempting to bite. ‘Then the head gave a sudden champ.’
Long after a snake is dead the tongue will be exserted as in life;
and in other actions they, as it were, carry out their intentions
though deprived of vitality. ‘The headless trunk will strike,’ says Dr.
Mitchel, and continue to do this when touched or irritated as if it
still had its head and its fangs to strike with!

Mr. George Catlin in his _Life among the Indians_ relates a
circumstance of this kind which may well be introduced here, as
illustrative of this amazing fact—a rattlesnake coiling and springing
after it is decapitated. His party were going down a river, and had
just landed to explore a little, when he saw a large Crotalus, and
seizing his gun fired at its head. At the same moment it leaped and
sprang towards him, apparently striking him on the breast, Mr. Catlin
being on the point of leaping back into the boat. He thought he had
fired and missed his aim, and was a dead man, nevertheless much
wondering at having missed his mark. Meantime, an Indian, seeing a spot
of blood on the front of Mr. Catlin’s linen smock, exclaimed, ‘You are
bitten!’ and without ceremony the smock and flannel shirt were torn
open, and a spot of blood on his breast was exposed to view. Promptly
the blood was washed off, and the Indian on his knees had his mouth
at the wound preparing to suck out the poison. Quickly looking up,
however, he rose to his feet, and with a smile of exultation said,
‘There’s no harm! You’ll find the snake without its head.’

Stepping ashore again, and pushing aside the long grass, there, sure
enough, was the headless rattlesnake, coiled up where it had fallen,
and with its headless trunk erect, ready for another spring. Mr. Catlin
had _not_ missed fire, but the creature so near the spring, was so
ready at the instant with its aim made, that it leapt and struck Mr.
Catlin probably on the very spot where it would have bitten him had the
sportsman missed his mark. The bleeding trunk had printed its stroke
with blood, driving the stain through the dress to the skin. ‘How
curious it is,’ Mr. Catlin remarks at the conclusion of his narrative,
‘that if you cut off the head of a rattlesnake, its body will live
for hours, and jump at you if you touch it with a stick, when if you
break his spine near the tail, with even a feeble blow, it is dead in a
minute. This we proved on several occasions.’

Mr. Catlin also helps to confirm what has been already stated in these
pages, viz. the certainty of the mate being within hearing of the
rattle, and responding when one of them sounds an alarm; also that
‘they can track each other and never lose company, though when met are
not always seen together, so that if we kill one over-night and leave
its dead body, the other will be found by its side in the morning.’

A near relative of the rattlesnake is the ‘copper-head,’
_Trigonocephalus contortrix_ of the United States, known also as the
‘Red adder,’ and the ‘Dumb rattlesnake.’ It is the _Boa contortrix_ of
Linnæus, who, as we explained above, and also in chap. ii., divided the
Ophidia into only three or four families, calling an immense number,
both venomous and harmless, ‘boas.’

This member of the _Crotalidæ_ is said to be as venomous as the
rattlesnake, and is much more dreaded, because it has no rattle to give
warning of its proximity. When a bitten person survives, the effects
of its bite are said to be felt annually, as in the case of the
rattlesnake, and the injured limb ‘turns the colour of the snake.’ In
regard to this latter symptom, said to show itself in the case of so
many snakes, the bitten limb assumes all manner of horrible tints in
most cases, and it does not require a great stretch of imagination to
detect colours resembling the also many-tinted aggressors. Still there
may be more in this than we at present know of.

In the cranberry swamps and tamarack marshes in the northern districts
of Ohio formerly were found immense numbers of a small and very
dark brown rattlesnake known as the _Massasauga_. It is seen lying
in clusters like small twigs on dry leaves, and still is found in
considerable numbers in some remote districts. The illustration of the
small rattle (p. 302) was sent me from that neighbourhood, and is, I
believe, from a true ‘Massasauga.’ This is the one (as I think I am
safe in stating) that was first (1810) described by Dr. Kirtland, a
distinguished naturalist of Ohio, and after him named _Crotalophorus
Kirtlandi_. Its range is confined to the swampy districts of Northern
Ohio and Southern Michigan. Its rattle being scarcely audible,
this little snake gets frequently trodden upon, and persons are as
frequently bitten; but Dr. Kirtland stated that he had never known any
one to die of its bite, which is scarcely worse than the sting of a
hornet. It is a link between the last-named snake, the ‘copper-head,’
and the rattlesnake, having head-shields like the former, and tail of
the latter. These small species no doubt help to add to the confusion
of evidence regarding the virulence of rattlesnake bites, one person
affirming that they are deadly, and another, that recovery is common.
The degree of venom between the smallest and the largest of the
_Crotalidæ_ can no more be compared than can the constriction of
the little slow-worm round your fingers with the constriction of the

A word in conclusion about the rattlesnake’s enemies; and of these hogs
come first, next to man. Wild hogs, peccaries, and deer in their native
haunts, and doubtless an immense number of snake-eating birds, devour
young rattlesnakes. Deer strike them with their hoofs, jumping on them
with wonderful adroitness, so as to pin them down with all four feet.
Pigs in the west derive no small part of their subsistence from snakes;
and, as is now a well-known fact, the introduction of hogs has done
more than anything else—not even excepting the annual _battue_—to
diminish the number of rattlesnakes. The venom being ‘innocuous to
hogs,’ is a fact only partially stated. A thin hog, bitten on a vein,
might die as speedily as any other victim. It is because the venom
fails to penetrate the fat, or, as Dr. Coues more ably expresses it,
‘the fluid fails to enter the circulation through the layer of adipose
tissue.’ Pigs are not invariably exempt, any more than is the mongoose,
from the cobra’s bite. In both cases adroitness assists the animals to
evade the strike, and in the latter case the thick fur of the mongoose
is as great a protection to it as the fat is to the hog.

Dr. Coues mentions a danger not often anticipated in dealing with
rattlesnakes when you wish to examine them. This is their habit of
twining themselves around the arm, or wherever they can get hold.
‘Grasp it fearlessly at the back of the neck,’ he says; ‘but even then
a large one can constrict enough to paralyze both arms.’ A man who was
thus trammelled had to be relieved by a bystander. We are not always
prepared for constricting rattlesnakes!





THOUGH there are only about eight species that have a legitimate
right to this patronymic, there are—as my readers have seen in chap.
xix.—great numbers of ‘strange-toothed’ snakes that have a zoological,
or rather a dentitional right to it. The present chapter, however,
will comprise only a few of those most nearly allied to the recognised
_Xenodons_, which with _Heterodon_ must occupy some pages.

The _Xenodons_ have an especial interest, not only on account of their
remarkable dentition, but their vernacular names, which in Brazil,
where these snakes are common, have led to much and frequent confusion.
This can be remedied only after considerable lapse of time, for the
confusion has unfortunately been disseminated in print, and the
vernaculars, confused by local prejudices, still obtain. The incident
of my own first acquaintance with a _Xenodon_ will in part explain the
kind of puzzle which prevails; and a little personal gossip about this
may, I trust, be tolerated.

A snake mentioned by a number of writers and travellers as the
_Jararaca_ had plagued me long and terribly, from the contradictory
accounts of it. What _is_ this Jararaca? And is it the same as the
_Iarraracca_ or the _Ibiracua_ or the _Iraracuassa_ or the _Shiraraca_,
or several other nearly similar names which appear in books about
Brazil. Had one gone straight to Gray or Dumeril, the recognised and
scientific name for it could have been ascertained at once; but we do
not so readily find out which _are_ the right books to pounce upon,
nor had I in those days learnt the necessity of trusting to scientific
works only for the unravelling of travellers’ tales; but I hunted in
dictionaries and encyclopedias and travels and those old authors again,
but with no better success.

In Wallace’s _Travels in the Amazon_ we read: ‘Hanging up under
the eaves of our shed was a dried head of a snake which had been
killed a short time before. It was a _Jaráraca_, a species of
_Craspedocephalus_, and must have been of formidable size, for its
poison fangs, four in number, were nearly an inch long.... The bite of
such would be certain death.’

With this picture of a large Brazilian serpent, drawn by such an
authority as Wallace, one read in Ogilvy’s dictionary: ‘_Jararaca_.
A species of serpent in America, seldom exceeding eighteen inches in
length; having prominent veins on the head, and of a dusky, brownish
colour, variegated with red and black spots.’

Then Webster—evidently from the same source: ‘A species of serpent
in America,’—word for word the same as far as the black spots—‘very
poisonous. Native name in Surinam.’ And in a newer edition, Webster, in
addition, gives its scientific name, _Bothrops Jararaca_; and that it
is ‘a native to (_sic_) Brazil.’

‘Oh! if a _Bothrops_, then it is one of the _Crotalidæ_,’ was
the decision arrived at. Kingsley, in his _At Last_, mentions a
‘mangrove snake, much dreaded by being so like the deadly Cascobel,
viz. _Trigonocephalus jararaca_.’ Thus with our puzzle we combine a
_Bothrops_ with the ‘pit;’ a _Trigonocephalus_ with the worst of the
viperine heads; and according to Wallace, a _Craspedocephalus_, which,
at a guess, must be that it has something rough about the head to
entitle it to this specific.

Few of the encyclopedias described it individually, or threw more light
upon it. Worcester’s dictionary states that the Jararaca is ‘a species
of venomous American serpent seldom exceeding eighteen inches;’ and
gives Wright as an authority. Spix and Martin[110] in their list of
venomous snakes describe _Jararacucu_, called also _Shiraraca_, as a
_Bothrops_; and also a _Jararaca mirim_, a small one. Marcgravius[111]
figures a _Iararaca_, a small snake of a bright red with black spots.

And now for our old friend the Pilgrim Purchas. ‘Of snakes that have
Poison, _Iararaca_ is a Name that comprehendeth foure kinds. The first
is the greatest _J_. There are other smaller _Jararacas_, about half a
Yard long. They have certaine Veines in their Head like the Vipers.’

Have those ‘prominent veins anything to do with its name
_Craspedocephalus_’? But how about its being only eighteen inches?
This was the pursuit of snakes under difficulties, the clearing away
of which was accomplished only by slow degrees, as one book after
another offered new contradictions with still other varieties of
spelling. Without doubt this perplexing reptile was viperine, rough,
angular-headed, crotaline, and probably hideous; but as for colouring
there were many doubts about that.

After several years’ familiarity with the _name_ of this puzzling
‘Jararaca,’ and curiosity increasing at a corresponding ratio, the
reader can imagine the effect produced by unexpectedly seeing at the
London Zoological Gardens one day in September 1880 a new label to
one of the cages in the Ophidarium thus inscribed, ‘CRASPEDOCEPHALUS
BRAZILIENSIS. THE JARRARACCA. Presented by Dr. Stradling.’

A live Jararaca at last! Now we shall know all about it.

But how is this? The serpent before me was not a viper, not
rough-headed, not a _Bothrops_, because it had only one pair
of nostrils. It had smooth, polished scales, large, beautiful,
round eyes, with no ‘red spots’ and not a spice of venom or of
viperishness about it. And I stood staring and wondering, and—I must
confess—_disappointed_ at this meek-looking, smallish snake being a
representative of the terrible, ‘formidable’ picture that had been
conjured up. ‘I don’t believe that’s a _Jararaca_!’ were my inward
conclusions. ‘I am _sure_ it isn’t! It _can’t_ be. It does not agree
in any way.’ Then came the keeper to the cage, to tell me of this
new and valuable addition; but I only repeated aloud my already firm

‘Here’s the gentleman who brought it from Brazil, and he ought to
know,’ returned the keeper in justifiable argument as he motioned
with his hand towards a stranger by his side. The name of Dr. Arthur
Stradling, a Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society, was
already known to me. Though personally unacquainted, he had, indeed,
through the columns of _Land and Water_, replied to some communications
of my own. This informal introduction, therefore, led easily to the
exchange of a few words about this contradictory ‘Jararaca,’ the
name by which—as he assured me—the snake was known in Brazil. He
had not, he said, examined the mouth of this snake during the voyage
home, knowing its deadly character; and had simply accepted it as the
‘Jarraracca,’ according to its Brazilian vernacular. I ventured to
point out the non-viperine aspect of the so-called ‘deadly’ reptile
before us, and suggested that if it were indeed venomous it could only
be an elaps, also that there were probably several that were known by
this name. This led to a correspondence, both by letter and through the
columns of _Land and Water_ (Oct. 1880), on the subject of vernacular
names; but as these belong more especially to the ensuing chapter, I
need only say here that Dr. Stradling returned to Brazil determined
to investigate this confusion of names, and I thus gained a valuable
ally in my endeavours to identify some of the perplexing vernaculars of
Brazil with the scientific descriptions.

On a subsequent voyage, Dr. Stradling obtained three more of these
so-called Jararacas, and described them by letter, and subsequently in
_Land and Water_.

Echoing my own perplexities, he asks, ‘_Is_ there such a snake as the
_Jarraracca_? When I got three more living specimens of the same this
last voyage in Pernambuco, I began to have my doubts, for I could not
reconcile them with the description at all. One died, which fact I did
not, by ill luck, discover till it was worthless; but I observed, as
I thought, a well-developed fang. A few days later a good opportunity
presented itself for picking up one of the survivors and examining its
mouth; then to my surprise I found that the supposed fang was really
a large curved tooth, situated quite out of the natural position of a
fang, but symmetric with one on the opposite side. Then I looked at
the other one, and finally let both bite me, which settled the matter.
I set it down as _Xenodon_ (a harmless snake), and was gratified to
find on reaching home that Dr. Günther had pronounced my specimen
at the Gardens’ (the one brought the previous September) ‘_Xenodon
rhabdocephalus_, the long-headed snake, on its death. But I don’t find
any mention of this extraordinary isolated tooth anywhere, though I
have a vague idea that Dr. Wucherer, who has perhaps been the most
earnest student of the Brazilian Thanatophidia, spoke of it in a
communication to the Society some years ago. The real “Jarraracca”
is still veiled in mystery.’ I also was ‘gratified’ to find the
Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society so generously justifying
my doubts about the supposed _Jararaca_, both in his letter to me and
in a paper to _Land and Water_, 2d April 1881.

This was the first time I had ever heard of a _Xenodon_, a name which
Dr. Günther was then so good as to explain meant ‘strange tooth;’
and he drew a little diagram of the jaw with five simple teeth
curving back, and then a long, fang-like back tooth. Strange indeed!
_Heterodon_ I knew possessed a large, fang-like tooth, which had caused
it to be called ugly names. Now here is more heterodox dentition.

Dr. Wucherer’s account of the _Xenodon_ was discovered in the
_Zoological Society Proceedings_ for 1861. He also had been a
C.M.Z.S.[112] in the same region, and his report of the curious
_Xenodon rhabdocephalus_ is that it is very voracious, feeding chiefly
on frogs, but will swallow his friend too, should the latter have hold
of one on which he has set his heart. It flattens itself remarkably,
and thus gets through a very narrow chink. It is a fresh-water snake,
called _Cobra d’aqua_ in Brazil, also _Surucucu_ (from its evil
reputation). But Dr. Wucherer says not a word of those fang-like teeth.

Meanwhile Dr. Stradling had most kindly sent me the magnificent
specimen of ‘_Curucucu_’ (_Lachesis mutus_), in spirits; and this,
together with the investigation of certain other vernaculars, made
the _Xenodon_ of only secondary interest in our correspondence until
exactly six months afterwards, when, on landing, June 1881, he wrote
that he was sending a _Heterodon_ and another _Xenodon_ to the Gardens.

‘Where are the new snakes?’ I asked the keeper, hurrying to the
Reptilium early next day.

‘What new snakes, ma’am? There are none fresh since you were last here.’

‘Ah, well, they are coming! Most _interesting_ kinds. I shall wait for

Sure enough, ere long a boy was seen approaching from the office with a
‘box of snakes.’ He also brought the news that the Doctor was expected

Consigned to their cage, how I hovered about those ‘strange-toothed’
Colubers that long midsummer day! How I wished they would bring their
heads close to the glass and yawn the widest of yawns, and how I waited
for the ophiological dentist to come and exhibit their ‘fangs!’ for the
donor of these valuable acquisitions had been devoting himself to the
discovery of antitoxics, and was supposed to be snake-proof, and to do
what he pleased with both venomous and non-venomous kinds. But the long
midsummer day waxed on, and I gazed at the _Xenodon_ till I knew every
mark of his leaf-like pattern; and the day began to wane, and my hopes
of seeing the wonderful teeth began to wane also. And I felt I had a
sort of claim upon this _Xenodon_, the ‘Jarraracca’ about which we had

I had relied so much on having the pseudo-fangs scientifically
displayed to me, that when the visitors were departing and the keeper
was at liberty, I told him about these strange teeth which I was so
anxious to see, and at last persuaded him to open _Xenodon’s_ mouth for
me, and to hold it open (which operation the keepers understand very
well) while I made the dental examination myself.

After all there was nothing in the shape of a fang to be seen!

‘Posterior tooth long, compressed’! ‘Last tooth very long, compressed,
ensiform’! and so on, said the authorities; but nothing of the kind
was here! I could see to its very throat, and the rows of tiny palate
teeth and the four rows of jaw teeth, all exceedingly small, but never
a fang. So I stared and wondered, and then in my bewildered amazement
and vexation I passed my little finger along the jaws and _felt_ the
upper teeth.

This practical investigation no doubt greatly offended the imprisoned
patient, for suddenly down came a pair of regular fangs—they _looked_
like fangs;—and as my finger pressed the jaw on one or on the other
side, I saw these fang-like teeth move, vibrate, exactly like the
viperine fangs. When my finger was removed, up they went, folded back
in their sheath in true viperine fashion. My finger got a slight prick,
for they were exceedingly sharp; but knowing there was no venom in
them, that did not concern me, and in a few minutes the sensation was
gone. But how was it that Dr. Stradling had made no mention of this
extraordinary viperine mobility of the fangs? And what kind of jaw
must a snake have to move its back teeth in this manner! For we saw in
the previous chapters that the mobility of the fangs is in proportion
to the diminishing length of the maxillary bone, that the excessive
mobility of the viperine fang is owing to the greatly reduced size
of that bone, that a slight mobility is observable where the jaw is
somewhat less reduced, and so on; but here is a harmless Coluber with
a jaw long enough to hold five or six fixed, simple teeth, and then an
extremely mobile long one at the back. Can the jaw be divided in the
middle? Thus I marvelled.

‘Now let us look at Heterodon.’

But that pretty little snake positively refused to open its mouth; so,
fearing to alarm it, or cause it to disgorge its last meal, I did not
encourage its forcible detention.

Not to lose a moment, I then and there pencilled a note to Dr.
Stradling, begging him to tell me if he had observed anything unusual
in _Xenodon’s_ ‘fangs.’ That I had examined them and seen what appeared
very extraordinary; but before describing it, was desirous of having my
observations confirmed by him.

But the Dr. had been unexpectedly appointed to another ship, which
would sail immediately. Many weeks must, therefore, elapse before his
reply could reach me.

That day there was but one direction to which my ophidian compass
directed my steps, viz. the British Museum; and several days were spent
there hunting every possible book to find any mention of _Xenodon’s_
moveable teeth, but in vain. Surely a feature so exceptional would have
been described had it been observed. Pardon, kind reader, these many
words about ‘so small an affair;’ but you who are naturalists know
the peculiar charm of finding ‘something new,’ producing, as Charles
Kingsley described, ‘emotions not unmixed with awe,’ that among the
happy memories of study or of travel ‘stand out as beacon points.’ It
was my great ambition to add ‘something new’ to science. But here was
I with a secret ‘discovery,’ and not knowing what to do with it. And
‘if anything should happen’ to _Xenodon_ meanwhile! Then the keeper
would be reprimanded. Plainly, courtesy demanded that the secretary
of the London Zoological Society should receive an explanation of my
infringement of rules; therefore, in a letter to him, I described
_Xenodon’s_ whole history. I also wrote a detailed account of _Xenodon_
to a friend who edited a zoological publication, under the delusion
that I should be invited to contribute a full, true, and particular
account of these wonderful teeth to half the zoological journals of
Europe! ‘First observed by C. C. H.!’ But no!

Weeks of wondering suspense passed by. Then everybody went ‘out
of town.’ On meeting Dr. Günther one day at the British Museum, I
told him what I had seen. ‘The teeth or the jaw moves?’ he asked
catechetically. That I could not explain, as it was precisely what one
wished to ascertain. ‘You must dissect that snake,’ he said, adding
that he had had no time to examine it yet. All this was duly reported
to my Brazilian correspondent, who with a generous impulse promised
to send me ‘the very first _Xenodon_’ he got. Alas! as I told him,
it was useless to give it to _me_, who could neither kill nor cut
up snakes. He did not inform me whether he, also, had observed any
mobility in the ‘fangs;’ so I could not yet flatter myself that I had
‘added to science’ in any way. Professor Halford, when in England,
had dissected the head of the dead specimen at the Zoological Gardens
(the supposed _Jarraracca_) for poison glands, but of course found
none; and I trusted to some scientific friend ‘happening by’ who would
further examine its maxillary bone and report to me; but ophiological
anatomists do not present themselves every day. Dr. Stradling was
absent; so unless other enthusiasts proceed to an examination before
this page meets the public eye, there will still remain these
‘strange-toothed’ maxillaries inviting dissection.

Dr. Stradling, however, after a while informed me that he had _not_
observed the mobility of the fangs, nor had he seen any mention of such
anywhere excepting in my paper to _Land and Water_ (July 9, 1881).
He thought those pseudo-fangs ‘of considerable importance in bearing
on the experiments that were then being carried on in Brazil with
permanganate of potash, and particularly should a non-ophiologist be
the experimenter.’ A snake is brought as a ‘Jararaca,’ a name applied
by the authorities to one of the very deadly viperine snakes. This
snake—the so-called ‘Jararaca’—bears an evil character. It has
also very suspicious-looking ‘fangs.’ It bites an animal which is
put under treatment, and though requiring no treatment whatever, a
supposed ‘antidote’ might get all the credit of a ‘cure.’ He did not
for a moment infer that such had been the case in Brazil with those
scientific experimentalists, but only what might be in consequence
of the confusion in names. And the correspondence on this subject
that appeared in the papers during the latter part of October 1881
certainly did betray some confusion between the various _Jararacas_ and
_Jararacucus_ that had inflicted bites.

Dr. Stradling had also looked in the mouth of the dead specimen of
_Xenodon rhabdocephalus_, and he informed me that one of the ‘fangs’
came out in his hand. ‘It did not break off,’ he wrote; ‘and its
articulation with the bone, if any, must be loose and ligamentous.’ I
must not presume to offer any opinion about its ‘articulation,’ except
that its being ‘loose’ might be only in consequence of a new tooth
pushing it out, or that it was about to fall out of itself. My readers
will unite in thanking Dr. Stradling for considerately forwarding me
this ‘fang,’ which so conveniently detached itself in time to be added
to the rest of the illustrations, fig. _e_, presented on p. 360. It
will be observed that it is a stouter and less symmetrical tooth than
the true fangs; but it was very large in proportion to the simple
teeth in the same jaw and on the palate, and which are not bigger than
the palate teeth seen behind the recumbent fangs of _Daboia_, p. 349.

Of these true _Xenodons_ there are eight species; but the
strange-toothed group includes _Tomodon_, _Heterodon_, _Simotes_,
_Liophis_, and several others that have large posterior teeth, some of
which are grooved, others not, but all without a poison gland.

Searching page after page about _Xenodon_, something one day suddenly
caught my eye that had hitherto escaped notice. In his _Odontography_,
Owen, describing the South African snakes _Bucephali_, says: ‘Their
long grooved fangs are firmly fixed to the maxillary bone, _or are
slightly moveable_ according to their period of growth; they are
concealed by a sheath of thick, soft gum, containing loose, recumbent,
grooved teeth ready to succeed those in place.’

‘So, then, a mobile tooth was already known to science.’ Of _Bucephali
viridis_, Dr. Andrew Smith describes the ‘posterior or _mobile_ and
grooved teeth of the maxilla.’ He says: ‘Some are placed for immediate
use, the rest are recumbent between those and the inner portion of the
spongy sheath which envelops them; anterior teeth fixed.’ He considered
these back teeth not poisonous, but only for holding or preventing the
escape of food. ‘They may convey an acrid saliva.’ Still we are not
informed _how_ the teeth move.[113]

These snakes—the Bucephali—like the far-famed horse of Alexander
the Great, owe their name to their large, ox-shaped head. They are
the ‘Boomslange’ or tree snake of the Dutch settlers, and are by some
ophiologists included among the _Dendrophidæ_, or true tree snakes,
as they live in trees; but Dr. Andrew Smith considers that their teeth
sufficiently separate them from these.

That there is something exceedingly interesting to study out in the
_Xenodon_ family cannot be doubted. ‘The transition begun in the
Bucephali,’ says Owen,[114] ‘is completed in the poisonous serpents,’
but where the virulent character of the saliva begins it is hard to say.

Despairing of any distinct comprehension of a jaw-bone which permits of
moveable back teeth, the last resource was to hunt up a skeleton. At
the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons none was to be found; but
through the kindness of the officials at the British Museum, one was at
length unearthed from the subterranean labyrinths of untold treasures
there. It was the skull of _X. gigas_, the largest of the family, and
a splendid specimen for examination. There were two large posterior
fangs on each side. On one side were two or three more large reserve
fangs—a cluster of them. All were recumbent. They were all much larger
than that of _X. rhabdocephalus_, those in reserve varying in size
relatively to their development and position. In this specimen there
were also two double rows of palate teeth, and an abundant but most
disorderly row of simple teeth in the lower jaw, with some reserve ones
packed closely on the inner side below the row in use. They exactly
illustrated the words of Nicholson and others, ‘the crop of young teeth
everywhere working their way into the intervals of the old ones.’

In the skulls of _Liophis meremii_ and _Liophis cobella_, of which Dr.
Wucherer says, ‘Dentition similar to Xenodon,’ the former had teeth
gradually increasing a trifle posteriorly, but nothing like fangs. _L.
cobella_ had a very long jaw of fifteen or sixteen teeth, but no fangs.

On a second occasion I made a dental examination of the living
_Xenodon_ in order to be fully convinced of the nature of its back
teeth, and in both instances the fangs were depressed until the snake
was provoked into displaying them. It exhibited no spitefulness or
attempt to bite, and in both cases folded back its fangs the moment my
finger was removed, as if glad that the ceremony was over.

_Heterodon d’Orbignyi_, being a small and delicate snake, was not again
enticed to exhibit its jaws; but my forbearance was otherwise rewarded.
One day it was dining off a rather large frog, and its mouth, close
to the glass, was stretched open to its fullest extent. The frog had
disappeared so far as to be within the mouth, wedging it wide open; and
I then saw a fang well erected and in use, _moving_, being detached,
in fact, from the food. It appeared to be somewhat nearer to the front
than _Xenodon’s_ fangs, with perhaps only three or four simple teeth
before it. But that it was a sheathed fang and _mobile_ I have no doubt
whatever, having seen it very distinctly. I told Tyrrell at the time
that _Heterodon’s_ fangs were also moveable; but now for the first
time I impart this new secret to the public. _Xenodon_ also greedily
seizes upon inconveniently large frogs, but it has never displayed its
fangs to me while feeding, as the pretty little _Heterodon_ did. One
more singular thing did this little _Heterodon_, and that was to assist
itself by coiling its body round an unmanageable frog one day. It
did not regularly constrict it in order to kill it; but _when caught_
in the mouth, it helped itself to restrain the straggling limbs by a
few coils. Dr. Wucherer affirms that he had never seen its congeners
_Liophis_ or _Xenodon_ squeeze or coil themselves round their prey, but
_Heterodon d’Orbignyi_ certainly does.

Another peculiarity of the American _Heterodons_ is that of flattening
their heads and the upper part of the body when angry or molested. It
is this, together with their pseudo-fangs, that have procured them the
name of ‘spread-head,’ ‘spreading-adder’, ‘puffing-adder’ or ‘blowing
viper’,—because at the same time they hiss violently,—or simply ‘the
adder,’ and ‘_blausser_,’ or the blower.

There are several species of them, all, with the exception of _H.
d’Orbignyi_, having undeniably ugly, viperish-looking heads, ‘_Anguis
capitæ viperino_,’ or ‘_Serpent à la tête de vipère_.’ The snout
terminates in a large, conspicuous, recurved scale which gives them a
pug-nosed or rather a hog-nosed appearance. Catesby, who was the first
to describe the ‘hog-nosed snake,’ said ‘it hath a visage terrible and
ugly.’ In _H. niger_ and _H. platirhinos_ this is most apparent. They
belong mostly to the New World, both north and south. One in Virginia
is called, from its bright markings, the ‘calico snake,’ the word
calico in America being applied chiefly to coloured prints used for
dresses. Another is called ‘the mountain moccasin,’ the latter name in
the United States being applied to venomous kinds.

In the flattening of the head and body, _Xenodon_ and _Heterodon_
approach the cobras; in the strange dentition they approach the vipers;
in their true nature they are harmless colubers: thus do we see the
wonderful links or gradations between opposite families, which have
been such a perplexity to the early naturalist.

The _Heterodons_ have the reputation of ‘feigning death’ when annoyed.
This peculiarity has been commented on by many who have experimented
upon the snake for this purpose. Holbrooke observed it in _H.
platirhinos_, and came to the conclusion that it was done at will.
‘It will deceive its tormentor by feigning death, remaining flat and
motionless.’ It otherwise ‘flattens the head and upper part of the
neck, which it lifts and waves, hissing loudly.’ This is the true cobra
manner. He often worried it and tried to make it bite, when it only
projected its head in that menacing way, but with closed mouth. On
the contrary, other experimentalists describe it with widely expanded
jaws when thus annoyed. In an excellent American magazine, _Science
News_, the _Heterodons_ formed the subject of several papers a few
years ago. To my friend, Mr. J. E. Harting, I am indebted for some
numbers of _Science News_, in which _Heterodons’_ performances are
fully described. One, on being intercepted in its retreat, ‘threw its
head back with widely expanded jaws; but instead of striking, it turned
completely over on its back, remaining stiff and motionless, with jaws
fixed in rigid expansion, feigning death.’ Reptilian intellect was,
however, insufficient to carry out the feint, inasmuch as its full
muscular power was exercised to maintain its position. ‘On concealing
myself,’ continues the narrator, ‘it cautiously righted itself and made
off; but only to repeat the _ruse_ when again caught.’[115] Dr. J.
Schneck, in the March number for the same year, describes a similar
action on his worrying them with a switch, when, after making futile
efforts to attack, they would seem to bite themselves (which they
really never do), and then turn on their backs as if dead. After a
few moments of quiet they would turn over and beat a hasty retreat.
Several other writers in _Science News_ confirm Holbrooke’s experience,
that ‘under no provocation can it be induced to bite.’ Those we have
seen at the Gardens verify this; exhibiting an extremely inoffensive
nature, though no death-feigning or summersault performances. And I
am more inclined to attribute the rigidity to a sort of paralyzed
terror than to any pretence of being dead. The same thing is observed
in some insects. If you blow on them or alarm them, they will flatten
themselves against whatever they may be crawling on, and cling close
and stiff as if dead, but presently escape. Some other snakes, also,
as well as the _Heterodons_, keep rigidly still as if paralyzed when
molested, previous to attempting any escape, though I do not remember
any others that turn over on their backs in so singular a fashion.

A few more words about the _Deirodon_ with its still stranger teeth
must come in the next chapter.





IN a lecture on ‘Chameleons’ at the Zoological Gardens, Professor
St. George Mivart described in his peculiarly lucid, facile manner,
some of the features possessed in common by totally different
zoological families, and facetiously added, ‘It is tiresome how a
single species will come and interfere with our nice definitions in
classification.’[116] I will devote a chapter to the confusion arising
from some such mixed features.

In the classification of the Ophidia these tiresome complications
present themselves more, perhaps, than in any other creatures. We
have seen how snakes of entirely opposite families may possess one
single feature in common and differ in other generic respects; as, for
instance, in the moveable but innocuous fang of the _Xenodons_; in
those ‘pits’ or depressions in the face; the viperine form of head;
the position and number of head-shields; the sub-caudal plates, and so
on; and in such resemblances I am strongly inclined to suspect that
there are other interfering causes than a common ancestry, though this,
no doubt, has much to do with it.

‘What is to prevent our having one fixed name, and keeping to it?’
exclaim the sorely-puzzled amateur naturalists. And well they may, on
seeing in some works on ophiology a list of synonyms sometimes filling
several pages.

By way of illustration let us take the little spine-toothed snake
described among the egg-eaters in chap. iii. This snake was known
to be _edentulus_ by Linnæus, who nevertheless gave it the generic
name of _Coluber_, because it has two rows of sub-caudal plates; and
the specific _scaber_, because it has roughly-carinated scales—both
names equally applicable to a score of other snakes, and not at
all describing its unique dentition. This latter was first made a
distinguishing feature by Jourdan, 1833, who assigned it the generic
name of _Rachiodon_, spine-toothed. Lacepède called it simply _La
rude_; Wagler, _Dasypeltis_, thick or rough-scaled, the integument
rather than the dentition still receiving prior attention by the
majority of observers.

Dr. Andrew Smith in 1829 more closely watched its habits, and
considered that its peculiar dentition was sufficient to separate it
from the _Oligodon_ (few-toothed) family, under the new generic name
of _Anodon_, with the specific _typus_ to mark it as a distinct type.
Afterwards he found that the word _Anodon_ had been already adopted
by naturalists for a shell-fish, and he contented himself therefore
with Wagler’s name _Dasypeltis_, adding _inornatus_ for its specific,
otherwise _D. scaber_. It is a small, slender snake, rarely exceeding
2-1/2 feet in length, and of an inconspicuous brownish colour. That it
is an extremely slender little snake is evident from the portion of
spine copied from the skeleton in the museum of R. C. S., and given in
the chapter on egg-eating snakes. Jourdan’s name _Rachiodon_, though
the best that had hitherto been assigned to the spine-toothed tree
snake, was yet rather vague, as the teeth might be anywhere along the
spinal column; and Professor Owen still further improved upon this
name by calling it _Deirodon_, neck-toothed; for though, as already
stated, a snake has no true ‘neck,’ the word _Deirodon_ designates the
position of those gular teeth; and for convenience, everybody speaks
of a snake’s ‘neck’ in allusion to the part immediately behind the
head. So the little egg-eating tree snake is equally well entitled
to the generic names of _Oligodon_, few teeth; _Rachiodon_, spine
teeth; _Anodon_, toothless (as far as true teeth are concerned); and
_Deirodon_, neck-toothed. In habits it differs entirely from the
_Oligodontidæ_ family, which are ground snakes. The Deirodons are
frequently found concealed under the loose bark of dead trees; and Dr.
A. Smith observed three species all having a like organization, which
induced him to conclude that all feed alike on birds’ eggs.

As very few snakes have such an exceptionally distinguishing
organization as the _Deirodon_, few are so happy as to escape with
only half a score of titles. Many species that have been longer known
have had their names similarly improved upon by fifty naturalists,
and are still undergoing renomination as new observers discover closer
alliances with one or another family. This is particularly the case in
America, where a nomenclature entirely differing from our own is often
adopted. It will probably be the same in Australia as the science of
ophiology advances and as native naturalists increase. Says Krefft,
in allusion to these commingling features and many synonyms: ‘It is
difficult for even the scholar to master the vexatious question of
snake classification.’ Add to the scientific names an equal number
of vernacular ones, and we encounter a list sufficient to dismay the
merely lukewarm student at the very outset.

Let me here suggest the utility of first getting at the _meaning_
of scientific terms as an immense assistance towards fixing them in
the memory. In the construction of generic and specific names some
peculiarity is, or should be, described. This I have endeavoured to
keep before the reader throughout this volume; and by first looking
at the _meaning_ of the word, it is at once simplified, while that
peculiar feature for which it is named is also grasped. Occasionally a
name baffles us, it is true, and one fails to see cause or reason in
it; but this is an exception. Other names without apparent reason are
from persons, as, for instance, when a Mr. Smith thinks to immortalize
himself by calling a snake _Coluber smithii_. Probably the next
observer would find this too general to be of much use, and discover
some peculiarity more worthy of a specific.

Not long ago, when Lacerda was experimenting with our distinguished
ophidian, the ‘Curucucu’ (_Bothrops_ or _Lachesis rhombeata_), it
was variously introduced to the public through the daily press,
as the _Bothraps rhambeata_, the _Hachesis rhambeata_, and the
_Lachesis rhambeata_. It is doubtful whether many of the ‘general
public’ imagined these three names to represent the same snake, or
whether—except possibly from the last generic one—they could form
any idea of the reptile therefrom. Of the many papers that fell under
one’s notice, _Land and Water_ alone on this occasion spelt the words
correctly. As yet there is no journal devoted to the Reptilia, and the
study is evidently not attractive. Nor do we expect all naturalists to
be ophiologists; but those of the editors who were zoologists might
have hazarded a guess and made sense of the generic _Lachesis_, seeing
that a deadly, fateful serpent was intended. Some of the scientific
‘weeklies’ having started the wrong names, unscientific ‘dailies’
deferentially transcribed them. The errors were chiefly traceable
to caligraphy, and are mentioned here to exemplify the advantage
of seeking a meaning in scientific appellations, the meanings of
some names being so obvious that in spite of a wrong letter you may
frequently decide upon them.

This fateful _Lachesis_ of South America has been as perplexingly
described by unscientific travellers as the _Jararaca_, and as hard to
identify. It has been a stumbling-block and a snare ever since the time
of Waterton, who thus wrote of it:[117]—‘Unrivalled in the display of
every lovely colour of the rainbow, and unmatched in the effects of his
deadly poison, the _counacouchi_ glides undaunted on, sole monarch of
these forests. He sometimes grows to the length of fourteen feet. He is
commonly known by the name of _Bushmaster_. Man and beast fly before
him,’ etc. Waterton ‘wandered’ between the years 1812-1824, making
several journeys to South America, primarily with the view to ascertain
the composition and effects of the Wourali poison, and on this subject
his information was of value. But his descriptions of serpents partook
of the prejudices of that date, and were more picturesque than
zoological. What he saw and wrote of possessed the charm of novelty in
those days, and Sir Joseph Banks addressed a letter to him expressing
‘abundant thanks for the very instructive lesson you have favoured us
with, which far excels in real utility anything I have yet seen.’

Endorsed by such an authority, what wonder that fourteen feet of
radiantly splendid ‘Bushmaster’ should figure in the encyclopedias
of the day, and be copied by book-makers and magazine contributors
for years and years—even to the recent date of 1874! Hartwig,
1873,[118] gives Waterton’s ‘rainbow hues’ nearly word for word, with
the addition of one of the scientific names, _Lachesis rhombeata_.
Kingston, 1874,[119] aided by his imagination, improves on Waterton.
The _Curucucu_, or _Couanacouchi_, ‘sometimes fourteen feet, is the
largest known poisonous snake. It is remarkable for the glowing
radiance of its fearful beauty, displaying all the prismatic colours.
It mounts trees with the greatest ease,’ etc. (It lies half concealed
_under_ the trees among dead leaves.) Another writer of _Travels round
the World_ (meaning the British Museum Reading-room) contents himself
with simply a ‘rainbow-coloured’ Bushmaster; so now in imagination
we add indigo, blue, green, etc., to the ‘fearful beauty.’ Meanwhile
other writers on Brazil introduce it as the Surucuru, Sorococo,
Couroucoucou, Souroucoucou, Surukuku, and similar names, varied only
by a transposition of letters and the addition of accents. Tschudi
mentions it under its scientific name, _Lachesis rhombeata_, the
‘Flammon’ in Peru.[120] Sulivan,[121] who, like Waterton, rambled in
South America, tells us ‘the Couni Couchi or Bushmaster is the most
dreaded of all the South America serpents; and, as his name implies, he
roams absolute master of the forest. They do not fly from man, but will
even pursue and attack him. They are fat, clumsy-looking animals, about
four’ (not fourteen) ‘feet long, and nearly as thick as a man’s arm.
They strike with immense force.’ A man had been bitten in the thigh and
died, and ‘the wound was as if two four-inch nails had been driven into
the flesh. So long are the fangs, and so deep the wounds, that there
is no hope of being cured.’ P. H. Gosse quotes Sulivan regarding the
enormous fangs, both of these latter writers judiciously omitting the
‘rainbow’ colouring.

Most snakes, even the dingiest, occasionally display an iridescence
which is certainly beautiful; and Waterton may have seen his
Counicouchi when the sun lighted up the recently-renewed epidermis and
showed him off in unusual brilliance; only, unfortunately, the copyists
have imagined the greens and crimsons and blues of the rainbow, and
rendered it a tedious business to poor patient plodders to arrive at
the truth. In the _Encyclopædia Metropolitana_, 1845, we find another
clue to identification. ‘_Trigonocephalus mutus_, a native of the
Brazils and Guiana, and from six to seven feet long, is known to the
Brazilians as _Surukuku_, and is probably the _Boschmeester_ of the
Dutch and the _Cœnicoussi_ of the native inhabitants.’

Many writers of travels give the vernacular names only, while the
more scientific who do give generic and specific names, may each give
a different one and perhaps omit the vernaculars; and in none of the
authorities does one discover the name ‘Bushmaster’ at all; while as to
colour and the true size we can be sure of nothing.

Presenting these complications to Dr. Stradling, whose kindly proffered
co-operation I had gladly accepted, he wrote: ‘The vulgar names are
often _local_ in a limited area, so that the same snake may be known
by half-a-dozen different synonyms in as many different provinces—not
only that, but these names are often applied to other snakes; and
thus, while some species are blended together, many imaginary ones are

This in part explains the varieties of spelling seen above; the two
names _couanacouchi_ and _curucoocu_ being applied to one snake by
different tribes of the native races extending over a rather wide area.

Further confirmation of these indiscriminate terms we find in three
other writers, viz.:—First, Dr. Dalton:[122] ‘The boa constrictor
is known as “Bushmaster” by the colonists. “Camoudi” is a name
indiscriminately applied to all large snakes. There is the land
Camoudi, and the water Camoudi, while the Kunikusi or Courracouchi
of the Indians is _Crotalus mutus_, which is termed “Bushmaster” in
the forests.’ Secondly, H. W. Bates[123] says: ‘The natives called
_Trigonocephalus atrox_ the Jararaca.’ Thirdly, Dr. Otho Wucherer[124]
affirms that a ‘venomous tree snake (_Craspedocephalus bilineatus_)
is called _Surucucu patyoba_, from the palm on which it is found, and
another tree snake is _Suru. Uricana_, from another palm in which it
resides; while _the_ Surucucu (_Lachesis mutus_) lives in holes in
the ground. It is about ten feet long.’ This latter is called _Suru.
bico di jacca_, from the resemblance of its strongly-keeled scales to
the prominences on the ‘jack fruit;’ _Xenodon rhabdocephalus_ is also
_surucucu_, while the true ‘Jararaca’ is _Craspedocephalus atrox_.

Here are contradictory _Curucucus_ and _Jararacas_ in plenty, all
impressing upon us the importance of comparing evidence if we wish to
arrive at a truth.

‘Why spend so much time about a mere name?’ Well, as in the solution
of a problem, you desire to ‘get it right.’ Besides, you ask, ‘Why so
many names to one snake?’ and in sifting out this _Curucucu_ and the
_Jararaca_, we discover reasons for the many synonyms.

A. R. Wallace once more presents a clue:[125] ‘At Säo Gabriel I saw
on the rocks asleep one of the most deadly serpents in South America,
the “Surucurú” (_Lachesis mutus_). It is very handsomely marked with
rich amber brown, and armed with terrific poison fangs, two on each
side.’ Here we are enabled to associate a scientific and a vernacular
name with a ‘handsome,’ though not a ‘rainbow-coloured’ serpent. Sir
J. Fayrer describes the _Ophiophagus_ as the largest known venomous
serpent ‘_except_ the Bushmaster, which is said to attain fourteen

By this time, in addition to the ever-varying vernaculars, we learn of
Waterton’s ‘Bushmaster’ as _Lachesis mutus_; _L. rhombeatus_; _Crotalus
mutus_; _Trigonocephalus mutus_.

It will be observed that the word _Trigonocephalus_ is used as a
generic name by some naturalists, and as a specific by others; and it
may with reason be applied to most of the American thanatophidia which
are not _elapidæ_. It therefore, at least, enables us to ascertain
that the snake of doubtful identity has this viperine characteristic
of the angular head; and as there is only one very small true viper at
present known in the New World, we may further decide that not being
an _Elaps_, our puzzler is a _Bothrops_ with the _doubles narines_,
and therefore equally meriting either of the descriptives _atropos_,
_atrox_, _furia_, _megæra_, _clotho_, _cophias_, and other such fearful
appellatives freely used to designate the deadly qualities of the worst
class of serpents. In reply to a communication of mine to _Land and
Water_, of 2d October 1880, Dr. Stradling[126] entered more fully into
this question of vernaculars, and what he says of Brazil we find to be
the case everywhere:—

 ‘Whatever meaning the colloquial titles have is generally grounded on
 some popular error.’

This we saw in the case of _Xenodon_ and _Heterodon_, both called all
sorts of bad names on account of their supposed fangs.

 ‘In Brazil, _Jeboia_ and _Cascavel_ are the universal names for the
 boa and rattlesnake; every snake with red in its markings is a coral
 snake (“corral,” from the Spanish word for a ring), every one found
 in or near the water would be a _Cobra de agua_, and every other is a
 Jarraracca or a Curucucu.

 ‘I believe every country has a pet bugbear among serpents.
 “Fer-de-lance” is the cry in St. Lucia when a snake rustles away in
 the bush or inflicts a bite unseen, “Bushmaster” in Demerara, “Toboba”
 in Nicaragua, “Vaia” in Mexico, “Vivera de la cruz” in the River
 Plate. Over and over again have I had snakes of widely different
 species sent to me, each guaranteed to be a genuine Jarraracca, until
 I began to doubt whether the Jarraracca had any existence at all. I
 believe that the one I sent to the Zoological Gardens the other day
 is the real thing—_Craspedocephalus Brasiliensis_—at last’ (the
 _Xenodon_ after all!) ‘and I think I have sifted the Curucucu down by
 elimination till I can fix the term on _Trigonocephalus atrox_.

       *       *       *       *       *

 ‘I fear we shall never get a decent classification till some competent
 observer studies them on their native soil; the excellence of the
 books on Indian reptiles is doubtless due to this. We want a man in
 authority to settle the very vernacular for us—one who can say, “This
 and no other shall be the Jarraracca, this the Bushmaster,” etc., for
 it is undoubtedly a great advantage to have a well-defined native or
 local synonym. The marvel is that the present classification should be
 so good as it is. Look at the difficulties. When people see a snake
 they rush at it, smash it with sticks or stones, pick up what is left
 of it and put it in a bottle of cauha, cachasse, rum, or other coarse
 spirit, label it with a wrong name, and send it home. And these are
 the materials an ophiologist has to build on.’[127]

Krefft, speaking of the confusion of vernaculars in Australia, also
says: ‘To make a work on ophiology useful to all, _co-operation is
necessary_; and as a good, sound English name is prefixed to every
species, it is to be hoped that such name will, if possible, be
retained.’ He is referring more particularly to the ‘Diamond snake,’
which on the mainland is the harmless _Python molurus_, and in Tasmania
the venomous _Hoplocephalus superbus_, with very broad scales.
Therefore he ‘hopes that Tasmanian friends will accept the designation
“Broad-scaled snake” in lieu of “Diamond” for their poisonous species.’
In the accounts sent to England, the indiscriminate use of such
prefixes as the _black_ snake, the _brown_ snake, causes infinite
perplexity, and not unfrequently furnishes argumentative articles
to the journals. ‘Carpet’ snake is another vernacular applied to a
harmless species in Australia, and to the extremely venomous little
_Echis_ of India. Then every country has its ‘Deaf adder’ which is
neither an ‘adder’ nor ‘deaf.’ And the ‘moccasin’ of the United States
is a still existing stumbling-block.

Another great confusion in classification has been in consequence of
some of the earlier naturalists representing young snakes, or those of
varying colours, as distinct species. It is very common for a young
snake to differ in colour from the parent, and also common for those
of the same brood to differ from each other. Of _Coluber canis_ Dr. A.
Smith says scarcely any two are marked and coloured alike. In a brood
of the broad-scaled Tasmanian snake, _H. superbus_, there were upwards
of thirty young ones, some of which Krefft describes as banded, and of
a light colour, the rest being black. Our English slow-worm varies from
dead black to nearly white, or flesh colour, one of the latter being an
inmate of the Gardens at the time of writing, March 1882. The English
viper also varies in colour, and we have heard of a perfectly yellow
ring snake.

In England we have so few snakes, viz. the ring snake, the coronella,
and one viper, and these three so distinct, that we are not likely to
be perplexed with many varieties; but in tropical or semi-tropical
regions, where closely-allied species abound, it may be suspected that
_hybrids_ not unfrequently create confusion as well as a multiplication
of supposed ‘species’ not likely to cease. In our small London
collection, hybrids have been produced at least twice within a few
years; and we fear that the habit of hibernating in mixed multitudes
leads to some immorality among the Ophidia. It is like the overcrowded
dwellings of the poor, and the ‘free-lovers’ of America; and perhaps to
ophidian unions between congeners occasionally may be traced not a few
of the varieties which so curiously and closely blend different species
and are a plague to classifiers. This is mere speculation.

The Indian vernaculars are as abundant and perplexing as those of
Brazil. Of the cobras, Sir J. Fayrer says there are many varieties
which the natives consider different species. ‘The snake charmers
are poor naturalists, and disseminate many false notions as well
as dangerous ones about the cobras.’ In the _Thanatophidia_ nine
or ten varieties are figured, all of the one single species (_Naja
tripudians_), though all bear different vernaculars. The two chief
distinctions in the markings are the spots on the back of the ‘neck,’
which, when the hood is distended, are easily distinguished. One with
a single ocellus is the _Keautiah_, known as ‘Kala samp,’ ‘Nag samp,’
etc., being chiefly of the field or jungle. The other with the double
ocellus is the ‘spectacled cobra,’ and essentially of the town. This is
the ‘Gokurrah’ of the natives, and the favourite of the snake charmers.
Being common all over a country which boasts of thirty-six written
languages, the reader can imagine the number of vernaculars bestowed
upon the _Cobra capella_.

The _ophiophagus_ is almost equally favoured, as this snake also varies
in colour, particularly in the young ones, which Fayrer affirms might
easily be mistaken for a different species. Probably wherever snakes
abound, the vernaculars are correspondingly numerous.

‘And after all which _is_ the Curucucu, and which _is_ the Jararaca?’
Being the proud possessor of both, I may describe them from nature;
but conflicting opinions as to their identity still exist, because
there are features in common among congeneric species, and what one
author may decide is the _Curucucu_ another will call the _Jararaca_.
Dumeril, Gray, Günther, and other modern ophiologists have, however, so
far simplified difficulties, as to recognise only one of each in our
zoological collections, notwithstanding the liberal use of both terms
in Brazil.

_Our_ _Curucucu_, then, _Lachesis_ or _Crotalus mutus_, has the flat,
viperine head, covered with fine scales. The only plates are the
upper and lower labials, one over the eye, and a pair of rather large
ones under the chin. The ‘pit’ is very distinct, showing it to be a
_Bothrops_ and one of the _Crotalidæ_. The body colour is of a pale
maize, approaching umber towards the back, and lighter on the belly,
with a chain of rich chocolate-brown, jagged, rhomboid spots, edged
with darker tints, along the back. It is undeniably handsome, and in
life no doubt was iridescent, but alas for the ‘rainbow splendours,’
they have vanished! In length it is about nine feet, and in girth as
big as one’s arm in the largest part. Its tail tapers suddenly. One
sees in the strongly-keeled scales the ‘prominences’ alluded to by
Dr. Wucherer; and as the fangs are represented life-size on p. 360,
the reader can judge for himself about the ‘four-inch nails.’ Mine
is probably a nearly full-grown serpent, therefore an average-size
specimen, and much the same as the one brought to the Gardens in the
summer of 1881, which lingered a pitiable object for six or eight
months, eating nothing, and gradually wasting.

The _Jararaca_ is a slighter snake, and in colour of an olive tint with
darker markings, not unlike Xenodon’s jagged leaf pattern along the
back. Its right to the name of _Craspedocephalus_ (_craspedo_, derived
from a Greek word signifying an edge or border) is recognised by a
peculiar ridge round its flat, angular, and almost lance-shaped head.
It is also a _Trigonocephalus_ and a _Bothrops_. My specimen being only
half-grown is about three feet long, and the thickness of your little
finger. ‘Is there not great confusion in the application of the terms
_craspedoceph._ and _trigonoceph._?’ wrote Dr. Stradling, on sending me
these much-prized specimens. Yes, there certainly is; but by this time
the reader sees the reason for this, and also for the many appellatives
which they derive from the Fates and the Furies. Not to weary the
reader with further lists of names, I will refer him to Gray’s
_Catalogue of the British Museum Snakes_, p. 5, for _the_ accepted
_Jararaca_ of the authorities, and to Dumeril, tome vii. pt. ii. p.
1509, for the same; both authors giving the numerous synonyms, and the
latter the reasons for many of them. The student will there see how
Wagler is supposed to have described young snakes as different species;
and if further investigation be invited, a good deal of entertainment
may be had from Wagler himself and his folio volume,[128] _Serpentum
Braziliensis_, with its wonderful coloured illustrations. Then for
the _Curucucu_, the _Lachesis mutus_ of modern ophiologists, see p.
13 of Gray, and p. 1486, tome vii. pt. ii. of Dumeril et Bibron. From
these authors we may go back to Marcgrave, 1648, for the ‘_Cvrvcvcv
Braziliensibus_, fifteen palms long, truculent and much to be feared.’
Marcgrave’s book is embellished with marvellous pictures which are not
likely to enlighten us much; but through him we are enabled to identify
some of his serpents with the vernaculars, for, like the Pilgrim
Purchas, the vernaculars were all he had to guide him.

Authorities recognise six or seven species of _Craspedocephalus_,
presumably all having the easily distinguishable edge like a thin cord
round their heads, and which doubtless were the ‘prominent Veines’
described by Purchas in the Brazilian species, now generally recognised
as ‘_the_ Jararaca.’ I will invite my readers to ‘co-operate’ and
call no harmless little snakes by this name, which originally implied
something terrible.

‘And what is the outcome of all this etymological jumble?’

‘Well, we at least learn that as in English the words snake, adder,
serpent, have a somewhat general signification, so have some of the
Brazilian vernaculars. But I cannot help thinking that many of these
names had more of natural history in them than we are apt to suspect,
though no doubt the original meaning has become much corrupted during
three hundred years’ colonization. The native races knew quite well
that some snakes were dangerous and some harmless, which is more than
can be said for the present occupiers of South America, who think all
venomous as a matter of a course.

The differences in spelling the same word may guide us in the
pronunciation of it; as, for example, the _c_ sometimes as _k_, in
Camoudi, or Kamoodi, and as _s_ in Curucoocu or Sooroocoocoo. In these
latter words we also find the _u_ identical with _oo_, as in the Hindû
or Hindoo words. Again, the _j_ is as _i_ in _Jararaca_ or _Iararacca_,
or more probably a sound with which we are unfamiliar, as the word is
sometimes _Shiraraca_. The frequent transposition of syllables hints
at a meaning which may be worth seeking by a philologist, should he be
also an ophiophilist. Some local information on these points I much
hoped to obtain; but alas! (_for this chapter_) the trips to Brazil of
my excellent ally came to an end! Independently of which, the native
dialects could only be studied in the far interior, where, here and
there, some tribes may still be found in their pristine simplicity,
though it is very doubtful whether their dialects to-day are those
from which the first European settlers obtained their _Curucucus_ and

The repetition of syllables in these strange dialects seems to point
at some intention. Can those frequently occurring _raras_ and _cucus_
represent degrees? For instance, we are told that the Jarrara_cucu_
is ‘the largest of the Jarraracas.’ And we are quite sure that the
_Cucu_rijuba, ‘which killeth by winding certain turnes of his tayle,’
is the boa constrictor; and that the _Cururiubù_, ‘which keepeth
alwaies in the water,’ is the anaconda, these syllables evidently
representing bulk or something formidable: as we have them abounding
in _curucucu_, the most formidable of all serpents. Then _Ibibo_ might
imply beauty or gay colouring. A snake, _Ibiboco_, with red and black
rings, ‘the fairest but of foulest venom,’ is undoubtedly _Elaps
lemniscatus_; while Ibiboboca, ‘_ainsi nommé par sa grande beauté_,’ is
‘_harmlesse_.’ _Peba_ as a termination may imply danger; as there is
the Jararac_peba_, ‘most venomous,’ and a ‘very venomous’ rattlesnake,
Boicininin_peba_. The curious repetition of _in_ in _Boycininga_,
rattlesnake (p. 272), seems to hint at the length of its rattle and
the degree of crepitation it produces, especially as we find the
substitution of _g_ for _c_ in some of these words, and the soft _gi_
rapidly repeated is not unlike the true sound.

There is a long and slender tree snake ‘that eateth eggs, and goeth
faster on the trees than any man can runne on the ground, with
a motion not unlike swimming.’ Its correspondingly long name is
_Guiaranpiaquana_! Vain indeed would be any speculation as to what that
may mean. Vain also, and I fear tedious, may all this guess-work be to
discover meaning and poetry in what may probably be dead languages.
Who shall say how many thousand years ago these singular repetitions
conveyed to the savage mind (but _was_ it savage?) an idea of the
creatures around them?





WE come now to treat of facts no less interesting than surprising in
ophidian biographies. Already we have recounted almost marvellous
powers possessed by this class of animals—functions which are
volitionary, such as the management of their trachea, the voluntary
folding back or unfolding of certain teeth, the practical adaptation of
their ribs and coils to what we may almost call manual work, and now,
most astonishing of all, the voluntary deposition or retention of ova,
even of young.

‘Snakes are either oviparous or viviparous,’ is what we are accustomed
to read, followed by the explanation that the former are those which
lay eggs, and the latter those which produce their young alive. To
these two chief distinctions, the more recent one of ovoviviparous
has been added, to describe some intermediate cases where the egg is
ruptured in parturition, so that again a fully-formed young one is
born. For broad distinctions the three terms do well enough, though
many exceptions exist. The grand distinction of ‘_viper_’ as applied
to those snakes which produce live young, was adopted when snakes were
first observed and described by classic writers.

‘Vipers alone are viviparous,’ wrote Aristotle. ‘Sometimes the little
vipers eat through their mother and come forth. The viper brings forth
one at a time in one day, but she brings forth more than twenty little
vipers. Other serpents produce their eggs externally, and these eggs
are connected with each other like the necklaces of women. But when
they bring forth, they deposit their eggs in the earth, _and there
incubate them_. These eggs they disclose the following year.’ We do not
quote the above as all fact, but rather to show how very much there has
been to _unlearn_ since Aristotle was accepted as an authority. The
shadow of truth and the mention of a possible fact as an invariable
rule are dangerous mistakes, for, as we have already shown, where a
snake is concerned, one can rarely feel safe in asserting anything as
positive. It is not impossible that, owing to disease or accident,
some gravid viper may have been so wounded as to enable her young to
make their début through her ruptured side. Such an occurrence has
been seen in our own time. Aristotle or his authority may even have
witnessed such an accident, and recorded it under the supposition that
it was normal. In whatever way the error may have originated, it is
only one out of many that are propagated even to the present day by the

At the moment of writing, we read in one of our first-class ‘dailies,’
alluding to a brood of young vipers lately born at the Zoological
Gardens: ‘The young viper comes into the world in the shape of an
egg, and its first business is to push through the filmy membrane
which envelops it in its imprisoned form.’ This is contrary to our
accepted ideas, though partially true in this instance. The word
viper is generally supposed to be derived from the Latin _vipera_, a
contraction of _vivipara_, to produce alive. The above words therefore
are inapplicable as a rule.

So far as was known in Aristotle’s time, only certain venomous species
common in the countries with which classic writers were best acquainted
did produce live young, and they were mostly what are still known as
‘vipers,’ a term restricted to these and explained as being derived
from such signification.

Opportunities of study and of observation afforded in menageries and
zoological gardens at the present day have caused the term _viper_ as
relating to gestation to be discarded, or many non-venomous snakes must
be included, thus overthrowing all our notions of vipers. As was shown
in the preceding chapters, the name is now associated with dentition.

German and French ophiologists affirm that the three distinctions of
_oviparous_, _viviparous_, and _ovoviviparous_ are founded on no other
ground than the greater or less development of the fœtus at the time of

The nature of the egg-covering or ‘shell’ has also to do with this. In
eggs which take a longer time to mature or to ‘hatch,’ the external
covering is thicker and more leathery; in those which are hatched
either before or on deposition, the shell is thinner, more membranous.
Always, however, there is a calcareous element in the shell, and the
eggs are generally, _but not invariably_, linked together.

Heat and moisture are essential to the hatching of eggs. When at
liberty the snake selects some spot among decaying leaves, or in a
manure heap where decomposition produces sufficient warmth. In the
tropics, where the sun’s rays alone suffice, a soft moist bed is more
easily found, and here it is that immense broods are produced.

The period of gestation can scarcely be pronounced upon with certainty.
It depends not only on the size of the snake, but on the degree of
warmth that can be enjoyed as an assistant to mature the eggs. Schlegel
mentions three or four months from copulation to the laying of eggs in
the species indigenous to France. But as other circumstances combine to
cause variations in these periods, it is very unsafe to fix upon the
precise time of gestation.

Says Rymer Jones, ‘Reptiles do not sit (_sic_) upon their eggs, hence
the latter have only a membranous envelope. In many of the reptiles
which lay eggs, especially the _Colubri_ (colubrine snakes), the
young one is already formed and considerably advanced in the egg at
the moment when the mother lays it; and it is the same with those
species which may at pleasure be rendered viviparous by retarding their
laying.’[129] The latter words are traced to Cuvier, and prove that
this most remarkable power has long been recognised.

In the first few words of the above, Jones spoke of reptiles generally
from toads to turtles; with the latter, soft eggs would certainly fare
badly did they attempt to incubate them. Still the term ‘reptiles’ is
misleading, because, as is now well known, some snakes do incubate,
and some lizards are suspected of doing the same. Even our common ring
snake has been found coiled upon her eggs.

Serpents are allied to birds in producing young from eggs, but in
reptiles the eggs differ from those of birds in undergoing a sort of
incubation from the very first; so that at whatever period a snake’s
egg is examined, whether it has been laid or not, the embryo will
be found more or less advanced. Sometimes in an egg just deposited,
a perfectly formed fœtus will be found. ‘Serpents are _always_
oviparous,’ says Schlegel; ‘and it is a mistake to suppose that all
venomous snakes produce live young, and all non-venomous kinds lay
eggs. Neither has the diversity of generation any relation to the
organization of the animal itself. _Coronella lævis_ produces living
young, but other _coronellas_ lay eggs. In 1862, when very little was
known of the _Coronella lævis_, Mr. Frank Buckland had one in a cage in
London, which to the surprise of most persons produced live young ones.
This may have been solely owing to her captivity and her retention
of eggs till hatched. Some boas lay eggs, others are viviparous. In
the latter case the young are enclosed in a thin membrane, which they
tear or break at the moment of birth. In those that are a long while
hatching, the tunic is of a thick, coriaceous texture, not easily
ruptured. Thus, to sum up with one other authority, Der Hœven: ‘In many
serpents and lizards the development begins in the body of the parent
before the egg is laid, and in some the membrane of the egg is broken
by the young one before birth.’

This latter condition has been considered viperine, but even in a
viper the young have been produced in a membrane. This was the case
with _Vipera nasicornis_ at the London Zoological Gardens, on Sunday,
November 6th, 1881, that gave birth to forty-six viperlings. Some of
them had no vestige of membrane clinging about them; others had, but
burst it immediately and began to crawl; while yet others did not burst
their ‘shell’ at all,—if indeed so filmy and thin a membrane could
be called a shell,—but died within it. When the membrane burst, it
was seen to collapse and shrivel up into nothing, as children’s air
balls do when they are torn; but the texture of these balls is strong
in comparison with the extreme tenuity of the viperine egg tunic. Yet
it was strong enough to contain a young one, as in the case of those
unbroken. There is no means of ascertaining the precise length of time
this viper had been in captivity; but as her young ones had all such
fully-developed fangs, and the precocity to strike and kill a mouse as
soon as born, this was probably another case of postponed deposition.
On a previous occasion, September 1875, a family of young vipers born
at the Ophidarium were ‘_some quite clean and others with the remains
of the egg covering about them_.’ The quotation from my notebook refers
to the Daboia of India, ‘Russell’s viper’ (_Vipera elegans_). Still
these may be exceptional and possibly abnormal cases, but are examples
worth noting, and another proof of the many exceptions to what we are
accustomed to believe invariable rules.

White, in his _History of Selborne_, mentions the capture of a viper
in which he found fifteen young, the shortest being seven inches. They
were active, spiteful, and menacing, and yet ‘had no manner of fangs
that we could find, even with the help of our glasses.’

Mr. Frank Buckland tells of a man who cut open a string of snake’s
eggs, and the young, thus prematurely introduced into the world,
‘showed fight.’

Of historical ophidians which have figured in many pages, first comes
chronologically the Paris python, that in 1841 laid fifteen eggs and
incubated them. She has already been alluded to in chap. iv., but
claims further mention presently.

A python in the Amsterdam collection next hatched twenty-two eggs.

In 1862 a python at the London Gardens laid above a hundred
eggs,—‘more than a bushel,’ according to the keeper,—and settled
herself to hatch them. Much interest attaches itself to this lady’s
history; but first to complete our list chronologically, the following
harmless species in the London collection have within the last ten
years produced live young, being examples of that ‘diversity of
generation’ of which Schlegel speaks.

August 1872, the ‘seven-banded snake’ (_Trop. leberis_) had five young
and some eggs at the same time.

June 1873, a _Coluber natrix_ had seven young ones. (I cannot affirm
positively that these were born alive; I think not, from an especial
entry in my notebook concerning them; but the records of the Zoological
Society in which I have sought for confirmation do not announce them as

August 1873, a yellow Jamaica boa (_Chilobothrus inornatus_) gave birth
to fourteen young ones, ten of which survived. They crawled up to the
top of their cage as soon as they saw daylight, and showed signs of
fight. One little aggressor struck at me when I held it, and tried
to bite me through my glove,—an impertinence which was permitted in
order to test its powers. It constricted my fingers as tightly as if
a strong cord were wound round them, and when not thus occupied it
wriggled and twisted itself about in such energetic contortions that
I could scarcely hold it. The activity and daring of the whole fry
proved their perfect development. On another occasion the same species
produced eight, and on a third occasion thirty-three young ones, but of
these dates I am not quite sure. In some cases a few eggs were produced
at the same time, but they were hard and bad and of the consistency
of soap. The manners and actions of the three equally well-developed
families were similar. They were always on the defensive, and able to
fight their own battles. When the keeper put his hand into the cage,
they seized upon it and held on with their teeth so tightly that on
raising it they hung wriggling and undulating like a living, waving

Another boa from Panama, on 30th June 1877, had twenty young, which
displayed ability to take care of themselves forthwith by leaving
the marks of their teeth on Holland’s fingers. These twenty were all
produced during the night, or before the arrival of the keeper the next
morning, and were lively and spiteful, biting any one who attempted
to touch them, and sharply enough to draw blood. Mr. E. W. Searle,
who described them in _Land and Water_ at the time, July 1877, said:
‘This is probably the first recorded instance of the breeding of boa
constrictors in captivity.’ He seemed also to infer that this proved
the boa to be viviparous instead of oviparous, as ‘had been always
understood.’ Having already known of cases of abnormal, and also of
postponed production of eggs or of young, I ventured at the time to
cite such cases in _Land and Water_, July 7, 1877, adding: ‘We must not
too hastily conclude that because one boa constrictor produced a family
of lively young ones, this species is invariably viviparous.’ Also in
the _Field_, July 14, 1877, I suggested that ‘the circumstance might be
received rather as a further example of snakes breeding under abnormal
conditions,’—opinions further confirmed by subsequent observations.

The little fry were supplied with young mice, which they constricted
as if they had served an apprenticeship; but the mother left them
entirely to themselves, and betrayed no other unusual feelings than to
hiss when disturbed. When they were seven weeks old, they in one night
ate twenty-four mice and a few young rats between them. They all cast
their first coat before they were a week old. The mother had been in
the Gardens about eight years. All but one of this fine family were
alive in the following November, and two are still living at the time
of going to press, viz. ‘Totsey’ (illus. p. 201) and one brother.

The dates of these few following cases are a little uncertain, also
exactly how many survived of those that were born.

A ‘seven-banded’ snake (_Trop. leberis_) had six.

A ‘chicken snake’ (_Col. eximius_).

A ‘moccasin snake’ (_Tropidonotus fasciatus_) had nine young ones.
This species has sometimes produced young and eggs at the same time.

A ‘garter snake’ (_Tropidonotus ordinatus_).

A boa constrictor had eight pretty little active snakelings that at
two days old pretended to constrict my fingers, and forcibly enough to
prove their powers.

On two occasions at the Gardens within the time specified, hybrids have
been born between _Epicratis angulifer_ and _Chilobothrus inornatus_,
and I can but think that occurrences of this nature must happen among
snakes in their wild state occasionally, which may throw some light on
the perplexities of classifiers.

In August 1878, three were born alive; and in recording the event the
Secretary to the Zoological Society, P. Lutley Sclater, Esq., Ph.D.,
F.R.S., etc., writes that there can be no question as to the pairing
of these two snakes, both in the same cage, and as there was no male
_Epicratis_ in the collection. Three were alive and six bad eggs were

In September 1879, two more hybrids were born between the same pair;
who, at any rate, remained constant to each other.

Of the venomous serpents that have fallen under my own notice at
the Zoological Gardens, the little Indian viper (_Echis carinata_)
had three young ones in July 1875. Only two survived a few weeks.
They changed their coat at an early day, but ate nothing; nor did
the mother, who soon died. One may mention here that the vipers in
collections rarely do survive long after giving birth to young. This
may be only owing to an unhealthy condition in captivity, but merits

Four common adders (_Vipera berus_) and several broods of the Daboia
have also been produced.

The African viper of the coloured illustration is another example, as
having afforded opportunities for observation.

In point of numbers we find the families varying from three or four
to upwards of a hundred. When the parent is in health, the young
are produced easily and rapidly. _Vipera nasicornis_ deposited her
forty-six children within about three hours. A Java snake (though
not in our London Ophidarium) produced twenty-four young ones in
twenty minutes. Anaconda, in April 1877, on the contrary, exhibited
considerable protraction, extruding bad eggs at irregular intervals for
many days. She will form the subject of the next chapter.

Incubation, or the hatching of eggs by the maternal warmth, seems not
to have been suspected by ophiologists until a comparatively recent
date; but by the non-scientific, the barbarian and the untutored
natives of hot countries, who see, but dream not that in future ages
what they saw and incidentally spoke of would be of weight to the
enlightened of as yet unexisting nations,—by such the fact was known
long ere its worth _as a fact_ was recognised. Yet, as has been already
seen in these pages, evidence given without intent and purpose often
is of scientific importance. Aristotle spoke of incubation; but with
classic writers the difficulty of sifting fact from fable may cause the
whole to be rejected.

We owe to Zoological Societies and menageries the confirmation of
the _couvaison_ of at least one species of serpents. Subsequently we
are told, ‘The python only incubates,’ this snake being generally
mentioned as the one exception; and only within a very few years has
maternal affection been accredited to any others. Mr. P. H. Gosse was
informed by the negroes in Jamaica of the habits of the yellow boa. Sir
Joseph Fayrer was informed by the jugglers that ‘over and over again
they had dug cobras out of their holes _sitting on their eggs_.’ Dr. E.
Nicholson was informed ‘on trustworthy authority that the Hamadryad has
been found coiled upon a nest of evidently artificial construction.’ He
thinks snakes always watch over their eggs, and frequent the locality
where they have deposited them. The keeper at the Gardens confirms
this by his own observations. ‘They do care for their eggs in their
own way,’ he assured me, and display unusual irritability and wildness
at such times.[130] In menageries, however, their habits are always
more or less artificial; they cannot seek spots for themselves, or
exercise maternal instinct beyond doing the best they can under the
circumstances. Anything in the way of extra indulgences, such as soft
rubbish, moss, or sand, is duly appreciated when eggs are about to be
deposited, and we find maternal ophidians resort at once to this.

In a footnote, vol. xvi. p. 65 of the _Annales des sciences
naturelles_, we read:—‘_Il parait que l’incubation des serpents
est un fait si connu dans l’Inde, qu’il entre même dans leur contes
populaires. M. Roulin m’a fait remarquer dans le second voyage de
Sindbad le marin_ (_nouvelle traduction Anglaise des ‘Mille et une
nuits’ par W. Lane_, tom. iii. p. 20) _le passage suivant: Alors je
regardai dans la caverne, et vis, au fond, un enorme serpent endormi
sur ses œufs_.’

Here again, by accident, an ophidian habit known in the 8th century has
been revealed to the scientific of the 19th century.

In the 17th century, when the Royal Society was founded and scientific
information of all descriptions was welcome in their published
_Transactions_, the subject of serpent brooding appeared in those
pages. In vol. i. p. 138, a few terse words exactly express what modern
ophiologists have of late years verified. ‘Several have taken notice
that there is a difference between the brooding of Snakes and Vipers;
those laying their Eggs in Dung-hills by whose warmth they are hatched,
but these (Vipers) brooding their Eggs within their Bellies, and
bringing forth live Vipers. To which may be added,—That some affirm to
have seen Snakes lye upon their Eggs as Hens sit upon theirs.’ This was
published in 1665.

The truth of ophidian incubation in at least one species was finally
established at the _Musée d’Histoire_ at Paris in 1841, when _Python
bivittatus_ or _Python à deux-raies_—named from two black lines
diverging from the mouth—incubated her fifteen eggs. This celebrated
serpent has enriched zoological annals in several points of interest.
She assisted to confirm the question of whether snakes drink, and, as
will be seen, whether they will take dead food. In connection with
the present subject, the observations made by M. Dumeril during her
incubation in the months of May and June 1841 are of such interest
that I will translate from a paper read at the _Academy of Sciences_
in Paris, by M. Valenciennes, 19th July 1841, and published in the
_Annales des sciences naturelles_, tom. xvi. 2^{me} série, p. 65. It
will be remembered that M. Dumeril (to whom we are indebted for the
most complete work on _Erpétologie générale_ that graces the shelves of
our Great National Library) was at that time Professeur d’Erpétologie
au Musée de Paris, and specially charged with the management of that
part of the menagerie.

M. Valenciennes began his paper by reminding his audience that the
temperature of birds rises in various degrees during the period of
incubation, proposing the questions, ‘Do reptiles not offer a similar
phenomenon?’ ‘Do they never brood on their eggs?’ As far as was known
of native reptiles, the answer would be in the negative. However, M.
Lamarrepiquot, in his travels in Chandernagor and the isle of Bourbon,
seems to show that a large serpent of India, and some other species,
_se plaçait sur ses œufs et les echauffait en developpant pendant ce
temps une chaleur notable_. Many eminent naturalists doubted this,
until it was confirmed in the Paris python, in which was an example of
prolonged and uninterrupted incubation for the space of fifty-six days.

M. Valenciennes proceeded to describe that she was in a cage with
others, and that a temperature higher than the outside air was
maintained. During January and February she coupled several times,
and in February ate six or seven pounds of raw beef that was tied on
to a live rabbit of middling size. Food offered her afterwards, for
three weeks in succession, she refused; but, as described in chap.
iv., she drank no less than five times during her brooding. Sloughing
occurred on the 4th April. Generally gentle and quiet, she became
excited on the 5th May, and tried to bite any one who approached her.
Her condition being evident, she had been left alone and undisturbed
in her cage; and at six o’clock on the morning of the 6th of May, laid
an egg, fourteen others being deposited by half-past nine A.M. The
eggs were soft at first, of an oval form, and an ashy-grey colour,
but afterwards became rounder and of a clear white. They were all
separate. She collected them in a cone-shaped pile, and rolled herself
round them, so as to completely hide every one, her head being at the
summit of the cone. For fifty-six days she kept perfectly motionless,
excepting when manifesting impatience if any one attempted to touch
her eggs. Notwithstanding this want of trustfulness on the part of the
interesting invalid, M. Dumeril achieved some important experiments
regarding her temperature.

Reptiles are ‘obedient to the surrounding temperature,’ we may repeat,
but in the present instance there was warmth in her perceptible to
the touch (_une chaleur notable_). The temperature of the cage was
20° (Reaumur?), that under the woollen coverlet where she reposed
was 21°; but in her coils, where M. Dumeril inserted one of the best
thermometers that could be procured, she was 41°, and always of a
higher temperature by some 20°. Placing the thermometer either upon
her or between the folds of her body, only a slight variation was
perceptible, but it was invariably higher than the surrounding air.

On the 2nd of July one of the shells split (_la coque s’est
fendillée_), and the head of a little python appeared. During that
day the little creature only twisted about within its shell, now its
head, now its tail being visible outside, and withdrawn again. The next
day the wee snake made its debut altogether, and began to crawl about
(_s’est mise à ramper_). It lost no time in exploring to the remotest
corners of its blanket, and by degrees showed itself to the world.
During the next four days eight were similarly hatched, the seven
remaining eggs, at various stages of development, having apparently
been crushed by superincumbent weight.

The mother, on the 3rd of July, ate six more pounds of beef, after her
fast of nearly five months; but with the posterior part of her body
still folded over the eggs. She then quitted them, and displayed no
further care, having covered them for so long a time, and even defended
them with such assiduity. From ten to fourteen days after being
hatched, the young ones all changed their coats, and then ate some
little sparrows, throwing themselves upon them, and constricting them
like grown-up pythons.

M. Valenciennes drew attention to the circumstance that only in hot
countries do serpents incubate their eggs, _i.e._ only the serpents
indigenous to hot countries. In temperate ones, where the average
warmth is insufficient, they resort to artificial heat; as, for
instance, manure heaps, or decaying vegetation.

Thus was this important question settled, and the hatching of the young
brood in Paris became a chronological era in ophidian annals.

When therefore, in January 1862, twenty-one years afterwards, a python
_seba_ in our own Gardens laid upwards of a hundred eggs, immense
interest and curiosity were excited among the zoologists of the day,
for here at home in London was a grand opportunity for observing the
one only snake which at that time was supposed to exhibit any sort of
maternal instinct. Plenty of damp moss had been supplied to her, the
temperature maintained in the cage being supposed sufficient for her
well-being. She pushed the moss into a kind of nest, and when the ‘long
string of eggs’ were deposited, she arranged them in a nearly level
mass, and then coiled herself over and around them so as to hide and
cover them as much as possible. Sometimes she changed her position a
little, and re-arranged her eggs, and in various ways rendered herself
worthy of record.

Ophiologists had scientific facts to verify: this opportunity must
not be neglected for ascertaining whether so cold a nature, and in
midwinter, could produce sufficient warmth by lying there day after
day upon her bushel of eggs. So thermometers were ever and anon thrust
between her coils, or held close to her; first here, then there, after
the example of M. Dumeril in Paris. Other disturbances in the way of
cleaning out the cage and supplying her companion in captivity with
food and water were angrily resented by the poor patient, who had no
chance of the tranquillity that she would have sought for herself in
her native tropics. Besides which, the chances against hatching were
far greater in her case than in the Paris and Amsterdam pythons. The
former saved only eight out of her fifteen, and here we had, in round
numbers, one hundred, more than she could successfully cover at one
time. Moreover, a most untoward accident happened one night by the tank
overflowing among her eggs, necessitating a complete disturbance of
them. What wonder, then, that she was irritable and even savage during
the whole time of her incubation! One egg, examined fifteen days after
it was laid, contained a living embryo, so there were hopes of some
at least maturing. For more than seven weeks she remained patiently
brooding, when all hope of hatching any of the eggs had vanished, and
it became necessary to take them from her. This was done by degrees,
and the task was no easy one. The keeper watched his opportunity to
raise the sliding door at the back of the cage, make a snatch at those
nearest him, and shut down the slide with celerity, or the exasperated
mother would have seized him. He nearly got his arm broken more than
once by the despatch he was compelled to use. Sometimes, so quick was
she, that in thrusting down the slide she was nearly jammed by it.
Holland protected himself by holding up a corner of the rug so as to
hide himself when he had occasion to open the slide door; yet one day
she ‘jumped’ at him, seizing the rug, and with a toss of her head
jerking it back with such violence that a shower of the gravel came
hailing upon the glass in front of the cage, to the consternation and
alarm of the spectators gathered there, and who at the moment imagined
the glass was broken, and that the infuriated reptile would be among
them. But they were behind her; it was only towards the keeper that her
fury was directed: he had taken away the last of her eggs. When, then,
he shut down the slide, she kept her angry eyes fixed upon it for a
long while. Presently she sought in her empty nest, upon which, so long
as any eggs had remained to her, she had re-settled herself after each
irruption. At last she took to her bath, in which she remained for a
long while.

After the scenes witnessed during those seven weeks, no one could doubt
the existence of maternal affection; and this was worth proving, as
some authors would have persuaded us that snakes, and particularly the
non-venomous ones, manifest total indifference regarding their eggs.
The other important fact, an increased temperature, was also again
observable, proving that a serpent can really hatch her eggs by the
warmth of her own body.

Last summer, 1881, another python laid about twenty eggs at the London
Ophidarium, but, alas! neither were any of that brood hatched. For
future broods, now that the fact of a raised temperature has been
proved, the next scientific triumph will be to develop the young ones,
dispensing with thermometers, and substituting perfect tranquillity,
with every possible aid and comfort to the mother.

That snakes under these peculiar circumstances do appreciate little
‘delicate attentions,’ ample proof has been afforded in the Jamaica
‘yellow boa’ (_Chilobothrus inornatus_), the species which on several
occasions has produced broods in London, and the one in which Mr. P.
H. Gosse verified the marvellous instinct of withholding its eggs when
circumstances were not propitious for their deposition. This is one of
the ‘Colubri’ alluded to by T. Rymer Jones, ‘which may at pleasure be
rendered’ (_i.e._ render themselves) ‘viviparous by retarding their

But when Gosse published his work on Jamaica (1851), he did not appear
to be aware of what Jones and Cuvier had said on this subject, but
stated the result of his own observations. He had become convinced that
this species of snake forms a sort of nest, and incubates its eggs;
when subsequently, one that he had in captivity produced living young,
he was staggered. ‘Is it possible,’ he wrote, ‘that a serpent normally
oviparous, might retain the eggs within the oviduct until the birth of
her young, when circumstances were not propitious?’

‘Is it possible,’ again asks an American naturalist, so lately as
1879,—‘can it be true that _Heterodon platyrhinos_ and _Tropidonotus
sipedon_’ (both harmless) ‘are sometimes viviparous and sometimes
ovoviviparous?’ This writer, F. W. Cragin, had been told that the two
above species were ovoviviparous (a word of no value as a definition),
and he writes in the _American Naturalist_, vol. xiii. p. 710, that out
of twenty-two eggs of Heterodon, ploughed up out of the sand in Long
Island, one he put into alcohol to preserve it as found, and the others
were hatched on the fourth day, showing that sometimes at least it is
oviparous, as supposed are some of the _Eutænias_.

Mr. Gosse describes one Jamaica boa in confinement, that was ill
and inactive, refusing food. It was unusually vicious, and bit hard
enough to draw blood, the effect of the fine teeth being like a severe
cat-scratch. It rendered itself further offensive when disturbed, by
emitting an insufferable odour, and at length gave birth to living

That this snake when at liberty lays eggs, he had seen, and in a nest
of artificial construction. One that he knew of was excavated in a
bank. The snake was seen issuing from a narrow passage just large
enough to admit it. Dry, crumbled earth had been discharged at the
entrance of the passage, where it lay in a heap. The bank being dug
into, the passage was found to lead to a cavity lined with soft
rubbish, leaves, etc., which must have been carried there. Mr. Gosse
does not pretend to affirm positively that the snake constructed that
secluded nest for itself. It might have done so, pushing out the mould
by the lateral undulations of its body, as the burrowing snakes do,
and carrying back the soft trash in its mouth or, if it only chose a
nest formed by some other animal, this proved maternal care. There
were eggs in the nest, the shell being like ‘white kid.’ ‘On snipping
one, a clear glaire exuded, in which was a large, whitish vitellus,
stained with blood vessels, and containing a young snake seven inches
long, but immature.’ One fœtus writhed. The fœtus being formed and
capable of motion, proved, Mr. Gosse thought, that the eggs had been
some time laid. Incubation is a characteristic of that family, the
author affirms. Of the various cases he knew, one female boa brought
forth eleven snakes. In another snake that was killed, ten or twelve
fully-formed young ones were found.

One of these ‘yellow boas’ in a private collection displayed unusual
restlessness and uneasiness, crawling about its cage as if in search
of something. Those who had the care of it suspected that she was with
eggs, and supplied her with fine sand. This appeased her somewhat, and
after twirling herself around to form it into a kind of nest, she laid
some eggs. One of the same kind at the Gardens accepted gratefully some
soft cotton wool which a lady brought for her and her young progeny,
all of whom nestled themselves in it contentedly and speedily.

Two other noteworthy cases have to be recorded, but they shall form the
subject of the ensuing chapters.




MAXIMUS and MINIMUS. Yet by right of its name _Anguis_, our little
slow-worm—truly a lizard—claims a place in these pages; by right
of form also, and by right of promise; and still further, because on
the authority of some of our eminent physiologists there is in the
dentition of some of the boas an affinity with lizards; and inasmuch
as this little limbless lizard affords a good example of those whose
ancestry, as Huxley tells us, found it profitable to do without their
legs and become snakes, she shall be introduced in company with the
largest of all her ophidian cousins.

Anaconda also, in having vestiges of hind limbs, affords in these
another example of what Darwin calls atrophied organs, remnants of what
were once, no doubt, a pair of very excellent saurian legs.

Illustrious naturalists who were authorities in their day—as, for
instance, Linnæus and Cuvier—included slow-worms with serpents, the
links between them being so close. They have also been included among
the burrowing snakes, many of which have no better right to the name
of _Anguis_. With the advance of herpetology more minute distinctions
of classification occur, and anatomy now proves in the ‘brittle snake’
a stronger relationship to lizards than to serpents. It has eyelids,
like the lizards; no palate teeth, non-extensible jaw-bones, and more
consolidated head-bones; so that you never see the facial distortion
in these lizard-snakes when feeding, that is so striking in the true
ophidians. It has scales alike all round, and also a distinct neck and
a vestige of sternum and pelvic bones whence formerly two pairs of legs
proceeded. From an evolutionary point of view, therefore, it is even in
advance of Anaconda, which has still its ‘spurs’ to get rid of.

Space need not here be occupied in a recapitulation of other features
and the manners and habits of _Anguis fragilis_ beyond what the subject
in hand demands; and in connection with this our two anguine heroines
will be found to display one other striking feature in common. For the
rest, in Bell’s _British Reptiles_ it is treated at length. In Wood’s
_Natural History_, also, there is a long and minute account of the
slow-worm, including details of a most interesting character, as being
gathered from personal observations.

Anaconda, however, claims historical priority.

As a water snake it has already been partially described (p. 228), and
some of its synonyms were given in explanation of its scientific name
_Eunectes_, to trace its right to be included among the water snakes,
and _murinus_, to show the nature of its food. Being a native of
tropical America—which embraces many extensive countries and includes
numerous tribes of the aboriginal inhabitants—this serpent is also
known under numerous vernaculars, puzzling enough to the reader of
travels who does not at first sight realize that the book in which he
now reads of the _Matatoro_ describes one region, and the volume in
which he has read of the _Sucariuba_ or of the _Jacumama_ describes
another, and that these are one and the same snake. The spelling and
pronunciation of even the same word among adjacent tribes add to the
perplexity. Among other of Anaconda’s familiar vernaculars, which we
meet with in all South American books of travel, are _Aboma_, _Cucuriù_
or _Cucuriubù_, _El trago venado_, _Camoudi_ or _Kamoudi_, _Sucurujù_,
and others. The name by which it is now generally known, _Anaconda_, or
_Anacondo_, was fixed by Cuvier in 1817.

Very exaggerated ideas as to its size have obtained, probably traceable
to Waterton, who tells us the Spaniards of the Oroonoque positively
affirm that he grows to the length of from seventy to eighty feet; and
that as his name _Matatoro_ implies, he will eat the largest bull.
Before yielding full faith to such stories, we must ascertain whether
that ‘bull’ corresponded in dimensions with our Durham prize ox, or the
miniature bovines of the Himalayas. Hartwig improves upon Anaconda’s
dinner capacities in telling us that the ‘Hideous Reptile will engulph
a horse and its rider, or a whole ox’ (prize ox, no doubt) ‘as far as
its horns.’

Turn we to science and to ocular proof of what Anaconda really is—for
there are and have been living examples in our zoological collections,
and whatever she may have been ‘formerly,’ her modern dimensions rarely
exceed thirty feet.

In the present case her interest lies in her maternal aspect, for
it is the one that was brought to London in 1877 of which we now
speak, and who astonished the ophiological public by giving birth to
fully-developed young ones in April of that year.

In _Land and Water_ of the preceding February, Mr. Frank Buckland
described the arrival of this snake at Liverpool in a box, which with
its occupant weighed over 2 cwt., and of the necessary examination
‘he’ (the snake) was obliged to undergo by Mr. Bartlette previous to
purchase. Being at length conveyed to the Zoological Gardens, ‘he’ was
reported as being thin and as having no inclination to feed, but glad
to remain in ‘his’ bath almost continuously.

It was brought from the vicinity of the Amazons, and must have been
cramped up for many months in this close prison. No wonder it turned at
once into its native element, although the small tank restricted its
movements almost as much as its travelling box. The poor thing was seen
to be suffering discomfort, presumably from its long journey and close
confinement; and one day, when endeavouring to extend itself and move
more at ease in the narrow space between the tank and the front glass,
it forced out the entire frame by the power of its coils. Fortunately
the huge python and two other Anacondas in the same cage at the time
were in a torpid condition; or had those four powerful snakes been
lively or spiteful, and all at liberty at this crisis, grave results
might have accrued. Aid being at hand, the loosened frame was promptly
re-adjusted; but this practical illustration of Anaconda’s powers was a
useful lesson to snake keepers.

The peculiar condition of this snake not being suspected, not even
her sex, the appearance of two fully-developed though dead young ones
on April 2d was an important event in the Ophidarium, and one to be
forthwith chronicled in the _Zoological Society’s Proceedings_. The
secretary, at the ensuing meeting, exhibited the two young Anacondas,
and afforded some interesting details concerning the mother. During
the next few days four more young ones were born, but all dead; and
during several weeks, others in a high state of decomposition were
produced. ‘She might have had a hundred!’ said the keeper, who felt
fully persuaded that she had voluntarily ‘kept them back.’ Four were
well developed; one was partly coiled in the ruptured shell, which was
of a tough, coriaceous texture, white, and as thick as orange peel.

Occurrences of this nature send us to our book-shelves. The python and
some of the boas had laid eggs, and Anaconda might have been expected
to do the same, as we read in the papers that wrote ‘leaders’ on the
event. But suddenly we all discover (‘_we_’ second and third rate
naturalists, who regard the biological professors at a respectful
distance, and aspire only to a printed half column in a similarly
aspiring journal),—we all discover that Cuvier had long ago pointed
out that _l’Eunect murin_ is viviparous (like the regular water
snakes), and that Schlegel had subsequently confirmed the fact from
personal observation. Thus we learn as we go.

Those born dead in London offered no exception, therefore, to the rule,
but were rather to be regarded as one of those cases in which the
mother, under circumstances unpropitious for the production of her
progeny, retards the deposition of her eggs or her young.

Let us picture to ourselves the condition of this poor Anaconda. Just
at the very time when instinct would have guided her to the spot most
favourable for the coming brood, she is transferred from her native
lagoons, and crowded into a dark close box just large enough to contain
her. Though without water for many months, this ‘good swimmer’ arrives
alive, a proof of her astonishing powers of endurance; but she has now
no morass, no lagoon or refreshing river in which to invigorate herself
and aid her natural functions, and the young ones die unborn. The poor
mother soon showed evidence of disease and suffering, and was after a
time mercifully put to death.

There was no possibility of ascertaining the period of gestation in
her case, but there was every reason to regard it as one of postponed
functions, and another illustration of that astonishing capability
described by ophiologists of snakes which ‘may at pleasure,’ _i.e._ at
will, retard the laying of eggs or birth of young!

The prejudice against snakes has been so strong, that there are persons
who would even exclude them from zoological collections. Should these
pages fall under the eye of such persons, they must admit that the
Ophidia in captivity present grand opportunities towards the attainment
of scientific knowledge. These important results far outweigh the less
pleasing spectacles.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now for our little _Anguis fragilis_, with all her wrong names and
the wrong impressions produced thereby, which, with some particulars
of her behaviour in captivity, shall form the subject of the next
chapter. Here she will, I think, be accepted among those examples of
abnormal incubation which belong to the present one.

Searching for the lovely little _Drosera_ and its attendant exquisite
mosses on ‘The Common’ at Bournemouth (the one close to the town), on
the look-out for lizards also, I saw what at first sight appeared to
be an extremely long, black slug, lying on a smooth little patch of
grass in the sunshine. Approaching to inspect this shining nondescript,
I at once recognised a slow-worm. Being not only entirely and deeply
black, but unusually short and proportionately thicker than any I had
ever seen, the familiar ‘worm’ had not at first sight been identified.
Its short, blunt tail had evidently lost an inch or two; and its bulk
suggested a speedy increase of family. Already I had four others and
a green lizard, the male _Lacerta agilis_, which I had also captured.
The date of ‘Blackie’s’ capture was August 26, 1879; the precise time
being important, because, as just now stated, the period of gestation
depends much on the degree of external warmth that can be had to assist
in maturing the embryo; and, as many of my readers will recollect, very
little sunshine had we that summer. Chilly rains and cloudy weather
marked the season; and to this I attributed the fact that at the end of
August the slow-worm was still enceinte, when, as Bell informs us, its
ordinary time to produce young is June or July.

Taking her up, ‘Blackie’ struggled and kicked, if such a remnant
of tail can be said to ‘kick’ (the action being very similar), and
displayed activity enough to show that she could be quick enough when
occasion required it. Knowing her shy, burrowing instincts, I at once
laid her on the mosses which filled my little basket, and down she
retreated, there remaining without further trouble.

Deposited in a box with the others, she acted similarly, remaining
hidden under the sand and moss, and never showing herself on the
surface, as the rest did whenever a hopeful gleam of sunshine tempted
them. Just the tip of her little black, shining nose was sometimes
visible, as if she were getting a breath of fresh air on the sly.

One of the other slow-worms—already several weeks in my
possession—had appeared to be in a similar condition, and was much
wilder than the rest, effecting escape and circumventing me in a
variety of ways, while her companions were comparatively tame and
contented. The green lizard, also, had to be well watched, being
exceedingly active, darting away like a flash whenever the cover of the
box was removed for an instant. Their cage was necessarily and cruelly
small, in anticipation of a journey to London, and that I might have
them in my own keeping while on the move, which I expected to be for
some weeks. It was covered with a net secured by a strong elastic; but
they could easily reach the top, and managed most cleverly to push up
this net, and so get out. The way in which one of them called ‘Lizzie’
achieved this, is described in the ensuing chapter. Here we must keep
to our subject.

The box was generally close to an open window, in order to catch any
chance ray of sunshine; but the truant propensities of the inmates
necessitated a frequent investigation, and a raking up of the moss
and sand with which they were supplied, much too often for Blackie’s
peace of mind. She continued wild and alarmed, defeating search by
quick movements below. The ever active lizard, too, had frequently to
be hunted out; for whether he had retreated below, or had gone off
altogether, could not be ascertained unless the box and its inmates
were turned out bodily to count heads—a species of roll-call not
tending to tranquillize the unquiet pair. These trifles are mentioned
to show the sort of life the poor little captives led for many weeks.
They were raked over or turned out literally topsy-turvy every few
hours. Only at night had they any peace; for being well disposed
reptiles, who kept regular hours and retired early to rest, but _not_
rising betimes in the morning, they could be safely left uncovered
until and unless sunshine enticed them upwards.

All ate and drank regularly but Blackie, who, so far as I was able to
ascertain, was a total abstainer.

Thus, in their incommodious box, they lived until the middle of
October, when (after making visits on the way, and secretly harbouring
my ‘snakes’ like stolen booty) I arrived in London. At that time the
sun seemed trying to atone for its summer deficiencies, and whenever
any of its grateful warmth could be obtained through the London
atmosphere the lizards were deposited in a window, but Blackie remained
always below. Suddenly she also grew refractory. She got out of the
box, and had frequent falls from the table to the floor. So had the
other restless one, necessitating still more frequent roll-calls, and
bringing troublous times on themselves. I had observed in a former pet,
that when the season of hibernation was approaching, _Anguis fragilis_
had exhibited an errant disposition, and I had attributed it to a
natural instinct to seek a winter retreat; but in the present case only
these two tried to get away, and in both there appeared to be a similar

On one occasion, late in October, Blackie could not be found for
several days, and was even given up for lost, when, on removing a
number of books that, when unpacked, had been temporarily stacked
against the wall, there lay the little black slow-worm in so narrow a
space between a quarto volume and the wall that it seemed impossible
she could have got there. Strange to tell, the poor little thing no
longer struggled to get away, but seemed even glad to be lifted and
fondled and restored to her moss.

On the 2nd November, some frosty days having arrived, and no more
worms and flies being procurable, I thought it time to put them away
for their winter sleep, having been so instructed by Mr. Green, the
taxidermist at Bournemouth, of whom I had purchased several. So, having
dismissed all idea of an increase in their numbers, I prepared a large
deep jar and furnished it with soft hay, moss, and sand, enough for
them to burrow into, intending to consign it and them to an attic.

The first thing on the morning of the cold foggy 3rd of November
1879, I went as usual to examine the box and its inmates—as yet in
my sitting-room. Lifting the moss to count heads, I saw what on the
first glance in that half daylight seemed to be a small tender snail,
apparently injured in some way, and crawling extended in a wonderfully
thin line from its shell. What presented a snail to my thoughts was
because a few days previously—insects being now no more, and other
food hard to procure—my maid had brought in some small snails as an
offering for the ‘snakes.’ These having been declined, I wondered to
see one in the box, but turned away faint-hearted from the unpleasant
duty of removing a half-crushed snail, as I took it to be.

After being fortified with a hot breakfast, daylight being now
brighter, I began with dainty fingers to remove the moss. Judge of
my amazement to find three of the loveliest little tiny scraps of
life, wriggling, twisting, diving, and defiantly—let me rather say
intelligently, or instinctively—using their tongues like grown-up
slow-worms. They were Blackie’s children. Not a doubt about it! Three
were free from the shell, one of which was still connected with it by
an inch or more of the umbilical cord; and within the shell—a mere
membrane—was some yellow yoke and a good deal of glaire, so that the
membrane still retained the rounded form. Possibly I had ruptured
this egg in disturbing the moss. There was another egg quite perfect,
and within that could be discerned the little creature curled up, and
presenting those convolutions which in the half light had looked so
like a small snail shell. On tenderly taking up this perfect egg, the
wee reptile within threw itself into such an agitation that it burst
its prison house, and emerged prematurely into the cold, rough world. A
yolk as big as a hemp seed and much of the glaire remained behind. It
was a precisely similar case to that of a young Typhlops in Jamaica,
described by Gosse, where the reptile ‘crawled nimbly out of a ruptured
egg, but remained attached to the vitellus.’ In the present instance
the umbilical slit was ominously gaping, showing that the poor little
creature was not nearly ready to battle with life. In the other that
was not yet wholly detached, the slit was less, and in the two which
had hatched themselves (no doubt during the night) it was nearly closed.

During the day six more were born, and four of the six in the
membranous shell. _Anguis fragilis_ is always considered to be
viviparous; but so are vipers, and here in three distinct cases under
public observation the young have been produced in a membranous

The activity of these tiny creatures was marvellous. If meddled with,
they seemed as if agitated by a galvanic battery. Their whole length
vibrated with nervous irritability. In colour they were black beneath
and a silvery white above, with a spot of black on the head, and a
fine, thread-like line of black all down their back. The head was the
largest part, the body tapering gradually to the tail. They were in
length about 2-1/2 inches. Very bright black eyes had they, and manners
like the adults, pressing their head against the hand, or wherever
they were, with the instinct to burrow and hide. Their silvery aspect,
together with their mobile susceptibility, was truly mercurial. To hold
or retain them was simply impossible; as well try to restrain a stream
of quicksilver. In a fury of agitation they would leap and turn over
and twist themselves away like eels. Flaccid and tender and apparently
boneless, the difficulty of taking up and restraining such shreds of
vitality was no less difficult than interesting. The wee, half-matured
fury that rushed impetuously into the world spent itself in restless
efforts to dive into the earth. It grew gradually more feeble, and died
the third day. Altogether there were eight or more. Three were hatched
before I saw them, the rest were produced in the membranous ‘shell,’
and in all the shells the remains of the yolk were seen. A remarkable
feature was that these remains of egg all vanished in a manner that
wholly baffled my investigations. The yellow yolk was too palpable to
become absorbed in the moss and sand; it could not have escaped notice.
With the greatest care I searched and examined every spray of moss,
every blade of grass, over and over again, but could discern no trace;
neither the skin nor any slimy glaire, nor one tinge of yolk, nor any
globulous collections of moisture whatever. Blackie did not eat them;
for she remained at the bottom of the box while the cares of maternity
were upon her, never moving. There was no possible doubt about her
being the mother of the brood. Her companions in captivity came to the
surface as usual during an hour or two of sunshine, and then retired

In removing the moss that first day to look for Blackie, I saw by an
enlargement at the lower part of the body that her family was still
increasing; and if such a creature _can_ appeal, the look with which
she feebly raised her head as if to entreat not to be disturbed, was
one not to be disregarded. So I left her unmolested the whole day, and
indeed until she began to show herself and move about like the rest,
coming up if enticed by sunshine, and retiring early below, as they all
did daily.

I communicated this interesting event to Mr. Frank Buckland at the
time, and to the editor of a zoological journal, inviting both to
inspect the interesting family. I also sent a short account of the
November brood to _Land and Water_. Mr. Buckland was, I believe, absent
from town; and my MS. (now before me) was returned from _Land and
Water_ for ‘want of space.’

Evidently the November brood were after all but sorry little
slow-worms, beneath the notice of scientific eyes, and unduly endowed
with imaginary importance in the estimation of their enthusiastic

In my careful examination of the contents of the cage next day, in
order to ascertain the chance of yet other silvery shreds of life,
I observed a little dry, globular substance, which had a somewhat
suspicious look. It was firm to the touch, and on breaking it, showed
a veiny sort of conglomerate appearance, as of layers or convolutions.
Several of these hard, dry masses I afterwards found, all on being
broken presenting a similar appearance. Then it suddenly occurred to
me that they must be dried-up eggs of the other slow-worm, and that
she must have deposited them some time previously. The surface of sand
was easily accounted for by the frequent turning over and stirring up
of the soft rubbish in the cage. At first thinking only of Blackie,
and being satisfied that these singular little masses contained no
life, I threw them away; when, too late, resolving to keep some and
investigate their nature, only one more could be found; but this one
was preserved in spirits of wine, together with two or three of the
tiny slow-worms. The female that conjecturally laid them had frequently
got out of the box and sustained many falls to the floor; which, even
had other circumstances been propitious, might sufficiently account
for the destruction of embryo life. But in addition to accidents were
the extremely cold and sunless summer and the ten weeks of disturbed
and comfortless existence; and then the green lizard was for ever
scrambling about and scratching the earth in all directions. He alone
was enough to make a conglomerate of the unmatured eggs.

The remaining one of the supposed eggs was put aside with other
specimens, and almost forgotten till the present time. Looking at it
now after it has been two years in the spirits of wine, I find the
sandy surface washed off and deposited as sediment, and in a partly
torn and ruptured membrane behold a perfect little _Anguis fragilis_
quite as big as those others which were hatched. Whether this happens
to be a more perfect embryo than those that were hardened, or whether
it has grown softer and more distinguishable through being in liquid,
it is impossible to say, except that here it is. There were, then,
_two broods_, as had been anticipated, and in both cases eight or
nine. The precise date of the hard eggs is not clear; probably they
were produced first. The warmth of the room at length did for Blackie
what the sun had failed to do; and even then her young ones were not
fully matured. The other one, through many vicissitudes, in common
with her big cousin Anaconda, produced bad eggs. Truly are not these
two—or say only one—is not Blackie’s case a verification of what the
author of _British Reptiles_ affirmed of these slow-worms: ‘There is
no doubt that the duration of the period of gestation must depend on
the temperature to which the animal is exposed,’ even if this be not
another instance of retarded deposition.

A word more, in conclusion, about the tiny progeny.

To the touch having no more bone or substance than an earth-worm of
the same size, their ability to burrow seemed marvellous. When placed
in the sunshine—such as there was of it—they basked in apparent
satisfaction, retiring betimes and working themselves underground to
the depth of four or five inches. Often two or more were missing,
when every scrap of earth and moss had to be spread on a newspaper
and minutely separated to search for them. Indeed, I have never felt
certain whether the family originally consisted of eight, nine, or
ten, having a strong suspicion that their grown-up relatives or the
lizard had supposed them to be worms placed there for their express
delectation. And when, one day, the number was reduced to six, and the
green lizard looked unusually plump and impudent, the young fry were
quickly transferred to a separate home, a glass bowl, through which
they could be watched without molestation, and up which they could not
possibly crawl. The smallest of worms (the weather being warm again)
and a cockle-shell of water, the softest of sand and the prettiest of
mosses, ministered to their comfort; but though they grew very slightly
and their colour became more defined, I do not think they partook of
food or water during the whole six weeks that they were thus watched
and cared for. One from the first day was always livelier than the
rest. It was one of those that had been hatched first or possibly
born alive, being perfect, and with the navel closed when I had first
discovered it. Through the glass we could see them deep down in the
earth, and so close to the side that they could nearly always be easily
counted. Not at all sociable were the little ones, one here, another
there, as if getting as far apart as their home permitted. In the
evening, if placed on the table near the lamp, they seemed to mistake
that for sunlight, and would come up and ramble restlessly about on the
surface for several hours. Their vitality was amazing.

One evening when showing them to a friend and permitting their antics
upon the table, one of them was suddenly and mysteriously missing. We
had carefully guarded the edge of the table; indeed, they were well in
the centre of it, and it seemed impossible for them to fall off. We
searched the carpet, notwithstanding, and with most careful scrutiny;
and finally deciding that the truant must have been replaced with some
moss unobserved, gave up the search.

Next morning, on entering the room, my maid thus greeted me: ‘Lor’,
Ma’am! if I didn’t find one of your little snakes down on the carpet
close to your chair, and for all the world I as near as possible
tramped on it. I put it in along with the others, and it worked its way
down in no time!’

Imagine that poor little shred of life passing the night in frantic
efforts to burrow into the carpet and retire below according to custom!
Whenever held or touched, their first impulse was to conceal themselves
beneath, and they would dive and butt with impetuous agitation in their
endeavours to push themselves out of sight.

The event in the family had caused me to postpone the hibernating
arrangements; so as long as the others ate (a thaw enabling us to dig
up worms again) and courted daylight, I kept them in the warm room. But
as will be remembered, very severe frost set in that winter (1879-80),
and no more worms could be dug up. While hibernating, no pangs of
hunger could assail them; and though it cost me an effort to consign
those beautiful wee things to the cold and gloom of a temporary tomb,
yet it seemed the kindest thing to do under the circumstances; so, in
company with their unsympathizing mother and cousins, they were stowed
away in moss and darkness, but in a box instead of the jar. Well!—that
is all! My ignorance and its sad results were alluded to on p. 165. I
can only hope the poor little victims died insensible to their cruel





THIS tame slow-worm was promised a chapter to herself in my book, and I
trust my readers will not tire of her doings, but vouchsafe their kind
attention to an exhibition of still other feats in which the little
_Anguis fragilis_ vies with the Great Anaconda.

In her maternal aspect we have done with her. The heroine of the
present chapter was for a much longer time in my possession than
‘Blackie’ and those other poor victims, and therefore tamer. When
my friends exclaimed, ‘Why on earth do you call that little snake
“Lizzie”?’ the simple reply was: ‘Because she is not a snake, but a
lizard.’ In what respects the slow-worm is a lizard my readers already
know; I will therefore describe what I hope may prove of zoological
interest. Already ‘Lizzie’ has ingratiated herself with the readers of
_Aunt Judy’s Magazine_,[131] as also with her personal acquaintance for
her gentle and innocent manners.

First let us briefly review her many wrong names, ‘blindworm,’
‘slow-worm,’ ‘deaf-adder,’ ‘brittle-snake,’ and endeavour to account
for them. Of her name ‘snake’ (_Anguis_), from its external aspect,
enough has already been said. The ‘brittleness’ shared in common with
several of her foreign relatives, known as ‘glass snakes,’ proceeds
from a power of contracting the muscles into rigidity when molested:
that is, when, on finding themselves in a helpless condition,
slow-worms grasp firmly whatever they can attach themselves to. In
fact, this little snake only displays constricting powers as far as it
is able; for it really does constrict the fingers which detain it, with
a force as great for its size as its cousin Anaconda uses in killing
its prey. Were the giant constrictors to entwine us with proportionate
power, they would gain the day. In the case of _Anguis fragilis_, _we_
are the masters; and were we to attempt violently to unwind one from
our fingers, it would break ‘in halves’ in its resistance, or rather
in its redoubled efforts to cling the tighter and so save itself. May
it not in this respect, also, claim kinship with its giant rivals, and
show their common ancestry? On pp. 183 and 187 reference was made to
the ‘blindworm’ in connection with other ‘brittle’ snakes, and in the
use of their pointed tails. Our native ‘blindworm,’ in not having the
hard point at the end, has escaped the imputation of trying to ‘sting’
with that imaginary weapon, although it uses its tail with equal
and similar force, and for the same purpose. In handling the little
reptile, you will feel it pressing the tip of its tail against whatever
part comes in contact with it, as a hold, a fulcrum, and motive power.

[Illustration: Lizzie; never at a loss.]

Upon a smooth surface it would be entirely helpless without this
assistant to progression, its scales being too even and polished to
afford hold of any kind. You will see it sweeping its long tail this
way and that, in search of some hold or obstacle against which to
push itself forward; and failing this, the point is pressed close to
the table or floor as may be. When in any unaccustomed position, as,
for instance, when held in the hand, you will see the tail instantly
twining itself about the fingers for safety, the creature trusting
itself entirely to its aid, and being helpless when its movements are
fettered in any way. If not strictly prehensile in the way of affording
support, as the tail of a true boa does, that of _Anguis fragilis_ is
not far removed from it. Hold one that is accustomed to be handled
and in good health, and permit it to hang by the mere tip, as in the
accompanying illustration. So far from falling, the little creature
will at once draw itself upwards and backwards with perfect facility,
till it feels itself equally balanced, when the tail will be sent in
search of hold; it will cling quickly round a finger, and then _Anguis_
feels itself safe once more. My tame slow-worms accomplished this with
perfect ease whenever so suspended.

Others, unaccustomed to such a position, or in a not very robust
condition, must be treated cautiously under this experiment, and not
permitted to fall; but in every case the tail will be seen to be a
very important agent to the reptile. It is longer in the male than in
the female slow-worm—more than half the entire length in the former,
and less than half in the latter. The males are, therefore, longer on
the whole, though the body itself is longest in the female. Regard
should be had to this, when, roughly speaking, they are said to ‘break
themselves in _halves_;’ because it is not the body which breaks, but
only the tail, or a portion of it, in common with other lizards.

The power of the tail in this reptile was again seen when its home was
a bell-glass, such as is used for gold-fish. The one in which my first
family of slow-worms dwelt, was almost as high as their own length,
so that I considered them sufficiently secure without any cover to
it. But after a little while they effected an exit. _How_, was at
first a mystery, until I saw them perseveringly raising themselves in
a perpendicular direction against the side. Many a slip and many a
trial had they, but they rarely desisted until success crowned their
efforts. When their head had once gained the edge of the glass, they
easily drew themselves up and over it, and let themselves down on the
outside, as you would draw a cord over the edge. The perfect smoothness
of the glass, the nice balance required, and the gradual lowering of
themselves, rendered this proceeding still more astonishing; for as
the glass was on a stand there was a considerable distance between
the edge and the table. A slow-worm’s progression is truly marvellous.
In this little creature one can detect no action of the ribs; they are
too fine and too close. Its scaly armour, moreover, is smooth and firm;
and as for ventral scutæ to ‘afford hold,’ it has none. Yet with ease
it draws itself over that polished rim, as it draws itself up and over
your finger, when suspended by the mere tip of its tail.

Soon the slow-worms accomplished this feat so knowingly that it became
necessary to cover them over, which was done with gauze having a strong
elastic cord hemmed into it. They practised their climbing powers all
the same, and though not able to get over the edge, tried and pushed
hard enough to stretch the gauze considerably; so that, unless well
pulled down, it lay only loosely and bagging over the top.

Judge, then, of my amazement one day to find Lizzie _outside_ the
glass, resting contentedly in the loose fold round the edge above the
elastic. The little creature had absolutely got over the edge, but the
tightness of the elastic baffling the outside descent, there it lay.

In _Nature_, vol. xx. p. 529, Mr. Hutchinson describes and illustrates
an exactly similar feat accomplished by a ‘little snake’ nine inches
long. It was put in a glass jar ten inches high, having also for a
cover a bit of coarse muslin secured by an elastic band. The reptile
was missing, the muslin and the band were intact, when, after a
mysterious surprise and search, the little snake was found under the
rim of the jar _inside_ the muslin. The writer does not say what snake
it was, but he afterwards observed it ‘ascending easily,’ standing
on the tip of its tail, and supporting itself against the side of the
jar by the abdominal scales creating a vacuum, ‘like the pedal scales
of a common house lizard;’ it was not a slow-worm, therefore. He felt
quite satisfied about this adaptation of the scutæ, a mode which, in
describing the larger snakes climbing up their glass cages, I called
‘compressure,’ p. 215. Mr. Hutchinson does not tell us, either, how
much earth or rubbish covered the floor of the jar, though there must
have been an inch or more, to enable a snake of nine inches to raise
its head over a ledge ten inches high. Lizzie not having ventral scales
to help her, used her tail only as a support, then nicely maintaining
the perpendicular. Many times she failed in achieving success, but she
did achieve it, and grew so enterprising in consequence that I shall
now confine my story to her. At first she lived in a box, the top of
which she could easily look over, and she was occasionally permitted
to get out and ramble among some ferns on the same table. Sometimes
this box was also covered with a muslin, having elastic hemmed into it,
and she soon discovered that this with persevering attempts could be
raised. The use of the tail was here remarkable. With it she maintained
her ‘stand,’ so to speak, while with her head and the forepart of her
body she tried to loosen the net; using persistent and powerful efforts
to lift it, by repeatedly tossing back her head. She acted in every
way as if determined not to be baffled, and with an apparent intention
or reflection that was, without doubt, the result of experience. In
higher creatures this application of force to produce a certain result
would be pronounced ‘intelligence.’ In the little slow-worm there was
undeniably a perception of cause and effect. On one occasion when she
had got her tail on the edge of the box, and her whole length in the
stretched muslin along the top, she so far succeeded with the forcible
action of the head that she worked the very strong and tight elastic
up, but not at all to her own satisfaction; for it instantly contracted
under her, bagging her most effectually. She was caught in a trap of
her own construction.

Seeing her so wonderfully energetic, and by no means ‘slow,’ either in
action or intelligence, the next thing was to ascertain whether Lizzie
was ‘deaf’ in addition to her other pseudo-failings; but by the various
tests used to exercise her aural faculties, I am inclined to think her
powers of hearing served her almost better than those of sight. When
permitted to ramble among the plants and over the table, the _sound_
much more than the _sight_ of her box and its contents attracted her.
Never averse to go home and retreat into her moss, the rustling of this
or the scraping and rubbing the sides of the box—any _noise_ with it
with which she was familiar, would cause her to turn towards it, when
the sight of it alone failed to entice her. After a time she turned
her head, if even from across the room I made a sudden and sharp noise
to attract her attention,—such as the tapping of a spoon against a
cup, or the peculiar talk I indulged in for educational purposes. She
undoubtedly became familiar with certain sounds, which were repeated
till she did look round. Not—as I am bound to confess—that it was a
strikingly intelligent look! rather the contrary, I fear: still, as the
object was to test her powers of hearing, the result was satisfactory.
The origin of this reputed deafness is difficult to conjecture. In
the way of external ears, those of the slow-worm are less distinct
than those of lizards generally, but more so than in snakes, which
have no visible aural apertures; whereas in the slow-worms they can be
discerned if sought for, though they are very small and indistinct.

Not much less perplexing is the supposititious ‘blindness’ of
the slow-worm. This must have had its origin in days long before
‘gentle-folk’ took rural walks for the purpose of observing natural
objects; long before Shakspeare’s time, and when slow-worms were far
more numerous than now. Probably those who saw most of them were the
peasantry, and that in winter time, when, in their out-door work, they
would discover a number hibernating. A score or two of slow-worms in
company with a few snakes and adders brought to light in turning up
stones or earth, would attract the rustics, when a stray one in summer
time would pass unnoticed or, at any rate, unexamined. Though the
larger reptiles would be equally torpid, their eyes would show all the
same, while the slow-worm’s eyes would be so tightly closed that their
place could hardly be found. Thus they were presumably ‘blind.’ This
is mere conjecture in seeking a reason, but ‘blind worms’ they were in
England long before the _typhlops_ (p. 187) of the tropics was known,
and long before any other ‘naturalist’ than Topsell and his like wrote
upon ‘Serpentes’ and the _Amphisbæna Europæa_.

[Illustration: Lizzie in a knot.]

Topsell, by the way, whom we quoted on the subject of tongues, thought
he knew all about slow-worms, and gave them credit for a length and
power of tail far exceeding those of the present day. ‘They have been
seen to suck a Cow, for then they twist their Tailes about the Cowe’s
Legges. The Slow-worm biteth mortallie, and the Cow dyeth!’ Consistent
this with the ‘Blind-worm’s sting’ of the poet of that day. Of the six
or seven that have been in my keeping at one time or another, not one
has, under any provocation, attempted to bite me. They were handled
continually, twirled about, and tied into knots (with gentle treatment,
of course), but not one of them ever broke itself in ‘halves’ or opened
its mouth with malice intent. Lizzie sometimes in winding about my
fingers got herself into very pretty knots, and in such tied-up fashion
when placed on the table she would remain motionless for a time, and
then begin to move away. Curious was the effect at this juncture. The
knot was not loosened at all; but as the little reptile began to move,
the knot passed downwards, and she crawled out of it, while its form
remained the same to the very end of the tail. It was similar to what
we saw when the little four-rayed snakes constricted their birds;
the form of their coils altering no more than would a slide passed
along a rope. Neither did such a knot disturb Lizzie. She appeared
quite unconscious of it, and simply crawled out of it. Perhaps any
‘brittleness’ discoverable may have been from rough handling, as one
can easily suppose a too abrupt untwining of the reptile when clinging
round the fingers would so alarm it that it would cling the tighter.
A gentleman assured me that he had seen one break in ‘halves,’ and
the two portions lying on the table. Not being a scientific observer,
he could not describe the appearance of the fractured part, except
that they seemed to contract; and this is what I have observed in the
tail of lizards when accidentally abridged. The owners do not appear,
however, to concern themselves about it.

The name ‘worm’ given to this little reptile is merely as a creeping
thing, a ‘worm of the earth,’ in common with many other small crawling
creatures which are not earth-_worms_. Its quality of ‘slowness’ is
only another name for caution. Quick and active it can be; but in
retreating down among the moss or hay, or whatever you provide in its
cage, then you see the perfection of slowness. Not a blade stirs, not a
sound is heard, and one may repeat here that the manner of progression
in _Anguis fragilis_ is not the least of all the ophidian wonders we
have witnessed. In the earth it can burrow itself to the depth of
several feet. In soft rubbish it simply vanishes slowly; its hard,
polished scales permitting it, as it were, to slide down into and among
the hay with that gently gliding motion which enables us to perceive
how very well it does manage without the ancestral limbs.

One other name it has, ‘adder,’ which, perhaps from association with
the true adder or viper, has gained it its evil character of being

But this word ‘adder,’ like ‘worm,’ was formerly used for many creeping
things, and is derived from old Saxon and Danish words _atter_,
_eddre_, _ætter_, etc., and the German _natter_, which has a similar
signification, any low-lying or crawling creature. Even in this
nineteenth century the ‘slow-worm’ still bears an evil character in
some rural districts, and in Wales more particularly.

A few weeks ago, a Welsh lady, hearing me speak of my tame slow-worms,
asked if I were not afraid to handle them.

‘Why?’ one naturally asked.

‘Because they are so poisonous,’ she replied.

I explained that this erroneous idea had probably originated in the
little creature being sometimes called an ‘adder,’ and so forth.

My friend did not take the explanation kindly, but rather resented the
possibility of her being mistaken. ‘They are so very common in Wales,’
she said, ‘and I am sure they are venomous there.’

Another lady of the company, subsequently speaking of this, remarked,
‘I should certainly be inclined to believe what Miss F. says about them
(the slow-worms), because she lives so much in the country and is such
an observer.’

This speaker was a lady of really superior intellectual attainments;
but she had never attempted to overcome a strong prejudice against
anything in the shape of a snake. She would not _permit_ herself to be
convinced that any of them were either harmless, clean, or beautiful;
but, like the monks who would not look through Galileo’s telescope, for
fear of seeing what it was heresy to believe, my friend preferred to
hug her prejudices!

One little bit more of gossip in taking leave of Lizzie. The party
were young gentlemen, all of them of studious and intellectual tastes
and good position. ‘How _could_ I endure to touch those horrible slimy
snakes?’ one of them exclaimed, on hearing a lady inquire about my
pets. I assured him they were as clean and dry as the ruler on the
table. The young gentlemen exchanged dubious glances, and nearly all of
them attributed to my undue partiality the assurance that they were not
‘slimy.’ ‘I always thought they were,—didn’t _you_?’ they said to each

A word must be added on the subject of skin-shedding in the slow-worms,
various processes having been described; as that it is ‘always shed in
pieces,’ ‘always splits on the head first,’ etc. As no two of my pets
doffed their coats at regular periods, or precisely in the same manner,
I judged that, as in snakes, the sloughing depended principally on
the health of the individual, or the temperature. They all invariably
began at the lips, rubbing their heads till the skin separated round
the mouth exactly as snakes do, and then crawled out of it. In one
case the skin was shed _unreversed_ throughout the entire length. This
was pushed off and left behind in a crumpled form, but in picking it
up it extended uninjured to its original length, perfect from mouth
to tail. Others were reversed as far as the tail, which slipped out
‘like a sword out of its scabbard,’ as described by Mr. Bell; others
were reversed throughout the length. Sometimes they were in pieces, and
this was, I think, attributable to insufficient moisture. One did not
change after August; others changed several times during the summer; so
that there appears to be the same sort of caprice, or more probably of
unascertained causes for variable processes, in casting the cuticle as
in snakes.

‘Lizzie’s’ bibulous propensities were mentioned p. 89. In vain was she
tempted with milk, but water appeared to be almost more necessary than
food; at least, after being deprived of both, she took that first and

So much has been said of the burrowing habits of the slow-worms, that
I must mention a remarkable exception. Never did I see mine _ascend_,
except when attempting to escape; nor, when placed among the plants on
a flower-stand, did they ever _raise_ their head, but would work their
way downwards, clinging and holding on by their tail till they reached
the floor. Always _down_ was their instinct, even down the stairs on
several occasions; never up. But since the completion of this chapter,
some slow-worms have been deposited at the Zoological Gardens that
evince a climbing tendency; and this strikes me as being so novel a
feat that I add a line. The little creatures—one of which is of a pale
flesh-colour, almost white—live in a cage with some tree frogs, behind
the door on entering the Reptilium. Here they are, May 1882, often seen
lodged in the branches of the shrub, and reposing there at ease, as if
in quiet enjoyment. The ‘white’ one I first observed in the tree, and
subsequently others. So frequently may they be seen reposing in this
way among the leaves, that to climb seems to have become a confirmed
habit or taste; and in concluding the history of _Anguis fragilis_, I
record this singular diversity of habit as one other strong feature in
common with the giant Anaconda.




THE question, ‘Do vipers swallow their young in times of danger?’ is
one less easy to solve to the satisfaction of the unbelievers than
some of the preceding inquiries, because the proof demanded is an
almost unattainable one. ‘Bring me a viper with its mouth tied up,
and all her young ones in her _throat_, and then I will believe you,’
say the sceptics. Now, in the first place, a man does not go hedging
and ditching, or to reap corn, nor does a gentleman go to his field
sports, or for a country stroll, ready provided with a cord and a bag
and an assistant for the express purpose of capturing maternal vipers,
who at sight of him receive all their little ones into their mouths;
and, in the second place, if he did so, making it the one business of
his walk to seek for and entrap such vipers, he might spend a great
many summers in the search before his trouble was rewarded. Even were
he so fortunate, it is doubtful whether he would be believed by all
persons; for viper-swallowing, like ‘the Great Sea Serpent,’ has been
a subject so contemptuously dismissed that investigation is arrested,
and few in England would now risk their reputation by committing their
names to print in connection with it. It is much to be regretted that
this has of late years been the case with several English publications
whose columns should be open to a fair examination of evidence on
all zoological questions. The influence of such journals, therefore,
checks progress; for until prejudice is got rid of, there can be no
advancement in any science.

As is well known, the late Mr. Frank Buckland was to the last sceptical
on this question. His specialty was not ophiology; but the mass of
readers do not stop to inquire about this; and he, being a popular
writer as well as a popular character, was accredited by thousands who
quoted him, while themselves no naturalists, nor in any position to
form an independent opinion. Some contemporary journals unfortunately
display the same prejudices, even at the time of writing, causing
zoological publications, which should embrace every branch of biology,
to be devoted almost exclusively to the specialties of an editor.

Happily this scepticism is not universal. In the American publications
devoted to zoology, information in every branch is welcomed as worthy
of consideration; and though truth has often to be sifted out from a
very gigantic pile of rubbish, still it is worth the search; and we
can but feel that the rapid advance of our Transatlantic relatives in
every branch of science is due, in a great measure, to the dismissal of
prejudice and to the encouragement of every new idea.

So far as snakes are concerned, their field is wide, it is true. In
England our observations are limited to our one viper, whereas America
is the land of snakes, no less than are India and Australia; and while
our native viper is growing rarer every year, the opportunities for
observation in the Western World are wherever a new settlement is

Thus, when, in February 1873, Professor G. Browne Goode, of Middletown
University, Connecticut, invited, through the columns of the _American
Agriculturist_, all the authentic information that could be procured on
the question, ‘Do snakes swallow their young?’ he received, as he tells
us, no less than 120 testimonies from as many persons in various parts
of the United States that single season.

The area in which information was collected included twenty-four States
and counties, ‘almost all the evidence being valuable.’

Professor Goode was intending to bring the subject before the _American
Association for the Advancement of Science_, to convene at Portland,
Maine, the following August; and he spent the summer in collecting

At that session of 1873, in the Biological Section of the Association,
‘A Science Convention on Snakes’ was held, and a paper was read
by Professor G. Browne Goode, the subject offered for discussion
being—‘_Do snakes offer a temporary refuge for their young in their
throats, whence they emerge when the danger is past?_’ On this occasion
the chair was occupied by Mr. F. W. Putnam, one of the editors of the
_American Naturalist_, and secretary to the Association. Professor
Joseph Lovering was the new President on Professor Lawrence Smith’s
retiring; and among those who took part in the discussion were several
eminent naturalists New York and other journals published reports of
the Convention at the time; and the entire paper by Professor Goode was
given to the world in the Annual Reports of the _American Association_.

From these I will condense the principal matter, quoting also from a
paper on the same subject written by F. W. Putnam in vol. ii. of the
_American Naturalist_ for 1869. Indeed, the two accounts are so blended
that I can only recommend both to the perusal of the interested reader,
Professor Goode having reproduced much from Putnam’s paper in the
_American Naturalist_, which, as he informs us, was the first that led
him to take an interest in the subject.

He began by reminding his audience that it had long been a popular
belief that the young of certain snakes seek a temporary protection
from danger by gliding down the open throat of the mother, though it
had been of late doubted by so many naturalists as to be classed among
the superstitions; but that now a summing up of the evidence would show
conclusively that the popular idea is sustained by facts.

The traditions of the North American Indians show that the belief has
prevailed with them from prehistoric times. In England also, as he
reminded us, as early as the sixteenth century, allusions to it are
found in Spencer’s _Faerie Queene_, 1590, Canto I. vv. 14, 15, 22, 25.
From this a word or two only need be quoted regarding the

  ‘Half serpent, half woman,’


  ‘One thousand young ones sucking upon her poison dugs,’

when she is disturbed in her dark cave:

  ‘Soon as that uncouth light upon them shone,
  Into her mouth they crept, and suddaine all were gone.’

Again, in Sir Thomas Browne’s _Pseudoxia_, or ‘Vulgar Errours,
published in 1672, we find: ‘For the young ones will upon any fright,
for protection run into the belly of the Dam. For then the old one
receives them into her mouth, which way, the fright being passed, they
will returne againe; which is a peculiar way of refuge.’

He quotes from the _Humorous Lieutenant_ of Beaumont and Fletcher the
words, ‘This is the old viper, and all the young ones creep every night
into her belly.’

The Professor also mentioned the American traveller, Mr. Jonathan
Carver, who, towards the end of the last century, recorded that he had
seen a large brood of young rattlesnakes retire for safety into the
throat of the parent, which he killed, when no less than seventy young
ones made their escape. Practical experience demands, How had he time
to reckon up these active, wriggling, tangled fugitives? Nevertheless
his story found favour and has been subsequently recited as probable.
Chateaubriand believed the fact, and glowingly expatiates on the
‘Superb Reptile which presents to man a pattern of tenderness.’ ...
‘When her offspring are pursued, she receives them into her mouth:
dissatisfied with every other place of concealment, she hides them
within herself, concluding that no asylum can be safer for her progeny
than the bosom of a mother. A perfect example of sublime love, she
refuses to survive the loss of her young, for it is impossible to
deprive her of them without tearing out her entrails.’ Elsewhere, with
less of admiration for the exemplary _crotalus_, Chateaubriand says,
‘By a singular faculty the female can introduce into her body the
little monsters to which she has given birth.’

One of the early writers who witnessed this offer of refuge was M. de
Beauvoir, who saw a disturbed rattlesnake open her jaws to receive five
young ones. This amazed spectator retired to quietly watch the result,
when, after the lapse of some minutes, the mother snake recovered
confidence, and she again opened her mouth and ‘discharged’ her little
family. Professor Palisot de Beauvoir was an eminent French naturalist
of the beginning of this century, and the author of _Observations sur
les serpents_, published in _Daudin’s Histoire naturelle_, Paris,
1803. He was accepted as an authority on many other points of natural
history; and it is not improbable that he influenced Cuvier’s belief in
the ophidian maternal refuge.

It certainly does seem incredible that an occurrence so unprecedented
should have been conceived of in the first instance without some ocular
demonstration of it.

Another American traveller, whose testimony Professor Goode considered
of worth, was St. John Dunn Hunter,[132] who saw young ones rush into
the rattlesnake’s mouth, and reappear when ‘the parent gave a sort of
contractile motion of the throat as a sign that danger was past.’

Coming down to our own times, Professor Goode mentioned Dr. Edward
Palmer, of the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, a well-known
traveller and collector, who in Paraguay saw seven young _crotali_
run into their mother’s mouth. After the snake was killed, they all
ran out. The parent and her brood are now in the National Museum at
Washington, D.C. Similar occurrences were witnessed by Professor
Sydney J. Smith, of Yale College; the Rev. Chauncey Loomis, M.D.,
of Middletown University; Dr. D. L. Phares; Mr. Thomas Meham of
Philadelphia; a member of the Convention then present; and other
‘gentlemen whose statements as naturalists were not to be doubted.’
‘Due weight should be given to the wide distribution of the witnesses
and the remarkable concurrence of their statements,’ said the speaker.

Professors Wyman and Gill, and other physiologists then present, showed
that there is no physical reason why young snakes should not remain
for a time in the body of the mother. The gastric juice acts slowly
on living tissues, and as for respiration, it is almost impossible to
smother reptiles. ‘Snakes can live for a long time immersed in water,
and even in bottles hermetically sealed, and why not in a place of
refuge?’ argued Mr. Putnam. Instances were given of frogs escaping
from the stomach of snakes; also of other snakes swallowed by a larger
species returning to the light of day.

As a habit, if the swallowing ‘is not protective there is no parallel;
if protective, a similar habit is seen in some fishes of the South
American waters, of the genera _Arius_, _Bagrus_, and _Geophagus_,
where the males carry the eggs for safety in their mouths and gill
openings.’ Mr. Putnam instanced the Pipe-fish (_Syngnathus Peckianus_),
whose young when in an aquarium have been seen to go in and out of the
pouch of the male fish; and that a belief prevails among some sailors
that young sharks which suddenly disappear have gone into the mouth of
the mother. Some South American fishes carry their eggs in their mouth,
and why should there not exist an equally motherly regard on the part
of snakes?

Mr. F. W. Putnam, secretary to the Association, had made himself
acquainted with all the English ‘viper-swallowing’ literature of
any importance up to the date of his paper on the subject in the
_American Naturalist_, 1869. Previous to that date, _Science Gossip_,
the _Field_, the _Zoologist_, and other English journals had devoted
more space to the subject than subsequently; and from these Mr.
Putnam cited many records from intelligent observers, in proof ‘that
snakes _do afford refuge to their young_.’ Of especial importance,
as corroborative evidence, were the statements and anatomical
investigations of Dr. Edwardes Crispe, F.Z.S., etc., who had for a long
while been studying the physiological possibility of such a retreat.
On the question, Would not the young snakes be rapidly digested in the
stomach of the parent? this anatomist showed that they would not come
in contact with the gastric juice at all, and that there is ample room
in the expansile œsophagus to receive them. He had made experiments
with various snakes by filling the stomach with water, in order to
ascertain its capacity in bulk. In 1855, Dr. E. Crispe had read a paper
on this subject at one of the meetings of the Zoological Society, and
again in 1862, when his previous opinions had become confirmed. He
had ‘positive evidence enabling him to state with certainty that the
English viper and some other venomous snakes do swallow their young at
an early period.’

Towards the end of the last century, Gilbert White, in his _History of
Selborne_, refers to the prevalent theory, and the instances recorded
by him are by the earlier editors of his works regarded rather as
evidence than the contrary. In the edition of 1851, the editor Jesse,
himself a naturalist, took pains to ascertain facts concerning vipers,
and he believed in the evidence given him. He had found vipers in their
mother’s ‘stomach’ (he does not say oviduct) ‘of a much larger size
(seven inches) than they would be when first excluded.’

(In the later editions of the _History of Selborne_, it is much to be
regretted that doubts are again thrown on the subject; and this in face
of the opinions of men of eminence, who had written from observation,
and had physiologically shown the possibility of such a refuge.)

Mr. Putnam also quoted Mr. M. C. Cooke, the author of _Our Reptiles_,
and at that time editor of _Science Gossip_. Here is a herpetologist
well able to form an unbiassed opinion, and who in his work says on
this question: ‘Men of science and repute, clergymen, naturalists, in
common with those who make no profession of learning, have combined in
this belief. Add to these, gentlemen whose statements in other branches
of natural history would not be doubted.’ Among them were Henry
Doubleday, Esq. of Epping, a well-known entomologist; the Rev. H. Bond,
of South Pellerton, Somerset; T. H. Gurney, of Calton Hall, Norwich,
a well-known ornithologist; and several others of similar scientific

Curiously, no one appears to doubt a similar maternal instinct as
displayed in our little native lizard, _Zootica vivipara_! Mr.
Doubleday related the case of one being accidentally trodden upon,
when three young ones ran out of her mouth. It was immediately killed
and opened, and two others that had been too much injured by the foot
to make their escape were still within the parent. At the time when
a controversy on the viper question was going on, Mr. Edward Newman
edited the _Zoologist_, and he himself related a most confirmatory case
of this viviparous lizard. A gentleman who was collecting, caught one
with two young ones; all three were consigned to his pocket _vasculum_.
On reaching home the two young ones had disappeared, and the mother
looked in such goodly condition that he thought she must have made a
meal of her offspring. Next morning, behold! there were the two little
ones and their devoted parent all safe and sound. She had sheltered
them within her body! And, as Mr. Newman added, ‘the narrators are of
that class who do know what to observe and how to observe it.’

In May 1865 a clergyman in Norfolk communicated to _Science Gossip_
that he had seen six or seven young vipers run helter-skelter down
their mother’s throat. He killed the parent and ‘out came the little
ones.’ In July another correspondent of the same paper saw several
young vipers vanish in a like manner, adding, ‘By the way the mother
opened her mouth to receive them, he would say they were accustomed to
that sort of thing.’ Mr. J. H. Gurney recorded that a viper with young
ones was disturbed, when two of the latter ran into her open mouth, the
second one after getting half in wriggling out again. The viper was
cut open to seek a reason for this, when a recently swallowed mouse
was found stopping up the way. The first had managed to get into safe
quarters, but the second could not pass.

In Oct. 1866 the question was revived by Mr. Thomas Rider, who wrote
to the _Field_ newspaper that on September 21st he had seen a number of
little vipers about three inches long run down their mother’s throat.
His account was followed by a number of letters from various persons,
who very lamely tried to convince him that his eyes had deceived him;
that what he had seen was the wriggling tongue, and a good deal more
of such feeble talk, which Mr. Rider took in gentlemanly good-humour.
He further described that at first he clearly saw the young ones _at
a distance_ from the parent; that, the latter being killed, the young
were found _within_ her; that in carrying her, two of them had _fallen
out of her mouth_; that he felt quite sure that what he stated was
correct. His description was so graphic and evidently truthful that
the distinguished naturalist Thomas Bell wrote also to the _Field_ to
express his great satisfaction at so authentic an account, confirming
his own previous impressions. ‘I did not doubt the fact before,’ he
said, in the _Field_ of October 27th, 1866, ‘but such an attestation as
this from such an authority’ (an educated country gentleman) ‘must be
considered as settling the question.’

For the next few weeks in the Natural History columns of the _Field_
a number of letters from various persons appeared, the majority
taking up the cudgels to resent the insult offered to Mr. Rider and
the eminent herpetologist Thomas Bell, F.L.S., F.R.S., and one of the
Council of the Zoological Society; and to quote still other cases of
viper-swallowing. ‘Only a purblind, stupid person,’ wrote one of them,
‘could possibly mistake young vipers for a tongue.’

J. Scott Hayward, Esq. of Folkington, Sussex, wrote that three of his
men while haymaking found a viper, and one of them crushed its head
with his boot. A young viper ‘scrabbled’ about his boot after its
mother. They then cut off the viper’s head, and seven young vipers
crawled out at the neck. The other had been too late, but was evidently
trying to follow the rest. There was no possibility of mistaking
seven little vipers for one hair-like tongue in this case; but a man
‘convinced against his will,’ etc., and therefore the editor again
abruptly closed the subject.

Of the hundred or more instances occurring in America, and now
presented to the assembly, those considered of especial interest
were published in the Reports of the Association; and after some
further discussion Professor Gill said that he considered the evidence
sufficient to finally decide the matter. ‘Since many important facts in
biology are accepted on the statements of one single observer, these
testimonies are claimed to be sufficient to set the matter for ever at

This was the conclusion arrived at by the members of the American
‘Science Convention on Snakes,’ in 1873.

Of the witnesses introduced on that occasion, Professor Goode dismissed
those who had only _found_ the young snakes within the parent, but had
not _seen_ them enter. ‘Let us not trust to untrained observations,’
he said; those whose testimony was accepted being, in addition to the
well-known men already mentioned—‘an intelligent class of farmers,
planters, and business men, intelligent readers of an agricultural
magazine.’ ... ‘The well-attested cases included many non-venomous
species, the habit probably extending to _all those which are known
as oviparous_, as well as the _Crotalidæ_. The examples embraced the
garter snake, _Eutania sirtalis_ and _E. saurita_; the water snake,
_Tropidonotus sipedon_; the rattlesnake, _Caudisona horridus_; the
copper-head and moccasin, _Ancistrodon contortrix_ and _piscivorus_;
the “_Massasauga_,” _Crotalus tergiminus_; the English viper, _Pelias
berus_; and the mountain black snake, _Coluber Alleghaniensis_.
Probably all the _Crotalidæ_ might be included. It remains to be shown
whether the habit extends to the egg-laying snakes, but as yet no
proof had occurred. The Professors then present invited still further
observations and reports, affirming that the breeding habits of more
than twenty-five of the North American genera were entirely unknown.’

The following are a few of the cases recorded.

A ‘water moccasin’ (probably _Ancistrodon piscivorus_) had been seen
for several days unwelcomely close to a southern residence. A gentleman
wishing to entice her away from the water so as the better to kill her,
had a rabbit placed near, which by and by she seized and had nearly
swallowed, when those on the watch made a noise to alarm her. She
quickly disgorged it, gave a shrill whistling noise, and five young
snakes ran from under a log down her throat. The men cut off her head
and found the five young which tried to get away.

‘A farmer who was mowing saw a number of little snakes and a large
one. He went a short distance to fetch a fork to kill them, and on his
return found only the large one left. He struck it on the back, and
seven ran out of her mouth.’

‘Another farmer saw a “striped snake,” and noticed a number of young
ones near to her head. He alarmed them, and the young ones rushed in
at her open mouth. He stepped back and watched to see what next would
happen, when presently some of them came out. He killed the mother, and
all the rest ran out.’

A gentleman in Ohio saw a water snake on a bank. He got a pole, and
with one stroke of it wounded her, but not so much as to disable her.
She instantly made for the water, swam about her own length, when
she ‘wheeled round’ with difficulty, and placing her under jaw just
above the level of the water, opened her mouth wide, when some ten
or twelve young snakes ran or swam down her throat; after which she
went in search of a hiding-place. She was, however, killed and opened,
and ‘about twenty’ living young snakes were found within her, ‘two or
three of which were seven or eight inches long.’ Out of the 120 cases
recorded, sixty-seven of the witnesses saw and described the actions
so distinctly as to leave no doubt in the minds of their hearers; and
of these, twenty-two heard the parents’ signal ‘whistle,’ or hiss, or
click, or rattles, according to the species observed.

A man Charles Smith was ploughing near Chicago, when his plough caught
and turned over a large flat stone (‘rock,’ as they call it there),
exposing a very large rattlesnake and her young ones. The mother
rattled the alarm, and all the young ones ran down her throat. Smith
killed the old one, and immediately the young ones began to crawl back
from her mouth and were killed by him. Thirteen of them were five or
six inches long.

Some of the witnesses, after killing the snake into which they had seen
the young ones retire, saw them shaken out again by dogs which had
seized the mother. A few of the observers went on several successive
days to watch a certain snake that was known to have a nest close by;
and on each occasion when alarmed, the young ran into the parent’s

Mr. Putnam also mentioned a ‘striped snake’ (which he had considered
ovoviviparous) bringing forth live young ones at the end of August; she
‘having been a long while in confinement.’ (This was no doubt a case of
retarded functions.)

In vol. iii. of the _American Naturalist_, 1870, an interesting record
of the ‘blowing snake’ (_Heterodon platyrhinos_) appears. One of
these snakes had been wounded in her side, and over one hundred young
ones from 6 to 8 inches long came forth from the wound. They were
all active, all blowing and flattening their bodies like thoroughly
wide-awake _Heterodons_. Sixty-three of them being uninjured died in
alcohol, thirteen were much lacerated, as was the mother, and the rest
escaped. Says the narrator, ‘We _know_ that this snake is oviparous.
Had she swallowed them, or can she be also ovoviviparous?’ (Well, she
might be either or both as occasion demanded!) This is one of those
examples which might have given rise to the supposition handed down by
Aristotle, and explained p. 431.

One hundred snakelings from 6 to 8 inches long seems almost incredible
from the space they would occupy. Yet in bulk they would not be more
than one large snake which the mother could easily swallow. The
accommodating ribs render such habits more feasible than at first sight
would appear. _Heterodon platyrhinos_ is a wonderfully prolific snake.
In the _Zoological Society Proceedings_, vol. vi. 1869, S. S. Ruthven
states that he has observed it to bring forth over one hundred _live_
young at a time.

One more example shall be added, of what Professor Goode considered a
remarkable instance of hereditary instinct. In a hay-field was found
a nest of eggs, one of which was cut open, when a small but perfectly
formed ‘milk adder’ within immediately assumed a menacing attitude
and ‘brandished’ its tongue. Some of the other eggs were then torn
open, the young in which acted in a similar manner. Then the old snake
appeared, and after endeavours to encourage this unexpected family,
put her head on a level with the ground and opened her mouth, when the
young ones vanished down her throat.

It is worthy of notice that in many of the above cases the mother
snake made a signal noise, that the young ones understood this
signal, and that she opened her mouth in a manner which they readily
comprehended. ‘This concurrence of testimony is not to be disregarded,’
says Professor Goode. And the reader will admit the force of these
evidences. Those witnesses, dispersed over thousands of square miles,
had entered into no compact to make their accounts agree; nor did one
spectator in Kansas know what another in New Jersey was looking at or
writing about.

After such a weight of evidence, and in face of the decision arrived
at by the American Convention, it is greatly to be lamented that
the _Field_, so far from advancing like our American friends, now
retrogrades on this question. So lately as October 1881, when another
case was cited of the maternal refuge, the Editor closes his columns
against investigation; and refuses to be convinced unless he were to
see ‘the young vipers at the Zoological Gardens obligingly run in
and out of their mothers’ mouths,’ which is a performance we are
never likely to witness. For, in the first place, the young are often
produced in mid-day, in the presence of the crowd of visitors. Thus,
from their birth accustomed to publicity, they have not the motive as
when in their native haunts they are suddenly alarmed at the first
sight of an apparition in human form. And in the second place, the
young are generally removed at once into a separate cage, and they lose
all knowledge of their mother. Both mother and progeny are familiar
with humanity; and the former is much more likely at the sight of the
keeper to open her mouth for a mouse than to invite her children to
enter therein.

In the foregoing portions of this volume I have been able frequently
to bring personal observations to verify what books have taught me.
With the present subject this cannot be the case. I have neither seen a
viper in the act of giving refuge to her young ones by receiving them
into her mouth, nor have I ever had the circumstance described to me
by any one who has witnessed the proceeding. This is not surprising,
seeing that my studies have been prosecuted almost entirely in London.
For any information obtained at the Gardens I am indebted solely to the
keepers, whose opportunities of observation when aided by intelligence
and experience merit the confidence of the inquirer.

So astonishing a phase of ophidian habits—let us say only _reputed
habits_—was, however, to me one to excite very special interest, as
well as to induce inquiry and a possible solution of the mystery; and
towards this solution the facts related in chap. xxiv. and xxv. appear
to me to come foremost in our aid. All snakes that are ovoviviparous,
was the decision arrived at by the American ophiologists; or
_viviparous_, for we have seen that the two words have but little value
as a distinction. I would venture so far as to render it thus:—

_In snakes which are either viviparous, or in which from some cause or
other extrusion has been so postponed that the young are conscious of
existence before birth._ Conscious also when born that they had been
safer in that pre-natal condition than now when assailed on all sides
by dangers hitherto unknown. This idea—and probably an untenable,
unphysiological, and foolish idea, which science might laugh to scorn
in an instant—still the idea did flash into my mind one day in the
summer of 1873, when Holland, announcing a brood of young ring snakes
which had just been hatched at the Gardens, and describing their baby
terrors, said, ‘It is funny to see how they all try to wriggle back
into their shells again.’

‘Then those little Colubers had been conscious of security before they
were hatched,’ I reflected, ‘and conscious when they did emerge into
activity that the shell had been a safe refuge to them.’ (This was
prior to the American Convention, of which I knew nothing until long

Consciousness of locality must, I think, have a good deal to do with
the maternal refuge; and that snakes possess this consciousness in a
strong degree has been already shown in their habit of returning to
the same spot to hibernate year after year: and not only for winter
quarters; but a strong love of locality and a memory of home are
observed wherever snakes abound. ‘They remain in a hole or a crevice
of the wall for years,’ Fayrer affirms. In his _Prairie Folk_,
Parker Gilmore tells of a family of ‘Puff adders’ (by which probably
_Heterodon platyrhinos_ is meant) that had taken up their abode under
the boards of a porch for several years and could not be routed out.
Nicholson, also, in his _Indian Snakes_, informs us that when he was
stationed at Kamptee in 1868, a cobra and a pair of _Bungarus acutus_
lived in his bungalow for a long while. He could not find where
the cobra lived, but the Bungari made themselves at home in a hole
of the wall under his dressing-table. He never saw either of these
interlopers, but identified them by the skins which they ‘periodically
cast;’ taking advantage of his absence, no doubt, or of his nocturnal
somnolence, to perform their toilet under his looking-glass!

The often recounted tale of an Indian who had a tame rattlesnake
that went away every spring, and returned regularly each autumn to
a certain tub which it had appropriated for its home, is only an
example of affection for locality; but by those who were not cognisant
of this habit, the story has been produced with a strong flavour
of the marvellous, and the Indian who knew by the season when to
expect his creeping friend, was not slow to attribute the regular
return to especial regard for his own person. That _crotalus_ coming
alone so regularly, was probably a lone widow or widower; because
we also know that the _pair_ of snakes are usually seen together,
and that they follow each other with strong conjugal affection. This
is not irrelevant to the present subject; because the _affection_
of ophidians, whether conjugal or maternal, is what we are now
considering. The quality was well known in classic ages, though it
has been denied them in modern times. Many writers on snakes, while
affirming that they ‘exhibit no phase of affection,’ describe their
constantly going in pairs; or the fact that they become ‘vicious if
their retreat is cut off.’ ‘In their peregrinations male and female
are always in company,’ says Catlin; ‘and when only one is seen, the
other is sure to be within hearing.’ When a female has been killed and
left on the spot, the male always comes. The Indians profit by this
knowledge of conjugal devotion to lie in wait and kill the mate. They
place the dead one near the hole of their retreat, and watch the egress
of the survivor, which is sure to come and inspect its dead companion.

Sir Emerson Tennant observed a decided affection between the sexes of
the cobra. In his _History of Ceylon_ he gives several proofs, as for
instance a cobra being killed in a bath, and the next day the mate
being found there. In Baird’s Report of one of the Pacific exploring
expeditions, a good deal is said about the Bull snake (_Pituophis_),
which follows its mate by the scent. Once a fine individual having been
captured and placed in a barrel near the tent, a large one of the same
species was shortly afterwards found close by, and in a direct line
from where its mate was caught.

So much for conjugal affection. As regards maternal devotion, we
certainly had a proof in the pythons remaining week after week on
their eggs. True, they took no notice of the little ones when hatched,
because they were well able to take care of themselves. The mothers
had fulfilled their duties beforehand. Snakes which are vicious at no
other time, menace those who approach their nests or cut off their
retreat. This is a fact universally recognised, alike in Africa, India,
Australia, and America: wherever a traveller, a hunter, or a resident
incidentally mentions snake habits, he confirms this home affection.

‘Snakes, if aggressive at no other time, are always spiteful when they
have young,’ says Fayrer. And an anecdote is related of a man who
stumbled on a nest of young Hamadryads, and was pursued a long distance
by the angry mother. Terror added wings to his flight, as she came
fast upon him. In despair he plunged into a river and swam across,
but on reaching the opposite bank, up reared the furious Hamadryad,
its dilated eyes glistening with rage, ready to bury its fangs in his
trembling body. Escape now seemed hopeless, and as a last resource he
tore off his turban and threw that at the enemy. With characteristic
stupidity the snake plunged its fangs into this, biting it furiously.
After wreaking its vengeance upon the turban, it glided back to its
nest and its young ones and so the man escaped.

_Apropos_ of Indian snakes, Nicholson, though a practical ophiologist,
never heard of snakes swallowing their young in India. This may be
because so large a proportion of them are egg-laying, and because the
only two vipers, _Daboia_ and _Echis_, are nocturnal, very shy, and
not so frequent. Most of the other members of the Indian _viperine_
snakes, the _Crotalidæ_, are tree snakes, which, like the sea snakes,
are more likely to be dispersed and separated from their progeny,
and to take refuge in flight. They are, besides, less frequent, shy,
nocturnal, or crepuscular; and belong more to Malay and Hindoo China,
than to the localities in which observations are more feasible. Fayrer
does not even state positively that they are viviparous. At the same
time Nicholson will ‘say nothing certain about the young going down
the throat, but sees no reason why not.’ ‘They can do without air for
half an hour or so, and a snake’s throat is sufficiently capacious to
allow a frog to croak _de profundis clamavi_ when he is two feet from

Among unprejudiced observers there are still some who are inclined
to attribute to optical delusion the sudden disappearance of young
snakes; arguing from their astonishing rapidity of motion, and the
almost inappreciable space into which they can creep and hide in their
mother’s coils. Mr. Arthur Nicols, in his interesting papers on Snakes,
published in _The Country_ newspaper, in 1878-79, describes a case of
this kind from personal observation when in Australia. He disturbed a
snake with a number of young around her, the latter quickly vanishing.
He discharged his gun, and the old snake was almost cut to pieces with
shot. Approaching, he found all the young ones hidden beneath and about
her, and when he stirred them up they persisted in hiding among the
shattered coils, returning thither to the last.

Mr. Nicols states only that it was a poisonous snake, not giving the
specific name. She had probably incubated her eggs, and the young had
remembered the shelter of their mother’s coils. That it was a display
of filial refuge is, however, undeniable.

A similar occurrence is related in the _Field_ of November 10th, 1866,
by a Mr. Brittain, as an argument against the swallowing process.
He had seen young vipers run to their mother for protection, and so
completely out of sight that only on disturbing them they were found to
have secreted themselves in her coils. These may have been at a more
advanced age, and had ceased to enter the mouth.

It is remarkable that hitherto, excepting in _Pelias berus_, we hear
of this maternal display as peculiar to America only. Whether a more
intimate acquaintance with the snakes of other countries will reveal
new instances in the course of time, we cannot conjecture. It is
to be wished that observations on this head may be published, and
investigations encouraged; or in the minds of the million, the maternal
œsophagal refuge will still be classed among the fables.

Taking it for granted, then, in deference to the American ‘Convention,’
that snakes do offer refuge to their young, it is curious to speculate
as to how the habit originated and became a confirmed one. Maternal
instincts have, without doubt, been strong from the first; and we must
suppose that similar dangers to those which induce a snake now to
summon her young ones had also been the cause of postponed functions in
the mother, and that hers were precocious little reptiles before they
ever saw light.

Because we cannot assume that in a state of _security_ an oviparous
snake would ‘retard its laying’ and become ovoviviparous or viviparous;
nor that a viper would intentionally retain her young until their fangs
were developed (see p. 360), so that they should be able to take care
of themselves; or a rattlesnake till its young had rattles as well as
fangs (see p. 299), these being the principal species which do shelter
their young. And the habit must have had a beginning; there must have
been some training, some development of instinct, to lead up to what we
now see, viz. a snake deliberately giving a signal, lowering her head
to the level of the ground or water, opening wide her mouth to receive
her young, and giving them a second sign when they might safely venture
forth again.

This is the state of things supposed to exist at the present time;
and it would seem to be an organized habit, perfected in process of
ages, and one in which the mother’s instinct, and a _consciousness of
harbouring active young ones before introducing them to surrounding
dangers_, must have had a considerable share.

In concluding this speculative chapter, I can only humbly beg to
‘second the motion’ put to the learned assembly at Portland, Maine,
in 1873, to the effect that the subject will receive the attention of
ophiologists in all the snake countries of the world.





IN the preceding pages it has been my endeavour to resolve some of the
superstitious myths into zoological facts, and to explain by the light
of science those peculiar features and manners of the Ophidia which
from the earliest traditions of the human race have been regarded as

In reviewing the general organization of these reptiles, their
marvellous powers and habits, can we wonder at the impressions they
have created in untutored minds? Let us picture to ourselves our
earliest ancestors with their dawning intellect contemplating the
instantaneous coil of a constrictor; or the almost invisible action
in a flash of time with which the death-dealing stroke of the poison
fang is effected. From a source which was incomprehensible, like the
burning, scathing fluid from the skies, came a ‘sting,’ an agony,
death! Awe-struck and filled with sacred terror were the beholders, as
before them lay the paralyzed, tortured victim. Can we wonder that the
slender, gliding ‘worm’ which inflicted this mortal injury should have
been regarded as an evil spirit, a devil, and invested with maleficence?

Add to the two great death-dealing powers of the serpent
race—constriction and venom—those other peculiarities which have
here been faithfully recorded, the seeming renewal of life after the
annual sleep, a mystery enhanced by the restored brilliancy and beauty
of the reptile on its change of cuticle; let us picture to ourselves
those wondering savages now watching the limbless creature as it glides
into sight and is gone again, or as with fixed and glittering eyes it
flickers that mysterious little tongue; let us imagine them crowding
near to behold a serpent feeding, or to witness the still more amazing
spectacle of a brood of young ones vanishing down their mother’s
throat. There is enough of the mysterious in an ophidian to excite the
awe and wonder of even a nineteenth-century beholder, taking each one
of these surprising doings singly; but considering that any one serpent
may be endowed with nearly all of these phenomenal powers, let us
imagine the effect produced by them in the savage mind. To worship such
an incomprehensible creature was only consistent with all we know of
the influences which first awakened faith in a supernatural Being.

Consequently we find that in every country where a serpent was known,
it plays its part in the mythology and religion of that country. We may
examine the antiquities of any nation which has left a monument of its
history and beliefs, and a serpent will be represented. Scarcely an
Egyptian sculpture (in its entirety) can be found in which the serpent
does not appear. The same may be said of the Hindoo monuments, their
temples, buildings, and sculptured caves; also of Mexican, Japanese,
Chinese, and other ancient mythologies.

Singularly, too, no other object in nature—no birds or flowers
or beautiful things—have been so universally adopted in personal
ornaments as the serpent idea. And in times of remote antiquity—as
relics prove—personal adornments, bracelets, coronets, and rings in
the form of serpents were as much in favour as at the present day. We
may, indeed, affirm that the modern bracelet is but a reproduction or
a restoration of those of antiquity, dating as far back as artificers
in metals can be traced. Rough and rude representations of still
earlier times are extant. And where the human race in its savage state
had no knowledge of art, the reptile itself, or such relics of it as
could be preserved, were adopted as personal decorations. Thus were
the American Indians found by the early colonists, with their belts of
snake skins, with the rattles of the Crotalus strung in their ears,
and with necklaces and chains of snake bones and ‘rattels.’ Mackeney,
Catlin, Schoolcraft, and other historians of the American Indians
relate numerous instances in proof of the universal veneration and
superstition with which the serpent is regarded by those savages. If
they kill a rattlesnake, it is immediately skinned and distributed
in small pieces among the tribe for their medicine bags, while the
captor is pompously decorated with the skin. If on a journey they
meet a rattlesnake in their direct path, this is taken to be a sign
that they must go no farther. Some of the Indian traditions bear a
remarkable resemblance to the prophetic symbols of the Hebrew faith.
‘If thou bruise its head, it shall bruise thy heel.’ This in their eyes
is regarded as ‘destiny,’ and they will on no account kill one that
lies in their path, lest it should cause the death of the destroyer’s
relatives. The Indians are also supposed to possess the art of
snake-taming to an extraordinary degree. We are assured by more than
one writer that they also pet rattlesnakes, investing them with divine
attributes, and sheltering them during the winter; though in this case
the ‘tameness’ may be partially due to the inertness resulting from the
season of the year. On returning spring they permit their _Penates_ to
issue forth again.

The ancient temples of Mexico were richly embellished with carvings
of serpents. One of them represents a serpent idol of not less than
seventy feet long, in the act of swallowing a human being. Also, there
is the ‘God of the Air,’ a feathered rattlesnake; and an edifice
known as the ‘Wall of Serpents,’ from the numerous reptilian forms
crowded upon it. But it is not necessary to enumerate antiquities,
with most of which the reader must be already acquainted, the object
here being rather to endeavour to account for those other attributes
which have grown out of serpent worship, such as ‘fascinating,’ taming,
‘charming,’ ‘dancing to music,’ etc.

Not that serpent worship is extinct by any means. In India it is still
so strong as to amount to a fatality; for the high annual death-rate
from snake bites there is not half so much because the natives can’t
be cured, as because they _won’t_ be cured of what they regard as a
just punishment from their deity. This we shall have occasion to show
further on. That serpent superstitions are still rampant among the
low-caste Hindoos, is borne out by all modern writers on the native
faiths or customs. A. K. Forbes in his _Hindoo Annals_, or _Râs Mala_,
tells us that cobras are looked upon as guardian angels. One cobra
‘guarded’ a cave in which treasures were deposited; another cobra
‘guarded’ a garden; and very good guards we should say they were, as
few persons would venture too near to such an ‘angel.’ One of the
supposed ‘Divinities’ is the _Poorwug Dev_, or spirit personified by
a snake, which is not allowed to be killed or injured; and if it bite
a person, that individual is supposed to be justly punished for some
fault. Fatalism forbids any attempt to cure that unhappy victim, and he
swells the annual death-rate. Due honours are paid to these ‘guardian
angels’ found in most hamlets. Periodical festivals are held to them:
their retreats are then garlanded with flowers, and, as already
stated, eggs and milk are placed as propitiatory offerings. One of the
Bengalese traditions is, that a male infant auspiciously shaded by a
cobra will come to the throne.

And is the reptile which brings such distinction and honour into a
family to be ruthlessly destroyed? ‘No Hindoo will willingly kill a
cobra,’ Colonel Meadows Taylor tells us, in his _People of India_.
Should one be killed accidentally within the precincts of a guarded
village, a piece of copper money is put into its mouth, and the body is
burned with offerings to avert the anticipated evil. The _najas_, or
hooded snakes, from their habit of erecting themselves on the approach
of persons, are those especially regarded as guardians. It was the same
in Egypt. In the _najas_ are also supposed to dwell the spirits of
highly-favoured persons, or those whose lives had been of remarkable
purity and goodness,—another motive for their being protected. It is
still the same in many parts of Africa, where the natives think ill
luck follows the death of a python.

In works where medical statistics are given, such as Fayrer’s
_Thanatophidia_, we learn the fatal results of these superstitions.
When the natives find a cobra in their houses, as is not unfrequently
the case, says Fayrer, ‘they will conciliate it, feed and protect it,
as though to injure it were to invoke misfortune on the house and
family. Even should the death of some relative, bitten by accident,
occur, the serpent is not killed, but caught and deferentially deported
to the field or jungle, where it is set free.’ No one can peruse the
above without seeing how largely the percentage of deaths is traceable
to native superstition. Fayrer also shows us the fatal consequences of
the confidence placed in the snake ‘charmers,’ who are considered to be
especially favoured by their deities, and endowed with curative powers.
Much interesting reading, apart from medical science, will be found in
the _Thanatophidia_ on the Hindoo faith in the _müntras_ or spells and
incantations used by the charmers in cases of snake-bite. Out of some
ninety such cases selected by Fayrer from returns sent in by medical
officers in the Bengal Presidency, nearly half proved that either no
remedies at all were tried, or that recourse was had to native nostrums
or _müntras_. Briefly to enumerate a few of the reports: ‘Boy bitten
by _keautiah_, charms and incantations; died in half an hour.’ ‘Man
keeping a krait (Bungarus) for “Poojah” (worship) was bitten, and
died in seven hours, notwithstanding native nostrums.’ A woman bitten
died in three hours ‘_in spite of incantations_’! ‘A man bitten while
asleep had “_leaves to smell_,” but nevertheless died in three hours!’
‘Woman bitten at night, got up and had _müntras_ (chantings) to expel
the poison. She died four hours after the bite notwithstanding; and
her infant at the breast died two hours after partaking the maternal
nutriment.’ And many similar cases. What wonder, then, with this
miserable fatalism prevailing over that vast and densely-populated
country, that death by snake-bites should amount to many thousands
annually? One more case must be recorded to show how deeply rooted the
faith. A tall, strong young man was bitten in the hand, while sleeping
out of doors. No medicine was given, but _incantations_ were muttered
over him. In an hour he was a corpse: yet the village where this
happened continues to do Poojah (adoration) to the cause of the evil.
By far the largest percentage of deaths is attributable to the cobra,
though this is not a proof that its numbers predominate so much above
other snakes, as of the religious veneration in which it is everywhere
held. It is found all over the peninsula, even as high as 8000 feet on
the sunny slopes of the Himalayas. The names of castes, _Nâg_, _Nâgo_,
_Nâgojee_, _Nâgowa_, etc., found among all classes of Hindoos, have
all reference to the _Nâg_ or _Nâja_ deities, says Colonel Meadows
Taylor. To this author, as well as to Forbes, Ferguson,[133] Fayrer,
and Miss Frere,[134] the reader is referred in verification of the
above. If further to pursue the subject of snake worship, _The Serpent
Myths of Ancient Egypt_, by W. R. Cooper, 1873; _The Serpent Symbol_,
by Squires, 1851; _Sun and Serpent Worship_, by J. S. Phené; and
_The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America_, by H. H.
Bancroft, are some of the many books that afford interesting matter.
These latter, however, allude more particularly to ancient nations.
Among many living and semi-barbarous tribes serpent superstitions
exist, though, perhaps, more strongly in West Africa than elsewhere,
excepting India at the present time. In Africa, not the venomous so
much as the large constricting snakes are the objects of care and
veneration. In _Dahomey and the Dahomeans_, F. E. Forbes relates some
amusing instances of the sacred devotion of the Fetish women, or
guardians and slaves of the python deities at Whydah. A Fetish house
or temple devoted to the snakes was built round a large cotton-tree,
and in this a number of pythons were permitted to roam about at their
pleasure. When they ventured beyond the precincts, their Fetish
attendants went in search of them, and by gentle persuasions (probably
in the form of poultry or other dietetic arguments) induced them to go
home: while all who met them bowed down and kissed the dust of their
path. Morning and evening the devotees prostrated themselves before the
sacred abode of these ophidian deities, either to worship the invisible
god _Seh_, or his representatives in serpentine form.

From frequent and gentle handling, snakes thus protected naturally grow
tame. The Fetish attendants become skilled in managing their reptile
gods, and are not slow in investing themselves with especial powers for
their office. And to this may the origin of the so-called ‘charmers’ be
traced; for ‘snake charming,’ like snake worship, dates back to the
very earliest ages. With a more intimate knowledge of the reptilian
class which modern zoology has brought about, comes happily a clearer
insight into the tricks of the snakemen, jugglers, and charmers of
Egypt and the East. Snake-taming to-day is not confined to _Saadees_
and _Samp Wallahs_; it is not even confined to non-venomous snakes,
of which pythons have always proved very amenable pets. Mr. Mann’s
tame pythons (see ‘Introduction’) were popular performers at the time
they were introduced in Chancery, and his pet constrictor, ‘Cleo,’ was
honoured with an obituary notice from the pen of Mr. Frank Buckland,
in _Land and Water_, after she died ‘of grief,’ as was said, at the
illness of her master.[135] The amiable ‘Cleo’ (or Cleopatra) was the
‘constant companion’ of Mr. and Mrs. Mann for several years, and they
soon learned her wishes when she ‘asked’ for either food, drink, or
fresh air. ‘A short time before her death she contracted a friendship
for a young kitten,’ was always ‘fond of children,’ who displayed no
fear of that sociable ophidian. But she was shy of strangers; and this
I myself realized on paying my respects to her; for not until she was
fully convinced that I had no evil intentions, and not without much
coaxing and persuasion on the part of her guardians, could Cleo be
induced to approach me.

Several of the constricting snakes at the Zoological Gardens of even
larger size than Cleo are exceedingly tame, permitting themselves
to be handled. One of them, a temporary inmate during the winter of
1881-82, was introduced to the public by Dr. Stradling through the
columns of _Land and Water_, April 3, 1880, as ‘Totsey,’ together
with her brother ‘Snap,’ the latter named ‘from a trifling infirmity
of temper when young.’ These two were the offspring of the Panama boa
who gave birth to 20 live young at the Gardens, June 30, 1877. Of
these twenty, Mr. Sclater notified, at one of the Zoological Society’s
meetings in the following November, that all but one were still alive.
Of the two which became the property of Dr. Stradling and were tamed
by him, he wrote, ‘Any one can handle them with impunity;’ and that
they recognised him among others in the dark, permitting him only to
touch them at such a time. ‘Lolo’ and ‘Menina’ are the pretty names of
two other tame constrictors belonging to this ophiophilist, and whose
amiable and interesting manners were recorded in the above journal. Of
‘Totsey’ the Dr. writes, ‘She is the most gentle and affectionate snake
I ever had.’ As this same Miss Ophidia happened to be an inmate at the
Gardens in January 1882, when the pair of illustrations (p. 205) were
in preparation, she adorns that page; though in truth it was one of her
brothers or sisters, then rather smaller, that really did hang thus on
the branch as I sketched it at the time, September 24, 1880.

That some of the most venomous serpents are also capable of being
tamed we have many proofs. They use their fangs in self-defence,
actuated by fear or hunger; and where no fear exists, a serpent
would not deliberately crawl about, expending its precious and only
protective power, _venom_, on any object it met with. Would a cobra or
a crotalus in its native woods approach any living thing it saw and
indiscriminately strike it with its poison fangs? No. Its primary
impulse would be to escape. It strikes only under provocation or
hunger. Therefore if a venomous snake in captivity become so familiar
with your presence as to cease to fear you, it would also abstain
from biting you. Not that one would recommend Jararacas or cobras for
pets, notwithstanding the assurance of some residents in India that
the latter are capital guards to a dwelling, and in some are even
encouraged instead of dogs, as the less liable to bite of the two! Miss
Frere, in her interesting reminiscences of India, _Old Deccan Days_,
gives instances of children playing with the cobra without injury.
She mentions a Brahman boy who could without any other music than his
own voice attract and handle with impunity any venomous serpents that
might be within hearing. They would come out of a thicket or a dry
stone wall—their favourite refuge. Such instances are sufficiently
rare to be regarded as miraculous, adds the authoress, still they do
occur. ‘How much is due to gentleness of touch and fearlessness, how
much to any personal peculiarity which pleases the senses of the snake,
it is difficult to say.’ The boy above alluded to was believed to be
the incarnation of some divinity, and the magistrate took note of his

But at last, through some inadvertency, he got bitten; when he
died, notwithstanding the divinity he was supposed to enshrine,
notwithstanding the spells and _müntras_ which might be pronounced over

The cobra is supposed to have originally had seven heads, as we see
represented on Hindoo temples. The ‘hood’ is believed to be the remains
of these seven heads; and the _Gokurrah_, whose pattern of the double
ocellus had gained it the name of the ‘spectacled cobra,’ is held
in the highest esteem of all from the two spots being considered the
footprints of the god _Krishna_. These are the especial favourites of
the professional snake charmers.

When it is borne in mind that snakes have been tamed by persons of
only slight experience, we can easily comprehend that with a life’s
practice, and with inherited facilities, the Oriental jugglers must
acquire peculiar expertness in dealing with their ‘charmed’ specimens.
Originally, no doubt, the office of the professed snake tamer was
connected with the sacred rites of serpent-worshipping communities, but
has now greatly degenerated into the trade of jugglers and tricksters.
That some of these do acquire extraordinary skill in dealing with their
dangerous captives cannot be denied. Profound faith is placed in their
performances by the natives, who attribute to them supernatural agency.
From being close observers of reptile character, they know how far to
venture on familiarities. They thoroughly understand the movements
of the sluggish and timid serpents with which they are toying; and
while keeping up a perpetual gabble to divert the attention of the
spectators, aggravated by the tum-tumming and so-called ‘music’ to
which the snakes are supposed to ‘dance,’ they themselves keep just
beyond striking reach, and provoke the snake to follow the waving
motion of their hands. The true object or impulse of the snake is to
bite the irritating cause, the pretended motive is ‘dancing.’ To follow
the movement of the object which provokes them is instinctive, music
or not; and without any din and cackle and jargon, the cobras would do
this all the same. Long practice and an intimate acquaintance have
given the jugglers confidence and dexterity, while on the part of the
snake fear is the chief characteristic. Even the tamest cobra is only
watching the opportunity to escape, and the moment the juggler ceases
his performance, down it drops, and makes for its basket. Should
the performance not be ended, the snakes are called to attention by
being sharply pulled back by their tail, when up they rise with hood
expanded, and with just enough of power and spirit left in them to
recommence the ‘dance,’ more truly to make one more futile attempt to
strike their tyrannical masters. It is only a repetition of the same
kind of ‘obedience’ and ‘intelligence’ that was accredited to that
first rattlesnake ever exhibited in England.

That showman (introduced p. 285) had become well acquainted with
crotalus idiosyncracies, and knew how to turn them to account before an
ignorant crowd.

Those who have to deal with venomous serpents tell us, that with
caution and expertness they are not difficult to handle; and this
is verified by all who describe the performances of Oriental
snake-charmers. Not only cobras with fangs extracted, or mouths sewn
up, or composition ‘cerastes’ with artificial horns fastened on to the
heads of harmless snakes, but those with perfect fangs and well-filled
poison glands, are handled with equal facility. By pressing down the
snake’s head gently with a stick and then seizing it firmly close
behind the head, so close that it has no power to turn it, you fetter
its movements. Or to snatch up a venomous snake by its tail and quickly
support it festooned on a stick which you draw gently towards the
head, and then secure that as above, is another method adopted; or,
again, to seize the tail and pass the hand swiftly along the body
till the head is reached, and _then_ grasp the neck. These are among
the various ways of handling poisonous serpents, according to the
purposes required of them. Every movement must be carefully watched,
however, and the head not released until the entire snake is free to be
returned straight into its cage. Even wild and vicious cobras are thus
fearlessly dealt with by experts; and those which are in process of
taming are put through a daily training. They are made comfortable in a
basket, conciliated with food and milk, soothed by softly stroking them
with a brush and by kind and gentle handling.

I once stood by and looked on while the keeper unpacked a box of
cobras. He took each one out by its tail, and dropped it into another
box with such expedition that the fearful reptile had not time to turn
and bite him. Not that he ventured to lower his hand into the midst
of the writhing angry tangle of snakes, but first, at a respectful
distance (the writer still more deferentially contemplating the
transfer from afar), he, with a long-handled hook, contrived to draw
out a snake tail first, and getting the tip over the edge of the box,
this he seized, thus, one after the other, shifting eight of the dozen
cobras. Both boxes had lids, of course—glass slides, which were
cautiously but quickly drawn aside, and as sharply closed again.[136]
These deadly reptiles, after being some weeks, perhaps months, in
a small close box, were not, as may be supposed, in a very lively
condition, but sufficiently so to erect themselves and hiss like a
flock of geese, striking at the lid and the glass, and doing their
best to alarm the manipulator, and also to suspend the breath of my
awe-struck self. Calmly and safely, however, Holland concluded his task.

By pressing down the head with a stick, or seizing it quickly by the
tail, American Indians similarly manage the rattlesnakes. Not they
alone, however, are skilled in taming these deadly reptiles. Here, at
home in England, domesticated _Crotali_ are not unknown. Dr. Stradling
thinks they may be rendered as harmless as non-venomous kinds, by a
gradual training; and has succeeded in so far taming one that he felt
safe in offering it as a gift to even an unskilled non-charmer. ‘I have
a very _nice_ tame rattlesnake between four and five feet long, in good
condition and feeding well, which I shall be delighted to send you,’
he wrote me, August 1881. ‘It has got so tame that you might handle it
without fear at any time you wished to investigate any part of it.’ It
is perhaps superfluous to add that this amiable and exemplary reptile
was gratefully declined.

The reader’s devoted servant had not undergone a course of
prophylactics as the Doctor had. He is both an expert and to a certain
extent venom-proof at the same time; but for all that the snake was, as
he affirmed, tame enough to be handled with impunity by those who might
have sufficient courage to venture. That interesting and accommodating
rattlesnake is no more, but was even more honoured in death than in
life. A true martyr to science, it was sacrificed that its friend and
teacher might prosecute his experiments, and also swallow some of
the contents of its poison gland, in order to convince two or three
challenging sceptics that he could do this with impunity.[137]

As in all other trades, there are various grades among the Oriental
snake-tamers. The legitimate ‘charmer’ of India—the _Samp
Wallah_—prides himself on being a descendant of the prophet, and the
secret of his art is cherished as an heirloom in his family. This
also is the case in Arabia and Egypt, where the astonishing feats
which, without any doubt, are performed by professional ‘snake men,’
are attributed to special and secret powers, jealously guarded from
age to age. It may be possible that, like the Psylli of old, they may
have recourse to some drug which renders their person repugnant to the
serpent, and thus provides immunity from a bite. Not yet altogether
discarded, either, is the ancient belief that in the body of the
viper itself is found a specific for its poison. Since the days of
Æsculapius, decoctions of vipers and recipes enough to form an Ophidian
cookery-book and pharmacopeia combined, have found favour not only
among the ‘faculty’ of classic days, but among all our ancestral dames.
We are told that vipers abound in volatile salts that are cures for
many ills. Certain it is that ‘viper wine,’ viper broth, viperine
salts, the powder of dried vipers, preparations from the dejecta,
the oil, and even the slough have all enjoyed a high reputation,
and I believe are—_some_ of these at any rate—still in vogue in
secluded districts where the refinements of medical science have not
yet replaced them. It is remarkable, too, that for skin affections
their virtues chiefly commend themselves. The ancient belief that to
devour vipers proved a specific for their bite, has to the present
day prevailed among the snake-charmers of Egypt, who—whether or not
from this practice—are said so to assimilate their bodies that the
venom does not harm them. The Bushmen of South Africa, it is asserted,
swallow poison to render themselves proof against its effects; and
history records many other tribes who have had such confidence in their
own and an inherited immunity, that they hesitated not in exposing
their infants to deadly serpents. The Persian word _Bezoar_, a popular
drug, means counter-poison; in allusion to the immunity from poison
which persons who feed on venomous snakes are believed to enjoy.

Though much discredit has been thrown on these so-called ‘immunities,’
and though it is so very difficult to know what to believe where a
serpent is concerned, the possibility does appear to be borne out by
some authentic writers of our own time. The late John Keast Lord, when
in Egypt, had frequent opportunities of observing the tricks of the
jugglers; and not only he, but, as he assures us, many intelligent and
educated Europeans, fully believed that some secret power was practised
by the ‘high-caste’ charmers, who really did exhibit astonishing feats
with their snakes. Of these, the habit of devouring the reptiles alive
can here admit only of bare allusion.[138]

In _Dahomey and the Dahomeans_, F. E. Forbes tells of the natives
walking fearlessly bare legged in the grass where snakes abound, and
that on one occasion on alluding to the danger, a boy said to him: ‘No
fear; if my father is bitten, he knows of an herb that will cure him.’

Another recent authority whom we are bound to respect is Schliemann. In
his work _Troy and its Remains_, published in 1875, he writes (p. 117):
‘We still find poisonous snakes among the stones as far down as from
thirty-three to thirty-six feet, and I have hitherto been astonished
to see my workmen take hold of the reptiles with their hands and play
with them: nay, yesterday I saw one of the men bitten twice by a viper,
without seeming to trouble himself about it. When I expressed my
horror, he laughed, and said that he and all his comrades knew there
were a great many snakes in this hill, and they had therefore all
drunk a decoction of the snake-weed, which grows in the district, and
which renders the bite harmless. Of course I ordered a decoction to be
brought to me, so that I also may be safe from these bites. I should,
however, like to know whether this decoction would be a safeguard
against the fatal effects of the bite of the hooded cobra, of which
in India I have seen a man die within half an hour. If it were so, it
would be a good speculation to cultivate snake-weed in India.’

A correspondent in _Land and Water_, signed ‘R. C.,’ quoting
Schliemann, inquired the name of this snake-weed, but without eliciting
information. Most of the countries in which snakes abound would seem to
rejoice in ‘snake-weeds’ and ‘snake-roots.’ ‘It has pleased nature that
there should be nothing without its antidote,’ said Pliny; and though
‘the faculty’ tell us that no antidote for snake venom has as yet been
discovered, it nevertheless appears to be certain that the Arabs, the
Nubians, Egyptians, and other nations seek to procure immunity from
snake-bite by the use of certain plants, of which the _Aristolochias_
seem to be most frequent. The juice or a decoction is drunk, the root
chewed, and an infusion used for washing the skin. The South American
Indians are said to be able thus to protect themselves; and we have
the high authority of Humboldt in support of the theory that the
famous _huaco_, and other poisonous plants with which they inoculate
themselves, may impart an odour to their bodies which is repugnant to
the snakes.

It would be well to obtain definite information as to what the
‘snake-weed’ of Schliemann was, _botanically_. It is also important to
ascertain the species of ‘viper’ that is there so abundant; then there
would be a basis for investigation. The testimony of a traveller like
Schliemann is not to be disregarded. Besides him, Livingstone, P. H.
Gosse, and others have affirmed the same thing, viz. the existence of
antidotal plants, but which, in the hands of science, seem never to
disclose their virtues!

As a part of the present subject comes a serpent’s supposed love of
‘music,’ and on this head again the evidence is contradictory. Setting
aside the idea of ‘music,’ in the way of melody or harmony, we may
be able to arrive at a clue to the undeniable fact that snakes do
exhibit some consciousness of _noise_. ‘Music,’ properly so called,
is certainly very far removed from the gourd-rapping and tum-tumming
of the Oriental jugglers; yet the snakes display a consciousness of
these uncouth sounds. Mr. Mann affirmed that Cleo and his other pet
boas manifested undoubted feeling—let us call it consciousness—when
the piano was being played. Dr. Arthur Stradling, on the contrary,
tells us that his own snakes ‘are almost always within hearing of a
piano, and never show the slightest emotion at the sound.’[139] His
observations, I believe, refer chiefly to his life at sea, where his
cabin did duty as concert-room, menagerie, and all else combined, and
where, apart from piano, there would be ceaseless noise and jarring;
or even if on shore, the ‘always’ would rather support my own theory
or speculation as to any feasible solution of the fact that serpents
are affected by _noise_, not ‘music.’ And my idea is, that it is the
jarring or vibration _through solids_, and not the mere sound, that
thus affects the snakes. Since first venturing to express this idea
in the _Dublin University Magazine_, Jan. 1876, I have continued to
observe the effect on snakes of what we may call _disturbing noises_.
At the Gardens, where they become accustomed to noises of all kinds,
it is less easy to arouse them; but when the place is unusually quiet,
the experiment may be tried. The ‘snake men’ of the East, whose trade
is to hunt out snakes by means of sound, effect this by _rapping_ on
the wall or ceiling, or by making loud, clucking noises with their
tongue as much as by their so-called ‘music;’ and Pliny,—if we may
cite Pliny to suit our purpose and discard him otherwise,—or whoever
_he_ quotes, affirms that snakes are more easily aroused by the _sound_
of footsteps than by the sight of the approaching person. A custom is
prevalent in Ceylon, we are told, of using a jingling stick in the dark
to strike the ground in order to frighten snakes out of the path. The
jingling ‘music’ here is disturbing, not alluring, but as regards the
knocking it proves sensitiveness to vibration conveyed by the ground.
The American Indians are _experts_ in the way of ascertaining sounds
as conveyed by the ground. They throw themselves prone upon the earth,
pressing their ear close to it, and are able to decide with great
accuracy the direction, the distance, and the nature of a far-off
sound. May we not conclude, then, that the perception of sound to a
serpent is through solids, a feeling more than a hearing of noises?
The creature, always prone to the ground or other solids, and with an
internal aural apparatus, must be peculiarly sensitive to vibrations
thus conveyed.

‘Lizzie,’ the heroine of chap. xxvi., was proved to be sensitive to
disturbing noises, and her ophidian relatives are probably similarly
affected. As to _tune_, any sharp sound will answer; and as to time, it
is not the ‘music,’ but, as we have already hinted, the waving hand or
knee, or bright colours used by the _charmers_, to which the movements
of the serpents respond. This also is a subject quite worth scientific

A word in conclusion about the ‘fascination of the serpent’s eye,’ a
fable of so remote a date that it is as hard as any to eradicate. Even
scientific observers admit that there is a _something_ that attracts
the eyes of birds or small mammals such as squirrels, timid creatures
which often stare fixedly at ourselves as much as at a snake. Dr. A.
Smith says: ‘Whatever may be said in ridicule of fascination, it is
nevertheless true that birds and even quadrupeds are, under certain
circumstances, unable to retire from the presence of their enemies, and
what is even more extraordinary, unable to resist the propensity to
advance from a situation of actual safety into one of danger.[140] He
has seen birds collect round the African tree snakes, particularly the
Boomslange (described p. 407), and fly to and fro, shrieking, until
one of them almost touches its lips.’ Exactly so. We are not _told_ as
much, but every one who knows anything of snake life will feel quite
sure that those tree snakes were making good use of their delicate
tongues in order to ascertain all they could about those enticing
shriekers; and that the birds were equally desirous of knowing what
dainty in the shape of worm or flitting creature that tongue might be.
In the case of the rattlesnake the ‘fascinated’ birds are probably
enticed by the insect they think they _hear_, as well as that they
think they _see_, in the supposed worm wriggling so temptingly and
vanishing so strangely. The snake remains rigidly still the while, the
only moving thing being that investigating tongue.

My observations at the Zoological Gardens first led me to this
conclusion. On the feeding days several years ago, when watching to
detect the ‘fascination’ one had been led to expect, I noticed that
the birds—even the sparrows and finches—were attracted by the tongue
of the snake, and would stop when hopping about the cage and look
intently and curiously on the vibrating tongue. Some would venture on a
closer inspection, and remain gazing, or would even peck at it, until a
movement of the snake told them that the motionless object from which
that wriggling thing protruded was a living animal. Then they might hop
away indifferently, happily unconscious that what they had perched on
as a branch or a log was animated with a hungering after themselves.

Any further ‘spell,’ or ‘fascination,’ or attraction might be
attributed to a soporific or paralytic rather than a pleasurable
influence; and arising from the noxious breath of a venomous serpent,
or the fixity of its eyes, never blinking. Horses, dogs, and other
animals have an intuitive perception of the vicinity of a snake, and
refuse to advance; is it therefore reasonable to conclude that the
lesser animals are not similarly affected? It is serpent nature to
wait motionless for its prey. Any creature coming unexpectedly upon
that rigid object, with its fixed, glittering eyes, would, actuated
by mingled alarm and curiosity, stop to make itself acquainted with
the extraordinary sight, the only life or motion in which would be
the tongue suddenly and silently appearing and disappearing. A bird
might be beguiled within striking distance, or might stop spell-bound.
We ourselves are sometimes impelled to approach an unaccountable yet
terrifying object. Fear has also a paralyzing effect, and we remain
motionless, breathless, with eyes as fixed as a serpent’s.

Observation of nature and an inquiry into causes will often present
very commonplace reasons for what appears to savour of the marvellous.
A snake has just made a meal of some fledgelings. The mother bird has
witnessed her offspring vanishing by degrees, and she frantically
hovers over the reptile, fluttering to and fro, and probably uttering
cries of distress or of enticement, in the hope of her young ones’
return. Birds have been observed thus endeavouring to rescue a
half-swallowed fledgeling. The naturalist at once comprehends the
reason; the poet thinks the birds are ‘fascinated.’

I am not aware that any other ophiologist than Dr. Stradling, in
discussing the ‘fascination’ idea, has attributed to the tongue of a
snake an allurement in the shape of a prospective meal. In one of his
papers to _Land and Water_ (April 2, 1881) he described a hen that had
been put into the cage for his anaconda’s dinner, making ‘a determined
dab at the snake’s tongue, sometimes two or three dabs in quick
succession,’ every time the quivering black line caught her eye. ‘Now
why does she do that?’ he asks. ‘Certainly from no animosity towards
the snake, in whose presence she has not the slightest consciousness
of danger, as she was otherwise engaged in pecking up the maize that
was in the cage. My own idea is that she mistakes the tongue for a
wriggling worm,’ adds the observer in almost the very words I had used
more than six years previously,[141] long before we had exchanged a
word on the subject or were even acquainted. He further described in
the same issue of _Land and Water_, and also in the _Field_ (June 3,
1882), how a scarlet _tanager_ in Costa Rica had been attracted out
of a tree down close to a snake by its quivering tongue, the only
moving thing about it. Dr. Stradling had seen a frog similarly snapping
at the tongue of a snake, and thinks that one of the chief uses of
the mysterious little organ is to attract insectivorous animals. My
own observations prove the tongue to be a _successful_ lure, which
may go a good way towards explaining ‘fascination;’ but whether an
_intentional_ lure, any more than an intentional intimidation, as
discussed in chap. v., I hesitate to affirm.

‘Fascination,’ then, may be sometimes imputed to curiosity, sometimes
to an anticipated morsel. It may partake of fear, or it may be an
involuntary approach; it may be the struggles of a poisoned creature
unable to get away, or the maternal anxieties of a bird or small mammal
whose offspring has fallen a victim to the snake. Divesting it of
all poetry or magic, it will admit of several matter-of-fact, albeit
sometimes tragic explanations.





ON a subject which has baffled research in all ages, viz. the endeavour
to discover an antidote for snake venom, it scarcely becomes me to
speak. Yet, as in the foregoing chapters, I may at least venture to lay
before my readers some general account of the various remedies used in
snake regions, and, for the benefit of residents in those countries,
describe the most approved means of treating the bites of venomous
serpents. Information of this kind will not, I trust, be wholly useless.

First, it may be as well to impressively repeat what has been already
constantly affirmed by all our scientific experimentalists on snake
venoms, that ‘as yet _no antidote to them has been found_.’ Remedies
there are in abundance; and it is just as great an error to believe
that all snake venom is incurable—_i.e._ that a bitten person must
necessarily die—as that there are countless ‘antidotes,’ as persons
broadly and loosely call the various means of cure.

At the time when Professor Halford’s treatment by subcutaneous
injections of ammonia were so popularly discussed, you might read week
after week of ‘Halford’s newly-discovered antidote for snake-bites.’
Professor Halford, so far from claiming the discovery of an ‘antidote,’
emphatically explained that ammonia thus used was ‘only a mode of
treatment.’ ‘It must never be forgotten,’ he said, ‘that ammonia cannot
_destroy_ the venom;’ by which we comprehend what the scientific mean
by an ‘antidote,’ something that effectually _destroys, neutralizes,
and annihilates_ the poison. Sir Joseph Fayrer, after long and
elaborate experiments with the Indian thanatophidia, prescribes various
remedies and modes of treatment, ‘but do not confuse these with
_antidotes_!’ he urges.[142] ‘To conceive of an _antidote_ to snake
poison in the true sense of the term,’ he explains, ‘one must imagine
a substance so subtle as to follow, overtake, and neutralize the
venom in the blood, or that shall have the power of counteracting and
neutralizing the deadly influence it has exerted on the vital forces.
Such a substance has still to be found, and our present experience of
the action of drugs does not lead to hopeful anticipation that we shall
find it.’

Notwithstanding these confident assertions, we are continually
reading of ‘an infallible cure for snake-bite, never known to fail;’
‘another antidote to snake-bite;’ or that ‘at length an antidote
has been discovered,’ which on investigation may be something tried
long ago, and occasionally with success, or it may be a plant or a
chemical preparation which under certain circumstances effects a cure,
but none of which will stand the above definition of _antidote_.
Each new attempt is announced as ‘an antidote’ nevertheless. Dr.
Arthur Stradling was severely hauled over the coals for ‘boasting
of an antidote,’ when it accidentally transpired that he had been
experimenting on himself ‘with a view to discovering, _not an
antidote_, but a prophylactic against the venom,’ to use his own

More recently still permanganate of potash has been announced as
an antidote; and no doubt in some cases it has proved a successful
_remedy_, as occasionally, but not invariably, other treatments have
been. There still, however, appears to be the same lack of substantial
evidence with regard to its being an ‘infallible antidote’ in the
chemical acceptation of the term; and indeed as venoms themselves
vary, a remedy that might prove effectual in one case might fail in
another. Dr. Stradling, than whom perhaps few are more competent
to offer opinions on the subject (he having for five or six years
subjected himself to experiments and carefully noted the effects on
his own person, as others have noted the effects on animals and birds
bitten), says that you might as well hunt through the pharmacopeia for
a drug that will be a specific in every kind of fever, or ‘to look for
a general antidote to opium, strychnine, bella donna, arsenic, and
mercury poisoning,’ as to expect to find one antidote for every kind of
snake venom. ‘When we know how many different venoms there are, we may
look for an antidote to each,’ he has explained.

Years ago the venoms were classed under the heads of _Viperine_,
_Echidnine_, _Crotaline_, etc.; but Dr. Stradling states that he has
found very different venoms in _Crotalus horridus_ and _Crotalus
durissus_, and that he prepared himself differently for each species
of snake with which he experimented, having in five different species
found five distinct and separate venoms. The bite of one snake more
rapidly affects the blood, that of another the nerves; while the local
and the constitutional symptoms also vary; but ‘all are attended
more or less with rigors, delirium, syncope, convulsions, paralysis,
and coma.’ Many of the so-called cures have not been cures at all,
because, as was afterwards found, the snakes that inflicted the bites
were not venomous. This we can understand from the indiscriminate use
of such vernaculars as ‘adder,’ ‘jararaca,’ ‘cobra,’ as explained
in previous chapters. Or, if undoubtedly a bite has been given by
an undoubtedly venomous kind, it does not follow that a full charge
of venom accompanied the bite. The glands may have been previously
exhausted, the snake may have been feeble, or it might not have
expended its poison. For among other marvels we are led to believe that
vipers, perhaps also the _elapidæ_, have a control over their store
of venom, and do not involuntarily expend it, that is, when _forced_
to bite. ‘Great doubt exists as to the efficacy of forced bites,’
says Nicholson. Dr. Weir Mitchel came to the same conclusion in his
rattlesnake experiments, viz. that a snake ‘is able voluntarily to
control the shedding of its poison when inflicting a wound or grasping
an object with its jaws.’ This accounts for many bites not having
proved fatal, and for reputed antidotes having effected ‘cures.’ Nor,
when we come to think of it, does this control of the venom appear
so extraordinary after all. The poison gland is a modification of
ordinary salivary glands; and, if we may have recourse to a not very
elegant comparison, a person or an animal can simulate the _action_ of
biting or of spitting without ejecting saliva. Again, as Dr. Stradling
expresses it, ‘snake virus is a natural secretion provided for the
distinct physiological purpose of enabling the reptile to secure its
prey.’[144] Fayrer also explains that some snakes, naturally sluggish,
‘bite reluctantly;’ but, if irritated and made angry, then ‘with great
force and determination.’ In the one instance a bitten person might
recover, in the second case die, because here the snake ‘thoroughly
imbedded its fangs’ (p. 379).

It is often asked, ‘Which is the most poisonous snake?’—a question
as difficult to answer as, ‘Which is the most poisonous plant?’ Dr.
Günther’s opinion is that the degree of danger depends less on the
_species_ which inflicts the wound, than on the bulk of the snake, the
quantity of its venom, the season or temperature, and the place of the
wound. Quantity for quantity, the virus of one snake is more active or
more powerful than another, and different in its effects; but then the
lesser discharge of poison directly into a vein might be more serious
than a full discharge in a part where absorption is slow. Also exactly
the same quantity, minim for minim, would more seriously affect a
warm than a cold blooded animal, more seriously affect a feeble and
timid person or animal than the brave and vigorous. Yet, as there is
a notable gradation in the development of the poison apparatus, the
perfection of which culminates in the viper, it seems not unreasonable
to decide that as a rule a viper is more virulent than an elaps of the
same size—let us say _bulk_, because the viperine snakes are short and
thick and the _elapidæ_ long and slight. Each snake is supplied with
venom adequate to its own requirements, that is, enough to kill the
prey on which it subsists, a large viper with a larger supply for a
larger animal; and a small elaps with enough to kill its little bird
or mouse. There may be exceptions; as, for instance, in the _Callophis
intestinalis_, whose glands are abnormally developed, though it is not
a large snake; still accidents or experiments rather go to prove that
a viper is more noxious than an elaps under similar conditions. Fayrer
proved the virulence of _Echis carinata_, the little Indian 18-inch
viper’s poison, by diluting a quarter of a drop of its venom in ten
drops of water and injecting it into the leg of a fowl, which died in
ten minutes; while the same proportions of cobra venom killed a fowl in
thirty minutes. Nicholson affirms that the Russell’s viper can eject
as much poison in half a second as a cobra can in three seconds. But
if the viper be in a torpid condition, it might eject little or none.
A strong Daboia bit a feeble bull, which died; but two feeble Daboias
bit a strong bull, which recovered. These latter vipers were moulting,
and their functions were inactive—the bites feeble, perhaps. In fact,
the conditions are so many and great, that after all it is hazardous
to form any definite conclusion. Some notes of the effects on bitten
animals, taken at the Zoological Gardens while the snakes were being
fed, shall be faithfully recorded in the ensuing chapter.

With regard to the many drugs used in various countries for the cure of
snake-bite, it is curious to note that, as a rule, they are procured
from the most deadly plants. As ‘like cures like,’ so poison cures
poison. Most of them are powerful stimulants, in which lies their
chief virtue. Among them are _aristolochia_, _opium_, _ipecacuanha_,
_senega-root_, _guaco_ or _huaco_, _asclepias_, _liatris_, _euphorbia_,
_polygala_, _ophiorrhiza_, etc. A long list might be written. It is
noteworthy, too, that the natives of the countries in which these
plants are variously found, have strong faith in them, and indeed
use them with more or less of success. The early writers on America
entertained no sort of doubt as to the efficacy of the plants or
preparations used by the Indians. Purchas, in 1626, after describing
the ‘_Ibiracua_, which causeth by his biting the Bloud to issue thorow
all Parts of the Bodie, Eyes, Mouth, Nose, Eares,’ etc., says: ‘But
the Indians are acquainted with a certaine Herbe that will heal their
Woundes.’ Lawson, Berkeley, and Catesby tell us the Indians were
never without a remedy, which they carried about with them, but the
preparation of which differed in each tribe. Border Americans of the
present day, also, are never at a loss when snake-bitten, though the
most popular of modern remedies is whisky. (Not that this offers any
exception to the rule, that poison kills poison; the comic philosophy
being that whisky, as the stronger poison of the two, ‘goes in for
first innings, so to speak.’)

Some of the poisonous antidotal plants in South America are used in the
preparation of the celebrated _wourali_ or _curare_, with which the
Indians poison their arrows. Snake-venom and pounded fangs are also
constituents of this, which is why the effect in the blood—as has been
shown in experiments—is similar to that of snake-bite. Some of the
tribes are said to acquire immunity from the most virulent snakes by
swallowing the potent herbs of their region. Inoculation with deadly
vegetable juices is another of their remedies; and Tschudi informs us
that after this inoculation, snake-bites are harmless for some time,
but that the process has to be repeated. Sullivan has not much faith
in the process; nor has Dr. Stradling. But there is one undeniable
fact connected with the poisonous snakes of most countries, viz. that
death by them is comparatively rare; and only in India do we hear of
thousands dying annually. Dr. Carpenter, Humboldt, and, I believe,
other writers of equal weight, have suggested that the poisonous plants
used by native tribes, both internally and externally, may impart to
the person an odour which is repugnant to snakes; and if this be the
case, how would it be to institute compulsory inoculation among the
low-caste Hindoos, who are the chief sufferers in India? Or, could
not a few pariah dogs there be inoculated with the juice of some of
the native plants, such as the ‘earth gall’ of Malay (_Ophiorrhiza
mungos_), as the Indians of the Orinoco protect themselves with the
_Vejuco de huaco_? Should the process succeed with valueless animals,
it might afterwards be attempted in human beings. Perhaps already it
has been attempted, and it would be gratifying could I flatter myself
that it was through my suggestions of several years ago. Or I may be
only betraying my own ignorance of surgery and of the pharmacopeia in
suggesting it at all.

There are many popular vegetable ‘antidotes’ of the log cabin and the
rough border-clearings of America, but the ‘faculty’ form no high
estimate of them. Dr. Weir Mitchel tested some twenty or thirty plants
which owe their reputation to Indian traditions, but without success.
‘In the hands of science they failed.’ But then is there not always
some delay before the patient can reach the hands of science? It is
the prompt treatment, and having the remedies always ready, that may
ensure success among the natives. Probably many a bitten person, if
alone in the desert, dies, and there are none to record his death.
Nevertheless we have good reason for believing that the natives do
learn how to manage deadly snakes or to avoid them. In South Africa
it is very rare to hear of a person dying of snake-bite; and the
natives go bare-footed there as much as in India. Some of the deadliest
serpents also are found in Africa. In Australia, where there is a
still larger majority of poisonous snakes (more than two-thirds of the
whole number), and also bare-footed natives, deaths are comparatively
infrequent. Krefft gives us a list which may be of interest to the
residents there, viz. the proportions of the venomous to the harmless
species of snakes:—

                   Venomous.  Harmless.

  New South Wales,     21 out of 30

  Victoria,             8    ”   12

  South Australia,     13    ”   15

  West Australia,      11    ”   15

  Queensland,          28    ”   42

Whereas in India, including Ceylon, the venomous families are five
to the thirty-five innocuous ones. In India alone Günther describes
twenty families of snakes, out of which four only are venomous. When,
therefore, we read the annual statistics of India, and the enormous
death-rate, which suggest resolutions towards the extermination of
snakes, we may again hint that education must join hands with science
in order to find remedies. Europeans are seldom bitten; you might count
the numbers on your fingers in as many years. Dr. Edward Nicholson
has shown that while in twelve years (1860-1871 inclusive) only four
British soldiers died from snake-bite, thirty-eight died from the bite
of mad dogs; and he thinks it would be more beneficial to the community
to kill off some of the hordes of these dangerous animals which infest
the country during the summer months. Moreover, that ‘_in comparison
with preventible diseases and a percentage of the entire population,
snake-bites are sensational trifles_.’ He thinks the savage crusade
against snakes worse than useless, and argues that it would be better
to seek remedies for diseases that harm more Europeans in a week than
snakes do in a century. Others tell us that the number of deaths is
greatly exaggerated, and that many by violence or through fatalism and
barbarities are set down to snakes.

But to return to remedies, one would suppose that drugs or plants which
kill venomous snakes would be also cures for their bites. It is an old
belief that vipers contain in themselves an ‘antidote’ to their venom,
and hence the number of popular medicines prepared from their bodies.
Conversely, some of the deadly poisons of the pharmacopeia are death to
snakes. _Aristolochia_ produces powerful effects on the African vipers;
the white ash (_Fraxinius Americanus_) is an equally rapid poison
to the rattlesnake, as Prof. Silliman proved. It is said that these
reptiles are never found in the vicinity of this tree. It was the white
ash which Oliver Wendell Holmes introduced into his story of ‘Elsie
Venner,’ as being destructive to _crotalus_ life, and the novelist
wrote from his experience of its effects. Similar cases have been
recorded in the _Philosophical Transactions_. Pennyroyal, says Charas,
was held to the nose of a viper, ‘who by turning and wriggling laboured
hard to avoid it; and in half an hour’s time was killed by it. This
was in July, at which season these creatures are computed to be in the
greatest vigour of their poison’ (1657).

Another drug which is poison to a venomous snake is _tobacco_, within
the reach of most persons. This, among native remedies, has always been
in favour, and we have heard of its efficacy ever since ‘the weed’
was known to Europeans. Various species of tobacco and its allies
are indigenous to most tropical countries, and probably were in use
for both man and snake-bites long before civilised nations took such
comfort in smoking. In classic ages it was believed that human saliva
was fatal to vipers, and it is even affirmed that the Hottentots often
kill a puff adder by merely spitting upon it. One must infer from this
that their saliva is saturated with some drug which they chew; and
from classic authors we might discover that the practice of chewing
tobacco, opium, or other drugs obnoxious to snakes, was in use from
very early ages. Those classic authors who tell us that human saliva is
fatal to snakes had not studied snake nature enough to assign a reason
for this, though in all probability a reason did exist. ‘Man carries
more poison in his mouth than a snake,’ said an old Virginian writer,
alluding to _nicotine_. ‘He can poison a rattlesnake more quickly than
it can him.’ Nicholson states that it also rapidly affects a cobra, and
he recommends it, should you wish to destroy the snake uninjured: ‘You
have,’ he says, ‘but to blow into its mouth a drop or two of the oil
from a dirty tobacco-pipe.’

Two young men chopping wood together in Virginia espied a rattlesnake.
With a forked stick one of them held its head close to the ground,
keeping its body constrained with his foot, while his comrade took
from his own mouth a quid of tobacco, which he forced into that of the
snake. The reptile was then released, and had not crawled a couple of
yards before it was convulsed, swelling and dying within a short time.
Leaves of tobacco as a plaister, or chopped tobacco as a poultice,
are applied to a bite by the American backwoodsmen, after the custom
of the Indians; or finely chopped tobacco, mixed with moist gunpowder
and some pulverized sulphur, formed into a plaister, and laid on the
wound, and then set fire to. Tschudi, in his _Travels in Peru_, p. 434,
saw this remedy successfully applied by an Indian to his wife’s bitten
foot. A nausea-exciting drug was swallowed at the same time. With the
copper-head snake (_Ancistrodon contortrix_) it is equally efficacious.
These and rattlesnakes are said to be never found in tobacco fields.

Strychnine appears to have a similar effect to tobacco on snakes.
Fayrer found cobras extremely susceptible to the influence of
strychnine. An almost impalpable quantity caused a cobra to ‘twist
itself up in a rigid series of coils and die.’

A good many experiments have been tried by a subcutaneous injection
of strychnine into dogs and other animals, immediately after being
bitten, but without sufficient success to warrant the adoption of it
as an infallible remedy. In some of the cases, indeed, the deaths from
tetanus suggest the question, ‘Did the cats and dogs die from venom,
or from strychnine?’ As virulent poisons are administered in virulent
cases, how would it be to _swallow_ strychnine in chemically-prepared

Carbolic acid is another drug which produces powerful effects, causing
the reptile to ‘double itself up in numerous folds, remaining as stiff
as if cast in metal.’ Creosote, also, snakes hate, Fayrer tells us, and
recommends that these two drugs may at least be of use in driving them
away from dwellings, as many of them have an objectionably domestic
disposition. A few drops of carbolic acid poured on the floor of their
cages kill venomous snakes in a very short time. A large _Bungarus_
died in ten minutes in this way.

Dr. Weir Mitchel approves of carbolic acid so far as to recommend
every backwoodsman to supply himself with a little of it, which is
easily portable and manageable in capillary tubes. In several of his
experiments with _crotalus_ venom, carbolic acid applied to the wound
was attended with success. But it must be _done at once_. The whole
secret of cures—when cures can be effected at all—lies in promptness.
It is celerity on the part of the Indians which ensures their success.
In an instant, if his comrade be bitten, the savage is on his knees,
sucking the wound, grasping the limb firmly, or strapping it tightly
above and below the bite, knowing quite well the importance of checking
the circulation. He has his ‘poison pills,’ and tobacco in his pouch.
He explodes gunpowder on the wound and loses not an instant. Nor does
the victim lose heart. He submits with courage and confidence, and
in these lie another element of success. Many cases are on record
of persons being at death’s door through fear alone, when bitten by
a harmless snake, but recovering on being assured that there was no
danger. And other cases are well known where bitten persons have died
of fright and the depressing influences surrounding the accident, when
they might possibly have recovered.

And assuredly the remedies are generally so severe as to be in
themselves sufficiently terrifying. ‘No time for reflection;’ ‘no
mercy must be shown,’ declares Sir Joseph Fayrer, in describing the
incredible rapidity with which the venom inoculates the blood ‘in a
moment of time.’ Where a deep wound has been inflicted by a highly
venomous snake on a small animal, death has been known to occur in a
few seconds, especially if the bite were on a large vein or an artery.
Therefore if the bite be on a limb, to tie a ligature is the first
thing to be done. A thong of leather, a tape, a string, a cord, a
garment torn in shreds, anything that can be caught up, must at once
be tied round the limb. Every instant of delay increases the danger.
Incredible force must be used to tighten the ligature, which even with
a tourniquet or a stick to twist the cord to the utmost is scarcely
sufficient to completely stop the circulation in the fleshy part of
a limb. So tight as to cut into the flesh is frequently necessary.
In the case of a dog whose hind leg had been bitten, such amazing
force was required, in one of Fayrer’s experiments, that with the
strength of a pair of hands it was almost impossible to tighten the
ligature sufficiently to effect complete strangulation. In another of
his experiments a chicken had a ligature tightened round its thigh
‘with the greatest amount of tension that a man’s hand could exert.’
The poor chicken (already half dead with terror and pain, as one must
conjecture) was then bitten below the ligature by a cobra, but in spite
of the thorough strangulation of the limb, the fowl showed signs of
poison in twenty-three minutes, and in three-quarters of an hour was
dead. These two among other cases are cited to show that the mere
tying of a tape or a pocket handkerchief round a bitten limb is of very
little use, provided it is not drawn tight enough to almost cut into
the flesh. Yet this is only the first step; for if assistants are at
hand, let them tie a second or even a third such ligature above and
below the bite when possible, while whoever is best able to operate
must scarify the wound by cutting it across deeply, or by immediately
cupping, letting it bleed freely; ‘better still,’ says Sir Joseph, ‘cut
it out deeply and quickly.’ In the case of a finger or a toe, ‘amputate
instantly; for if once the venom is absorbed into the system, there
is but the slenderest chance of life.’ If the wound be in a fleshy
part, force a red-hot iron to the very bottom of it, and burn it out
to the depth of half an inch, or when excised fill it with gunpowder
and explode that, or force a live coal into it, or burn it out with
carbolic or nitric acid! Agonizing though the remedies be, they are
inevitable, should the bite be inflicted by one of the larger and
deadlier snakes in a part where absorption is rapid. ‘Do not relax the
ligament till the part be cold and livid,’ adds Fayrer.

Nor, when we look at the effects of a bite, can we wonder at the
severity of the remedies.

‘Vomiting black fluid,’ ‘bleeding at every orifice of the body,’ are
among the horrible sufferings at the time; an injured constitution and
hideous sores likely to break out afresh periodically in various parts,
may be some of the after consequences should the patient recover.

As the effect of the bite is depressing, the system must be kept up
with strong stimulants. Food is of little use, because the functions
are too feeble to digest it. But great faith is placed in stimulants.
Hence the popularity of ammonia, which is quickly diffusible. The
venom exhausts the vital forces; therefore, excepting in the local
surgical treatment, all the best remedies are volatile and alcoholic
stimulants. Ammonia in the form of _eau de luce_ has long been
approved, both taken internally and rubbed into the wound. Professor
Halford’s plan of subcutaneously injecting it has been very successful
in some cases of Australian snake-bites, and the popularity of this
mode has been seen in the large number of hypodermic syringes purchased
by persons in the bush. But the use of these requires surgical skill;
and awkward attempts by the laity have produced wounds which have been
prejudicial to the originator; for though it is said that some attempts
of this kind were made by Fontana about one hundred years ago, Halford
could not have been aware of that, since he claims to be the first who
ventured to throw ammonia directly into the blood. ‘Previously to my
experiments in 1868,’ he says, ‘it had never been thought possible to
throw ten or twenty minims of the strongest liquid ammonia directly
into the veins without killing the man on the spot.’[145] He first
tried it on animals, and finding it successful, at length ventured
this ‘mode of treatment’ with human beings; since which other doctors
in Australia have also practised it. Still he does not claim for it
infallibility, though giving some cases in which the action of ammonia
on the blood and on the heart’s action produced rapid recovery in
persons apparently dying.

Any technical explanation must not be attempted by me; but those who
are interested in this subject will find Prof. Halford’s own accounts
in the _Medical Times_ for 1873 and ensuing years, also in his paper
‘On the Condition of the Blood from Snake-bite,’ 1867.

In India similar kinds of experiments were not attended with success;
leading to the conclusion that the Indian snakes were more deadly
than those in Australia. Climate, latitude, season, and many other
circumstances affect the virulence of snakes, as we may here repeat.
The ‘Brown’ or ‘Tiger snake’ (_Hoplocephalus curtus_), the ‘Black
snake’ (_Pseudechis porphyriacus_), _Hoplocephalus superbus_, and some
other of the larger venomous kinds _within the tropics_ are thought to
be equal in virulence to the Indian ones of the same bulk in the same
season. Many of them erect themselves and distend their necks like the

And now for a few words about the most popular and perhaps most
attainable of all remedies—alcohol! No wonder the backwoodsman resorts
to this, which without any chopping off of fingers or toes, or personal
pyrotechnics, or other local tortures, deadens his sensibilities,
renders him unconscious of suffering, and sends him into a happy
obliviousness of danger. It is not a refined mode of treatment, nor one
that presents many opportunities of exhibiting professional skill; and
it is no doubt somewhat derogatory to admit that to become dead drunk
is an effective victory against snake venom! Other old and inelegant
remedies we hear of as practised by the Bushmen of South Africa,
and savage tribes elsewhere, but revolting in the hands of refined
practitioners. Deference to science and loyalty to the profession
demand some more elaborate means. Yet the efficacy of whisky or brandy
is admitted by all, and the pioneer who has not a doctor within miles
of him has his demijohn of whisky at hand.

During a sojourn in Iowa some years ago, when wild and uncleared lands
formed the ‘streets’ of the town in which I was staying—Lyons on the
Mississippi river, and as lovely a spot as artists and botanists can
wish to revel in—it was by no means an infrequent occurrence to hear
of rattlesnake bites. ‘What was done to the man?’ ‘Is he alive?’ were
questions naturally asked.

‘He drank a quart of raw whisky, and got dead drunk.’

Generally a quart had the desired effect—that is, of causing
intoxication. Persons unused to intoxicants might be affected by a less
quantity, but so violent is the combat between venom and whisky that a
large dose must be swallowed before any effects at all are produced. In
the southern and hotter States it was similarly used. Indeed, a planter
himself told me that Sambo would sometimes prick his hand or foot with
a thorn, and crying out ‘Rattlesnake!’ fall into well-assumed agonies,
in his preference for a spirituous somniferousness to cotton-picking.
But when the fraud was detected and less enticing remedies were
adopted, rattlesnake or copper-head bites became less frequent. I
heard of a man in Nevada, George Terhune, a teamster (I give his name,
having every reason to believe the truth of the story), who was bitten
in the hand by a rattlesnake while stooping to reach some water out
of a spring. The man was alone and far away from human habitations.
It was an instinctive and momentary business to first kill the snake
then rushing to his waggon, he drew the bung from a keg of whisky and
took a large draught of the contents. After swallowing as much as
he could, he took some tobacco from his pocket, saturated that with
whisky, and applied this poultice to his hand. He then proceeded with
his team, drinking whisky at intervals until he reached a dwelling,
when he removed the poultice and found that the wound had turned green.
Applying another of the same kind, he resumed his journey and his
potent doses, reaching his destination next day ‘as sober as a judge,’
having imbibed enough ‘fire-water’ to intoxicate a dozen men with no
_crotalus_ venom in their veins. The quantity sometimes swallowed under
such circumstances is utterly incredible.

Professor Halford describes a case of snake-bite near Melbourne,
in which two bottles of brandy were drunk without any symptoms of
intoxication; and another of a girl of fourteen, who, when bitten by
an Australian snake, drank three bottles without being intoxicated!
She recovered. ‘Alcohol has powerful attractions for oxygen,’ writes
Professor Halford, on the theory that the venom has produced foreign
cells in the blood, ‘so that if alcohol engage the oxygen absorbed by
the poison, the cells perish and recovery ensues.’ Others among the
ablest experimentalists similarly recognise the efficacy of alcohol.
Dr. Shortt of Madras says: ‘Bring the patient under the influence
of intoxication as speedily as possible. Make him drunk, and keep
him drunk, until the virus is overcome.’ Dr. Weir Mitchel found that
delicate women and young children under the influence of snake poison
could take ‘quarts of brandy without injury, and almost without
effect.’ One man brought to him—a man of temperate habits—took
one quart of brandy and half a pint of whisky, which ‘only slightly
intoxicated him for about four hours.’ Another man bitten in the throat
was cured at the end of twenty-four hours, during which time he had
had two quarts of whisky in one night, and renewed as the pulse fell,
besides red pepper and other stimulants.[146]

In South Africa, too, the alcoholic remedies seem to be successfully
adopted, so far as we may judge by occasional reports of them which
find their way into print. In the _Field_ of January 14th, 1882, a
Mr. Walter Nightingale records that a boy of fifteen, bitten by a
puff adder, drank two bottles of brandy before it had any effect;
and a little girl two years old, bitten in the hand by a ‘horned
viper’ (which might have been a _Lophophrys_ or _Vipera nasicornis_),
had administered to her brandy and milk in occasional doses without
any visible effects, until a whole bottle of brandy had been thus
swallowed! The child recovered; and the force of the argument seemed to
rest on the astounding quantity of strong spirit that could be taken
to overcome the venom without producing intoxication. Under ordinary
circumstances, a wine-glassful of brandy would have made either of
those children tipsy, yet the infant of two years did not reel under
a whole bottleful, and the boy of fifteen under two bottles full—a
quantity that would have killed many outright.

Yet whisky is not an ‘antidote’ chemically, any more than is ammonia,
or tobacco, or artificial respiration, which latter has been tried
with success by Drs. Vincent Richards and Lauder Bruton. So rapidly
destructive to every vital function is snake venom, that anything that
will keep life going until the poison is eliminated is desirable; and
what would themselves be poisons in other cases here act only as
counterfoils. ‘A septic of astounding virulence,’ Weir Mitchel has
proved _crotalus_ venom to be; and the scientific experimentalists on
the Oriental thanatophidia confirm his words as regard the _najas_ and
vipers of their own regions. A subtle, malignant, mysterious fluid, to
which all animal life succumbs. Even vegetables are affected by it, as
Mitchel proved. Inoculated with it, they looked dead next day as if
scathed by lightning. So those old writers on Virginian serpents might
not have been so far wrong after all, so far as the injurious effect
of venom on a young tree; only they made a slight mistake in supposing
that the ‘thorny tail’ inflicted the mischief (p. 174).

It is not within the compass of this work to attempt to describe
in detail the many remedies which from time to time have enjoyed a
short-lived popularity; such as ‘snake stones,’ the ‘Tangore pill,’
and other preparations. Conventions have within the last twenty
years been held in India, in Australia, in America, and London; and
Commissioners from among our most distinguished M.D.’s have been
appointed to investigate all the reputed ‘antidotes’ and popular
remedies that could be got together. The names of Dr. Ewart, Dr. Lauder
Bruton, and Dr. Vincent Richards of the Indian Medical Department,
as associated with artificial respiration, must be familiar to many.
Dr. Shortt, of Madras, claims originality in the use of potash, _liq.
potassæ_, which both by the mouth and by injection has been attended
with success. He has recorded several cures by _liq. pot._, ‘not as
miraculous, but as rational.’ He affirms that it has the property of
neutralizing the venom, and that brandy expedites it by carrying it
rapidly through the system. Potash or soda plentifully applied to the
wound is a popular remedy also among the border pioneers of America,
who, on the theory that venom is of an acid nature, make frequent use
of alkalis. The child of a gentleman whom I knew in Virginia was bitten
on the foot by a rattlesnake; his whole body quickly exhibited the
symptoms of the poison. But the father was so confident of the success
of his own domestic treatment that he did not even send for a doctor.
‘_Saleratus_’ (used in cookery) was bound upon the bitten spot, and the
child was dosed with apple brandy until stupefied. Next day he was well.

From all the ‘recoveries’ above quoted, it may be said that the bites
could not have been very deep, or that the snakes could not have been
very virulent; and in the many hundreds of experiments tried in India
and elsewhere, the doctors have arrived at similar conclusions. _A full
charge of venom injected directly into the veins, should no remedy be
attempted, is almost certain to be fatal._ Within half an hour a man
might die from a vigorous _crotalus_, _fer de lance_, or large _elaps_.

It is important to impress this on the reader, lest from the cures
above cited, I appear to argue that snake-bite is not so serious an
affair after all. Notwithstanding that the South American Indians, in
the midst of the most deadly of the _Crotalidæ_, do fly confidently to
their _guaco_ and their traditional remedies, they know so well when
there is no chance of recovery that they attempt no cures whatever.
Travellers tell us they lay themselves down to die when bitten by
certain snakes; probably they know that, from the position of the bite,
or the accidental lack of essential remedies, there is no hope for
them. They are said to resign hope when bitten by the little Peruvian
viper (_Echis ocellata_), in the very heart of the tropics, and as
deadly as the little _echis_ of India. In every case the symptoms point
to the exhaustion of the nerve centres, and the rapid decomposition of
the blood.

The venom appears to be an indestructible fluid. Toxically it remains
unaltered whether boiled or frozen, or mixed with the strongest
corrosives. Diluted in water, alcohol, or blood, it is still equally
injurious. The blood of an animal killed by a bite, if injected into
the veins of another animal, kills that one also; and the blood of
the second one killed is similarly fatal to a third, and the third
to the fourth, and so on through a series of animals. Also so small
a quantity is fatal where no remedies are attempted, that a venomous
serpent can kill six or eight animals one after another; each one,
bitten in succession, succumbing more slowly, it is true, but still
dying at last. Fayrer found that no less than nine creatures could
thus be affected by one cobra. A dog, a pigeon, and seven fowls were
bitten one after the other: the dog, first bitten and receiving the
largest injection of venom, died in thirty-three minutes; a fowl, next
bitten, in three minutes; the third, in ten minutes; the fourth bitten,
in eleven; the fifth, in seventeen minutes; but the ninth bitten, a
fowl, when the poison gland was exhausted, recovered after a time. And
the same effect is seen in much larger animals than fowls. Fayrer also
tells of four men bitten in succession by one cobra, only the last one
bitten receiving treatment, and recovering-slowly after many days. The
facts prove the fatal confidence placed in snake-charmers, if further
proofs be needed. The four men, on payment of money, were to be taught
the ‘spells,’ _müntras_, etc., and, as they hoped, to be endowed with
curative powers. The professional ‘snake men’ bullied them into playing
with a cobra and irritating it, with the promise that no harm should
follow, even if they were bitten, which one of them very soon was,
falling senseless immediately, and dying within an hour. Not warned by
the utter failure of ‘charms’ to restore their comrade, the other three
permitted themselves to be bitten. The strongest charge of venom having
been expended in the first bite, the man next bitten did not fail so
rapidly, the third still more slowly, but both died the next day. When
the fourth was bitten, the police were informed of what was going on,
and they carried him off to the hospital, and the charmers to prison.
Thus is the death-rate swelled.

Though the venom may be swallowed with impunity by a thoroughly healthy
person, there is always danger of its being absorbed through the
delicate membranes of the throat and stomach. In cases of sore throat,
injured gums or lips, or internal maladies, the risk would be great,
of course. Animals killed by the venom are constantly eaten, Fayrer
states; and that the hungry natives eagerly carried off the fowls
upon which he had experimented. Since those celebrated experiments
at Florence by the ‘Florentine Philosopher,’ Redi, and those other
‘Knowing Physicians’ above two hundred years ago, the venom has been
swallowed by many. The great point of discussion then was to ascertain
the source of the ‘Mischiefs;’ whether they arose in the gall or the
‘Juyce of the Bag at the root of the Master Teeth;’ and Redi tasted
both the Gall and the ‘Spittle from the Bag’ in order to test this
great question, and found ‘the Gall sharp and the Spittle flat.’ As the
learned physicians of the nineteenth century have been again trying
effects, so did those ‘Knowing Physicians’ work out similar problems
in 1670, no doubt suggesting many things that have subsequently been
solved and perfected. One Francini was hard to convince that only a
tooth and not a demoniacal spirit inflicted the injury; whereupon,
to convince that unbeliever, they thrust a thorn and a pin into the
breast of a fowl, which betrayed no ill effects; but a splinter of wood
covered with ‘Spittle from the Bag’ killed a pigeon as quickly as the
‘Master Tooth.’ They showed, also, that a dissevered head was able to
bite, and its ‘Biting is as dangerous as when the Viper is entire.’
They proved other things, too numerous to recount; and particularly,
that venom was not injurious in a healthy stomach, the question from
which we have strayed to Florence.

Lately we have been led to think that it is something more than
harmless. Through the researches of Professors Selmi, Lacerda, Gautier,
and others, we learn that from the powerful peptic properties of
the venom it may become a valuable medicine. I think I am correct
in stating that a Dr. C. Hering of Philadelphia, when practising in
British Guiana some forty years ago, introduced the venom of our
celebrated Curucucu (_Lachesis mutus_) into medicine; and that since
then, serpent venoms have held an important place in the Homœopathic
Pharmacopeia. Already we have hinted at the digestive properties of
venom to the serpents themselves, that neither masticate nor take
exercise otherwise to promote digestion; and there are those among
us who, not lacking energy so much as time, and whose busy brains
permit them but little leisure for either exercise or the unhurried
meal, may be glad by and by to resort to a poison pill to cure the
‘dyspepsia’ they thus bring upon themselves. Our American cousins will
hail with joy such a discovery. Perhaps even now they are anticipating
a prize medal at the next Great International Exhibition, for a
newly-invented ‘Extract of Bushmaster’ as the infallible remedy.
_American Bothropine_.—‘One drop of this extract in a wine-glassful of
water taken immediately after dinner ensures that meal being swallowed
in three minutes with impunity.’ Would not this deserve a gold medal in
these days when one man tries to do the work of three?

Drs. Lacerda and Netto of Brazil have proved that crotaline venom acts
as a solvent on hard-boiled egg and other albuminous substances,—that
it can, as it were, digest living tissues; and Dr. Stradling thinks
that this solvent or disintegrating power will in some measure
account for the intense local severity of a venomous snake-bite, ‘so
disproportionately wide-spread to the tiny punctures made by the
needle-like tooth.’

The excision of the fang does not check the function of the poison
gland any more than the extraction of a tooth will check the salivary
secretions in a human mouth, because (as was described in the chapter
on ‘Dentition’) there are other fangs coming forward and requiring
similar supplies.

One great value in experimental snake-bites by subcutaneous injection
is knowing which specific venom, or how much of it, produces certain
effects. But there is this to be said with regard to the creatures
operated upon, that the restraint, terror, and pain necessarily
inflicted before the venom is injected, must do a great deal towards
rendering that victim predisposed to succumb under ever so small a
dose; and in some cases 6, 8, or 10 drops of venom have been injected.
If terror and timidity act so strongly on a nervous human subject,
they must act similarly on such feeble, frightened creatures as fowls,
rabbits, and guinea-pigs, that are held, strapped down, and tortured by
ligaments and lancets.

Human beings may take courage in reflecting that in some of the
experiments under which animals have died, _in spite of immediate
remedies_, a far larger dose of venom has been injected than could
possibly pass through the fang in one normal bite. The virulence of the
venom in ever so minute a quantity has been proved sadly enough; yet
the possibility and hope of recovery are also evident.

‘As prevention is better than cure,’ those who run risk in the tropics
can guard against bites by wearing thick coverings to their feet and
ankles in the way of gaiters, leather boots; and denser materials for
clothing, in preference to those which the finely-pointed fangs can
easily penetrate. The cloth or leather may then receive the principal
charge of venom. Silk as a lining is good, and has the advantage of
coolness. Anything rather than bare feet. Then supplies of ammonia,
tobacco, carbolic acid, and strong tape are easily portable, and
plenty of good whisky, if the bearer can courageously _keep it for

The mongoose of classic reputation must have a passing mention;
though it is now pretty well understood that this little animal
owes its safety to its own bravery and adroitness, more than to any
supposititious herb to which it flies. Not but what instinct may
induce it to eat of the plants nature provides to animals as to men,
and as a cat eats grass when nature dictates a necessity for physic.
The mongoose has been known to die of snake-bite like other bitten
animals, though it certainly succumbs more slowly than many. Vitality
is stronger in some animals than in others. A rat is hard to kill;
and a cat will resist the poison as long as a dog of three times its
size. Then if mongooses feed on venomous snakes, they may enjoy in
themselves a sort of protective or prophylactic security. Their long
fur is also protective, leaving but few vulnerable points; and their
strong vitality enables them to escape and probably overcome the bite
if slight, or to hide away and die unseen.

The question of immunity from bites suggests yet one other point on
which some uncertainty exists, viz. Do snakes die of their own bites?
Dr. E. Nicholson only shall be quoted here, because I shall be able
to introduce some cases from personal observation in the ensuing
chapter, concluding this with just one foreign example which may be
relied upon. ‘According to my experience,’ says Nicholson, ‘the poison
of venomous snakes affects not only harmless ones, but also venomous
snakes of other genera.’ My own opinion is that they can kill not only
other snakes, but even themselves if the charge of venom be strong
enough. What has occasionally been seen in print of ‘snakes committing
suicide,’ is, I think, only from an instinct in the serpent to strike
at what injured it _where_ injured. It feels a sudden pain and turns
to avenge the injury, striking itself on the spot where the pain
directs. A case was recorded in a paper of a cobra having been struck
by a bullet, and instantly twisting round to bite itself on the spot,
and presently dying; and this was called ‘snake suicide.’ It died in
part perhaps from the bullet, and partly from its own venom, which
injected in anger would be powerful. Several similar cases have come to
my notice, where snakes have thus attacked themselves when the instinct
has been evidently to strike the _cause of pain_.

In vol. xxii. of _Nature_, p. 40, the case recorded by Mr. S. H. Wintle
from Tasmania will, I think, bear this explanation. He pinned a ‘black
snake’ (probably _Pseudechis porphyriacus_) to the ground with a forked
stick by the middle of the body; instantly coiling round the stick, the
angry snake turned and buried its fangs in itself, making the part wet
with viscid slime. Hardly had it done this than the coils relaxed; a
perceptible quiver ran through its body; in a few moments more it lay
extended and motionless, open mouthed and gasping, and in three minutes
was dead. Mr. Wintle examined the snake after death, and found the body
‘bloodless,’ as though the poison had destroyed the colouring matter.
He tried the blood on a mouse, which died in five minutes; and on a
lizard, which died in fourteen minutes.

If the saliva of an angrily-excited human being or a dog be more
injurious at one time than another, how much more so that of a venomous
serpent. The flow would be greater, the character more noxious. It
seems therefore a mere question of power or virulence, the greater over
the less. In some cases one serpent might kill another, in other cases




ARRANGING the following examples, not so much in chronological sequence
as in elucidation of special facts, I will first give some cases of
venomous serpents killing themselves and each other. My notes began
in 1872, after the interest so strongly awakened in Cheyne Walk,
Chelsea, when those tame snakes were fed to gratify our curiosity (see

Holland was then the keeper at the Reptile House of the London
Zoological Society’s Gardens, and had occupied this place upwards of
twenty years, gathering much experience and knowledge of reptilian
habits. Incidents known to him, when not witnessed by myself, may
therefore be received as trustworthy.

On Sunday, July 20th, 1873, a ‘River Jack’ (_Vipera rhinoceros_), from
West Africa, really did kill itself, though the act can scarcely be
called intentional ‘suicide.’ It was from dashing its head against
its cage either in anger or pain. Holland was of opinion that it had
been severely bitten by one of the others of the same kind in the
cage at the time; for he had known snakes to die from bites in this
way, sometimes from their own bites. On one occasion three Puff adders
(_Vipera arietans_) all died through quarrelling and biting each other.
One of the three survived ten days, the others dying sooner.

One day in April 1873 or 1874, on going to the Gardens, I was informed
that a water viper (_Cenchris piscivorus_) had been found in the tank
in its cage, presenting a very unusual appearance, and enormously
swelled. On going his rounds that morning, the keeper observed it, and
touching it with his iron rod, he discovered that it was quite dead.
He said these vipers frequently quarrel, biting each other and causing
this great inflation of the body, as if blown out by wind. The vitality
of this species is very strong. From such bites the inflation is
sometimes only temporary, and they recover, but not always. One of them
lived a long while with a broken back. It was endeavouring to escape
by the sliding door, which was raised while the keeper was making some
arrangements. The movements of the reptile were so swift that Holland
was obliged to suddenly drop the slide; and though he succeeded in
partly pushing back the snake, it got caught and was jammed under it,
completely dislocating its spine. But it did not appear to suffer very
much, he said, and entirely recovered from the injury.

Some ‘viperine snakes’ (named from their aspect, but not really
venomous) not only bit each other, but killed and swallowed each other.

Several cases of cobras injuring each other and themselves are on
record at the Gardens. On one occasion a cobra got loose, and, as may
be supposed, created considerable terror. While being caught, it turned
and bit itself, burying its fangs in its own flesh. I could not learn
exactly the spot where it wounded itself; but it was no doubt where the
hooked rod, or the snake tongs, had been offendingly applied.

A couple of cobras were presented by Sir Joseph Fayrer. One of them
bit the other repeatedly, and in so many places that it was ‘torn
to pieces,’ in the language of the keeper. ‘The body was all over
sores.’ Notwithstanding this, it was several weeks dying. This painful
spectacle did not fall under my own observation, happily, but there is
no reason to doubt the occurrence.

Next to the rattlesnakes few are more nervously timid than cobras;
only, while the former displays fear by a shrinking retreat, a cobra
is aggressive, inasmuch as it raises itself with a threatening aspect
and distended hood. It is on account of their extreme timidity that the
cobras’ cages are screened with painted glass at the lower part, or
the reptiles, in aiming at offending spectators, would be continually
dashing their heads against the front, to their own detriment. In this
manner snakes wound themselves very seriously, producing various mouth

Before writing another word of what, as a student, I have witnessed at
the Gardens, I must here affirm that any distressful occurrences are
not related to gratify a morbid curiosity in those who read only to be
amused, but to enable other students to acquire a better insight into
ophidian habits and physiology, and as a duty which I have set myself
to accomplish—a duty which has cost much moral courage to carry
out, and which demands, as I now discover, an equal amount of moral
courage to commit to writing. A good deal is painful, if not revolting;
therefore I would commend the perusal of this chapter only to those
who, as naturalists, wish to be informed on these subjects.

‘Lip fungus,’ gum boils, canker, and abscesses are among the
mouth diseases to which snakes in confinement are subject, and
for these, very delicate surgical operations have sometimes to be
performed,—‘very delicate’ often, by reason of the dangerous character
of the patient, and in consideration for the operator as much as for
the sufferer. The keepers have sometimes to lance the gums, sometimes
to wash the sores! One very venomous patient was so covered with sores
that the keeper’s only resource was to throw the lotion all over the

‘Why not let the odious serpent die, or kill it at once?’ some will
exclaim. Well, in the first place, many snakes cost large sums of
money to purchase; secondly, humanity as well as economy demands that
their sufferings should be allayed wherever possible. And in return,
they frequently reward such care by recovering and entertaining the
visitors, climbing with renewed vigour about their cages.

On the other hand, so tenacious of life are some snakes, that they
might survive as disgusting objects a long while—not in a state to
be exhibited at all, but only to be an additional care and trouble to
those whose duty it is to attend to them. One very astonishing instance
of tenacity of life must be introduced. It was in a rattlesnake which
would not feed, and must have greatly suffered in some way, whether
physically or from nervous terror cannot be determined; but the
reptile struck its head so repeatedly against the side of its cage,
that, in the keeper’s words, ‘it completely smashed it.’ At last it
died, its head one mass of putrid sores; and in that state it had
sustained life for many months. It had eaten nothing for ten months.

It must be owing to the excessive and nervous timidity of snakes, that
some of them reject food for so long a time during the first months of
their captivity. I think for even more than two years snakes have been
known to fast, and to recover their appetite afterwards. So strong a
disinclination for food do cobras show, when first brought that it is
of no use whatever to put mice into their cages. Now and then, if no
one is near them, they will partake of a mouse or a sparrow, but never
until they become somewhat reconciled to their surroundings.

Almost equally alarmed and irreconciled was the Hamadryad, which is
closely allied to the cobras. When first brought to the Gardens in
the spring of 1875, he did little else than suspiciously watch for
some weeks. With his head elevated in front of the glass, and his hood
expanded, he made a dash whenever any one approached or stopped to
look at him, and ate nothing for many days. Within a year these fears
gradually subsided, and he became so tame as to watch for the keeper
instead of for supposed enemies, raising himself to the roof of his
cage, and remaining close to the little trapdoor at the top, awaiting
the snake which, as he had already learned, made its appearance through
there for dinner. Much caution is requisite in feeding him; for though
he does not now display spite or anger, once let his head find egress
through that little trapdoor when raised, he, one of the most venomous
snakes in existence, would be through in a moment, creating a stampede
indeed among the visitors, to say nothing of danger both to them and to
himself. He well recognised a change of guardianship when poor Holland
was compelled from ill-health to resign his place; and not even yet,
in spite of the kindest treatment, will he trust his present keeper
as he trusted Holland. During the interregnum and frequent change of
attendants, his nerves were tried in a manner that he has been slow to

The Hamadryad’s appointed diet is one ring snake per week; but ‘Ophi,’
as we now call him, is occasionally required—and with no sacrifice of
his principles either—to eat an extra snake to satisfy the curiosity
of some distinguished visitor. Sometimes, too, colubers are plentiful,
and two small ones are not too much for his ten or twelve feet of
appetite. This splendid serpent has rewarded care by remaining in
perfect health, and growing several feet. He was between eight and
nine feet long when he came, and is now not far short of twelve, and
proportionately larger in circumference. Sometimes during winter,
when ring snakes are scarce, ‘Ophio’ is compelled to fast; for, as
related p. 62, he is not to be tempted with other food. During the
first year of his residence in the Gardens, the supply was good, and
he ate no less than eighty-two fellow-creatures before the winter was
well over. Towards spring, however, the supply ran short, and only two
more remained for him. He had now fasted two entire weeks, and looked
hungry and eager. The keeper offered him a guinea-pig, at which he
took great offence, spreading his hood and hissing angrily for a long
while. Eggs he declined, also a lizard and a rat, in great disgust. In
India the Ophiophagi are said to feed on lizards and fish occasionally,
but _our_ Ophiophagus preferred to fast. At last one of the two ring
snakes was produced, and Ophio was to be regaled. It was the 31st of
March 1876, and he had been a denizen of the Gardens just one year. My
notebook informs me that it was a lovely, soft spring day, and that
Ophio was quite lively. He had rejected frogs on his own account, but
in the uncertainty of more ring snakes arriving, he was now decoyed
into eating half a dozen. Holland contrived that the snake destined for
his dinner should answer the purpose of a feast, and had allowed it to
eat as many frogs as it chose. Like the poor wretch who, doomed to the
gallows, is permitted to fare sumptuously the last morning of his life,
the ring snake ate three frogs, by which the Ophiophagus was to derive
chief benefit; he, all unconscious of the cause of his victim’s unusual
plumpness, swallowing him speedily.

Soon after this Ophio doffed his winter coat entire, and having again
fasted for ten days, was at once rewarded by the last remaining ring
snake in a similarly plethoric condition, namely, with three more frogs
inside him. Now and then during the winter months the scarcity of
ring snakes has compelled the sacrifice of some far rarer colubers to
Ophio’s cannibal tastes. And yet each year we hear of hundreds of ring
snakes being ruthlessly killed in country districts, while at great
cost and trouble others are purchased or brought from the Continent for
the Hamadryad’s sustenance. Lord Lilford, one of the Ophidarium’s best
patrons, sometimes sends presents of game in the shape of ring snakes
to the Hamadryad.

While watching this snake-eater over his dinner, one is struck with the
remarkable tenacity of life exhibited in the victim, or the slow action
of the venom if poisoned in the first grasp. The Ophiophagus seizes it
anywhere, that is, at whichever part happens to come first, and then,
after holding it quietly for a time, works his jaws up to the head
in the usual hand-over-hand, or ‘jaw-after-jaw’ fashion, invariably
swallowing the snake head first. On one occasion when I watched
attentively, Ophio, having seized a ring snake by the middle, held it
doggedly still for one quarter of an hour, while the lesser snake did
its very best to work its way out of the jaws, and also to fetter his
captor by twirling itself over his head and coiling round his neck.
This continued while Ophio, with his head and neck raised, remained
motionless, and after the quarter of an hour commenced to work his
jaws up towards the head of the ring snake, which, as more and more of
its own body was free for action, twirled itself about, and at length
coiled its tail round the bit of branch nailed into the cage.

Persistently, like a sailor making his vessel fast to the windlass, the
ring snake lashed as much of himself as was free round the branch a
foot off, and so pulled and pulled till he looked in danger of severing
himself in two. Meanwhile Ophio, slowly but surely advancing, caused
its head and neck to disappear, grasping tightly with his venomous
jaws, as if he would say, ‘We’ll see who is master.’ It was a close
tussle, so firmly did the little coluber retain his hold on the ‘tree;’
but as the upper part of him was gradually drawn into those unrelaxing
jaws, he by degrees gave way, and by and by was gone.

Not far short of an hour was occupied in this meal, during which the
victim showed no signs of being poisoned, nor were his coils round the
stump relaxed in the slightest degree, till Ophio reached the tail. The
ring snake is not a constrictor, yet he thus tied himself round the
tree by the coils of his tail.

One more singular case of tenacity of life must be recorded. A ring
snake had been caught in the usual way, and the usual struggle ensued
between captor and captive. Coluber, with its head tightly gripped in
the jaws of his enemy, had still all the rest of himself at liberty
and in full activity, and after wriggling a violent protest, he coiled
what was left of himself so closely round the neck of his persecutor
that the latter made little or no progress with his dinner for a time.
He seemed to be deliberating how to proceed next, and asking, ‘What is
the meaning of this?’ then shook his head, lowered it to the shingle,
and tried to rub off the coils. The only result thus achieved was that
the extreme end of coluber’s tail was loosened for a moment, but only
to coil afresh round Ophio’s jaws, which nevertheless slowly and surely

For nearly an hour the progress was very slow; but when the ring snake
was all swallowed except a few inches of tail, these became so tight a
muzzle that Ophio in turn was the victim. Shaking his head and vainly
endeavouring to free his jaws of this muzzle, a minute or two elapsed,
during which he seemed to suffer some discomfort, when suddenly his
mouth opened widely, and out crawled Natrix, apparently none the worse
for this temporary entombment. He had turned round when two or three
feet from daylight, and come back to see the world once more. But it so
happened that Ophio closed his jaws in time over the few inches of tail
which still remained between them. Nor did he once relax his grasp of
this, but quickly and patiently began to work his way up to the head
and recommence his meal, and this time with better success. An hour
and a quarter I watched, nor was any evidence of poison seen, so as to
reduce the powers of the bitten snake for bitten it must have been in
those prolonged and forcible grasps.

In these conflicts one could but observe a dogged stupidity on the part
of the venomous snake, who, had he but brought coils to his aid, might
have simplified matters so easily. The little Heterodons and even the
Lacertines often assist themselves with coils in managing their prey,
though not themselves constrictors but the venomous ones have not the
slightest notion of helping themselves in this way, as if confident
that in time their venom would do its work. In self-protection,
however, we have seen that a rattlesnake can coil, p.394.

This Ophiophagus has caused to vanish, on an average, not far short
of a hundred snakes per annum since his arrival in England, say seven
hundred in all. In his native haunts, actively moving and climbing
amidst plenty of other snakes, one might multiply the consumption by
at least three, and give to the Hamadryads the credit of assisting
Government in exterminating snakes to the extent of 300 each per annum.
These snakes, therefore, should be much prized by the Government
snake-exterminators, and in reward for services rendered, have their
own lives spared. They are not very common, nor very obtrusive; and we
do not hear of so many deaths laid to their charge as to cobras and
Bungari. So long as you do not molest their nests or their young, they
get out of your way; but for all that, they might be turned to very
good account as snake consumers.

So might some in Australia and in South America, and elsewhere; for
although this especial Hamadryad usurps the name of ‘Snake-eater,’
there are Ophiophagi in many parts of the world. They are chiefly
_Elapidæ_. Probably on account of the small head and slender form of
these snakes, a fellow-creature is more convenient to swallow than an
animal all joints and elbows, and fur-covered. Many snakes are also
involuntarily or rather unintentionally cannibals, as in the case of
the Tropidonoti, when two seize the same frog, or the python swallowing
Geoptyas (p. 38). In such cases the swallower does not first seize his
comrade with the intention of devouring him; but both having hold on
a meal which neither chooses to relinquish, it is a mere question of
which one first reaches the jaws of the other, and which pair of jaws
happens to be most widely extended. A case is recorded in _Nature_,
March 8th, 1877, of a Mr. L. Heiligbrodt in Texas capturing an
unusually thick ‘Water moccasin’ (_Ancistrodon pugnax_), and on opening
it finding a large ‘Copper-head’ (_Ancistrodon contortrix_), recently

This was ‘the only case on record,’ for it is very unusual for the
_Crotalidæ_ to eat each other; and very probably, in this instance, the
cause was a mutual meal. ‘Moccasins’ (_Tropidonoti_) at the Gardens
sometimes have such a hard grip on each other as to fetch blood. I
once saw two of these rearing themselves high in their scuffle for
the unhappy frog of which both had equal hold. The keeper was obliged
to administer corporeal reproof, which caused one of them to let go,
when the other swallowed the frog almost at one gulp, as you might
swallow an oyster. Nor do they invariably turn the frog round to
swallow it head first. This is done if the frog is likely to escape.
These so-called ‘moccasins’ are of a very pugnacious disposition. One
of them once startled me by dashing at me through the glass, with
such violence that I thought the glass would have been broken. I was
doing nothing whatever to alarm it, and I knew the snakes quite well.
But in that angry mood its aspect seemed so changed, that I asked the
keeper if that were a new snake and a venomous one, which it certainly
resembled at the moment. I may here mention that Professor Brown Goode
(who presided over the ‘American Science Convention on Snakes’) once
caught a _Tropidonotus fasciatus_ in Florida, which was so like the
‘dreaded moccasin’ (_Ancistrodon piscivorus_), that not until he had
examined the mouth and found it was harmless could he identify it.
These _Tropidonoti_ have been known to take raw meat occasionally; so
has the Xenodon, and so has a rattlesnake at the Gardens. Indeed, of
one of these the keeper said, ‘It will eat any dead thing;’ and he
found it convenient sometimes to give it a rat or a guinea-pig which a
neighbouring snake had killed by poisoning, but not eaten. The Crotalus
in such cases imbibed some foreign venom with his dinner. One Crotalus
at the Gardens would eat only rats, others prefer guinea-pigs.

‘Look at that rat!’ exclaimed a lady to her friend, when the keeper
gave the rattlesnake a good-sized guinea-pig.

‘I think it must be a rabbit; it is too big for a rat,’ returned the

Before they could decide this zoological question, it lay dead. The
rattlesnake struck it and left it. It gave one gasp, fell over, and
in half a minute was dead. Another day a guinea-pig was six minutes
dying, but on this occasion the rattlesnake had expended some of its
venom in angrily striking the iron rod with which the keeper was moving
something in the cage. When the guinea-pig seemed to be dead, the
Crotalus, after eyeing and smelling it all over, that is, investigating
it with its tongue as if to be assured, was about to take it, when the
little animal had one slight spasm more, and the snake darted back its
head and rapidly retreated. Watching them as I have done for years,
I am still undecided whether excessive timidity or their low order
of intelligence is paramount in the rattlesnakes. They are so slow
and sluggish of movement, that those accustomed to them hold them in
tolerable contempt. I have seen Holland watch his opportunity, open
the cage, and put his hand in to snatch away a guinea-pig to give to
another snake if the Crotalus did not want it.

‘They always coil before striking,’ is often said. They certainly take
time to think about an attack and to make ready by having plenty of
coils—slack rope, as it were—at their command, in order to reach
their aim, the ‘always coiling’ not truly meaning that they wind
themselves round and round as a sailor coils a rope, with their head
in the middle. The ‘coiling’ has been thus described by persons with
‘unscientific imaginations;’ but having its head in the centre of such
a coil, the snake would _not_ easily reach its object. Often the coils
are like those of ‘Totsey’ when taking her choice of a bird, having
loose folds near the head, which is always _forward_ in readiness for
the attack.

Excellent opportunities of observing the relative venoms present
themselves in zoological collections—not only the degrees of poison
seen in the different serpents, but the effects produced by one serpent
at different times. Of those species when in full vigour there is no
doubt but that the South American rattlesnake (_Crotalus horridus_) is
one of the most virulent. Sometimes this species will strike at a young
rabbit or a guinea-pig, and death is almost instantaneous. One such
instance was observed when a rattlesnake struck a guinea-pig on the
head, the little animal falling as if shot, and in such a flash of time
that Holland examined it to ascertain the cause, and ‘its brains had
turned quite green directly.’

‘A new rattlesnake’ was introduced in the autumn of 1873. Not new to
science, but this, I regret to find, is all that my notebook records
in heading some observations made September 26th of that year, ‘a very
warm day’ for the season. A guinea-pig was put into the cage, when
the snake (I _think_ it was _Crotalus durissus_) approached its head
closely and stealthily till quite near to the little animal, shrinking
back at the slightest movement on the part of the guinea-pig, which sat
staring and blinking in a corner. Each time the snake recoiled, even
at a blink, it kept its eyes fixed in alarm on the piggy, who stupidly
returned the gaze, not knowing what to make of the snake or of the
people so close to him. By and by the snake, regaining courage, again
ventured nearer, and again when nearly close started back at a slight
movement of the guinea-pig. Three times a similar approach was made
before the snake ventured to strike, betraying its extreme caution and
timidity. As soon as struck, the guinea-pig was convulsed, and falling
on its side was dead in three minutes.

Rats do not succumb to the poison nearly so quickly as rabbits,
guinea-pigs, and birds.

Another guinea-pig struck by a rattlesnake immediately fell over on its
side, and died, panting hard, in _about_ three minutes. One could not
discern the precise moment of its last gasp; but in this case there
were no convulsive jerkings of the limbs.

The rattlesnakes always strike and then recede quickly, keeping a
stealthy watch over their prey until it is perfectly still, often
much longer. Puff adders and some others of the African vipers,
on the contrary, retain their hold after biting. Cobras sometimes
strike and retain their hold, and sometimes let the prey go and wait
for it to die. On a small creature the effect of Puff-adder venom
is instantaneous; and a remarkable difference is observable between
the effect on a timid victim and on a rat. One of these adders ate a
sparrow alive August 20, 1874, that is, struck and held it, swallowing
it so quickly that it had not time to die. A sparrow is, however, a
very small prey for so large a serpent. Another Puff adder, about to
cast its coat, bit a guinea-pig, which was rapidly convulsed, as with
spasms, accompanied by sharp jerkings of the limbs for nearly five
minutes, when it became motionless. In this case the charge of venom
might be feeble. In September of that year a Puff adder (I think the
same as the last named) bit a rat, which at first ran about trying
to escape, going close to the viper, as if unconscious of an enemy,
and apparently unharmed during the first minute. Then it became aware
of pain, and began to lash its tail, whisking it round and round in
a frantic manner. Then one of its hind legs kicked out, probably the
bitten limb, jerking violently for a time, and the rat lay helpless
thus for about two minutes. In four minutes from the bite it gasped,
and continued to gasp harder and harder for nearly three minutes more.
It then bled at the mouth. The Puff adder then bit it again, when,
after two or three more minutes, it leaped violently in convulsions
from the effect of the second bite. The convulsions became gradually
less; but fully twenty minutes elapsed, in spite of a double charge of
venom, before the rat was dead. In all similar cases I noticed that
rats were very tenacious of life. A guinea-pig has been killed in five
seconds from the bite of a Puff adder.

On the same day, a ‘nose-horned viper’ (_Vipera nasicornis_) struck a
rabbit, which immediately ran and started spasmodically, panting as if
astonished and wondering what had hurt him. Then he leaped into the
well at the back of the cage, but in that short moment was too feeble
to crawl back again. He attempted to run, but sank quickly. Being out
of sight, it was impossible to state the exact moment in which it died,
but the whole was in less than two minutes. These vipers are no doubt
intensely virulent. Another day one of them with a bad swelled face
from abscess bit a guinea-pig, which in thirty seconds fell over on its
side. It squeaked convulsively the moment it was bitten, and several
times afterwards. It lay motionless for half a minute, appearing to be
dead, but gave one slight start afterwards, and was perfectly still
before three minutes expired.

In stating these periods of time decisively, it is by the watch. When I
did not keep my watch in hand, I do not state the time so positively.

Between those larger African vipers, when all are in full vigour, there
would appear to be not much difference in power of bite. A ‘River Jack’
(_Vipera rhinoceros_) struck a guinea-pig, holding it in his mouth till
dead, which was in less than two minutes. Poor little piggy struggled
convulsively the first few moments as if in pain; then only gasped as
if labouring to breathe, but soon was insensible.

The poison of _Cenchris piscivorus_, though a much slighter snake,
seems as potent as that of the rattlesnake. One of these struck
a guinea-pig—the action being so swift that some of us who were
attentively observing were not sure that the animal had been bitten
at all, except from the instantaneous effects, the guinea-pig leaping
frantically and dashing itself about for a few seconds; then it sank
gasping heavily, and kicking convulsively, until in a few minutes
life was extinct. Some of the creatures live ten minutes, others not
ten seconds. I was glad to observe that in most cases insensibility
rapidly overcame them. And without exception, it was observable that
of the two—the snake or the destined food—the first named was by far
the most alarmed, or ‘charmed.’ In the actions of the little creatures
thrown into the cages, there was a fearless, unsuspicious freedom, when
once they had recovered the surprise of finding themselves suddenly
there instead of in a dark box. Rabbits hop about and over the snakes,
and then sit up and clean themselves. Birds plume themselves and look
about to see what they can pick up, perching upon the snake as if it
were a log of wood. Rats run hither and thither to find something to
eat, and then wash _their_ faces. Many of the little animals run over
the snakes, quite unconscious of their being live enemies, or force
their noses under them, to the evident alarm and discomfort of the
Ophidian, should he be disinclined to move. Sometimes, if faint and
languid, and huddled together in a corner, it is because they—the
victims—are oppressed with the closeness of the cage and the vitiated
air, but quite apart from any ‘spell’ or magnetic influence. They may
stare at the serpent that is staring at them, and as they stare in
alarm at the people, but they have never seen a python, a puff adder,
or a rattlesnake before in their lives, and have not the slightest idea
that they are going to be eaten by one. And for this reason you so
often see the startled and surprised look the moment of being struck.
Thus far they have been unconscious of danger; and when a shock does
come, it is incomprehensible, because instinct does not guide them
under the circumstances.

On account of the excessive timidity of cobras, it is seldom that they
can be observed when feeding, which is frequently in the night, or
‘when no one is looking,’ to repeat the keeper’s words; but the little
Indian viper (_Echis carinata_) should not be omitted in these notes,
because there is difference of opinion regarding its virulence. Being
one of the smallest vipers, only from sixteen to eighteen inches in
length, one would argue extraordinary power from effects seen. A friend
who had resided in India expressed great astonishment on hearing it
said that a cobra was supposed to be more deadly than this one, known
as the ‘carpet viper’ or the ‘whip snake,’ which, he said, could kill
a man in a half-hour, and that he had seen men thus die. ‘If a cobra
bite you, you have at least four or five hours to live,’ he said;
‘but half an hour for the whip snake, and you are a dead man.’ The
individual brought to the Gardens in 1875 died the day after it gave
birth to three young ones. While alive it ate nothing, and, as it was
then thought, because it had not its natural food, Dr. Günther having
discovered nothing but _scolopendræ_ in the specimens which he had
examined. Now it would be interesting to discover whether, as Aristotle
affirmed, the bites of all venomous animals are more pernicious if
they have devoured each other, or if snakes have devoured scorpions,
and whether the toxic powers of the little Echis are aggravated by the
venomous food it evidently prefers at home. ‘In India is a certain
little serpent for the bite of which alone the natives have no remedy,’
said Aristotle; and one can scarcely err in deciding this to be the
Echis, being not only the smallest venomous snake there, but the only
viper, except Russell’s viper, a much larger snake.

Only twice could I observe the toxic effects of the _Echis carinata_ at
present (1882) in the collection; both cases being in hot weather. It
has so far conformed to circumstances in England, as to consent to dine
on small white mice, failing scorpions. In the first case it struck
the mouse savagely as soon as it was dropped into the cage, and the
mouse died in less than two minutes. Echis approached it stealthily
and timidly, but having at last got courage to seize it, ate it very
quickly; and as the snake moved and dragged it, the mouse appeared
to be quite stiff in that short time. On the second occasion, it bit
a mouse on the leg, and it was five minutes dying. At first only the
leg was paralyzed; then a spasm followed, and the mouse fell over and
lay extended flat and still as if dead; but presently a spasmodic
convulsion followed. It again appeared to be dead, and the little viper
approached; but on a very slight spasm receded swiftly, not once taking
its eyes off the mouse, which was dying slowly. The viper was at least
five minutes swallowing this, and as if it did not much care about it.
One must argue, therefore, that the charge of venom had been scantily
expended, as the difference between this and the previous victim was
remarkable. Echis poison has been seen to take instantaneous effect.
The small _Vipera atropos_ from the South African mountains is also
astoundingly virulent. One in the collection in 1881 struck a mouse as
soon as it arrived, and death occurred in fifty seconds by the watch.
A large store of poison must have accumulated during its journey and
since its previous meal.

One more African snake must be mentioned before I conclude the painful
duty of describing the inevitable—though happily short—sufferings
inflicted by venomous serpents.

Three young _Najas_, the well-known _Ring Halsschlange_ of South
Africa, were brought in the spring of, I think, 1877. They were very
black and very shy, and for a long while one could see nothing more
of them than three little heads in a row peeping out from under
their blanket, and watching with their large round black eyes, but
vanishing like a shot at your approach. ‘They cut away the moment you
go near them,’ said the keeper. When they did give us an opportunity
of looking at them, we found that one was quite black, and another
was speckled with white; they erected their heads and distended their
necks defiantly. Their eyes had a white rim round them, and were bright
and undeniably beautiful, even though belonging to a venomous snake.
Whether because they were young and inexperienced, or naturally stupid,
I could not decide but of all the snakes none ever went so awkwardly
to work in feeding, or put their victims to such unnecessary torture,
as did these ridiculous little _Najas_. The feeding observations were
made in August, when they had grown considerably, and had become
accustomed to their home. They seemed to bite the prey anywhere without
much effect, sometimes retaining it in their mouth, and at other times
beginning at once to eat it. One frog was ten minutes from the time
it was struck until it was swallowed, and for no reason beyond the
feeder’s awkwardness. The little snake began at a hind leg, and not
being able to get the frog into its mouth, put it down and began again
at the side, but with no better result, the legs being in the way. Then
he gave it up and let the frog go, and presently his comrade struck
the half-dead thing and took five minutes to eat it. One might decide
from this that frogs were not their natural food; but with very young
sparrows the same mismanagement was observable. The bird was awkwardly
bitten on the tip of the wing, and the snake held it helplessly for
a quarter of an hour while the bird was struggling violently. Not
getting good hold, the snake put it down and began again, so that the
poor little sparrow was twenty minutes in being swallowed, gasping to
the last, and evidently only very feebly poisoned. One of the Najas bit
his companion, and held on for about ten minutes, and for no reason
whatever that one could discern. In no other venomous snakes have I
seen such prolonged suffering caused by such stupidity or bungling
as in those young African ‘Ring Hals.’ Their fangs are, however,
exceedingly short, as I found on examining a dead one, and this may
account for the slow effect of them.

Three other heads were often seen in a row peeping out, but belonging
to harmless ‘glass snakes,’ and there was intelligence in their looks;
for they recognised the keeper, and advanced to the glass whenever he
passed, asking for their dinner as plainly as little snakes could ask.
A _Heterodon_ exhibited equal intelligence when it was dinner-time,
and sprang at the glass when he saw the keeper coming. Some of the
pythons display intelligence too, on feeding days, but of quite an
epicure form. One day in May 1876, on remarking that the pythons were
disinclined to eat, Holland said ‘they were waiting for young ducks,’
only elderly birds being in their cage at the time. Even in summer they
don’t eat the old ducks so eagerly, because the large, hard quills
annoy them. A bunch of these quills passes undigested. Hair or feathers
in a desiccated mass pass through the snakes, and occasionally, when
they are not in health, digestible but undigested substances too, also
the beaks of the ducks.

Vegetable substances have been found in snakes, from which it has been
argued that they sometimes eat vegetables. But it rather argues that
they don’t digest vegetables, which have probably been swallowed in the
stomach of a rabbit or some other herbivorous animal that they have

An indifference to food was noticeable in the snakes in ungenial
weather. One cold, raw, foggy day in October 1873, a python caught
a duck and partially coiled it, but so feebly that the bird, after
passively submitting for a time, at last disengaged her feet and walked
away to shake herself, and then turn and stare as if to discover what
possibly had kept her there.

A similar disinclination to exert themselves was seen that same chilly
day in the largest cage, where were three large pythons. One of them
having killed a duck, could not get a satisfactory hold of its head,
and let go repeatedly. Another held a duck, but not to crush it or
hurt it; for it, like the one above named, only gazed deliberately
around, and as if asking the meaning of its detention. A third duck
was put into the den for the third python, who, however, only lazily
stared at it and made no attempt to seize it; while the bird gazed in
astonishment at the one in the embrace of the other snake, as if to
inquire, ‘What are you doing there?’ Presently this duck also got away,
and was again caught and only partially coiled. The python seemed too
large and fat to constrict so small a thing as a duck. It was like
tying up a pill-box with a rope. Some of the spectators expressed
satisfaction that the duck was not more tightly coiled, and hoped it
would succeed in getting away (the duck was not worth two shillings,
the python could not be bought for twenty pounds), and were far more
horrified when a vigorous constrictor caught and killed its prey in
one flash, as when an extended watch-spring flies back to its original
position. But a half-constricted creature does suffer, and happily
this does not often occur, the chilly weather that day diminishing
ophidian energy considerably. A gentleman, disappointed because they
did not eat, and wishing to assign some reason for such unaccountable
abstinence, remarked to his friend, ‘I have an idea they sting

Watching these gigantic ophidians on one of those half-wintry days,
it happened that two of them were lazily gliding, partially hidden by
their blanket, and with neither heads nor tails visible, so that the
two bodies seemed as only one snake. Two youths stood watching and
vainly endeavouring to calculate the numbers of feet or of yards which
were entwined and entwisted in those moving coils. Portions and loops
of two other pythons in the same cage were visible beyond the rug, but
only one head of all the four snakes was to be seen; and to distinguish
to which of the gliding, shining curves that head belonged, was
impossible. ‘It seems to me that snake’s such a length that he doesn’t
know the other part belongs to him,’ remarked one boy to his friend.

‘I don’t think he knows where it is,’ returned the other boy

Not a little are the keepers sometimes tried in replying to the
inquiries of visitors desirous of improving their minds. Let me repeat
one or two conversations overheard on those Fridays.

‘Is that duck put in there for the snake to eat?’ asked a respectably
dressed man of the keeper on one of those autumnal days, when a duck
sat pluming itself as if settling itself for the evening.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied the keeper.

‘Will he swallow it whole?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Choke him! I should think?’

‘No, sir; no—it won’t choke him.’

The man studied the duck, and studied the size of the python’s head
and throat for some time. The duck apparently going to rest, but not
quite reconciled at so many persons intruding upon her, the man looked
disappointed, and again began:

‘Now is that duck charmed, sitting there?’

‘I should think, sir, she was not at all charmed with the prospect,’
sedately replied Holland.

‘Does that duck _know_ it’s going to be eaten?’ then inquired the man
after fresh scrutiny.

‘No, sir,’ returned the keeper with the utmost gravity.

‘That snake don’t seem to be hungry,’ then said the disappointed

‘No, sir. He’ll eat well enough next Friday. He’s going to change his

‘Oh!’ said the man to a boy by his side, satisfied, though still rather
puzzled, ‘that snake’s going to change his skin next Friday.’

Though there are always on an average fifty snakes in the Reptile
House, and on an average each casts its coat three times a year, the
visitors are for the most part much mystified about this phenomenon.
A snake that had just completed a new toilet had a portion of the old
slough still adhering to its tail, when a boy drew attention to it,
saying, ‘Papa, that snake is all ragged and torn on its tail.’

‘Yes, my dear, it is casting its tail.’ Papa must have been reading
Aristotle, who wrote: ‘Tails, also, of serpents and lizards when cut
off are reproduced.’ With regard to the reproduction of their eyes,
Aristotle spake more cautiously. ‘It is reported that the eyes of
serpents, if dug out, will be reproduced.’ But, on the contrary, the
eyes of snakes are easily injured, and _not_ easily healed; snakes are
therefore frequently seen partially blind. As need scarcely be said,
only lizards ‘reproduce’ a tail that has been accidentally abridged;
and the repair is after all only a boneless one. The truncated member
gradually heals, and by and by a short point is again formed, but can
always be recognised as a repaired, and not the original, tail; and
as far as I have been able to observe, viz. for three or four months,
no bone was reproduced. Probably also a snake’s tail might heal in
the same way, and to a casual observer appear quite perfect; but the
anatomical structure in either case would not, I imagine, be restored.

That boy was not far wrong when he said he thought the python did not
know which was its own tail. At all events, it is not endowed with much
external sensation, as one might judge by the way in which the rats and
guinea-pigs take liberties with it. This must be owing to the thickness
of the cuticle, because, as we have seen in the constricting snakes,
there is keen muscular sensibility in the tail. I may cite an instance
of each case. One day a young rabbit caught hold of a small python
with its teeth and held firmly on. The reptile was moving across the
cage, and did not appear to feel any hindrance. Indeed, being much the
stronger of the two, the persistent bunny was compelled to hop along at
the same pace, still holding on by its teeth. But presently, from the
position of the snake, the rabbit was obliged to let go, when it next
caught hold of the tip of the python’s tail, and again holding tight,
hopped after the retreating reptile as if enjoying the joke. In this
case I do not think the snake was conscious of the insult, as perhaps
the rabbit had hold of the skin only.

On the other occasion a guinea-pig was biting a coiled and passive
constrictor, _Python sebœ_. The snake wished to be quiet, but piggy
got among its coils and worried it, hopping over it and biting its
tail. The python on this, moving only the end of its tail, pushed away
the guinea-pig, which soon returned to the attack. The snake again
gave the little animal a caudal hint that his fidgeting was annoying;
but as the guinea-pig did not take the hint, and still nibbled and
teased the snake, the latter with two coils of the tail put an end
to the annoyance, not once turning its head, but just tucking up its
persecutor in the end of its tail as you might tuck up a parcel under
your arm. The python was not hungry, and took no more notice of the
offender, though thus effectually punishing the offence with the last
two feet of its practical tail. Could we suppose such a quality as
muscular intelligence, we might think the tails of those constricting
snakes were surely endowed with it. As in other instances already
described in chaps. xi. and xii., the eyes took no part in directing
the movements of the snake; the whole nine or ten feet of the animal
remaining passively coiled, while only the extremity of the tail
exerted itself. When reptiles are in a partially torpid condition,
their sensations are slow; when hibernating, they are reduced to a
minimum. At such times, the creatures being half dead, they may be
maimed or injured without any apparent effect. Rats have been known to
attack and nibble snakes under these circumstances, and even to eat
bits out of them, the snakes being at the time unconscious of injury,
though possibly dying from the after effects.

A good deal of very interesting matter might be added on the economics
of the reptilian _ménage_, the mode of ventilating and warming it, the
cost of its larder, and the best means of preserving the health of the
inmates. There are, besides, some incidental experiences not devoid
of sensationalism in connection with snake guardianship, but my own
herpetological experience does not extend beyond the keeping of pet
lizards, including blindworms. I may add a word, however, in reply to
some often-heard lamentations of disappointed spectators who object to
the coverlets, after sometimes waiting in vain to see the snakes emerge
from beneath them.

‘Those horrid blankets! Why not give the snakes moss or hay in their
cages? or turf and sand and dead leaves? Much more natural for them
than those woollen rugs.’

I, too, may have echoed such plaints until a better comprehension of
ophidian nature showed the wisdom of what is certainly a somewhat
disappointing arrangement. And those who have honoured these pages
with a patient perusal, and discovered the nervous timidity and
sensitiveness of these reptiles, their proneness to reject or to
disgorge their food, to injure themselves or each other when molested,
not to mention the danger of meddling with the venomous kinds and
the easy escape of the swifter snakes, will admit the importance of
providing them with such retreat and shelter as can be most speedily
arranged, and which will secure the least annoyance to the terrified
serpents while the keepers are doing their best to preserve order and

The allusion to lizards tempts me to add a word or two on the
exceptional species which has lately become an inmate of our Zoological
Gardens. There are certain features in it so much in common with
viperine snakes, that I may be pardoned for dragging a lizard into
these pages. I allude to the Heloderm (_Heloderma horridum_) from
Mexico, presented to the Zoological Society in July 1882 by Sir John
Lubbock. Its advent was an event in reptilian annals; and being
surrounded by a halo of curiosity, it claims a passing notice. We have
been at some pains to exonerate saurians from the evil character which
our ancestors were apt to give them; but suddenly—and to the surprise
of even some herpetological authorities—there comes a lizard that with
one grip of his jaws caused a frog to fall dead in a moment, and a
guinea-pig in three minutes, the symptoms appearing to be the same as
those produced by deadly snakes. The Heloderm is ‘said’ to be furnished
with poison glands in both jaws! But until a dead specimen has been
further examined and described, the signification of ‘poison gland’
must be restricted. Its teeth—many and strong—are grooved with a deep
furrow; its salivary glands are largely developed; and under excitement
a thick, acrid secretion flows abundantly from its jaws. Yet so far as
present observations enable us to form an opinion, the reptile does
not use these formidable teeth to secure its prey, or even in feeding.
It did not devour the victims of its bite, nor has it since killed any
creature for the express purpose of eating it. Up to the date at which
I write (Oct. 1882), eggs have formed its chief diet, varied by an
occasional dead mouse. Now it certainly does not require deeply-grooved
teeth and venomous saliva to bite raw eggs and dead mice. Nor does
the noxious secretion flow continuously from its gums in repose, but
abundantly so when irritated.

Though a stranger in England, this lizard was known more than two
hundred years ago. Hernandez, in his _Nova Animalium Mexicanum_,
published at Rome in 1651, described its bite as ‘hurtful, but not
deadly;’ and that it was ‘more dreadful in appearance than reality.’
Its Mexican name, _Acaltetepon_, is (or was then) applied to all large
and suspicious-looking lizards. _Scorpione_ is its modern name. As
_Heloderma horridum_ was awarded plenty of space in the journals at
the time of its arrival, full accounts of it will be found elsewhere;
it is introduced here merely as one of the venomous reptiles that form
the chief subjects of this chapter, and to trace its analogy with them.
In its slow, stealthy movements there is the same striking contrast
between the Heloderm and most other lizards, that there is between the
deadly vipers and the active colubrine snakes; and the inquiry suggests
itself, Can the venom elaborated in their system so act upon themselves
as to produce this habitual lethargy? Drowsiness and coma are almost
invariable effects of snake venom in the blood, and why is it that the
deadly serpents are so constitutionally different from others? The
Heloderm has a round, heavy tail, of no service to it in swimming,
and short, weak fingers, ill suited to climbing; and it passes its
lethargic existence on the sandy plains of Mexico, manifesting in its
actions, or rather in its inactivity and stealthiness, a conscious
timidity and cowardice. Motionless for hours, with an impulse to
retreat if molested, but attempting to bite if angered, its noxious
saliva would seem to be rather protective than aggressive. It may have
formidable enemies at home; and by all we see of it here, it does not
use its teeth as a means of obtaining food. In this respect, therefore,
it is an exception to deadly serpents, and cannot take its venom into
its stomach as they do. And, again, the remarkable development of its
tongue suggests a peculiarity of food. In lapping the egg, the action
of it is apparently perfected by practice; the tongue is twisted,
extended, twined under, then over, now used as a shovel, a scoop, or a
broom, as occasion requires. It is the very reverse of what I noticed
in some other lizards feebly lapping up an egg (see p. 71), for in a
most expeditious manner does Heloderm cause its raw eggs to disappear.

A word _à propos_ of its name _horridum_, supposed by many to refer
to its objectionable qualities. Unfortunately the word ‘horrid’ has
almost entirely lost its original signification and become mere slang
in English. But when Wiegmann assigned it the name of _Heloderma
horridum_ in 1829, ‘horrid’ was understood according to its original
meaning, from _horridus_, rough, rugged, etc.; and as this reptile has
a remarkable skin, dotted over with little prominences, like knobs
or warts (hence its generic name, _Heloderma_, warty skin), there
can be but little doubt as to the intention of _horridum_. In a
communication to _Knowledge_ (Sept. 29), I ventured to call this the
‘Warty-skinned Lizard,’ in consequence of the confused accounts of it
which have appeared in print. There are several other warty-skinned or
‘tuberculous lizards.’ The specific _horridus_, as applied to the South
American Crotalus, also signified its terrible or dreadful character,
and not the ‘horrid’ which spectators apply indiscriminately to snakes
and their blankets.

With the rapid advance of ophiology comes the splendid new home for
snakes which will shortly grace our Zoological Gardens; and in taking
leave of my readers, I cannot offer them a kinder wish than that their
visits there to _observe_ the snakes will be productive to them of as
much pleasure as has been mine to describe them.



 Am., American; Ass., Association; Br., British; co., cobra; Con.,
 Convention; cons., constrictor; cro., crotalus; cy., cyclopædia;
 C.M.Z.S., Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society; F.Z., Fellow
 of the Zoological Society; hist., history; nat., natural; N.Y., New
 York; py., python; Soc., Society; s., snake; ss., snakes; ser.,
 serpent; v., viper; vs., vipers; U.S., United States; z., zoological;
 Z.G., Zoological Gardens; Trans., Transactions; Proc., Proceedings.


  ‘=Aberfoyle=’ (the barque), sea-ser. seen from, 249.

  =Abnormal= development, of teeth, 67;
    of sea-sers., 265, _et seq._;
    of hair, 302;
    two heads, 189.

  =Abnormal=, health in captivity, 84, 440, 450, 457, 565;
    gestation, 437, 439, _et seq._, 459, 466, 505.

  =Academy= of Sciences, Paris, 444.

  _Acaltetepon_, the, 590.

  ‘=Account=, of the Beasts in Virginia’, 280;
    of the rattlesnake, 275.

  =Acrobats=, 181, 196, 198, 214, _et seq._, 219, 239, 472, _et seq._

  =Adaptation=, of organization, 70, 135;
    of habits to temperature, 159, _et seq._ (_see_ hibernation);
    of coils, 200, 204;
    of ribs in progression, 207;
    of form, 215.

  =Adaptive= development, of head bones, 31, 34;
    of spine bones, 70;
    of windpipe, 132;
    of salivary glands, 342, 350, 537, 557;
    of teeth, 348, 350, 364, 408.

  =Adipose= tissue, 394.

  =Admiralty=, the, report of a sea-ser. to, 255, 259.

  =Advance= of Ophiology, 3, 21, 75, 81, 191, 273, 353, 363, 372, 443,
      485, 515, _et seq._

  =Ælian=, an error traced to, 191.

  =Æsculapius=, his remedies, 522.

  =Africa=, range of sea-s., 236.

  =Air-bladder=, the, 262.

  =Air-breathers=, 44, 146, 222, 265.

  =Air-tube=, 132, 135, 137, _et seq._ (_see_ glottis, respiration).

  ‘=Albert= Nyanza’, the, 358.

  =Alceste=, Voyage of the, 111, _et seq._

  =Alcohol= a popular remedy, 548, _et seq._

  =Aldrovandus=, 102;
    his work, 272.

  =Alexander= the Great, 407 (_see Bucephalus_).

  =Alligators=, 43, 261.

  =Amazon=, the Jararaca, 421;
    Wallace’s ‘Travels in’, _ib._;
    anaconda from, 455.

  ‘=American= Agriculturist’, the, 485.

  =American= Ass. for the Advancement of Science, 485, _et seq._, 572;
    secretary to, 490.

  =American= colonies, the, 284.

  ‘=American= Naturalist’, the, 93, 151, 308, 310, 450, 485, _et seq._,
    editor of, 485 (_see_ Putnam).

  =American= sea-ser., 252.

  =Ammonia= an approved remedy, 533, 547.

  _Amphibia_, the, 46.

  =Amsterdam=, py. at, 437.

  =Anatomy=, of head, 30;
    of jaws, 31, 34;
    of the spine, 209;
    of the rattlesnake, 275.

  ‘=Anatomy= of the Vertebrates’, 67, 119, 131, 143, 147, 180, 184, 196,
      _et seq._, 212, 336 (_see_ Owen).

  ‘=Anecdotes= of Serpents’, 216, 523.

  ‘=Animal= Biography’, 134.

  =Animal= kingdom, 51.

  ‘=Animal= Physiology’, 147, 210 (_see_ Carpenter).

  ‘=Animal= Physiology’ (Roget’s), 120, 195 (_see_ Roget).

  ‘=Animal= World’, the, 169.

  ‘=Animalium= Mexicanum’, 190, 590.

  ‘=Annales= des Sciences Naturelle’, 78, 91, 442, 444.

  =Antennæ= of insects, 118, 120, 126, _et seq._

  =Antidotes=, 275;
    Fayrer’s definition of, 533;
    various reputed ones, _ib._, 534, 539, 547, _et seq._

  =Apodal=, ss. are, 206.

  =Appendages=, mythical, 101;
    caudal, 172, _et seq._;
    epidermal, 315;
    ‘horns’, 320;
    crest, 325;
    tentacular, 326;
    as ‘claws’, _ib._ (_see_ rattle, epidermis).

  =Aquatic= ss., 53, 145, 150, 174, 221, 225, _et seq._, 233, _et seq._,
      401, 423, 453, 495, 496.

  =Arabs= chew herbs, 525.

  _Archeopteryx_, 44.

  =Aristotle=, his name for reptiles, 45;
    bite of s., 96;
    marine ss., 244;
    vs., 432, _et seq._

  _Arius_, the, 489.

  =Armadillo=, 413.

  =Association=, Am., 485, _et seq._

  =Association=, Br., 42.

  =Atlantic=, the, 249;
    sea-ss. in, 238;
    sea-ser., 252.

  =Atrophied= limbs, 326.

  _Atter_, _ætter_, 479.

  ‘=Aunt= Judy’s Magazine’, 21, 72, 303, 312, 333, 470.

  =Aural=: powers of _anguis fragilis_, 476;
    apparatus of ground ss., 527.

  =Australia=, s.-hunting in, 167;
    sea-s., 236, 246.

  ‘=Australia=, Snakes of’ (_see_ Krefft).

  _Axolotl_, 44.


  =Bacon=, Lord, quoted, 49, 57;
    a poor naturalist, 99.

  _Bagrus_, the, 489.

  =Baird= of U.S. on the bull-s., 502.

  =Baker=, Owen, a sea-ser. seen by, 257, _et seq._

  =Baker=, Sir Samuel: v. fangs, 357.

  =Balance= of Nature, 17, 57.

  =Balfour’s= ‘British India’, 74, 76, 86.

  =Balfour’s= ‘Cyclopædia of India’, 86.

  =Bancroft=, H. H., ser.-worship, 514.

  =Banks=, Sir Joseph, action of ribs, 207;
    letter to Waterton, 418.

  =Bard= of Avon, the, 97.

  =Bartlett=, Mr. A. D., on the sea-ser., 255, 261, _et seq._;
    presenting a v., 322;
    buying an anaconda, 455.

  =Barton=, Benjamin Smith, on the _Cro._, 299.

  =Bartram= (Mr., of U.S.): a ‘roaring’ s., 155;
    ‘cluster of teeth’, 371.

  =Bates= (H. W.): a cannibal s., 39;
    _Jararaca_, 421.

  _Batrachia_, the, 51.

  _Battues_ of ss., 286, _et seq._, 289.

  =Beal= (J. W., of U.S.): sound of the rattle, 309.

  =Beaufort=, Duke of (A.D. 1709), 173.

  =Beaumont= and Fletcher, quotation from, 487.

  =Beauvoir=, Palisot de, his testimony, 488.

  =Bell=, Prof. Thomas, 4;
    food of ring-s., 74;
    his tame s., 76;
    his ‘British Reptiles’, _ib._;
    a trustworthy herpetologist, 78;
    ss. drink, _ib._, 91;
    editor ‘Zoological Journal’, 140;
    on _anguis fragilis_, 453;
    gestation of _anguis fragilis_, 466;
    sloughing of _anguis fragilis_, 481;
    the maternal refuge, 493.

  =Bellowing= s., 155, _et seq._

  =Ben= Jonson, 99.

  =Bengal=, Bay of, range of sea-ss., 236.

  =Berkeley=; rattlesnake remedies, 538.

  =Beverley=, Colonel: a stinging tail, 174;
    his ‘History of Virginia’, 281;
    a severed head biting, 390.

  =Bezoar=, 523.

  =Bibron=, 80 (_see_ Duméril).

  =Bingley=, a boa feeding, 134.

  ‘=Blackie=’, 458, _et seq._

  =Bladder=, the swim-, 145.

  =Blake= (Colonel, of Virginia), a rattlesnake, 284.

  =Blanket=, swallowed, 35;
    disappointing, 588.

  =Blowing=: the, vi. 152;
    as ‘puffing’, 148;
    like a bull, 155.

  =Bluets=, 65.

  =Bond=, Rev. H., his testimony, 491.

  =Bones=: of the head, 30;
    intermaxillary, 31;
    of spine, 178, 198, 213;
    in _Deirodon_, 67;
    of tail, 183;
    of ‘claw’, 220 (_see_ jaw, vertebræ, tails, etc.).

  =Bonnat=, 228, 383.

  =Borneo=, _Crotalidæ_ in, 386.

  =Boston=, U.S., sea-ser. off, 251.

  =Buffon=, 197;
    his era, 383.

  =Bourbon=, Isle of, py. incubating in, 444.

  =Bournemouth=, lizards at, 164;
    a capture, 458.

  =Bourrelets=, of the rattle, 304.

  =Bowerbank=, a two-headed s., 190.

  =Braden=, J. G., Esq.: specimens of rattle, 306.

  =Brazil=, tree s. in, 219;
    ‘Discourse’ of, 271;
    names of _Crotalidæ_, 277;
    specimens from, 339, 360;
    _Jararaca_ in, 396;
    ‘Travels’ in, 397;
    experiments in, 406;
    vernaculars of, 419, 423, _et seq._

  =Breathing=: irregular, 142, _et seq._;
    sometimes partial, 144;
    suspension of, 145, 161, 168, 253;
    as ‘puffing’, 149, 155 (_see_ hibernation, respiration).

  =Bridgewater= Treatise, 120.

  =British= Ass., 42.

  =British= Guiana, Hist. of, 420.

  =British= India (_see_ Günther, Fayrer, Balfour, Nicholson, etc.).

  =British= Museum, 19, 131, 291, 377, 405, 418;
    Dr. Günther’s catalogue of ss. at, 354.

  ‘=British= Reptiles’ (Bell’s), 76, 140, 453 (_see_ Bell).

  =Brittain=, Mr., evidence of, 504.

  =Broderip=, Dr. J., a naturalist, 113;
    his works, _ib._;
    on the larynx, 135;
    quoted by Gosse, 112;
    observations by, 134, _et seq._

  =Browne=, Sir Thomas: ‘Vulgar Errours’, 171;
    a two-headed s., 191;
    the maternal refuge, 487.

  =Bruton=, Dr. Lauder, 552.

  =Buckland=, Frank: his visit to Chelsea, 13;
    a ‘flannel sausage’, 36;
    the Coronella, 83, 435;
    a waggish s., 104;
    a mistake of, 115;
    sensitiveness of tail, 183;
    a sea-s., 238;
    a ribbon fish, 250;
    sea-ser., 255, _et seq._, 264;
    two-headed s., 189;
    reserve fangs, 346;
    s. eggs, 437;
    anaconda, 455;
    invited, 464;
    obituary notice of ‘Cleo’, 515.

  =Bull=-frog, 156.

  =Bullen=, George, Esq., of Br. Museum, 19.

  =Bulletin=, U.S., Zoological ‘Reports’, 291, 309, 388.

  =Burman= coast, sea-ss. range, 238.

  =Burrowing= ss., 46, 53, 188, 459, 468.


  =Caledonia=, New, sea-ss. at, 238.

  =Cannibalism=, 37, 182, 199, 401, 562;
    sometimes unintentional, 38, 572;
    common among the _Elapidæ_, 567, 571.

  =Cañons=, ss. in, 162.

  =Cantor=, Dr. Theodore, sea-ss. drinking, 82;
    quotes Schlegel, 90;
    tongue of sea-ss., 125;
    sea-ss. asleep, 169;
    on pelagic sers., 235;
    their poison, 243;
    their food, 245;
    number of species, 246.

  =Cape=, the, sea ser. at, 252, 259.

  _Capybara_, the, 229.

  =Carbolic= acid, kills ss., 544;
    a remedy for the venom, _ib._

  =Carinate= scales, 319 (_see_ ‘keel’).

  ‘=Carolina=, History of’ (_see_ Lawson).

  ‘=Carolina=, Natural History of’ (_see_ Catesby).

  =Carpenter=, Dr., F.R.S., etc., links and transitions in nature, 44;
    his opinion of Bacon, 99;
    lungs of ss., 143;
    hibernation, 165;
    length of spine, 210;
    insalivation of food, 352;
    vegetable protectives, 539.

  =Carver=, Jonathan, a ‘blowing’ s., 153;
    large swarms of ss., 225;
    the maternal refuge, 487.

  =Catesby=, Mark: an egg robber, 63;
    the ‘blowing v.’, 152;
    ‘Horn ss.’, 174, 189;
    ‘water vs.’, 226;
    rattle-ss., 284;
    ‘hog-nosed’ ss., 410;
    Indian remedies, 538.

  =Catlin=, George, rattlesnake _battues_, 287;
    an alarm, 391;
    conjugal ss., 502;
    Indian superstitions, 509.

  =Cats=, their whiskers as feelers, 124;
    tenacious of life, 559;
    resist venom, _ib._

  =Caudal=, eloquence, 155, 179, 311, 587;
    appendages, 170, _et seq._ 174 (_see_ tail, rattle, etc.).

  =Caverns=, the retreat of ss., 287, 443.

  =Caves=, sacred, 509;
    abode of ss., 124, 162, 166, 288.

  =Centipedes=, legs of, 212.

  ‘=Ceylon=, History of’ (_see_ Tennant).

  =Chalk= epoch, 262.

  ‘=Challenger=’, voyage of the, 262.

  =Chambers=: ‘Anecdotes of Serpents’, 216, 523;
    editor of the ‘Journal’, 23;
    observations at the Z.G., 217;
    the ‘Miscellany’, 523.

  =Chancery=, ss. in, 13, 515.

  =Chandernagor=, travels in, 444.

  =Charas=, Moyse: his work, 273;
    he ‘grovels’ for fangs, 359, 372;
    experiments on vs., 371;
    a ‘nursery’ of fangs, _ib._;
    knew of the mobility of fangs, 372.

  =Charming=, Sir H. Sloane on, 281;
    its origin, 515, _et seq._, 578, 585 (_see_ fascination).

  =Charms=, 281;
    in s. relics, etc., 509, _et seq._

  =Chase=, a, with a s., 214.

  =Chased= by a s., 185.

  =Chateaubriand’s= descriptions of ss., 153, 175, 197, 307;
    the maternal asylum, 487.

  _Chelonia_, 51.

  =Chelsea=, tame ss. at, 13, 27, 515, 525.

  =Chicago=, observations at, 496.

  _Chimaphila_, 65.

  =Chinese= mythologies, 509.

  =Chittagong=, rare beast from, 261.

  _Chordæ vocales_, 147.

  =Circulation= of blood, 56;
    checked by cold, 161;
    renewed by warmth, _ib._;
    moisture essential to it, 162 (_see_ hibernation, respiration,

  ‘=City= of Baltimore’, the, sea sers. seen from, 249.

  =Clarke’s= translation of Der Hoeven’s ‘Handbook of Zoology’, 118.

  =Classification=, 50;
    at present defective, 51;
    five principal groups of ss., 53;
    by dentition unsatisfactory, 354, _et seq._;
    difficulties occurring in, 413, 421;
    Krefft on, 423 (_see_ nomenclature).

  =Clayton=, Mr. J., the ‘tayle’ of rattlesnakes, 280.

  =Climbing=, 180, _et seq._, 196, 214, _et seq._, 230;
    of sea-ss., 238;
    of Anguis fragilis, 475, 482.

  =Cockburn= _versus_ Mann, 13.

  =Coiling=, the, 48;
    in constriction, 29, 203;
    of tail, 182, 587;
    in convolutions, 185;
    for a spring, 198;
    to substitute hands, 199, _et seq._, 206;
    swiftness of, 200;
    flexibility of, 218;
    of the sea-ser., 257;
    of _Heterodon_, 409, 570;
    in repose, 447, 587;
    of ‘Lizzie’, 472, 478;
    of _Natrix_, 569;
    of the _Lacertines_, 571 (_see_ constriction);
    before striking, 573.

  =Cold=; ss. affected by, 143, 159, 165, 584, _et seq._

  =Cold-blooded=, 56;
    why so, 142, 146, 159 (_see_ hibernation, etc.).

  =Colours= of ss., 10;
    under excitement, 153, 572;
    of tree ss., 219, 386;
    of rattlesnakes, 270, 285;
    of African vs., 321, 338, _et seq._;
    of ‘Bushmaster’, 417, _et seq._, 426;
    variable in young ss., 424;
    in other ss., _ib._;
    after moulting, 508 (_see_ sloughing).

  =Combats= between ss., 37, 199, 563.

  =Congress= (U.S.), Government Commissions, 199, 376.

  =Constriction=, 29, 199, 203, 214, 245;
    of young boas, 216, 439, 446;
    sometimes feeble, 583.

  =Constrictors=, 14, 35, 38, 135, 141, 182, 198, _et seq._, 213,
      _et seq._, 258, 336, 438, 446, 454, 583.

  =Convention=, a, of ss., 104;
    U.S. on ss., 485, 505, 552, 572.

  =Cooke=, M. C., ‘Our Reptiles’, 491;
    editor ‘Science Gossip’, _ib._;
    a herpetologist, _ib._

  =Cooper=, W. R., ‘Serpent Myths’, 514.

  =Cope=, Professor, of U.S., 386.

  =Cotton=, Dr., of Tennessee, his rattlesnake, 298.

  =Coues=, Dr. Elliott, of U.S., a combat, 199;
    sound of the rattle, 309;
    development of rattle, 312;
    action of fangs, 362;
    cro. fang, 376, _et seq._;
    species of cro., 386;
    virulence of bite, 390;
    pigs not exempt, 394.

  =Council= of Z. Soc., 78, 322.

  =Cows= sucked by ss., 84, 478.

  _Coypu_, 229.

  =Cragin=, Mr. F. W., on _Heterodon_, 450.

  =Cranberry= swamps, the _Massasauga_, 393.

  _Crepitaculum caude_, the, 294.

  =Crispe=, Dr. Edwards, F.Z.S., on the œsophagus, 490;
    the maternal refuge, _ib._

  _Crocodilia_, the, 51, 261.

  _Crotalina_, 292.

  _Crotalum_, 292.

  _Crotchets mobiles_, 353, 362.

  =Cruden=, s. poison, 102.

  =Cruelty=, 17, 169, 206, 321, 469.

  ‘=Curiosities= of Natural History’ (_see_ Buckland).

  =Cuvier=; his classification, 46;
    his ‘boa’, 47;
    he distinguished fangs, _ib._;
    his era, 90, 383;
    quoted by Darwin, 176;
    his ‘vs.’, 353;
    incubation, 434, 456.

  ‘=Cyclopædia= of Anatomy’, 118

  ‘=Cyclopædia= of India’, 86.

  ‘=Cyclopædia=, the Penny’, 113, 120.


    ser. deities at, 514;
    natives fearless of vs., 523.

  =Dalton=, the ‘Bushmaster’, 420.

  =Danish= vernaculars, 479.

  =Darwin=; complex organisms, 44;
    _cro. mutus_, 176;
    a living fossil, 244;
    the _Platypus_, 263;
    survival of the fittest, 267;
    on the rattle, 311;
    atrophied limbs, 326, 452.

  =Daudin=, 353, 383, 488.

  =Davidson=, Mr. (R. N.), a sea-ser., 251.

  =Davis=’ Lectures at the Z. G., 24, 51, 214, 413 (_see_ Flower,
      Huxley, Mivart).

  =Dean=, Dr., a sea-ser. seen by, 249.

  ‘=Deccan= Days’, 517 (_see_ Frere, Miss).

  =Deer= kill rattlesnakes, 394.

  =Deglutition=; manner of, 30, 111, _et seq._, 132;
    facilitated by saliva, 35, 109, 113;
    in drinking, 92, _et seq._;
    Schlegel on, 362;
    watched at the Z. G., 581, _et seq._

  =De Kay=; ‘Zoology of N.Y.’, 85.

  =Demerara=, ‘Bushmaster’ there, 423.

  =Dentition=, 34;
    of _Deirodon_, 67, _et seq._;
    of sea-ss., 241;
    of sea-ser., 266;
    various forms of, 342, _et seq._;
    distinguishing names in, 347;
    illus. of, 349, 355, 356, 360;
    not used in classification, 353;
    Cuvier’s distinctions, 353;
    Günther on, 354;
    dentition of _Zamenis_, 137;
    of _Xenodons_, 400, 404, 408;
    of _Liophis_, 408 (_see_ fangs).

  =Der Hoeven=, on the tongue, 118;
    on gestation, 435.

  =Dermis=, _see_ epidermis, sloughing, etc.

  =Desquamation=, 329 (_see_ sloughing).

  =Development=; of poison glands, 535;
    of fangs, 356 (_see_ fangs, etc.).

    power of, 36, 69, 352;
    assisted by salivary secretions, 352, 557.

  _Dinornis_, 43.

  _Dinotherium_, 43.

  ‘=Discourse= of Brazil’, 271.

  =Disgorging=, 38;
    to facilitate escape, 36, 39, 61;
    compulsory, 36, 38;
    from terror, 61.

    of a rattlesnake, 275, _et seq._;
    of _Xenodon_, 405.

  =Dog-teeth=, 347, 369, 370 (_see_ fang).

  =Doubleday=, H., Esq., important evidence, 491.

  _Drachen_, 48.

  _Dracon_, _ib._

  _Dracunculi_, 196.

  =Dragon=, 48, 101.

  =Drevar=, George, a sea-ser. seen by, 257.

  =Drink=, Do ss.? 76, _et seq._

  =Drinking=; 76, _et seq._;
    frequently, 79, _et seq._, 83;
    die without, 89;
    milk, 76, 85, 88, _et seq._;
    lured by milk, 76, 87;
    two methods of, 80;
    by suction, _ib._, 92;
    by lapping, 89, 93 (_see_ milk).

  _Drosera_, 458.

  =Drummond=, Lieutenant (R.N.), sea-ser. seen by, 260.

  ‘=Dublin= University Magazine’, 21, 312, 333.

  =Du Chaillu=: ‘whistling’ ss., 154;
    his _Wild Life_, 186.

  =Dudley=, Paul: on the cro., 281;
    a long rattle, 302.

  =Duméril=: much quoted, 3;
    Professor _d’Erpétologie_, 78;
    py. drinking, 80;
    on Schlegel, 90;
    the tongue, 122, _et seq._;
    glottis, 136, 157, 222;
    _la languette_, _ib._, 138;
    hissing, ‘_soufflement_’, 147, _et seq._, 157;
    quotes Linnæus, 161;
    absorption of heat, 164;
    physical feats of ss., 181;
    anaconda, 228;
    its spots, 338;
    the rattle, 303;
    cro. does not hiss, 313;
    system of dentition, 347;
    species of vs., 374;
    _les fossettes_, 384;
    tail of _Lachesis_, 387;
    species of cro., 388;
    the _Jararaca_, 427;
    _Python bivitatus_, 444, _et seq._

  =Duncan=, Professor Martin, 376, _et seq._


  =Echidnine=, 534.

  =Edentata=, 413.

  =Edentulous=, 67, 414.

  =Effeldt=, Rudolph; observations of the tongue, 124.

  =Egg=: producers, ‘insects’, 43;
    covering, 432, 433, 435, _et seq._ (_see_ incubation, oviparous,
        ovoviviparous, etc.).

  =Eggs= of ss., 78, 431;
    produced by pys., 437, 442, _et seq._, 446, 449;
    by boas, 449, _et seq._;
    by anaconda, 456;
    by _anguis fragilis_, 462, _et seq._;
    by other ss., 431, 433, 435, 437, 440, _et seq._

  =Eggs=; of birds food of ss., 59, 63, 66, 430;
    swallowed whole, 60, _et seq._;
    sometimes disgorged, 62, 69;
    passed entire, 61, 69;
    ‘sucked’, 70;
    food of lizards, 71, 591.

  ‘=Egypt=, History of’, 96;
    sculptures of, 508;
    jugglers in, 523;
    ser. deities in, 172, 511;
    myths of, 514;
    charmers, 515, 523;
    antidotes in, 525.

  =Electric= fluid, 161.

  ‘=Elementary= Lessons in Physiology’, 121, 303 (_see_ Huxley).

  ‘=Elsie= Venner’, 301.

  =Elwes=, Mr. A. T., artist, 25, 516;
    a witness, 185.

  =Emblems=, 101, _et seq._, 172, 272, 509, _et seq._, 518.

  =Embryo=, 435, 448, 451, 462, 466.

  =Emmons=’ ‘Nat. Hist. of N.Y.’, 85.

    feeble, 56, 159, 161;
    expressed by the tail, 177, 179, _et seq._, 183;
    by the ribs, 150, 328.

  =Encyclopædias=, as books of reference, 90;
    perplexing, _ib._, 418;
    errors in, 362, 418.

  ‘=Encyclopædia= of Anatomy;’ the tongue, 118;
    incubation, 434.

  ‘=Encyclopædia= Metropolitana;’ the ‘Bushmaster’, 420.

  =Endurance=, powers of, 124, 166, 168, 321, 457, 489.

  =Epidermis=; expansile, 30;
    scales of, 46, 193, 316;
    illustrated, 316;
    magnified, 317;
    head-shields, 318;
    carinated, 319;
    ‘horns’, 320, 323;
    developments of, 325, _et seq._;
    casting or sloughing, 329, _et seq._;
    the process watched, 333, 481;
    health affected by, 329, 337;
    patterns of skin, 338, _et seq._, 517;
    illustrated, 339, 340.

  =Epiglottis=, 132 (_see_ glottis).

  =Erie=, Lake, U.S., swarms of water ss., 226;
    and of rattlesnakes, 289.

  ‘=Erpétologie= Générale’ (Suites de Buffon), 80, 122, 136, 147, 157,
      161, 164, 181, 223, 305, 313, 384, _et seq._, 427, 444 (_see_

  ‘=Essai= sur la Physionomie des Serpents’, 35, 77, 182;
    translation of, 3, 209, 356, 363 (_see_ Schlegel).

  =Essequibo=, rambles in, 419.

  =Estivation=, 162.

  =Evolution=, 70, 132, 314, 327;
    in fangs, 342, 350, 364.

  =Ewart=, Dr., his experiments, 552.

  =Expansion=: of the throat, 31;
    of jaws, _ib._;
    of the skin, 30;
    of the ribs, 150, 328.

  ‘=Expedition= to the Zambesi’, 230.

  =Expedition=; U.S. Explorations, 162, 291, 376.

  =Experiments=; on vs., 273, 281, 321;
    on the fangs, 369, _et seq._, 377, _et seq._;
    in s. venom, 534, 535, _et seq._;
    in antidotes, 537, _et seq._

  =Explorations=, U.S., 162, 291, 309.

  =Eye= of ss., 285, 328, _et seq._, 337, 350;
    watching, 581, _et seq._;
    easily injured, 586.

  =Eye= covering, 328, _et seq._


  =Fabulous=; animals, 101;
    tongues, 102, 103;
    ideas of reptiles, 511.

  ‘=Fairie= Queen’, the, 486.

  =Fangs=; Cuvier’s distinction, 47, 353;
    of sea-ss., 241, 266;
    early experiments with, 274, 281;
    mobility of early, described, 278, 283, 369, _et seq._;
    a means of defence, 311, 516;
    functional pair, 345, 364, _et seq._;
    construction of, 356;
    the ‘slit’, involution, 356, 358, 372;
    illus. of, 356;
    diversities of, 357;
    succession of, 346, 350, 363, 372, _et seq._;
    action of, 370;
    specially described, 377, _et seq._;
    a hypodermic syringe, 364, 379;
    control of, 375;
    fixed and moveable, 362;
    reserve or supplementary, 366;
    shedding of, _ib._, 376;
    exquisite finish, 358;
    illus., 349, 355, 356, 360;
    fangs of young vs., 360, 361;
    of young cos., 361;
    of _Xenodons_, 403, 408;
    of _Heterodon d’Orbignyi_, 409;
    of _Bucephalus_, 407;
    of _Ring Hals_, 582.

  =Fascination=, Sir Hans Sloane on, 281;
    investigated, 527, _et seq._;
    conclusions, 531.

  =Fat=; abundant in ss., 165;
    absorbed during hibernation, _ib._;
    an article of commerce, 286;
    a remedy, 522, 541;
    protective to pigs, 394.

  =Fatalists= in India, 22, 511, 513, 540, 555.

  =Fayrer=, his _Thanatophidia_, 5, 19;
    ss. eat eggs, 62, 63;
    swallow them whole, _ib._;
    drink milk, 87;
    _Echis carinata_, 150;
    prehensile tails, 177;
    sea-ss., 236;
    _Enhydrina_, 238;
    illus. of scales, 240;
    bite of sea-ss., 241, _et seq._;
    sloughing of co., 332;
    illus. of dentition, 349, 355, 356;
    fangs of young cos., 361;
    renewal of fangs, 364;
    in vipers, 365;
    vibratile fangs, 375;
    the _Crotalidæ_, 386;
    ‘Bushmaster’, 422;
    vernaculars of India, 425;
    cos. incubating, 442;
    maternal affection, 503;
    Hindû superstitions, 512;
    what an antidote is, 533;
    virulence of _Echis_ venom, 537;
    of co. venom, 554, _et seq._;
    effect of strychnine, 543;
    carbolic acid and creosote, 544;
    how to deal with the bites, 545, _et seq._;
    gift of cos. to the Z. Soc., 563.

  =Fear=; a strong feature in ss., 387, 412, 471, 517, 565, 574, 578,
      _et seq._;
    paralyzing effect of, 529;
    causes a bitten victim to succumb, 536, 544, 558.

  =Feeding=; mode of, 28, _et seq._, 133, 199, _et seq._, 528 (_see_
      Friday, notes from the Z.G.).

  =Feeling=; expressed by tail, 155, 158 (_see_ tail);
    by the tongue, 126 (_see_ tongue);
    by sound, 526;
    vibration, _ib._

  =Feigning= death, 411, 412.

  =Ferguson=, ‘Tree and Serpent Worship’, 513.

  =Fernandez=, ‘Animalium Mexicanum’, 190, 279, 590.

  =Festivals= to snake deities, 63, 74, 511.

  =Fetish= customs and superstitions, 514.

  =Fiction=; ss. of, 41, 50, 101;
    tongues of, 94, 97, 102.

  =Fish=; lizard, 44;
    experiments with, 243;
    ribbon, 250;
    supposed sea-sers., 251, 255, _et seq._;
    living at great depths, 262;
    carrying their eggs, 489.

  =Fissure=, the gular, 328.

  =Fistulous= teeth, 280.

  =Fitzinger=, 383.

  =Flappers=, 255, _et seq._, 267.

  =Flattening=; of head, 410;
    of body, 215, 216, 217, 411.

  =Floods=, ss. carried down by, 230, 231, _et seq._

  =Florence=; Redi on vs., 273;
    experiments at, _ib._, 275;
    Fontana at, 368, 370, 372;
    ‘knowing physicians’ at, 273, 556;
    the ‘Florentine philosopher’, Redi, 555.

  =Flower=, Prof., on Armadillos, 413.

  =Follicles=, secreting, 384.

  =Fontana=, Felix, structure of fangs, 368;
    prior observations, 370;
    earlier experiments, 274.

  =Food=; often declined, 62, 83, 460, 566, 567;
    sometimes disgorged (_see_ disgorged, feeding, constriction, Z.G.,

  =Forbes=, Alexander K., co. guardians, 511.

  =Forbes=, F. E., ‘The Dahomeans’, Fetish deities, 514;
    natives fearless of vipers, 523.

  =Forms=; sectional, of ss., 215;
    of scales, 337 (_see_ epidermis, scales, etc.).

  =Forsyth=, Mr. D. M., saw a ‘monster’, 255.

  =Fosse=; the gular, 328;
    nasal, 385, _et seq._ (pit.).

  =Fossil= forms, 42, 44;
    anomalous, 263;
    living ones, 244.

  =Fraxinius= Americanus kills rattlesnakes, 541.

  =French=, early naturalists, 4, 273, 383.

  =Frere=, Miss, ‘Old Deccan Days’, 513, 517.

  =Fresh=-water ss., 55, 224, _et seq._

  =Friar=, a, of Brazil, 271 (_see_ Purchas).

  =Friar=, a, of Portugal, 271.

  =Friday=, feeding-day at the Z.G., 38, 94, 138, 585, _et seq._ (_see_

  =Frogs=; food of ss., 28, _et seq._;
    gigantic, at sea, 256;
    sometimes reappear, 489;
    _de profundis_, 504.

  =Functions= retarded, 431, 434, _et seq._, 497.


  =Galileo=, 480.

  =Gall= a remedy for bites, 284.

  =Gambia=, _Lepidosiren_ of, 244.

  =Ganges=, sea-ss. climbing, 239.

  =Gape= of ss. wide, 31, 378.

  =Gardens=, Zoological, of London, 10, 16, etc. (_see_ Z.G.).

  =Garnett=, Richard, Esq., of the Br. M., 25.

  =Gastric= juice, 489.

  =Gatty=, Mrs. Alfred, 21.

  =Gautier=, Prof., his experiments, 556.

  ‘=Generall= Historie of Virginia’ (John Smith, 1632), Indian beliefs,

  ‘=Geographical= Distribution of Animals’, A. R. Wallace, 382.

  _Geophagus_, the, 489.

  =Gesner=, his ‘Historia Animalium’, 102, 272.

  =Gestation=; period of uncertain, 431, 434, 457, _et seq._;
    depends on temperature, 458, 466.

  =Gigantic=; worms, 45;
    gooseberry, 254;
    developments, 251, 261, 266.

  =Gilmore=, Parker, water vs., 227;
    ‘puff adders’, 501.

  =Gill=, Prof., on the maternal refuge, 489.

  =Gills= retained through life, 44, 244.

  =Glands=, salivary, 35, 109, _et seq._, 113, 350, 352, 536, 556, 560;
    of the _Heloderm_, 590.

  =Glottis=; position of, 133, 136;
    sheath of, 137;
    of water ss., 223;
    how far extended, 140.

  _Glyphodon_, 347.

  =Goode=, Prof. Browne, on the maternal refuge, 485, _et seq._, 498,

  =Gosse=, Philip H., 5, 9;
    in Jamaica, 63, 187;
    how ss. drink, 90;
    quotes M’Leod, 112;
    the tongue, 120;
    ss.’ power of springing, 186;
    on the sea-ser.], 248;
    the ‘Bushmaster’, 419;
    _Chilobothrus_, 449, _et seq._;
    vegetable antidotes, 525.

  =Gossip=, 94, 105, 321, 480, 585.

  =Gradations=; in teeth, 342, 348;
    in fangs, 350, 360;
    in length of jaw, _ib._;
    in glands, _ib._;
    in venomous secretions, 408.

  =Grasshopper=, a ‘reptile’, 43.

  =Gray=, Dr. E., 5;
    quotes Schlegel, 90;
    on the tongue, 118;
    species of _cro._[, 291;
    ed. of ‘Zoological Miscellany’, 385;
    his work, 383, 427;
    _Jararaca_, _ib._

  =Gray=, Captain David, on the sea-ser., 255, 264.

  =Green=, Joseph H., muscles of the larynx, 141.

  =Green=, Mr., collector at Bournemouth, 461.

  =Greenland=, sea-ser. off, 251.

  =Grooved=; scales, 320;
    teeth, 225, 347, 356, _et seq._;
    of _Heloderm_, 590;
    fangs, 348, 361.

  =Grosvenor= Gallery, 117.

  =Ground=-snakes, 53, 54, 187, _et seq._, 458, 479.

  =Grovelling= for fangs, 359, 372, 378.

  =Gular=; teeth, 67, _et seq._;
    illus. of, 68;
    fissure, 328.

  =Gullet=; of _Deirodon_, 67, _et seq._;
    position of, 133, 415.

  =Gunpowder= used for bites, 543, 544, 546.

  =Günther=, Dr. Albert, F.R.S., etc., of the Br. M., 5, 24;
    deglutition, 30;
    Br. M. collection of snakes, 50;
    his five groups, 53;
    ss. require water, 89;
    Schlegel an authority, 90;
    abundant saliva, 109;
    on the tongue, 118;
    vibrating tails, 177;
    burrowing forms, 188;
    a mistake of Schlegel, 209;
    fresh-water ss., 222, 224;
    sea-ss., 235, 237, 240;
    a semi-pelagic s., 243;
    the epidermis, 315;
    names of head-shields, 316;
    illus. _ib._, 318;
    a friend in need, 322;
    on dentition, 354;
    the _Xenodon_, 400;
    a poser, 405;
    on the venom, 536.

  =Gurney=, Mr. T. H., 491;
    the maternal refuge, 492.


  =Hakluyt’s= voyages, 99, 271, 276.

  =Halford=, Prof.: a vain search, 405;
    disclaims an ‘antidote’, 533;
    his experiments, 547;
    explanations, _ib._;
    ‘On the Condition of Blood from Snake-bite’, 548;
    approves of stimulants, 547, 550.

  =Halifax=, sea ser. off, 251.

  =Hall=, Captain, dissection of rattlesnake, 370.

  =Hardwicke’s= ‘Science Gossip’, ed. of, 491;
    evidence, 492.

  =Harrison=, Captain, R.N., describes a marine animal, 251.

  =Harting=, J. E., F.Z.S., etc., 411.

  =Hartwig=, Geo., ‘Tropical World’, 418.

  =Haynes=, Lieutenant, R.N., describes a gigantic anomaly, 255.

  =Hayward=, S., Esq., viper-swallowing evidence, 493.

  =Hayward’s Heath=; hibernating ss. found, 166.

  =Head=; expansile, 30;
    double, 189, _et seq._;
    shields of, 315, _et seq._;
    illus., 316-18;
    forms, 318, 319;
    generic characters of, 319, 383, _et seq._, 427;
    appendages of, 320 (_see_ horns, etc.).

  =Hebrides=, sea-ser. off, 251.

  =Hellmann=, 5;
    on the tongue, 120.

  _Heloderm_, the, 590, _et seq._

  =Hernandez=, 271;
    double-headed s., 190 (_see_ Fernandez), 279, 591.

  =Herpetology=, confusion in, 45;
    derivation of, 47.

  =Hibernation=; character of, 159;
    convenience of, 160;
    analogy in vegetation, 161;
    renewal of vitality after, 162;
    when partial, 163;
    when fatal, 165;
    fat absorbed during, 165;
    in communities, 166;
    seasons of, 168;
    of sea-ss., 169;
    of slow-worms, 461, 468.

  =Hindû=; superstitions, 22, 425, 509, 511, _et seq._, 517, 555;
    eggs sacred offerings of, 74, 86;
    vernaculars, 425;
    transliteration, 429.

  =Hissing=, 148;
    prolonged, 149;
    exceptions in, 150, 313;
    variations in, 147, 153, _et seq._, 158.

  ‘=Histoire= Naturelles’ (Daudin), 488.

  ‘=Historiæ= Rerum’, etc. (Marcgravius), 397.

  ‘=History= of British Guiana’ (Dalton), 420.

  ‘=History= of Egypt’ (F. Holt Yates), 96.

  ‘=History= of Selborne’, 490.

  ‘=History= of Virginia’ (Col. Beverley, 1722), 174, 281.

  =Holbrooke=, Dr. J. E., of the U.S.A., ss. like milk, 86;
    on the Bull s., 155;
    ‘thorn tail s.’, 175;
    _battues_ of rattlesnakes, 289;
    length of the rattle, 301;
    on _Heterodon_, 412.

  =Holland=, Mr., keeper at the Reptilium; ss. drink often, 91;
    ss. don’t ‘lick’, 110;
    ss. sloughing, 334;
    bitten, 438;
    in danger, 448 (_see_ Z.G.).

  =Holmes=, Oliver Wendell, ‘Elsie Venner’, a tradition, 301.

  _Holodontes_, 347.

  =Home=, Sir Everard; action of ribs, 207;
    the scutæ, 213, 217.

  =Hood=, the, of co., 31, 327, 517.

  =Horns=; of vs., 315;
    sloughed, 320;
    peculiar action of, 323 (_see_ epidermis).

  ‘=Horrid=’, 592;
    original signification of, _ib._

  =Howe=, ‘History of Ohio’, 191;
    _battues_ of ss., 289.

  =H.R.H.= the Prince of Wales, 22;
    co. performances in India, 87.

  =Humboldt=, antitoxic plants, 539.

  =Hunter=, St. Jno. Dunn, rattlesnake testimony, 488.

  =Hutchinson=, Mr. H. F., progression of ss., 216.

  =Huxley=, Prof., F.R.S., etc., prehistoric man, 42;
    smell and taste, 121;
    locomotion of ss., 196;
    a beautiful bit of anatomy, 211;
    growth of nails, 303;
    on evolution, 327;
    ‘eyelids’ of ss., 329;
    teeth, 342;
    perfection of fang, 364;
    a hypodermic syringe, _ib._

  =Hybrids= born at the Gardens, 425, 440.

  =Hypodermic syringe=, 364, _et seq._


  =Ichthyic=, 244.

  =Ichthyosauria=, 44.

  =Illustrations=; often misleading, 12, 102, 116, 190, 229, 324.

  =Illustrators=, responsibility of, 12, 25, etc.

  =Imbricated= scales, 317, _et seq._

  =Immunity= from venom, 523, 524, 538, _et seq._, 559.

  =Inadvertent= intruder, an, 309.

  ‘=Inchantments=’, 281.

  =Incubation= of py., 79, 442, _et seq._, 434;
    early known, 441, 443;
    mentioned by Aristotle, 441;
    of Jamaica boa, 449, _et seq._

  =India=; Prince of Wales in, 22, 87;
    superstitions of, 22, 511, _et seq._, 517, 555.

  =Indian= Ocean; range of sea-ss., 236;
    sea-ser. seen in, 256.

  ‘=Indian= snakes’ (_see_ Nicholson).

  =Indian= vernaculars, 425.

  =Indians=, N. Am., their traditions, 272, 294, 486, 509;
    quick of hearing, 527;
    good physicians, 282;
    prompt in danger, 391, 544.

  =Ingenious= chirurgeons, 268, 272;
    taking the lead in science, 273, 274.

  =Insalivation= of food, 352 (_see_ glands).

  ‘=Insects=’, what they were, 43.

  =Insensibility= produced by venom, 577, 590.

  =Institution=, London, Lectures at (_see_ Huxley, Ruskin).

  =Integument=; expansion of, 30;
    modifications in, 315, 320, _et seq._;
    hood of co., 327;
    sloughing, 329;
    patterns and colouring, 338, _et seq._ (_see_ epidermis).

  =Intermaxillary=, 31.

  =Intoxication= counteracted by venom, 548, _et seq._

  =Iowa=, the first rattle, 295;
    the whiskey cure, 549.

  =Ipecacuanha=, an approved medicine, 537.

  =Irritability=; of rattlesnakes, 312;
    of young ss., 437, 438;
    of young slow-worms, 463.

  _Isodon_, 347.

  _Isodontiens_, 347.

  =Italian=, a noble, 278 (_see_ Redi).


  ‘=J. J. A.=’, shoals of sea ss., 238.

  =Jamaica=, blind worms in, 187 (_see_ Gosse).

  =Japan=, Indian _Crotalidæ_, 386.

  =Jardin= des Plantes, Paris, 165.

  =Java=, Indian _Crotalidæ_, 386.

  =Java= Naja, a double-headed s., 190.

  =Jaws=, the; six, 32;
    sometimes seven, _ib._;
    action of, 34;
    how articulated, 30, _et seq._;
    widely extensible, 37, 139, 141, 409, 569;
    adjustment of, 59, 72, 139;
    independent action of, 32, 343;
    all furnished with teeth, _ib._;
    illus. of, 349, 355.

  =Jesse=, 77;
    important evidence, 491.

  =Johnson= ‘wrot on Brazile’, 277.

  =Jones=, Rymer, bulk of ss.’ tongue, 118;
    sense of touch, 195, _et seq._, 198;
    pliancy of the spine, 196, 212;
    on the rattle, 307;
    an inadvertence, 308;
    ss.’ eyelids, 329;
    incubation, 434, 449.

  =Jourdan=, 414.

  ‘=Joynts=’; of the rattle, 280;
    of the jaw, 370.

  ‘=Juyce= of the bag’, 556 (_see_ salivary, etc.).


  =Kamptee=, snakes at home, 501.

  =Kansas=, observations in, 498.

  =Keel=-shaped scales, 319;
    developed in the _Tropidonoti_, 320;
    derivation, 223, 320;
    elaborated in viperine, 317, 320, 374, 421, 426;
    illus. of, 176, 193, 317.

  =Keeper= at the Z.G. in danger, 39, 589 (_see_ Holland, Tyrrell,

  =Kentucky=, rattle from, 296.

  =Killing= prey, three ways of, 29 (_see_ Z.G.).

  =Kingdom=, animal, 51;
    links in, 44, 413.

  =Kingsley=, the _Cascobel_, 397;
    charm of a discovery, 404.

  =Kingston=, a ‘fearful beauty’, 418.

  =Kirtland=, Jared, of Ohio, on increase of ss., 57;
    describes the _Massasauga_, 292, 393;
    cro. named from him, _ib._

  =Klein=, 353.

  =Kniuet=, Master Anthony, on Brazil, 271.

  ‘=Knowing= Physicians’, experiments, 273, 556.

  =Krefft=, Gerard: ‘drumming’ ss., 154;
    hibernating, 162;
    s. hunting, 167;
    death adder, 172;
    climbing ss., 219;
    the _Homalopsidæ_, 224;
    sea-ss., 235;
    their length, 237, 246;
    on classification, 416, 423.

  =Krishna=, Hindû god, 518.


  =Lacépède=, 383;
    _le rativoro_, 228;
    _la rude_, 414.

  =Lacerda=, experiments, 416, 557.

  _Lacerta agilis_, 458.

  =Laidley= worm, the, 117.

  =Lamarrepiquot=, M., incubation, 444.

  =Landells=, J. H., sea ser. seen by, 257.

  =Lapping=, 80, 82, 92, 122;
    of lizards, 71, 591;
    of _anguis fragilis_, 89.

  ‘=Larkes=’, how caught, 50.

  =Larynx=, the, 132, 133, 135, 222.

  ‘=Last= Rambles among the Indians’ (Catlin), 289.

  =Latreille=, 161, 383.

  =Laurenti=, 383.

  =Lawson=, 4;
    his ‘insects’, 43, 282;
    his ‘reptiles’, 43;
    an egg merchant, 63, 182;
    milk-drinkers, 86;
    ‘blowing’ vs., 152;
    ‘thorn tail’ or ‘horn’ s., 172, 173;
    dedication of his work, 173;
    water-ss., 226;
    the poison teeth, 370.

  =Leaping=, 183, 198.

  =Leathes=, Col., a sea-ser., 252.

  ‘=Leaves= from the Notebook of a Naturalist’ (W. J. Broderip), 140;
    boa feeding, 113.

  =Lectures=, the ‘Davis’, 24, 51, 214, 413;
    Lond. Inst., 41, 195, 196, 211, 327, 329, 342, 364;
    St. George’s Hall, 50, 266.

  =Lee=, H., Esq., on the sea ser., 262, _et seq._

  ‘=Leisure= Hour’, the, on snakes, 115, _et seq._;
    illus., 116.

  =Lenz=, H. O., 5, 25;
    s. drinking, 81, 83, 120, _et seq._;
    on the tongue, 123, _et seq._

  _Lepidosiren_, the, 44, 263;
    ichthyic characters of, 244.

  ‘=Letters= from Alabama’ (P. H. Gosse), 9.

  =Lewarn=, W., sea-ser. seen by, 257.

  =Licking=, 83, 110, _et seq._, 117.

  ‘=Life= among the Indians’ (_see_ Catlin), 391.

  ‘=Life= in the South’ (Catherine C. Hopley), 6, 64, 156.

  ‘=Lightning=’, H.M.S., voyages of, 262.

  =Lilford=, Lord, an ophiophilist, 20, 567.

  =Lincolnshire=, ‘larkes’ in, 50.

  =Linnæus=, his systems, 46;
    his ‘_colubers_’, 47;
    out of date, 90;
    temperature of ss., 161;
    his successors, 382;
    dumb rattlesnake, 387;
    _Coluber scaber_, 414;
    slow-worms, 452.

  =Liverpool=, statements at, 256.

  =Livingstone=, egg-eating ss., 66;
    ss. come to drink, 82;
    a bleating s., 154;
    ss. on board, 230.

  =Lizards=, 71, 453, 458;
    _Zootica_ sheltering her young, 491;
    the _Heloderm_, 589.

  ‘=Lizzie=’, very thirsty, 89, 481;
    her achievements, 459, 471, _et seq._;
    her wrong names, 471, _et seq._;
    illus., 472;
    in a knot, 478;
    two libels, 480;
    climbing, 482.

  =Loades=, Mr. Henry (1682), his gift to the R. Soc., 275.

  =Lockwood=, Mr., of U.S., pine s. drinking, 93;
    mystic coils, 151;
    ‘blowing’ s., 155.

  ‘=Lolo=’, a tame snake, 516.

  =Loomis=, Rev. Chauncey, Convention on Snakes, 489.

  =Lord=, John Keast, 216;
    Egyptian jugglers, 523.

  =Lovering=, Prof. Jno., President of the Am. Ass., 485.

  =Lubbock=, Sir Jno., gift of a _Heloderm_ to Z. Soc., 589.

  =Lubrication=, 35, 92, 108, _et seq._

  =Lubricity=, 49, _et seq._

  _Lycodon_, 347.


  =Maçeio=, a cannibal s. at, 39.

  =Mackeney= on the Am. Indians, 509.

  =M’Leod=, his book, 111;
    boa feeding, _ib._, _et seq._

  =M’Quhæ=, Capt. of H.M.S. Dædalus, official report of a sea-ser., 259.

  =Madagascar=, range of sea-ss., 236.

  =Madras=, experiments of Dr. Shortt, 390, 550, 552.

  =Maine=, U.S.A., Am. Ass. held at Portland (_see_ Convention on

  =Malacca=, marine salamander off, 251.

  =Malay=, Indian _Crotalidæ_, 386;
    antitoxic plants, 539.

  =Mammals=, necks of, 211.

  =Mann=, Mr., pet snakes, 13, 92, 515, 525.

  =Marcgravius=, 272, 276, 397.

  =Marine= fauna, 233 (_see_ sea-ss., sea-ser.).

  ‘=Master= teeth’, 273, 370, 556.

  =Maternal=; instincts, 290, 431, _et seq._, 442, 447, 464, 488,
      _et seq._;
    affection of ss. witnessed, 442, 448, 450, 491, _et seq._, 502, 504.

  =Maternal= refuge, 483;
    an old belief, 486;
    physiologically possible, 489;
    examination of evidence, 492;
    speculations on, 505.

  =Maunder’s= ‘Treasury of Natural History’, 111.

  =Maxillary= bone (_see_ jaws, dentition, etc.).

  =Maximus= and Minimus, 452, _et seq._

  =Mechanism=, ‘curious’, 380 (_see_ spine, fangs).

  =Medical= College of London, 275.

  ‘=Medical= Times’, 87, 547.

  =Meham=, member of Am. Con., 489.

  ‘=Memoirs= of Captivity among the Indians’, 488.

  ‘=Menina=’, tame boa, 516.

  =Merembergius= on Brazil, 277.

  =Merrem=, herpetologist, 383.

  =Mexican=; vernaculars, 277, _et seq._, 423, 590;
    rattle, 296;
    illus. of, 306.

  =Mexico=, Gulf of, shoals of ss., 231;
    ancient temples in, 510;
    _Heloderm_ from, 590.

  =Michigan=, Mr. Beal on the rattle, 309;
    the _Massasauga_ there, 393.

  =Milan=, experiments at, 280.

  =Milk=, drinkers of, 76, 86;
    saved by, 87.

  =Mischief=; by the tongue, 94, _et seq._;
    by the tail, 171, _et seq._, 187;
    by stings, _ib._;
    of delay in a bite, 544, 545.

  ‘=Mischiefs=’, source of, 273, 280, 556.

  =Missionary= Travels (Livingstone), 154, _et seq._

  =Mississippi=, the, 295, 549.

  =Mitchell=, Dr. Weir, of U.S., 5;
    his experiments, 291;
    vibration of rattle, 312;
    replacement of fangs, 364, 375;
    capsules of, 378;
    rapidity of stroke, 379;
    number of species, 388;
    expiration, 389;
    virulence of bite, 390;
    the headless trunk, 391.

  =Mivart=, Prof., F.R.S., orders of reptiles, 51, 52;
    on classification, 413.

  =Moisture=; essential to ss., 162, 166, 224;
    to the hatching of eggs, 434, 457.

  =Monsters=, 249, 254, 267.

  =Monstrosities=, 189, _et seq._, 254, 256, 517.

  =Moore=, Mr., his testimony, 255.

  =Mouth= of ss. (_see_ jaws, teeth, etc.).

  =Movements=, 151, 181, 195, 218, _et seq._ (_see_ coiling,
      constriction, swimming).

  =Mucous= secretions abundant, 36 (_see_ lubrication, salivation).

  =Müntras=, Hindû belief in, 512, 555.

  _Muridæ_, the, 229.

  _Mus coypus_, 229.

  =Muscles=: of the larynx, 141;
    of the tail, 180, 182, 183, 587;
    in the slow-worm, 472;
    of the ribs, 212, 215;
    irritability of, 183, 471.

  =Muscular= powers of ss., 38, 181, 199, 202, 204.

  =Musée= d’Histoire, 443, 444.

  =Museum=, Br. (_see_ Br. M.).

    of Paris, 78, 165;
    Australian, 246;
    of the R.C.S., 24, 408;
    of Washington, 488.

  =Music=, ss.’ love of, 525, _et seq._

  _Myopotamus_, the, 229.

  =Mythology=, ancient serpent symbols, 508.


  =Nâg=, =Nâgo=, Nâgowa, caste names of India, 513.

  =National= Library, our, 444.

  _Natter_, 479.

  =Natural= History, development of, 272;
    at Florence, 368;
    in England, 3, 45, 49, 99, 261, 273, 363, 372, etc.

  ‘=Natural= History of New York’, 85.

  ‘=Natural= History of Carolina’ (_see_ Catesby).

  ‘=Natural= History of Reptiles’ (Gosse), 90.

  ‘=Naturalist= in Jamaica’ (Gosse), 186.

  ‘=Naturalist’s= Notes from South Africa’, 70.

  ‘=Naturalist= on the Amazon’ (Bates), 421.

  ‘=Naturall= Historie of Serpentes’, 101.

  =Neck=: vertebræ of, 211;
    snakes have none, _ib._

  =Neck=-toothed ss., 67, _et seq._

  =Netto=, Dr., experiments with venom, 557.

  =Neuwied=, 228.

  =Nevada=, incident in, 549.

  =New= Caledonia, sea ss., 231, 238.

  ‘=New= Experiments on Vipers’ (1673), 273, 371.

  =New= Jersey, Lockwood on the pine s., 93.

  =New= York State, _battues_ of rattlesnakes, 289.

  =Newman=, Ed., editor of ‘Zoologist’, 3, 492;
    maternal affection of _Zootica vivipara_, 491.

  =Newspapers= quoted: American, 231, 248, 486;
    Country, the, 310, 504;
    Dailies, the, 13, 417;
    ‘Echo’, 247;
    ‘Field’, the, 20, 61, 83, 164, 237, _et seq._, 439, 490, 493, 498,
        504, 522, 530;
    ‘Illus. Lond. News’, 247;
    ‘Knowledge’, 592;
    ‘Land and Water’, 20, 231, 239, 249, _et seq._, 254, 261, 399, _et
        seq._, 405, 417, 422, _et seq._, 439, 455, 465, 516, 524, 526,
    Liverpool, 256;
    ‘London General Advertiser’ (1752), 285;
    ‘Medical Times’, 87, 547;
    ‘Modern Thought’, 18;
    ‘Nature’, 217, 249, 267, 329, 474, 536;
    ‘Times’, the, 232, 520;
    Weeklies, 417.

  =Nicander=, his two-headed s., 190.

  =Nicholson=, Dr. Ed., of Madras: ‘Indian Snakes’, 5;
    ss. drinking, 89;
    sea-ss., 235;
    replacement of teeth, 344, 375;
    four stages of development in, 349;
    on the maternal refuge, 504;
    the Russell’s v., 537;
    important statistics, 541;
    efficacy of tobacco, 542;
    self-inflicted bites, 559.

  =Nicols=, Arthur, Esq., F.G.S. (‘Zoological Notes’), on the tongue,
    rattle, 310;
    instance of maternal refuge, 504.

  =Nicotine= fatal to ss., 542, _et seq._

  =Nightingale=, Mr. W., a cure by alcohol, 551.

  =Nocturnal=, most ss. are, 2, 56, 386, 503.

  =Noise=, not ‘music’, 526, _et seq._

  =Nomenclature=, perplexing, 10, 43, 277, 396, _et seq._;
    why so, 413, 419, 421, _et seq._, 423 (_see_ classification,

  =Norfolk=, important evidence from, 491.

  ‘=North=-American Herpetology’, 86, 175, 301 (_see_ Holbrooke).

  =Norway=, sea-sers. frequent, 251.

  =Nostrils=, ss. breathe through, 139, 143;
    opposite the glottis, _ib._;
    higher in water ss., 223;
    vertical in anaconda, 228;
    and in sea-ss., 234;
    double in the _Crotalidæ_ (_see_ ‘pit’).

  ‘=Nova= Animalium Mexicanum’, 590 (_see_ Hernandez).

  ‘=Novum= Organum’ (Lord Bacon), 99.

  =Nubians= use antitoxics, 525.


  =Obsolete= teachings, 49, 99, 174, 191, 478, etc.

  =Ocquago=, rattlesnake den, 289.

  ‘=Odontography=’, 32, 67, 408 (_see_ Owen).

  =Œsophagus=, 67;
    gular teeth there, 69.

  _Ogmodon_, grooved tooth, 347.

  =Ohio=; Dr. Kirtland’s observations in, 57, 292, 393;
    _battues_ of s., 289;
    evidence of the maternal refuge, 496.

  =Oil=; abundant in ss., 165, 286;
    of vs., a remedy for their bite, 522, 541.

  _Oldenlandia_, 65.

  _Oligodon_, few toothed, 347.

  _Ophidarium_, the, 16, 61, 163.

  _Ophidia_; divisions of, 46, 51, _et seq._;
    groups of, 53;
    all carnivorous, 56;
    and oviparous, _ib._;
    prejudices regarding, 3, 97, 103, 189, _et seq._;
    well supplied with teeth, 344;
    sub-orders of, 354;
    complications in classification, 413.

  =Ophidiana=, s. gossip, 1, 26.

  _Ophidion_, 49;
    _Ophiodes_, _ib._

    meaning of, 47;
    advance of, 3, 47, 75.

  =Ophis=, the seeing, 48.

  =Oppel=, herpetologist, 383.

  ‘=Organization= of the Animal Kingdom’ (_see_ Jones).

  ‘=Origin= of Species’, 263, 311 (_see_ Darwin).

  ‘=Osborne=’, the (Royal yacht), marine animal seen from, 252, 254,

  =Oviparous=, 56, 431, 433, 497 (_see_ gestation, incubation, etc.).

  =Ovoviviparous=, 431, _et seq._, 505;
    exceptional cases, 434, _et seq._, 449, 462, 505.

  =Owen=, Professor, F.R.S., etc., 22;
    on the jaws, 32;
    the _Deirodon_, 66, _et seq._;
    the tongue, 119;
    the glottis, 131;
    lung of ss. 142, _et seq._;
    _chordæ vocales_, 147;
    prehensile tails, 180;
    saltatory motion, 184;
    exquisite organization of the spinal column, 196, 336;
    ss. are acrobats, 198;
    spine of py., 210;
    ichthyic characters of the _Lepidosiren_, 244;
    the sea-ser., 254;
    the _Bucephali_, 408.


  _Paca_, the, 229.

  =Pacific=, sea-ss. in, 238.

  =Palæontology=, 42, 44.

  =Palate=, armed with teeth, 30, 34, 343, 402;
    illus., 355;
    two jaws, 343.

  =Palmer=, Dr. E., of the Smithsonian Institute, U.S., important
      evidence, 488.

  =Panama=, sea-ss. at, 236, 238;
    boa from, 438.

  =Paradox=, the, 263.

  =Paraguay=, ss. washed down from, 232;
    observations in, 488.

  =Pauline= (the barque): sea-ser. testimony, 251, 256, _et seq._

  =Pearson= (Commander of Royal yacht _Osborne_): report of a gigantic
      marine animal, 255.

  =Pelagic= serpents, 82, 235, 240 (_see_ Cantor).

  =Penny= Cyclopædia, 113.

  =Penny= Magazine, 141.

  =Pepys= quoted, 49.

  =Pernambuco=, _Xenodons_ from, 400.

  =Persia=, ‘Travels in’ (Sir R. Ker Porter), 113.

  =Peru=, ‘Travels in’, 419 (_see_ Tschudi).

  =Phares=, Dr. D. L., Science Convention on Snakes, 489.

  =Pharmacopœia=, the homœopathic, 556.

  =Pharynx=, 30, 132, 147.

  =Phené=, _Sun and Serpent Worship_, 514.

  =Philosophical= Transactions: first tropical s., 117;
    Dr. Tyson on the larynx, 135;
    two-headed s., 190;
    a porcupine swallowed, 192;
    Sir E. Home on progression, 208;
    stimulating influence, 273;
    anatomy of a rattlesnake, 275;
    _Vipera Caudisona_, 276, _et seq._;
    Sir Hans Sloane’s experiments, 281;
    early observations, 295;
    a venerable cro., 302;
    sloughing of reptiles, 331;
    mobility of fangs, 370;
    reserve fangs, 371;
    succession of fangs, 373;
    how they become fixed, 363;
    brooding of eggs, 443.

  =Philosophical= Society, 117.

  =Physicians=, ‘knowing’ ones at Florence, 273.

  ‘=Physionomie= des Serpents’ (_see_ Schlegel).

  ‘=Pilgrimage=’, the, of Purchas, 276.

  =Pipe=-fish, the, 489.

  ‘=Pit=’, the, of cro.: first observed by Tyson, 277;
    its use still undetermined, 381;
    a plague to classifiers, 382, _et seq._;
    ‘secreting follicles’ of Owen, 384;
    ‘_fossettes lacrymales_’ of Duméril, 385;
    _Bothrophidæ_ named from them, 383;
    the _Crotalidæ_ of modern ophiologists, 385.

  =Pitfield= (Captain O. A.): shoals of ss. seen by, 231.

  =Plate=, River, ss. washed down, 232;
    vernaculars of, 423.

  =Platt=, Mr., a Florentine enthusiast, 273.

  _Platypus_, the, 263.

  =Pliny=, 84, 96, 168, 189, 196.

  =Poison=, renewed, 351;
    ‘spouted’, _ib._

  =Poisonous=; tongue, 97, _et seq._;
    teeth (_see_ fangs).

  =Pontoppidan=: Bishop, sea-ser. history, 247, 251.

  =Poojah=, 512, 513.

  =Porcupine=; swallowed, 192;
    H.M.S., 262.

  =Porter=, Sir R. Ker, sensationalism, 112;
    his travels, 113.

  =Portland=, U.S., Convention on Snakes, 485, 506.

  =Portuguese=: the, as colonists, 4, 354;
    a friar of, on Brazil, 271;
    name for snake, 354.

  ‘=Prairie= Farms’, 227 (_see_ Gilmore).

  =Prehensile= tails, 180, 202, 224;
    of sea-ss., 233;
    of anaconda and _anguis fragilis_, 472.

  =Prey=, how caught, 27, 198, 203 (_see_ Notes from the Z.G.);
    bulk of, 29, 34, 409, 585;
    shifted in the mouth, 29;
    held by coils, 199, 410.

  =Prince= of Wales in India, 87.

  =Pringle=, Mr. E. H., sea-ss. on shore, 237;
    a supposed sea-ser., 249.

  =Progression=, 54, 213;
    by the ribs, 208;
    like swimming, 217, 430 (_see_ movements, acrobats).

  =Psalms=, the, 103.

  =Pseudo=-fangs, 403, _et seq._

  =Pseudoxia=, or ‘Vulgar Errours’, 171, 191.

  =Psylli=, the, 522.

  _Pterosauria_, 44.

  =Puffing=, 148, _et seq._

  =Pulmonary= bag, the, 142.

  =Purchas=, 271, 369, 397, 428.

  =Putnam=, F. W., of U.S., editor of the ‘American Naturalist’, 485;
    secretary to the Am. Ass., 485;
    on the maternal refuge, 486, _et seq._, 497.


  =Queensland=, species of ss. in, 540.

  =Questions= yet undecided: the use of the rattle, 294;
    the ‘pit’, _doubles narines_, or _fosses lacrymales_, 381;
    ‘sleeping’ of ss., 169;
    origin of the maternal refuge, 505;
    nature of gigantic marine animals, 267.


  =Raleigh=, Sir W., 99.

  ‘=Rambles= and Scrambles’ (Sullivan), 419.

  =Rattells=, Indian charms, 272.

  =Rattles=, their use, 294, 307;
    speculations regarding, 308, 311, _et seq._;
    their age, 296, _et seq._, 302;
    form and colour, 296, 299, _et seq._;
    structure, 303, 305, _et seq._;
    Duméril’s conclusions, 313.

  =Rattlesnake= dens, 289, 301.

  =Redi=: _Osservazione intorno alle Vipere_, 372;
    knew of the mobility of fangs, _ib._

  =Règne= animal, Cuvier, 47.

  ‘=Relations= of the World’, by the Pilgrim Purchas, 270, 369.

  =Repose=; after food, 40, 64;
    of sea-ss., 235;
    as quiescence, 421, 587;
    periodical (_see_ hibernation).

  =Reptiles=; how divided, 51;
    definition of the name, 206.

  ‘=Reptiles= of British India’, by Dr. A. Günther, F.R.S., of the
       Br. M. (_see_ Günther).

  ‘=Reptiles=, Natural History of’ (_see_ Gosse).

  ‘=Rerum= Naturalium Thesauri’ (Seba), 278.

  ‘=Rervm= Natvralivm Braziliæ’ (Marcgravius), 397.

  =Respiration=; sometimes partial, 144;
    cessation of, 145;
    weak, 146;
    when feeding, 132, 141;
    in sea-ss., 132 (_see_ glottis, hibernation, etc.).

  =Ribbon= fish, 249, 250.

  =Ribs=; action of, 207;
    number of, 213;
    expansion of, 36, 39 (_see_ emotions, feeding, etc.);
    articulation of, 36, 212;
    in progression, 207, 215.

  ‘=Ricerche= fisiche sopra il veleno della Vipere’ (by Felix Fontana,
       1761), 368.

  =Richards=, Dr. Vincent, experiments in artificial respiration, 552.

  =Rocky= Mountains, cañons haunts of ss., 162.

  =Roget=, P. M., quotes Hellmann, 120;
    perception of touch in ss., 195;
    the spinal column, 210.

  ‘=Romance= of Natural History’ (Gosse), 248.

  =R.C.S.=, Museum of, 24, 68, 408, 415.

  =Royal= Family, the, 20.

  =Royal= herpetologists, _ib._

  =Ruskin=, Prof., lecture on ss., 41;
    classical names of, 48;
    movements, 195, 218.

  =Russell=, Lord Arthur, a herpetologist, 20;
    a friend of the Ophidia, _ib._

  =Ruthven=, S. S., Esq., of U.S., a large brood of ss., 497.


  ‘=S.=’ Captain, bitten by a sea-s., 241.

  =Saades= and Samp Wallahs, the, 515, 522.

  =Salamanders=, 164.

  =Saleratus= an Am. remedy, 553.

  =Saliva=, abundant, 35, 109, 112, 352.

  =Salivary= apparatus: of ss. complicated, 35, 109, 350, _et seq._;
    an aid to digestion, 352.

  =Salivation= of prey, 36, 110.

  =Saltatory= actions of ss., 184, 186, 448.

  =Santos=, _pelamis bicolor_ there, 238.

  =Sao= Gabrielle, observations by Wallace, 421.

  _Sauria_, the, 51;
    saurians, 71, 327, 331, 590.

  _Saurophidians_, 44.

  =Scales=; illus. of, 46, 176, 193, 234, 240, 316, _et seq._;
    ss. classified by, 46, 316;
    size of, 337;
    head shields, 316;
    ventral, 176, 213 (_see_ epidermis).

  =Sceva=, Mr., 365 (_see_ Fayrer).

  ‘=Schlangen= und Schlangen Feind’ (H. O. Lenz), 81.

  =Schlegel=, Herman: his work, 3;
    salivary glands, 35;
    an authority, 90;
    doubts snakes drinking, 77;
    power of tail, 182;
    vertebræ, 209;
    fangs, 362;
    involution of, 356;
    action of, 363;
    translation of his works, 3, 209.

  =Schliemann=, Dr., vegetable antidotes, 524.

  =Schneck=, Dr. J., of U.S., on Heterodon, 412.

  =Science= Gossip, 490, _et seq._

  =Science= News, 411.

  =Sclater=, P. Lutley, Esq., F.R.S., Sec. to the Z. Soc., Lond.: the
        carinate birds, 320;
    a communication to, 404;
    the brood of boas, 516.

  _Scorpione_, the, 590.

  =Scutæ=, overlapping, 194 (_see_ scales, epidermis).

  =Sea=-ss., 233, _et seq._ (_see_ Pelagic).

  =Sea=-sers. hard to identify, 248, _et seq._;
    gigantic marine forms seen, 251;
    most frequent in the North Atlantic, 252;
    probable hibernation of, 253;
    not necessarily ‘monsters’, 254;
    official reports of, 255, _et seq._;
    Mr. Bartlett on, 261;
    speculations, 264, _et seq._;
    existence still doubtful, 267.

  =Searle=, Mr. E. W., on the brood of young boas, 439.

  =Seba=, a crowing s., 154;
    on the anaconda, 228, _et seq._;
    vernaculars of the rattlesnake, 278.

  =Seh=, Fetish god, 514.

  =Sensations=, complex, 121;
    in ss. dull, 56, 161, _et seq._

  =Septic=, a, s. venom is, 552.

  =Serpent=: of Cuvier, 47;
    of mythology, 48, 102, 508;
    ‘sting’ of, 49;
    Lord Bacon on, _ib._;
    the name defined, 206;
    myths of, 514;
    worship of, 2, 513, _et seq._;
    symbol, _ib._

  ‘=Serpentes=’, of Topsell, 43, 101;
    of Purchas, 369.

  =Serpentine= movements, 195.

  ‘=Serpentum= Braziliensis’ (Wagler), 383, 427.

  =Shakspeare=, his popularity, 97;
    not a naturalist, _ib._;
    contemporary literature, 99;
    quotations from, 100.

  =Shaler=, Prof., U.S., on natural selection, 308.

  =Shell=-breaker, ‘Sunkerchor’, 63.

  =Shields=, 316 (_see_ scales, epidermis).

  =Shortt=, Dr., of Madras, gives milk to snakes, 87;
    approves of alcoholic remedies, 550;
    claims originality with _liquor potassæ_, 552.

  =Silliman’s= Journal of Science, 248.

  =Skeleton=, of cobra, 31;
    of jaws, 349.

  =Skin=, shedding of (_see_ integument, epidermis).

  =Sleeping= after meals, 40;
    with open eyes, 64, 169, 421.

  =Sloane=, Sir Hans: ‘Inchantments’, etc., 281;
  experiments, 370.

  =Sloughing= of lizards, 331, 481 (_see_ epidermis).

  =Smith=, Dr. Andrew: egg-eaters, 66, _et seq._;
    his work, 230;
    the _Bucephali_, 407, _et seq._

  =Smith=, a Mr., _Coluber smithii_, 416.

  =Smith=, Captain John, the rattells, 272.

  =Smith=, Prof. Lawrence, Pres. of the Am. Ass. (_see_ Convention on
      Snakes), 485.

  =Smith=, Sydney J., Esq., U.S., testimony, 438.

  =Smithsonian= Contributions, 364.

  =Smithsonian= Institution, Washington D.C., 488.

  ‘=Snakes= of Australia’ (Krefft), 154, 172.

  =Snakes=, Lectures on (_see_ Huxley, Ruskin).

  =Snakes=: a home for, 61, 592;
    groups of, 53;
    their place in nature, 56;
    length of life, 56;
    their uses, 57;
    cruel packing of, 169;
    powers of (_see_ constriction, deglutition, dentition, fangs,
        glottis, hibernation, progression, respiration, teeth, etc.);
    by name:

    =ABOMA=, 454;
      _acanthophis_, 172;
      _adder_, 49, 172, 392, 410, 424, 471;
      _aglyphodontes_, 347;
      _amphisbœna_, 44, 91, 174, 189, 190, 353;
      _anaconda_, 112, 210, 228, 232, 441, 454, _et seq._;
      _ancistrodon_, 11, 495, 571, 572;
      _anguis_ 48, 54, 89, 93, 171, 183, 187, 279, 346, 353, 410, 452,
          _et seq._, 471;
      _anholodontes_, 347;
      _anodon_, 66, 343, 347, 414;
      _apistoglyphes_, 347;
      _aproterodontes_, 347;
      asp, 268;
      _atropos_, _atrox_, 374, 422;
      _avusamans_, 230.

    =BLACK= s., 6, 63, as ‘_racer_’, 180, 182, 199;
      ‘=Blackie=’, 458, _et seq._;
      _blauser_, 152, _et seq._;
      _blindworm_, 44 (_see_ _anguis_);
      _boa_, 35, 47, 111, 134, 157, 183, 220, 228, 353, 435, 584,
          _et seq._;
      _boiginininga_, _boiguira_, 277;
      _boicinininpeba_, _boycininga_, 430;
      _boodon_, 347;
      _boomslange_, 407;
      _boschmeester_, 420;
      _bothrops_, 383, 385, 416, 422, 426, _et seq._;
      _brachyura_, 177, 374;
      _broad-scaled_ s.,423;
      _Bucephalus_, 407;
      _bull_ s., 155, _et seq._;
      ‘_bull-killer_’, 229;
      _bungarus_, 349, 357, 501;
      _bushmaster_, 176, 387, 422, _et seq._

    ‘=CALICO=’ s., 410;
      _callophis_, 537;
      _camoudi_, 420, 429, 454;
      _Cape adder_, 149;
      _capra capella_, 190;
      _carpet_ s., 10, 424;
      _cascavel_, 272, 277, 423;
      _cascobel_, 397;
      _caudalis_, 374;
      _caudisona_, 275, 388;
      _cecilia_, 353;
      _cenchris_, 175, 176, 224, 226, 562, 577;
      _cerastes_, 168, 315, 320, 324, 351, 389;
      _chicken_ s., 439;
      _chilobothrus_, 63, 93, 186, 437, 440, _et seq._, 449, _et seq._;
      ‘=Cleo=’, =Cleopatra=, 15, 515, 525;
      _clotho_, 148, 374, 422;
      _clothonia_, 85;
      _cobra_, 13, 33, 60, 87, 181, 190, 268, 327, 349, 354, 363, 390,
          401, 423, 442, 502, 511, 517, 537, 543, 560, 578;
      _cœnicoussi_, 420;
      _coluber_, 27, 47, 48, 52, 63, 74, 85, 91, 139, 180, 208, 353,
          414, 437, 442, 495, 500, 567;
      _colubri_, 434, 449;
      _colubrines_, 178, 316, 318;
      _constrictor_, 14, 39, 111, 135, 141, 178, 183, 198, _et seq._,
          202, 213, 232, 247, 258, 267, 327, 438, 584;
      _cophias_, 422;
      _copper-head_, 176, 289, 392, 571;
      _coral_, 10;
      _coronella_, 83, 424, 435;
      _corral_, 423;
      _counacouchi_, _counicouchi_, 417;
      _couroucoucou_, 419, 429;
      _courracouchi_, 421;
      _craspedocephalus_, 388, 396, _a seq._, 421, 423, 427;
      _crebo_, _cribo_, 177;
      _crotalidæ_, 176, 270, 302, 318, 355, 357, 359, 362, 368, 381,
          _et seq._, 397, 494, 503;
      _crotalus_, 162, 269, _et seq._, 353, 375, 387, 421, 426, 495,
          501, 519, 534, 541, 544, 553, 573, 574;
      _crotalophorus_, 292, 388, 393;
      _cucurijuba_, _curucucu_, 429;
      _cucuriù_, _cucuriubù_, 454;
      _curucucu_, 428;
      _cynodon_, 347.

    =DABOIA=, 349, 365, 407, 436;
      _dasypeltis_, 414;
      _deaf adder_, 424;
      _death adder_, 172, 180;
      _deer-swallower_, 229;
      _deirodon_, 67, 72, 412, 415;
      _dendrophidæ_, 218, 408;
      _diamond_ s., 384, 423;
      _domina serpentum_, 277;
      _dryadidæ_, 218;
      _dryophidians_, 325;
      _dumb rattlesnake_, 392;
      _durissus_, 366.

    =ECACOATL=, 279;
      _echis_, 150, 320, 351, 366, 389, 424, 440, 537, 554, 580;
      _elaphis_, 20, 185, 202, _et seq._, 336;
      _elapidæ_, 39, 186, 338, 353, 355, 362, 422, 430, 535, 548, 567;
      _el trago venado_, 454;
      _enhydrina_, 237;
      _epicratis_, 147, 203, 440;
      _eryx_, 220;
      _eunectes_, 456 (see _anaconda_);
      _eutania_, 495.

    =FER-DE-LANCE=, 319, 388, 423;
      _flammon_, 419;
      _four-rayed_ s. (see _elaphis_);
      _furia_, 422.

    =GARTER= s., 162, 440;
      _geoptyas_, 38;
      _glyphodon_, 347;
      _gokurrah_, 425;
      _guiarranpiaquana_, 430;
      great sea-ser., 221, 247, _et seq._;
      _green mamba_, 154.

    =HALYS=, 386;
      _hamadryad_, 181, 333, 352, 387, 390, 442, 503, 567;
      _herpetum_, 326;
      _heterodon_, 152, 347, 350, 395, 401, 403, _et seq._, 407, 409,
      _hexacornis_, 325;
      _hoacoatl_, 277;
      _holodontes_, 347;
      _homalopsidæ_, 224, 228, 234;
      _hoop_ s., 184;
      _hopplocephalus_, 184, 423, _et seq._;
      _horn_ s., _horned_ v., 224;
      _horse-shoe_ s., 137;
      _hydrinus_, 225, 243;
      _hydrophidæ_, 169, 222, 232, 318, 348, 350, 355.

    =IARARACA=, _iararacuassa_, 396, 429, 535;
      _ibibo_, _ibiboco_, _ibiboboca_, 429, 430;
      _ibiracua_, 396, 538;
      _iffulu_, 230;
      _isodon_, 347;
      _isodontiens_, 347.

    =JACULUS=, 196;
      _jacumama_, 454;
      _Jamaica_ boa, 92, 119 (see _chilobothrus_);
      _jararaca_, 10, 119, 359, 369, 402, 417, 421, 426, _et seq._;
      _jarraracca_, _jararacussu_, 396, _et seq._, 400, 406, 423, 429;
      _jararacucu_, 369;
      _jararacpeba_, 430, _et seq._;
      _jeboia_, 423.

    =KALA-SAMP=, 425;
      _kamoudi_, 429;
      _keautiah_, 425;
      king-snake, 177;
      _krait_, 349;
      _kunikusi_, 421.

    =LACERTINES=, 14, 138, 570;
      _lachesis_, 176, 357, 359, 365, 374, 387, 401, 416, 417,
          _et seq._, 421, _et seq._, 426, _et seq._, 556;
      _langaha_, 325;
      _liophis_, 332, 407, 410;
      ‘Lizzie’, 89, 470, _et seq._;
      _lophophrys_, 325;
      _lycodon_, 347, 350.

    =MAMBA=, 154;
      _mangeur de rats_, 228;
      _matatoro_, 229, 454;
      _massasauga_, 393;
      _megæra_, 422;
      _mocassin_, 7, 10, 227, 410, 424, 439, 571 (see _Tropidontus_);
      _morelia_, 384.

    =NAG SAMP=, 425;
      _naja_, 154, 328, 425 (see _cobra_), 580;
      _nasicornis_, 224, 317, _et seq._;
      _natrix_, 52, 138 (_see_ ring-s., _Tropidontus_).

    =OGMODON=, 347;
      _oligodon_, 66, 343, 347, 414;
      _ophiophagus_, 62, 181, 333, 390, 422, 425, 442, 565 (_see_ Elaps,

    =PASSERITA=, 325;
      _pelagic_ ss., 233, 235, _et seq._;
      _pelamis_, 238, _et seq._;
      _pelias_, 495, 505;
      _pilot_-s., 155, 182, 213;
      _pine_-s., 93, 155;
      _pit_-vs., 176 (see _crotalidæ_);
      _pituophis_, 151, 156, 217;
      _platurus_, 243;
      _prickly_-s., 175;
      _proteroglyphes_, 347;
      _psamophis_, 152;
      _pseudechis_, 548, 560;
      _ptyas_, 85, 213, 332, 348, 349 (_see_ rats.);
      _puffadder_, 13, 177, 358, 562;
      _python_, 78, _et seq._, 178, 202, 443, 446, 449, 514, _et seq._,
          516, 583, _et seq._

    =RACER=, 6, 63, _et seq._, 86, 155, 169, 177, 180, 182, 199;
      _rachiodon_, 347, 414;
      _raetel-schlange_, 277;
      rat-s., 38, 177, 214 (see _Ptyas_);
      _rat-tail_ s., 177;
      _rativoro_, 228;
      rattle-s., 116, 138, 165, 177, 193, 199, 210, 268, _et seq._,
          272, 274, 289, 307, 353, 360, 370, _et seq._, 390, 394, 487,
          496, 501, 509, 521, 541, 549, 563, _et seq._ (see _crotalus_);
      red adder, 392;
      ring-s., 27, _et seq._, 52, 74, 76, 83, 95, 167, 442, 566,
          _et seq._;
      _river_-s., 223;
      _river Jack_, 137, 150, 223;
      _rudis_, _la rude_, 414;
      _Russell’s_ v., 436 (see _Daboia_).

    =SCHLANGE=, 49;
      sea-ser., 248, _et seq._;
      _serpente_, 49;
      _sea-snakes_, 222, 231, 318 (see _Pelagic_);
      _sepedon_, 347
      _serpentes à sonnettes_, 279;
      _seven-banded_ s., 437, 439;
      _shiraraca_, 396, _et seq._, 429;
      _simotes_, 407;
      _slow_-worm, 167, 327, 330, 424, 458, _et seq._ (_see_ ‘Lizzie’);
      _solenoglyphes_, 347, 383;
      _sorococo_, 419;
      _spilotes_, 155, 177;
      _sucariuba_, 454;
      _surucurù_, 421;
      _surukuku_, 419;
      _surucujù_, 454.

    =TANGADOR=, 277;
      _teuchlacotzauhqui_, 279;
      _teutlacocauehqui_, 277;
      _thanatophides_, 383;
      _thorn-tail_, 172, 173, 175, _et seq._, 224;
      _toboba_, 423;
      _tomodon_, 347, 350, 407;
      _tortrix_, 220;
      ‘=Totsey=’, 201, 216, 439, 516;
      _trigonocephalus_, 172, 175, 176, 177, 226, 227, 319, 373, 388,
          392, 397, 421, 422, 427;
      _trimuresuri_, 177, 181, 386;
      _tropidontus_, 37, 52, 89, 95, 127, 217, 223, 226, 227, 437, 439,
          440, 450, 495, _et seq._, 571, _et seq._;
      _two-headed_ s., 187, 190;
      _typhlops_, 187, 189.

    =URICANA=, 421;
      _urocrotalon_, 292, 388;
      _uropeltis_, 188;
      _uropsophus_, 388.

    =VAIA=, 423;
      _viperidæ_, 348, 353, 355, 368;
      v. _atropos_, 149;
      v. _aquatica_, 174;
      v. _arietans_, 148;
      v. _caudisona_, 135, 275, 292, 370, _et seq._;
      v. _elegans_, 339, 436;
      _vipera_, 223, 433;
      _vipers_, 13