Snakes are definitely one of the most feared creatures on the planet – but they are possibly one of the most misunderstood animals as well. Here are some of the most popular misconceptions about snakes and the truth behind the myths:
Snakes feel slimey
Many people who have never touched snakes believe that snakes feel cold and slimey. In fact, snakes actually have a dry, scaly skin which is fairly smooth to touch. It is made of the same material – keratin – which makes up human fingernails, bird feathers and mammalian hair. It can feel warm or cold, as snakes, like all reptiles, have a body temperature that is very dependent on their environment – for example, a snake that has been basking in the sun will feel warm to the touch whereas a snake that has been hibernating or laying in a cold body of water will naturally feel colder.
Snakes can sting you with their tail
Rattlesnakes can have noisy, fearsome rattles on the ends of their tails but they cannot attack you with them. It is simply a warning and threatening device. Snakes an only bite you with their mouths.
If you look in a snake’s eyes, you will be hypnotised as prey
Snakes may seem to be giving you a hypnotising stare but in fact, this is probably due to the fact that they do not have eyelids and therefore cannot blink like we can. Sometimes snakes will rock from side to side but again, this is not an attempt to hypnotise you but simply to help them determine their depth perception. The fact that many prey species freeze when confronted by a snake is more due to their own survival instincts than to any messages from the snake.
Snakes chase people
One of the most common myths and completely untrue. Most snakes are shy, retiring creatures that are more frightened of you than you of them! They simply want to get away from you and be left in peace. If they move rapidly towards you, it is probably more due to the fact that you are standing between them and a hiding place they wish to reach – and not because they want to attack you. Often, snakes will slither over shoes and feet without even noticing the person there – if you stand still, you simply become part of the landscape. Having said that, there are a few aggressive species which may attack if provoked but this is an extremely rare occurrence.
Puff adders have poisonous breath
This myth states that puff adders can mix venom into their breath and thus spray and kill a person at a distance of over twenty feet. It is pure fantasy – the breath of puff adders (also known as hognose snakes) is harmless, even though these snakes will often display bluffing behaviour in an attempt to frighten off a threat. Thus, they will raise their hoods, hiss and even strike but they will not bite and certainly will not breathe poison on you!
Snakes suck milk from livestock
This is a common superstition among farming communities all over the world. They believe that snakes suck the milk from cows and goats and in fact, the milksnake derives its name from this myth. Snakes, in fact, lack the necessary anatomical structures to suck liquid – they only drink by submerging their mouths in water and then sucking in water through the vacuum created by expanding their body wall.
This is one of the funnier myths, originating in folklore, which claims that when frightened, snakes will grip its tail with its mouth and form a rigid circle, which can then roll downhill like a wheel! This myth may have been inspired by the mud snakes of the United States which sometimes lie in a loose coil which is shaped like a circle – however, if they are frightened, they simply slither away like any other snake.