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forked wings, tails, and barbs with which the ancients equipped them, being the invention of fable or imposture. Serpents have no external ear, and the internal organ is one of the simplest construction ; which accounts for the fact, that they have the sense of hearing in a lower degree than any other class of reptiles. The same may be said of their sense of smell, which is by no means delicate. The eye of the serpent presents nothing remarkable, unless it be that it is covered by the exterior integument which envelops the whole body—the portion protecting the eye being of course transparent, but sloughing at intervals with the rest of the skin. The best informed naturalists reject altogether the stories told respecting the fascination of this organ; to which we shall return. Again, the tongue has none of those barbed and spear-like appendages with which fable has armed it. It is certainly divided into two slender filaments at its point, and is capable of being protruded with more or less velocity, but beyond this it is a mere organ of touch, and simply assists either in taste or in swallowing. Serpents are oviparous (egg-producing) animals; the eggs.
of some being 'hatched internally (when they are said to be ovoviviparous), those of some almost immediately after they are dropped, and those of others requiring several weeks of incubation. They are of slow growth, and, like other reptiles, are said to be long-lived. Many travellers, and especially those of a remote age, speak of snakes of an enormous size, which they say they have encountered in their wanderings in intertropical countries; but naturalists discredit such statements, and affirm that the most gigantic rarely exceed thirty feet in length. In Europe, the largest known species attains, when full grown, a length of not more than six or eight feet.
Modern writers on serpents divide the Ophidians into five groups : Burrowing-snakes.--A subordinate group, which mainly live under ground. They are characterised by having stiff round bodies, short tails, narrow heads and mouths, feebly developed teeth, and extremely weak ventral scales; and in some species there are no ventral scales at all; and without an exception, the members of this group are non-venomous. Ground-snakes. These pass their time upon the surface of the earth, and by far the greater number of snakes are included in this group. They have large well-developed ventral shields, fitting them for rapid progression. Tree-snakes.--Most tree-snakes pass their time almost exclusively on trees and in bushes, the trunks and branches of which they traverse with astonishing ease and rapidity. Many of the species have prehensile tails, and peculiarly arranged ventral shields. Most of them are beautifully coloured with different shades of green. Fresh-water Snakes.The members of this group are distinguished by the peculiar position of the nostrils, which are placed on the upper part of the nose, the tail often tapering to a whip-like point. They swim and dive like eels, and are not as a rule poisonous. Sea-snakes.—The nostrils in
this group are likewise placed on the upper part of the snout, but the tail is flattened. They live in the sea, and are mostly venomous.
As we have not space to point out in detail the peculiarities of the various species of serpents which together make up the five groups, it will better serve our purpose to consider them under three heads : Firstly, snakes that are not provided with poison-fangs, but which are nevertheless capable of inflicting very severe wounds, and are mostly spiteful and vicious; secondly, snakes which, although provided with poison-fangs, yet do not necessarily inflict a wound which is deadly; thirdly, those whose bite is of such a deadly nature that recovery under any form of treatment is hopeless.
NON-VENOMOUS, YET DANGEROUS, SNAKES. We may select as types of what we include under the first head, the larger descriptions of snakes—such as the Guinea-snake; the West
Port Natal Python. African Python, or Rock-snake; the South African Boa Constrictor, as well as the boas that are found in the southern parts of India and Ceylon; the Anaconda, from tropical America ; and the Bullsnakes, which are common on both sides of the Rocky Mountains. All these snakes are by nature bold and vicious; and although they are unprovided with poison-fangs, nevertheless, the injury they are capable of inflicting with their sharp-pointed, recurved teeth is by no means of trifling moment. Wounds inflicted by these snakes are always difficult to heal, inasmuch as they are lacerated as well as punctured. Regarding the powers possessed by the formidable boa constrictors and anaconda, most exaggerated ideas are entertained ; that they do occasionally destroy very large and powerful animals, there is no denying; but that tigers and buffaloes constitute their usual prey, is a statement not strictly true, although there exist several well-authenticated instances of men having been killed by these terrible reptiles. Happily, the appetite of these gigantic snakes bears no proportion to their means of gratifying it, as a full meal is succeeded by a state of torpor, which frequently lasts for a month or six weeks, or, during the cold season, even for a longer period. In·killing its prey, the boa does not merely wreathe itself
around the body, but places fold over fold, as if desirous of adding as much weight as possible to the muscular effort ; these folds are then gradually tightened, with such immense force as to crush the ribs and smaller bones, and thus not only to destroy the animals life, but to bring its carcass into a state the most easy for its being swallowed. So soon as the carcass has been sufficiently crushed, the boa proceeds slowly and gradually to swallow it entire. In the German Ephemerides, we have an account of a combat between an enormous serpent and a buffalo, related by a person who .assures us that he was himself a spectator. The serpent had for some time been waiting near the brink of a pool, in expectation of its prey, when a buffalo was the first that offered. Having darted upon the affrighted animal, it instantly began to wrap it round with its voluminous twistings; and at every twist the bones of the buffalo were heard to crack. It was in vain that the poor animal struggled and bellowed ; its enormous enemy entwined it too closely to get free; till at length, all its bones being mashed to pieces, like those of a malefactor on the wheel, and the whole body reduced to one uniform mass, the serpent untwined its folds to swallow its prey at leisure. To prepare for this, and in order to make the body slip down the throat more glibly, it was seen to lick the whole body over, and thus cover it with its mucus. It then began to swallow it at that end that offered least resistance, while its length of body was dilated to receive its prey, and thus took in at once a morsel three times its own thickness.
As the boas and other large serpents are generally on the outlook for prey in the most frequented places, it sometimes happens that man becomes their victim. In the Bombay Courier of August 31, 1799, we have the following: 'A Malay proa was making for the port of Amboyna; but the pilot, finding she could not enter it before dark, brought her to anchor for the night close under the island of Celebes. One of the crew went on shore in quest of betel-nuts in the woods, and on his return lay down, as it is supposed, to sleep on the beach. In the course of the night he was heard by his comrades to scream out for assistance. They immediately went on shore ; but it was too late, for an immense snake of this species had crushed him to death. The attention of the monster being entirely occupied by his prey, the people went boldly up to it, cut off its head, and took both it and the body of the man on board their boat. The snake had seized the poor fellow by the right wrist, where the marks of the fangs were very distinct; and the mangled corpse bore signs of being crushed by the monster's twisting itself round the neck, head, breast, and thigh. The length of the snake was about thirty feet; its thickness equal to that of a moderate-sized man; and on extending its jaws, they were found wide enough to admit at once a body of the size of a man's head.'
The following anecdote, related of one kept in the Tower of London, shews that a man is scarcely match for a very ordinary boa constrictor : 'Some years ago, when the keeper was offering a fowl to one of these serpents, the animal being almost blind from the approaching change of its skin, missing the fowl, seized upon the keeper's thumb instead, around which and its own head it instantaneously threw two coils, and then, as if surprised at the unexpected resistance, cast an additional fold round the keeper's neck, and fixed itself by its tail to one of the posts of the cage in such a manner as nearly to throttle him. His own exertions, however, aided by those of the under-keepers, at length disengaged him from his perilous situation ; but so determined was the attack of the snake, that it could not be compelled to relinquish its hold until two of its teeth had been broken off and left in the thumb.'
There are several other innocuous serpents which attack their prey in the same manner as the boas, but none of these exceed twelve or sixteen feet in length, and of course are barely a match for a sheep or a goat.
There is on record an instance of one of the boas in the London Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, abstaining from food for the space of twenty-two months, and yet it exhibited no appearance of illhealth or wasting of substance. One of the finest boas the Zoological Society ever possessed was a female, which was brought from Ceylon, having been captured whilst in a torpid condition after a heavy feed. It rapidly improved in health and condition after its arrival at the Gardens, and eventually attained the length of nearly thirty feet, the body being about fifteen or perhaps more inches in circumference at its largest part. The keepers named her. Bess. But the lady was never to be trusted : she once struck at her keeper as he was sweeping out her cage, and with such violence as to knock him away from the opening, and had he not been quick in slamming to the cage-door, would doubtless have followed him. Poor Bess died, as some of our readers will probably recollect, from the effects of devouring her own blanket. The event happened at the time when Bess was changing her skin, and as all snakes are, whilst the process is going on, she was to some extent blind. Several live rabbits were placed in her cage, one of which she caught, crushed,
and swallowed. The other rabbits were not to be so easily cap'tured; they dodged her most effectually, her defective eyesight preventing any precision of aim. At last the infuriated snake, in striking wildly at a rabbit, missed as usual the little animal, but instead fastened upon the blanket in which she was usually wrapped. Winding her ponderous body round and round the woolly rug, she crushed and twisted until she was satisfied, and then commenced to gorge it, a feat she most effectually accomplished. With her stomach filled with blanket, a dinner not easily digested, she soon became torpid, and so remained for about a week or ten days, when she disgorged, not alone the blanket, but the rabbit she had swallowed just before. No food after this was taken for more than a month, and, to the astonishment of everybody, she coiled herself round in a kind of heap, and deposited about seventy eggs.
Ill as she evidently felt, Bess nevertheless tried her best to hatch the eggs, but without avail; they all turned bad, and were eventually removed from under her; and for a time this remarkable lady was certainly the most popular character in the metropolis, for in no previous instance had a boa ever been known to lay eggs in confinement. Repeated notices appeared in the papers as to how Bess and her incubation were progressing. She never rallied after the gastronomic performance of bolting a blanket, but refused the most tempting food, grew more and more irritable and vicious, and at last died.
A great many boas are captured alive, and brought to England for sale, but the greater part of them die from a very peculiar kind of fungoid disease that affects the gums and roof of the mouth; this, however, may be sometimes cured by applying nitrate of silver.
Although it is never wise or safe, as a rule, to trust any of the larger serpents, still there are exceptions to this as to other general rules. Not long ago we were in a small room, on the floor of which six large boas were at large, writhing over
ne another like as many earth-worms. Any one of them could have crushed the life out of a man; but we were assured there was no danger; they allowed their mouths, one after the other, to be pulled open and inspected for the disease called 'canker,' without shewing the smallest sign of displeasure, or making any attempt to strike. This unusual placidity may be in a great measure accounted for by the fact that the snakes were in a semi-torpid state, from being kept at a low temperature. The same thing may be witnessed in travelling-caravans, where the showman twists the boa round his neck and places its mouth against his cheek. There are also one or two of the boas in the Zoological Gardens that are perfectly docile, and will come at the keeper's call to the door of the cage.
We may not quit this part of our subject without referring to that most dangerous python, the Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), native of tropical America. This terrible serpent has been often made to figure prominently in sensational tales as having the power