Snake Myths
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

From Matt Ellerbeck

Animal activist Matt Ellerbeck debunks many worldwide myths about snakes! For more about snakes, visit the website.

Snakes are slimy.

Wrong. Snakes are completely dry to the touch.

Snakes can sting with their forked tongues.

Snakes cannot sting with their tongues. The snake's forked tongue is used to pick up scents in the air. The tongue is then inserted into two pockets in the roof of the snake's mouth. These pockets are known as the Jacobson's organ. Here the scents are identified. This is why snakes continually flick out their tongues.

Snakes do not die until sundown.

Absolutely not true.

When frightened, snakes will bite their own tails and then roll away like a wheel to safety.

There is no reliable account of a snake ever behaving in such a manner. Furthermore, snakes are not anatomically designed for rolling.

Snakes charm or hypnotize their prey before they eat.

Snakes do not charm or hypnotize their prey! Snakes generally subdue their prey either with venom or constriction, depending on the species.

Snakes can poison people with their breath by mixing their venom with their breath.

Absolutely not true!

Snakes always travel in pairs.

Simply not true.

Milk Snakes go into barns to suck the milk from cows.

Not true. Snakes may enter barns in search of prey such as field rodents and small mammals.

A mother snake will swallow her babies when confronted with danger. The snake will spit the babies out once the threat has passed.

There is no evidence that snakes engage in this behavior.

You can tell how many years old a rattlesnake is by counting the number of segments in the rattle.

Not true. The rattlesnake's rattle does not grow a new segment every year, but instead a new segment is formed after each time the snake sheds its skin. Snakes shed their skin several times a year, and shedding intervals may happen every several weeks to every several months. Food supply, temperature, and growth rate all effect the times between shedding. Even though the rattle forms a new segment after each shed, you cannot tell how many times the snake has shed in its life by counting the segments on the rattle, because the segments can and do break off.

Snakes dislocate their jaws to enable them to swallow their prey.

False! If a snake dislocated its jaw the last thing that it would want to do is even think about eating! Snakes do not chew their food, so they must swallow it whole. The snakes are able to do this because the front part of their bottom jaw (the chin) is not fused together with bone like the bottom jaws of humans. Instead, the bottom jaw is connected with stretchy ligaments that allow the snake to stretch its mouth wide open. The snake also has an extra bone at the back part of its jaws called the quadrate bone. This bone allows the snake's jaws to open with an amazing gape.

Snakes can be charmed by a snake charmer with a flute.

False! Snakes cannot hear airborne sounds like people can, so they cannot hear the music from the flute of the snake charmer. The snakes that snake charmers use are merely swaying back and fourth because they are following the movements of the snake charmer's flute (if you watch, the snake charmer will be swaying left and right as he or she plays).

Snakes and other reptiles are cold-blooded and cannot feel pain.

False! Snakes and other reptiles are not cold-blooded (if their blood was cold all the time they would die). Reptiles are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is about the same as that of their surroundings - often slightly higher. Reptiles must rely on sources like the sun to warm up. Many people think ectotherms are indeed cold-blooded and are unable to feel pain.

However, recent research indicates that reptiles can experience pain. According to Douglas R. Mader, MS, DVM, DABVP-CA (2010) there have been studies looking at receptor sites. Reptiles have the same neurologic and receptor sites as do mammals. Furthermore, in a survey by Matt Read, members of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians were asked if they felt that reptiles felt pain. Nearly 100% responded yes.

Captive snakes will grow to the size of their environment.

Wrong! This is an old misconception which is not true.

There is a venomous snake so dangerous that after victims are bitten they can only walk a hundred steps before dying.

False. The myth of the hundred pacer snake (also known as the 50 pacer or even 5 pacer) concerns the Sharp-Nosed Viper (Deinagkistrodon acutis) which is native to Northern Vietnam, China, and Taiwan. Although this snake is venomous and has caused fatalities; it is not as potent or as dangerous as the myths have made it out to be.


See Our Readers' Comments
Return to Animal Rights Articles