Natural History, Reptiles/Ophidia
ORDER IV. OPHIDIA.
The appearance of the animals of this Order is, for the most part, exceedingly beautiful. The smooth roundness of the body, unbroken by any projections; its slenderness tapering gradually away to a point; the cleanness and polished surface of the gleaming scales with which they are clothed, together with their symmetry and the closeness with which they overlap each other; the hues almost always gay, and often brilliant, often finely contrasted and arranged in varied and tasteful patterns, and often reflecting an opalescent lustre; and, above all, the lithe and graceful motions throwing the animals into the most elegant curves and spires, cannot be contemplated by an observer, unblinded by prejudice or dread, without admiration. Yet it cannot be denied that there is another side to the picture: the knowledge that many kinds are armed with a most deadly potency of mischief; the difficulty of knowing (at first sight, and by the unskilled, at least) how to discriminate between the venomous and the innocent; the fierce boldness and preparedness for war which almost all manifest, if disturbed; and the threatening aspect with which, open-mouthed, they face an adversary, combine with a something of malignity in the eye and physiognomy, more or less observable in all, to inspire fear and aversion. Perhaps this last feature depends on the flattened form of the head, the glare of the eye, (which is not furnished with eyelids, and frequently has the pupil linear), and the extreme width of the gape.
HEAD OF BOA.
In the Serpents, the four limbs which we have seen gradually to become obsolete in the latest forms of the Saurian group, are no longer found, either in external projections or in internal bones; there is neither breast-bone, nor pelvis, nor shoulder. In one Family, however, there are two horny spurs or hooks on the hinder part of the body, which are connected with minute bones imbedded in the flesh, and seem to be the rudimentary representatives of posterior limbs; they are, however, of no use in progression, but answer another purpose in the animal’s economy. The ribs are immensely numerous and encircle a great part of the trunk; and the free extremities of these form, as we shall presently describe, the ordinary instruments of progressive motion in this Order. The vertebræ, or joints of the spine, are connected not by two hollow facets, filled up with cartilage, but by one convex face, filling that which is concave.
With a few exceptions, which form the connecting links with the Saurians, and are but a step removed in structure from the species last noticed, the Serpents are characterised by a remarkable looseness of the bones of the skull, and in particular by the mode in which the jaws are articulated. These reptiles are ordained to prey upon animals whose size much exceeds that of any part of their own bodies, or heads, and yet they are not furnished with any apparatus either of teeth or claws, by which their food may be divided; it must be swallowed whole. The elasticity of membranous viscera, such as the gullet or the stomach, we readily conceive, might be sufficiently great to allow of the passage of large masses of food; but the fixed and unyielding nature of the bones of the mouth in most animals would prevent the possibility of this. In the reptiles before us, however, a singular and beautiful deviation from this ordinary condition of fixity in the bones of the mouth meets the necessity of the case, and allows of an immense expansion of the parts. The structure may be thus familiarly explained. The lower jaw, which is much longer, and extends much farther back than the skull, is not hinged to the upper jaw, but is suspended at the end of a long slender bone, which is attached to the hinder-part of the skull by muscles and ligaments so as to be very moveable. It will be readily seen how this contrivance permits a very wide expansion of the posterior part of the lower jaw, which is attained in a less degree in front by the nature of the union of the two branches, they not being soldered together there as usual, but simply tied by ligaments. Other bones of the skull have a correspondent freedom.
SKULL OF SNAKE.
Both pairs of jaws, for the most part, are set with numerous slender acute teeth, having a double curve, and pointing backwards: the bones of the palate also are furnished with similar teeth, so that there are four nearly equal rows of teeth in the upper part of the mouth, and two in the lower. The mode of swallowing prey is as follows:—Some of the front teeth being struck into the victim, one side of the lower jaw is thrust forward as far as the ligaments will allow, when the teeth of that side take a fresh hold, which is retained, while the other side of the jaw performs a corresponding movement; thus by the alternate advance of the two sides of the jaw, which their excessive mobility admits, and by the backward inclination of the teeth allowing the food to move much more readily in one direction than another, this is gradually drawn into the throat, forcing asunder, and dislocating, as it were, all the bones of the mouth, as it proceeds, until at length it is deposited in the elastic and expansible gullet.
In many of the species, the teeth of the upper jaw manifest a tendency to increase in size above those of the palate, and to decrease in number. The Water-serpents have but few, but the foremost one is larger than those which succeed it, and is hollowed in a peculiar manner, so as to form a curved and pointed tube, connected with a gland that secretes a poisonous fluid. At length in the most venomous of the whole Order, the upper jawbone is reduced to a small size, carrying a single curved and tubular tooth of great length, which is followed only by others of the same structure, undeveloped, and destined to replace it after its loss by decay or violence.
It is common to represent the poison-fang of a Serpent as simply tubular, or pierced through its centre; this, however, conveys a wrong impression. The substance of the tooth is not pierced at all. Let us suppose the simple tooth of a Boa, or of a common Snake, to be flattened transversely, and its edges then to be bent round until they meet, and to be soldered together, so as to form a tube open at each end. Such is the fang of the Viper, the line by which the edges unite running down the front of the tooth, where it is convex; while the posterior or concave side is that which contains the pulp-cavity or true centre, considered structurally. The union of the edges is incomplete towards the gum, forming an oblique aperture; and the extremity of the tooth is still more so, presenting the form of a very narrow longitudinal groove.
The tube thus formed communicates with the poison-bag, into which the deadly fluid is poured from glands which lie on each side of the head beneath the eye. Each consists of a number of long narrow lobes, extending from the main duct which runs along the lower border of the gland upwards and slightly backwards. Each lobe gives off smaller lobes from its sides, and each of these is subdivided into smaller secreting sacs; and the whole gland is surrounded by a membrane connected with the muscles, by whose
contraction the several lobes are pressed and emptied of the poison. This fluid is then conveyed through the duct to the poison-bag. “We may suppose,” says Professor Müller, “that as the analogous lachrymal and salivary glands in other animals are most active during particular emotions, so the rage which stimulates the venom-snake to use its deadly weapon must be accompanied with an increased secretion and great distention of the poison-glands; and as the action of the compressing muscles is contemporaneous with the blow by which the Serpent inflicts its wound, the poison is at the same moment injected with force into the wound from the tip of the perforated fang.”
A singular exception to the general structure of the teeth occurs in a South African Snake (Deirodon, Owen), described by Dr. Andrew Smith, which is so interesting that we quote Professor Owen's description of the dentition and its use. The teeth are so small as to be scarcely perceptible; and are besides so soon liable to be lost, that the reptile has been described as toothless. The office assigned to this Serpent is to keep down the inordinate increase of the smaller birds, by preying on their eggs; and, as has been observed, the apparent defect in its dentition is in reality one of those beautiful instances of adaptation of structure to the exigencies of the case, to which every naturalist has so often to advert. “If,” says Professor Owen, “the teeth had existed of the ordinary form and proportion, in the maxillary and palatal regions, the egg would have been broken as soon as it was seized, and much of its nutritious contents would have escaped from the lipless mouth of the Snake in the act of deglutition; but, owing to the almost edentulous state of the jaws, the egg glides along the expanded opening unbroken, and it is not until it has reached the gullet, and the closed mouth prevents any escape of the nutritious matter, that the shell is exposed to instruments adapted for its perforation. These instruments consist of the inferior spinous processes of the seven or eight posterior cervical vertebræ, the extremities of which are capped by a layer of hard cement, and penetrate the dorsal (upper) parietes of the œsophagus: they may be readily seen even in very young subjects, and 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 gastric juice.”
The tongue in this Order is slender, and divided into two long and pointed filaments, which are capable of being entirely retracted within a sheath, or of being protruded from the mouth, with great swiftness of motion. Serpents are said to be enabled to lap up fluids with this forked tongue, which, however, seems to be ill suited for such an operation. The vulgar notion which associates a hurtful power with the tongue, often spoken of as the “sting,” is entirely erroneous.
The mode in which respiration is performed is described by MM. Duméril and Bibron to be as follows:–“The glottis, which has two lips, and represents a very simple larynx, opens in the mouth beneath the sheath of the tongue; by means of the muscles of the os hyoïdes [or bone of the tongue], which push it, it is raised so as to be presented in a dilated state behind the back nostrils. The vacuum caused by the action of the ribs in the belly tends to dilate the lung, which through the medium of the trachea, immediately admits the air which is introduced during an inspiration: this is slow, continuing for some seconds. This air, when it has performed its office, and has been deprived of its oxygen, is expelled in the same manner, but by an inverse mechanism, which is entirely due to the action of the muscles which tend to approximate the ribs to each other. When it is expelled rather briskly, a sort of vibration or hissing is heard.”
The learned zoologists just cited have given some interesting illustrations of the absorbent powers of the intestines of serpents. Their fæcal evacuations afford a singular proof of this; for they present, as it were, the dry extract of the animal swallowed, in an entire state; the parts that could not be dissolved remaining unaltered, and absolutely in the same situation that they occupied in the carcase of the animal before it had passed through the whole length of the digestive tube. If, for instance, a rat has undergone this process, one may recognise in the dry and shapeless mass, the place occupied by the muzzle of the animal, the long whiskers of its cheeks, the down which covered the delicate cartilages of its ears, the hairs of various lengths and colours which correspond with those of the back, the belly, and above all, the tail; and finally, even the claws, which remain in their pristine state of integrity. All that was flesh or soft matter in the body has been completely absorbed; the earthy salt, nevertheless, which gave, by means of its union with the gelatine, consistence to the bones, still indicates by its presence, and especially by its colour, the place they occupied. Dissolution, compression, and absorption, have done their work upon this desiccated mass, which still, however, contains the elements of nourishment for the larvæ of the insects of the Family Dermestidæ.
When irritated or alarmed, some of the Serpents (the non-venomous ones, at least) have recourse to two very distinct actions, both of which seem to be means of defence. The first is the production of the shrill sound already alluded to, called hissing, by the forcible ejection of air from the narrow glottis. This sound, though so familiarly spoken of as to have become almost proverbial, we cannot help thinking, is uttered rather infrequently; as we have seen species of Colubridæ and Boadæ excited to rage, but do not remember ever to have heard the “hissing” in question. MM. Duméril and Bibron also state that they never could hear more than a sort of blowing (soufflement), such as would result from the rapid issue of a current of air through a simple pipe,–a quill, for instance. The other defence is much more certain, and less likely to be overlooked. It consists in the diffusion of a fetid, sickening odour, so nauseous as to be overpowering. It proceeds from certain glands situated near the orifice of the body. We have remarked in the Boa, that the urine, which is discharged in the form of a butyraceous pulp, like moist plaster of Paris, has the same fetor.
White of Selborne gives the weight of his testimony to both of these modes of defence. “I wish I had not forgot to mention the faculty that snakes have of stinking se defendendo. I knew a gentleman who kept a tame snake, which was in its person as sweet as any animal while in good humour and unalarmed; but as soon as any stranger, or a dog, or a cat, came in, it fell to hissing, and filled the room with such nauseous effluvia, as rendered it hardly supportable.”
The eggs of serpents are enclosed in a calcareous covering, which is not hard and shelly, but tough, somewhat resembling kid-leather, or wet parchment. They are often numerous, and are deposited together, and connected by a sort of glutinous matter. Holes in the earth, in dunghills, or in heaps of decaying vegetable matter, are situations frequently chosen for their reception; and here they are left to be hatched by the heat of the weather, or by that which is developed in the putrefactive fermentation of the surrounding mass. The venomous species, as far as we are acquainted with their habits, are ovo-viviparous, the membrane of the egg being ruptured either before or during parturition.
We have said that the instruments of progressive motion in the Serpent tribes are the multitudinous ribs. The vertebræ of the spine admit of excessive flexibility, and the ribs are jointed upon them in a manner which allows the latter an extent of motion unusually great. The mode in which a Serpent proceeds will be understood from the following observations, the reader bearing in mind that the whole under surface of the body is shod, as it were, with broad plates, or scuta, the hinder margins of which are free. “When the Snake,” says Sir Everard Home, “begins to put itself in motion, the ribs of the opposite sides are drawn apart from each other, and the small, cartilages at the end of them are bent upon the upper surfaces of the abdominal scuta, on which the ends of the ribs rest; and as the ribs move in pairs, the scutum under each pair is carried along with it. This scutum, by its posterior edge, lays hold of the ground and becomes a fixed point from whence to set out anew. This motion is beautifully seen when a snake is climbing over an angle to get upon a flat surface. When the animal is moving, it alters its shape, from a circular or oval form to something approaching a triangle, of which the surface on the
SKELETON OF BOA.
ground forms the base. The Coluber and Boa having large abdominal scuta, which may be considered as hoofs or shoes, are the best fitted for this kind of progressive motion.” . . . . . “An observation of Sir Joseph Banks during the exhibition of a Coluber of unusual size first led to this discovery. While it was moving briskly along the carpet, he said he thought he saw the ribs come forward in succession, like the feet of a caterpillar. This remark led me to examine the animal's motion with more accuracy, and on putting the hand under its belly, while the Snake was in the act of passing over the palm, the ends of the ribs were distinctly felt pressing upon the surface in regular succession, so as to leave no doubt of the ribs forming so many pairs of levers, by which the animal moves its body from place to place.”
It is doubtless by the expansion of these rib-feet, and by the application of them alternately to the surface on which they move, that Serpents are able to glide with facility up the trunks, and along the branches of trees, a feat which we have seen the Colurbidæ of America and the West Indies perform repeatedly, not (as absurdly represented in engravings) by encircling the tree in spiral coils, but gliding along with the body extended, exactly as a caterpillar crawls, but with far greater speed.
The earth is the sphere of activity of by far the greatest number of the Serpent races: they inhabit various situations, some frequenting woods, others heaths, and many preferring deserted buildings, old walls, and heaps of stones. A few species reside permanently among the foliage of trees; and others there are, which are truly aquatic, roving through the ocean even at considerable distance from the shores. These have the hinder parts of the body and the tail greatly compressed, so as to form a vertical oar. Many, if not all, of the terrestrial species, however, are capable of swimming, and will take to the water of their own accord.
The geographical distribution of the Ophidia is very extensive: they are spread over the whole torrid and temperate regions of the globe. With the exception of the Samoa group, the islands of Polynesia are, however, destitute of them. The Order is divided into five Families, Amphisbænadæ, Boadæ, Colubridæ, Viperadæ, and Hydrophidæ.
Family I. Amphisbænadæ.
There are found in this Family of Serpents several traces of structure which belong rather to the preceding Order than to the present. Their food consists for the most part of ants and other small insects, the nature of which does not require that these Serpents should possess the power of dilating the mouth and throat, which we have described as common to the Order; hence the upper jaw is fixed to the skull and the inter-maxillary bones, as in the preceding Orders of reptiles, and in the higher animals; while the lower jaw is jointed directly with the skull, and its two branches are soldered together in front. The bony frame of the orbit of the eye is incomplete behind, as we observed it in the Geckotidæ; and the eye is so minute as in most cases to be with difficulty discernible in the adult animal; in the young, however, it is much more conspicuous.
The head is small, without any enlargement, and without any neck, and the tail is so short as to seem as if it had been abruptly cut off, and the wound simply rounded; so that the whole creature is uniform in thickness through its whole length from point to point. Hence it is difficult at first sight to determine which extremity is the head, and which the tail; and this circumstance, together with the habit which these reptiles have of proceeding with either end foremost, (their uniformly cylindrical shape and the smoothness of their scales permitting this with facility,) has given rise to a popular notion very widely spread throughout the tropical parts of America, where these Serpents are found, that they are furnished with a head at each extremity. So wondrous an animal as a Serpent with two heads, is of course presumed to have equally wondrous endowments; it is declared impossible to destroy it by dividing the body in two, for the two heads mutually seek each other after such an accident, and on meeting, the severed parts reunite, and soon heal. Stedman, in his “History of Surinam,” alludes to this and other extraordinary virtues ascribed to this “Two-headed Snake.” “Another Snake, which I also observed here, is about three feet long, and annulated with different colours. It is called Amphisbæna, from the supposition of its having two heads; and the truth is, from its cylindrical form, the head and tail so much resemble each other, that the error is almost pardonable: besides which, the eyes are nearly imperceptible. This is the Snake which, supposed blind, and vulgarly said to be fed by the large ants (termites), is in this country honoured with the name of King of the Emmets. The flesh of the Ampisbæna, dried and reduced to a fine powder, is confidently administered as a sovereign and infallible remedy in all cases of dislocation and broken bones; it being very naturally inferred that an animal which has the power of healing an entire amputation in its own case, should at least be able to cure a simple fracture in the case of another.”
The Amphibænadæ are covered with minute close-set scales, highly polished, either square and set in circular rings around the body, or overlapping, as in the Slow-worms. A range of small pores runs in front of the vent, which is situated almost at the very extremity of the body; the jaws are furnished with a single row of small conical teeth, which are few and distant from each other; the palate is destitute of any. The mouth is very small. There are no poison-fangs, and these reptiles are consequently harmless and inoffensive; those specimens which have been brought alive to Europe are described as dull and inanimate, without grace or activity in their movements; “they crawled slowly about, and when handled, languidly twisted their bodies and opened their mouths, but made no attempt to bite: their appearance was far from being attractive. One of these animals (Amphisbæna fuliginosa), kept alive some time since in the Gardens of the Zoological Society, took milk very freely, and subsisted on it for six months.”
The food of these Serpents, as we have said, consists of ants, termites, and other minute animals; and they are said to inhabit the earthy nests and hills of these industrious insects, through which their slender cylindrical bodies and polished scales enable them to burrow with great facility. They are oviparous, laying eggs in such situations, which are very large in proportion, and covered with a parchment-like skin.
The Family contains but a small number of species, which are, however, scattered over the tropical regions of both hemispheres.
Genus Typhlops. (Schneid.)
In the genus Typhlops are comprised a few Serpents, so small as to resemble earthworms in appearance, which are clothed with small overlapping scales, broader than long, very closely applied. They have the muzzle somewhat advancing beyond the lower jaw, and covered with broad plates; the tongue is rather long and forked like that of the true Serpents; the eye, minute and point-like, is scarcely or not at all visible externally. The body is slender, cylindrical, terminating very abruptly; the vent is close to the extremity. One lung is four times as large as the other.
Species of this genus are found in the warm regions of both continents, and in the large tropical islands. We shall describe that which has come under our own personal notice in Jamaica, where it is popularly known as the Two-headed Snake (Typhlops lumbricalis, Lacép.) In this species, which has been by some zoologists ranked as a genus, under the title of Argyrophis, the fore part of the muzzle is covered in front with a single large plate, the anterior border of which forms a sharp edge: the tail, which is abruptly conical, terminates in a sharp horny point or nipple in the midst of a polished circular plate. This species is about thirteen inches in length,
and about one fourth= of an inch in diameter; its colour above is an uniform pale bluish grey, that of the under parts a pale yellowish white, sometimes tinged with rose-pink. The whole surface of the body is beautifully smooth, and highly polished during life; but when preserved in spirits, the edges of the scales being raised, this appearance is quite destroyed, and the surface is rough.
It is frequently met with beneath large stones, but is captured not without some difficulty, as its agility and its powers of burrowing are great. As it crawls, it frequently protrudes and retracts swiftly the little white forked tongue, like other Snakes: and on being held in the hand, the spinous nipple at the tip of the tail is strongly pressed against the flesh, as if its intention were to wound in defence, but is not capable of more than a slight pricking, which does not pierce the skin. On being put into water, it swims rapidly and elegantly, undulating the body like a leech. The egg is laid in the earthy nests of Termites, and is no less than an inch and an eighth in length, and five lines in diameter: it is of an oblong form, of a clear buff hue, and of a stiffly membranous texture. The young, on being hatched, is perfectly formed and coloured, and very active.
Family II. Boadæ.
All the gigantic Serpents which are the dread of man and beast in the sultry jungles and teeming forests of the tropics, and of which so many tales of terror are told, belong to this Family. Some of the most interesting and best authenticated of these narratives we shall presently repeat; meanwhile we may observe, that though the power and the dimensions of these enormous reptiles have been popularly exaggerated, and somewhat of fable has mingled with received statements of their habits, enough remains indubitable to excite deserved astonishment, and to prove that both in size and strength these colossal Serpents are among the giants of the animal world.
The characters of the Family are few, but readily discriminated; the jaws, by a mechanism
UPPER JAW AND PALATE OF PYTHON.
already explained, are capable of enormous dilatation; the upper and the lower jaw are furnished
SKULL OF PYTHON.
with numerous curved and pointed teeth, nearly equal in length, all pointing backwards, and in the palate are two rows of similar teeth: there are no poison-fangs. The hind head is more or less bulging, the body, swelling towards the middle, somewhat compressed, not very lengthened, tapering to the tail, which is short and prehensile. One lung is but half shorter than the other. The body is clothed with imbricated scales, as is also the head,—at least, the hind head: the under surface of the body and tail, however, is covered with scaly transverse plates, arranged in a single series on the body; but on the tail, single in some genera, and in others double.
But that which is most characteristic of the Boadæ is the presence of two hooks or spurs, situated one on each side of the vent. These are undoubtedly of great use to the reptile, as helping the prehensile tail to maintain a firm hold
VENT AND HOOK OF BOA.
on the branch of a tree, from which the long body depends, with the head bent up a little above the ground, watching for the approach of prey. But these spurs are undoubtedly the rudiments of posterior limbs, the bones of which, very minute and imperfect, it is true, are detected beneath the skin. The accompanying engraving exhibits these appendages as they appear externally in the Boa of Jamaica (Chilabothrus inornatus Dum.), and the bones of one dissected out of the flesh. Dr. Mayer considers that this spur or hook is a true nail, in the cavity of which is a semi-cartilaginous bone representing the last joint of a toe; this is jointed to a small bone representing the metatarsus, the little projection from the swollen joint above is the tarsus, and the slender bone above is the tibia or leg-bone, imbedded in the muscles, and terminated by a slender curved and pointed filament of cartilage jointed to it, which probably represents the evanescent rudiment of a femur or thigh-bone.
The muscles of these enormous reptiles are very numerous, and their power immense, when exerted, as it is, for the purpose of depriving their victims of life, in the constrictions of the great coils or knots of the lithe body around the prey. The strong bones of large quadrupeds twined in the fatal embrace of one of these Serpents are broken to pieces in a moment by the irresistible pressure, which is not relaxed till the last motions of life have ceased in the miserable victim.
The mode in which the Boadæ seize and swallow their prey, is graphically drawn by Sir Robert Ker Porter, in a letter which accompanied a noble specimen of a South American species to the United Service Museum. The species is supposed to be Boa scytale (Linn.), and is nineteen feet and a half in length. After mentioning that by the colonists it is known by the names of Water-Serpent, and Deer-Swallower, the account proceeds thus:—“It is not venomous, nor known to injure man (at least, not in this part of the New World); however, the natives of the plains stand in great fear of it, never bathing in waters where it is known to exist. Its common haunt, or rather domicile, is invariably near lakes, swamps, and rivers; likewise close to wet ravines, produced by inundations of the periodical rains; hence, from its aquatic habits, its first appellation. Fish, and those animals which repair there to drink, are the objects of its prey. The creature lurks watchfully under cover of the water, and whilst the unsuspecting animal is drinking, suddenly makes a dash at its nose, and with a grip of its back-reclining double range of teeth, never fails to secure the terrified beast beyond the power of escape. In an instant the sluggish waters are in turbulence and foam, the whole form of the Colubra is in motion, its huge and rapid coilings soon encircle the struggling victim, and but a short moment elapses, ere every bone is broken in the body of the expiring prey. On its ceasing to exist, the fleshy tongue of the reptile is protruded (taking a long and thinnish form), passing over the whole of the lifeless beast, leaving on it a sort of glutinous saliva that greatly facilitates the act of deglutition, which it performs gradually, by gulping it down through its extended jaws,–a power of extension of them it possesses to so frightful and extraordinary a degree as not to be believed, when looking at the comparative smallness of the mouth and throat in their tranquil state. After having completely devoured, or rather hidden, its prey in the way described, it becomes powerless as to motion, and remains in an almost torpid state for some days, or until nature silently digests the swallowed animal.”
The author of the article Boa, in the Penny Cyclopædia, commenting on the above description, and noticing the asserted lubrication of the prey with saliva, makes the following observations, in which we cannot help concurring, notwithstanding the almost invariable statement of such a thing,—at least, by unscientific describers:—“There is generally in these descriptions an account of the fleshy tongue of the reptile, and of its application to the dead animal for the purpose of covering it with saliva previous to the operation of swallowing it. A glance at the tongue of a Boa or a Python will convince the observer, that few worse instruments for such a purpose could have been contrived. The delusion is kept up by the mode in which these Serpents are sometimes preserved in museums, where they may be occasionally seen with fine artificial, thick, fleshy, vermilion tongues in the place of the small, dark-coloured extensile organs with which nature has furnished them. We have frequently watched constricting Serpents while taking their prey, and it is almost superfluous to add that they never covered the victim with saliva from the tongue before deglutition. When the prey is dead, and the Serpent is about to swallow it, the tongue of the destroyer is frequently thrust forth and vibrated, as if indicatory of the desire for food; but the mucus is not poured out till it is required to lubricate the dilated jaws and throat for the disproportioned feast.”
The same spirit of fear which made the Crocodile an object of worship among the ancient Egyptians, made the great Boas to be regarded as deities by the inhabitants of Mexico. Peter Martyr tells of an enormous Serpent-idol which the Spaniards found at Campechy, “compacted of bitumen and small stones incorporated together, which was seven and fortie feete in length, and as thicke as a great oxe.” And Bullock, in his “Six Months in Mexico,” speaks of a noble specimen of a similar idol, almost perfect and of fine workmanship, which is represented in the act of swallowing a human victim, already crushed and struggling in its horrid jaws. That these figures were representations, perhaps somewhat exaggerated, of the form, dimensions, and habits of some of the native Boas, can hardly be doubted, from what we know of these reptiles. Hernandez, who speaks of the formidable powers of the Mexican Serpents, says, that he saw some as thick as a man’s thigh, which had been tamed so completely as to climb amicably about the shoulders of their possessor, or else lay coiled up in a circle as large as a cartwheel, and peacefully received the food presented to them. Such an engine for working on the fears of the besotted multitude, Southey attributes to the Mexican priest in the following noble lines:—
“——— On came the mighty snake,
And twined, in many a wreath, round Neolin,
Darting aright, aleft, his sinuous neck,
With searching eye, and lifted jaw and tongue
Quivering, and hiss as of a heavy shower
Upon the summer woods. The Britons stood
Astounded at the powerful reptile’s bulk,
And that strange sight. His girth was as of man,
And easily could he have overtopped
Goliath’s helmed head, or that huge king
Of Basan, hugest of the Anakim:
What then was human strength if once involved
Within those dreadful coils?… The multitude
The Boadæ are found in the continents and great islands of the torrid zone; the true Boas, distinguished by having the plates beneath the tail arranged in a single series, are confined to the western hemisphere, but the great Serpents
exhibited in our menageries, under the loosely-applied term Boa constrictor, are for the most part species of the genus Python, which is found only in the Old World. The word constrictor, indeed, though expressive, cannot be considered as distinctive, for it is equally applicable to all the great species of the Family, signifying, as it does, one that binds tightly in its folds. It was, however, appropriated by Linnæus to the greatest of the American species, individuals of which have been known to attain an enormous length. Shaw mentions a skin of this Boa in the British Museum, which measured thirty-five feet.
Several narratives of personal encounters with the American Boas are on record, all of which are of great interest. Mr. Waterton’s capture of the “Coulacanara,” told in his own peculiarly graphic way, has been often quoted; but we select one less known, yet not less exciting, narrated by a military correspondent of the Edinburgh Literary Gazette.
This gentleman was at the time residing with a friend in British Guiana, and employing himself chiefly in shooting, and fishing in a neighbouring river. One sultry day, tired with unsuccessful sport, he threw his lines, and drew his canoe to the river's edge, for the purpose of refreshing himself in the water. Having done so, he stretched himself, half dressed, on the benches of his boat, with his gun at his head, loaded for a shot if a chance should occur. In this position he fell asleep. “I know not how long I may have slept,” he continues, “but I was roused from my slumber by a curious sensation, as if some animal were licking my foot. In that state of half-stupor felt after immediately waking from sleep, I cast my eyes downward, and never till my dying day shall I forget the thrill of horror that passed through my frame on perceiving the neck and head of a monstrous Serpent covering my foot with saliva, preparatory, as immediately flashed upon my mind, to commencing the process of swallowing it. I had faced death in many shapes—on the ocean—on the battle-field—but never till that moment had I conceived he could approach me in a guise so terrible. For a moment, and but a moment, I was fascinated. But recollection of my state soon came to my aid, and I quickly withdrew my foot from the monster, which was all the while glaring upon me with its basilisk eyes, and at the same instant I instinctively grasped my gun, which was lying loaded beside me. The reptile, apparently disturbed by my motion, (I conceive it had previously, from my inertness, taken me for a dead carcase,) drew its head below the level of the canoe. I had just sufficient time to raise myself half up, pointing the muzzle of my piece in the direction of the Serpent, when its neck and head again appeared moving backwards and forwards, as if in search of the object it had lost. The muzzle of my gun was within a yard or two of it: my finger was on the trigger; I fired, and it received the shot in its head. Rearing up part of its body into the air with a horrible hiss, which made my blood run cold—and, by its contortions, displaying to my sight great part of its enormous bulk, which had hitherto escaped my notice—it seemed ready to throw itself upon me, and to embrace me in its monstrous coils. Dropping my gun, by a single stroke of the paddles I made the canoe shoot up the stream out of his reach. Just as I was escaping, I could observe that the shot had taken effect, for blood was beginning to drop from its head. But the wound appeared rather to have enraged than subdued him. Unfortunately, all my shot was expended, otherwise I would most certainly, at a respectable distance, have given him a salutation of the same kind as I had just bestowed. All that I have described passed in a much shorter time than I have taken up in recounting it.
“As I went up the stream with all the velocity I could impart to the canoe, I heard the reeds, among which the animal was apparently taking refuge, crashing under its weight. I never once thought of the lines I had left; but hurrying as fast as the canoe would go through the water, I was not long in reaching the landing-place below my friend's house. Hastily mooring the canoe, I jumped ashore, and hurried up to the house, where you may be certain I lost no time in communicating the almost miraculous escape I had made, and the wound I had inflicted on the animal. ‘In that case,’ said Mr. H., ‘it cannot escape; we must immediately go in search of it;’ and instantly summoning Cæsar (a black servant), he told him to get the guns ready, and to bring two of his fellows with him. ‘If you choose to assist us in finishing the adventure you have begun, and to have a second encounter with your novel antagonist, we shall shew you some of the best and most dangerous sport our country affords.’ I protested that nothing was farther from my intention than staying behind, and added, that had not my shot been expended, we should not have parted on so easy terms. ‘In general,’ said he, ‘it is very dangerous to attack them at close quarters after being wounded, as they become extremely infuriated; and there are not wanting instances in which life has been sacrificed by doing so. But we now take such precaution in approaching it, that it is next to impossible that any accident can happen. Just as he finished saying this, Cæsar reappeared, himself armed with a club, one of those who followed him carrying a weapon of the same kind, while the other was armed with a weapon similar to a billhook. This, Mr. H. told me, was to clear a road among the reeds, if the animal should have retreated amongst them,—the club being reckoned the best instrument for a close encounter. We were soon seated in the canoes, and gliding down the stream as fast as a couple of pairs of brawny arms could urge us. In a short time we reached the spot where my adventure had happened. The small part of the bank not covered with reeds, bore, from its sanguine hue, evident proof that the wound the animal had received could not have been slight. Exactly opposite this the reeds were crushed and broken, and a sort of passage was formed among them, so wide that a man could with little difficulty enter. My friend commanded a halt, to see that the arms were in proper order. All being right, we listened attentively, in order to hear if there was any noise which might direct us to our enemy. No sound, however, was heard. One of the negroes entered first, clearing with his billhook whatever obstructed our way. He was followed by Mr. H. and me with our guns; while Cæsar and his fellow-servant brought up the rear. The reeds were in general nearly double our height, and at the same time pretty close. However, we easily made our way through them, partly assisted by the track which the Serpent had evidently made.
“We had penetrated, I should suppose, about thirty yards, when the fellow who was in advance gave the alarm that we were close upon the animal. Mr. H. ordered him behind, and advancing along with me, we saw through the reeds part of the body of the monster coiled up, and part of it stretched out; but owing to their thickness, its head was invisible. Disturbed, and apparently irritated by our approach, it appeared, from its movements, about to turn and assail us. We had our guns ready, and just as we caught a glimpse of its head we fired, both of us almost at the same moment. From the obstruction of the reeds, all our shot could not have taken effect; but what did take effect seemed to be sufficient; for it fell hissing and rolling itself into a variety of contortions. Even yet it was dangerous to approach it. But Cæsar, who seemed to possess a great deal of coolness and audacity, motioning his master and me not to fire again in the direction of the animal, forced a way through the reeds at one side, and making a kind of circuit, came in before it, and succeeded in hitting it a violent blow, which completely stunned it; and a few repetitions of this gave us the victory. We could now examine the creature with safety. On measuring it, we found it to be nearly forty feet in length, and of proportional thickness. Mr. H. informed me that it was the largest he had seen killed, although he had often seen others under circumstances which convinced him that they must have been of a far greater size.”
Genus Python. (Dum.)
The great Serpents of the Old World are distinguished by the above name from those of the New, to which the generic term Boa is now restricted. The general organization, the appearance, and the habits of both are nearly identical; but the Pythons areby having the plates beneath the tail arranged in a series. The front of the head and muzzle are clothed with broad plates, and those on the lips are indented with pits or dimples. They attain a size fully equal, if not superior to the true Boas, there being authentic records of specimens approaching forty feet in length, and reports of their far exceeding even these colossal dimensions. Their appearance is very beautiful, the ground colour is commonly a yellowish grey, more or less intense, on which marks of brown of various shades are arranged in irregular patterns of bands, and spots, and chains. During life a rich iridescent gleam is reflected from the surface, in the sun, particularly
TAIL-PLATES OF PYTHON.
from the darker parts. The species are found in Africa (probably in most parts of that continent to the south of the Desert), in India, and in the great islands of the Oriental Archipelago.
The form and appearance of these great Serpents will be familiar to many of our readers, most of those which are exhibited in zoological collections belonging to this genus; their lethargic inanity, however, as they lie coiled up in the midst of blankets upon tins of hot water, gives us little idea of the fatal power and energy which they exhibit in their native climates. Many narratives of great interest might be quoted, illustrative of their strength, their ferocity, their voracity, and other particulars. We must content ourselves with a few of these, commencing with one of a painfully vivid character, recorded by Mr. M'Leod, in the "Voyage of H.M.S. Alceste." The specimen, which was a native of Borneo, was sixteen feet long, and about eighteen inches in circumference. "During his stay at Ryswick," observes the narrator, "he is said to have been usually entertained with a goat for dinner, once in every three or four weeks, with occasionally a duck or a fowl by way of a dessert. He was brought on board shut up in a wooden crib or cage, the bars of which were sufficiently close to prevent his escape; and it had a sliding door, for the purpose of admitting the articles on which he was to subsist; the dimensions of the crib were about four feet high, and five feet square,—a space sufficiently large for him to coil himself round with ease. The live stock for his use during the passage, consisting of six goats of the ordinary size, were sent with him on board, five being considered as a fair allowance for as many months. At an early period of the voyage we had an exhibition of his talent in the way of eating, which was publicly performed on the quarter-deck, upon which he was brought. The sliding door being opened, one of the goats was thrust in, and the door of the cage shut. The poor goat, as if instantly aware of all the horrors of its perilous situation, immediately began to utter the most piercing and distressing cries, butting instinctively, at the same time, with its head towards the serpent, in self-defence. The Snake, which at first appeared scarcely to notice the goat, soon began to stir a little, and turning his head in the direction of the goat, he at length fixed a deadly and malignant eye on the trembling victim, whose agony and terror seemed to increase; for, previous to the Snake seizing its prey, it shook in every limb, but still continued its unavailing show of attack by butting at the Serpent, which now became sufficiently animated to prepare for the banquet. The first operation was that of darting out his forked tongue, and at the same time rearing a little his head; then suddenly seizing the goat by the fore leg with his mouth, and throwing it down, it was encircled in an instant in its horrid folds. So quick, indeed, and so instantaneous was the act, that it was impossible for the eye to follow the rapid convolution of his elongated body. It was not a regular screw-like turn that was formed, but resembling rather a knot, one part of the body overlaying the other, as if to add weight to the muscular pressure, the more effectually to crush his object. During this time, he continued to grasp with his fangs (though it appeared an unnecessary precaution) that part of the animal which he had first seized. The poor goat, in the meantime, continued his feeble and half stifled cries for some minutes, but they soon became more and more faint, and at last it expired. The Snake, however, retained it for a considerable time in his grasp, after it was apparently motionless. He then slowly and cautiously unfolded himself, till the goat fell dead from his monstrous embrace, when he began to prepare himself for swallowing it. Placing his mouth in front of the dead animal, he commenced by lubricating with his saliva that part of the goat, and then taking its muzzle into his mouth, which had, and indeed always has, the appearance of a raw lacerated wound, he sucked it in as far as the horns would allow. These protuberances opposed some little difficulty, not so much from their extent, as from their points; however, they also, in a very short time, disappeared,—that is to say, externally; but their progress was still to be traced very distinctly on the outside, threatening every moment to protrude through the skin. The victim had now descended as far as the shoulders; and it was an astonishing sight to observe the extraordinary action of the Snake’s muscles when stretched to such an unnatural extent—an extent which must have destroyed all muscular power in any animal that was not, like himself, endowed with very peculiar faculties of expansion, and action at the same time. When his head and neck had no other appearance than that of a serpent’s skin, stuffed almost to bursting, still the workings of the muscles were evident; and his power of suction, as it is erroneously called, unabated; it was, in fact, the effect of a contractile muscular power, assisted by two rows of strong hooked teeth. With all this, he must be so formed as to be able to suspend, for a time, his respiration, for it is impossible to conceive that the process of breathing could be carried on while the mouth and throat were so completely stuffed and expanded by the body of the goat, and the lungs themselves (admitting the trachea to be ever so hard) compressed as they must have been by its passage downwards.
“The whole operation of completely gorging the goat occupied about two hours and twenty minutes: at the end of which time the tumefaction was confined to the middle part of the body, or stomach, the superior parts, which had been so much distended, having resumed their natural dimensions. He now coiled himself up again and lay quietly in his usual torpid state for about three weeks or a month, when his last meal appearing to be completely digested and dissolved, he was presented with another goat, which he killed and devoured with equal facility.”
In an interesting memoir published in the Zoological Journal, vol. ii., Mr. Broderip has given a very similar account of the seizure of a rabbit by one of the large Pythons kept in the Tower. Our limits will not permit us to do more than refer to it; but we will cite the remarks of this zoologist on a point in Mr. M'Leod’s account which seemed to him incorrect. “It is my opinion that the Boa [or Python] does respire ‘when his head and neck have no other appearance than that of a serpent’s skin stuffed almost to bursting;’ and I think that, upon a more close examination, the same phenomenon would have been observable in the Serpent shipped at Batavia. It is to be regretted that the dissection of the Serpent appears to have been confined to the stomach,—at least, nothing is said of any other part of the animal. I have never had an opportunity of dissecting the pulmonary system of a Boa, or of satisfying myself as to the structure of the extremely long trachea, which must be very firm to resist such an immense pressure; but I believe, from a near and accurate inspection, in company with others, that respiration goes on during the period of the greatest dilatation. While these Serpents are in the act of constringing or of swallowing their prey, they appear to be so entirely pervaded with the appetite which then governs them, that I am convinced they would suffer themselves to be cut in pieces before they would relinquish their victim. I have assisted in taking them up and removing them with their prey in their coils, without their appearing to be in the least disturbed by the motion, excepting that, if after the victim is no more, and the constriction is somewhat relaxed, an artificial motion be given to the dead body, they instantly renew the constriction. When thus employed they may be approached closely, and with perfect security, for the reason above stated; and 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 stuffed and stretched to excess. In the case above mentioned, where the prey was taken very awkwardly, and the dilatation was consequently much greater than usual, I saw this wonderful adaptation of means to the exigencies of the animal much more clearly than I had ever seen it before.”
It is reported that even large animals, such as stags, tigers, and buffaloes occasionally become the prey of these huge reptiles. In the German Ephemerides, we have an account of a combat between an enormous Serpent and a Buffalo, 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.
Nor are these gigantic serpents formidable only to the inferior animals; there are not wanting instances in which man himself has become their victim. In the “Bombay Courier” of August 31, 1799, the following dreadful incident is recorded. “A Malay prow 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 evident 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 opportune rescue of a poor sailor from a similar fate has been made the subject of a well-known painting by Mr. Daniell, which has been copied in the Oriental Annual, and which we here repeat. It is a spirited and graphic scene, though the details of the Serpent's body and head are not quite comme il faut. The story is this: A few years ago the captain of a country ship, while passing the Sunderbunds, sent a boat into one of the creeks to obtain some fresh fruits, which are cultivated by the few miserable inhabitants of that inhospitable region. Having reached the shore, the crew moored the boat under a bank and left one of their party to take care of her. During their absence, the Lascar who remained in charge of it, overcome by heat, lay down under
SERPENT ATTACKING A LASCAR.
the seats, and fell asleep. Whilst he was in this state of unconsciousness an enormous Boa constrictor, (or Python) emerged from the jungle, reached the boat, had already coiled its huge body round the sleeper, and was in the act of crushing him to death, when his companions fortunately returned; and attacking the monster, severed a portion of its tail, which so disabled it that it no longer retained the power of doing mischief. The Snake was then easily despatched, and was found to measure sixty-two feet and some inches in length.
Mr. M‘Leod, whose interesting account of a Python seizing its prey we have quoted at length, adds, that at Whidah on the coast of Africa, he has had opportunities of observing Pythons more than double the size of the specimen he has described, which were capable of swallowing animals much larger than goats or sheep. “Governor Abson, who had for thirty-seven years resided at Fort William (one of the African Company’s settlements there), described some desperate struggles which he had either seen or had come to his knowledge, between the Snakes and wild beasts, as well as the smaller cattle, in which the former were always victorious. A negro herdsman belonging to Mr. Abson (who afterwards limped for many years about the fort) had been seized by one of these monsters by the thigh; but from his situation in a wood, the Serpent, in attempting to throw himself around him, got entangled with a tree; and the man, being thus preserved from a state of compression which would instantly have rendered him quite powerless, had presence of mind enough to cut with a large knife, which he carried with him, deep gashes in the neck and throat of his antagonist, thereby killing him, and disengaging himself from his frightful situation. He never afterwards, however, recovered the use of that limb, which had sustained considerable injury from his fangs and the mere force of his jaws.”
In one of the books of Livy, now lost, there was an account of a terrible serpent, which kept the whole Roman army at bay. Valerius Maximus gives us this abridgment of the story: “And since we are on the subject of uncommon phenomena, we may here mention the Serpent so eloquently and accurately recorded by Livy; who says, that near the river Bagrada, in Africa, a Snake was seen of so enormous a magnitude, as to prevent the army of Attilius Regulus from the use of the river; and after snatching up several soldiers with his enormous mouth, and devouring them, and killing several more by striking and squeezing them with the spires of its tail, was at length destroyed by assailing it with all the force of military engines and showers of stones, after it had withstood the attack of their spears and darts: that it was regarded by the whole army as a more formidable enemy than even Carthage itself; and that the whole adjacent region being tainted with the pestilential effluvia proceeding from its remains, and the waters with its blood, the Roman army was obliged to remove its station. He also adds, that the skin of the monster, measuring one hundred and twenty feet in length, was sent to Rome as a trophy.” Silius Italicus and other writers mention this Serpent, which was doubtless a Python; and Pliny speaks of its existence as a matter of notoriety, adding, that its skin and jaws were preserved in a temple at Rome till the Numantine war.
Diodorus Siculus mentions a Serpent which was captured, not without loss of human life, in Egypt, and which was taken to Alexandria; it measured thirty cubits, or about forty-five feet in length. And Suetonius tells us that one was exhibited in front of the Comitium at Rome, which was fifty cubits, or seventy-five feet long.
Perhaps none of these examples were very accurately measured; or if we must suppose that the first was so, we may remark, that the skin of a Serpent, dragged off by rude and unscientific hands, is capable of stretching to an enormous extent; but with every allowance, it is evident that unless we reject the testimony of history, specimens of Serpents were seen in ancient times which very far exceeded any that have fallen under modern, or, at least, scientific observation. Some of the largest on modern record we will briefly recapitulate. The subject of Daniell’s picture is said to have been sixty-two feet; but this is probably exaggerated: the specimen whose capture is narrated in the “Edinburgh Literary Gazette” was “nearly” forty feet; those which M'Leod saw at Whidah must have been thirty-two feet or more; Bontius speaks of some upwards of thirty-six feet; an American Boa is mentioned by Bingley, of the same length, the skin of which was in the cabinet of the Prince of Orange; Shaw speaks of a skin in the British Museum which measured thirty-five feet; and finally, Dr. A. Smith saw a specimen of Python Natalensis, twenty-five feet long, though a portion of the tail was wanting.We illustrate the genus by a figure of the Tiger Python (Python tigris, Daud.), one of the most beautiful in its markings of the whole
Family, and the species most commonly met with in menageries, under the name of Boa constrictor. It is a native of the island of Java, and of the Indian peninsulas.
The ground-colour of the head of this Serpent is a greyish fawn, that of the body yellowish, of the sides greyish white; the under parts pale yellowish. A series of large spots of dark brown with a black margin runs down the back; they are of an irregular form, but somewhat square: there are smaller ones on the sides, which often have open disks. On the hind-head and nape is a large brown spot, somewhat like a spear-head, divided lengthwise by a pale line; a brown band runs off behind each eye. The shields of the belly are about two hundred and fifty, those of the tail from sixty to seventy pairs.
The Boas are oviparous; laying a number of eggs in holes in the soil, beneath decaying leaves, in crevices of the roots of trees, and in similar situations. At certain seasons of the year great numbers are said to congregate together and twist themselves into immense knots or contorted coils. This is at least true of the Yellow Snake of Jamaica (Chilabothrus inornatus), and the negroes and Creoles declare that these réunions are connected with the reproduction of the species. But the individuals that thus collect, though numerous, are not to be compared with the convoluted host that the celebrated Humboldt once saw in South America. Their association he attributed, indeed, to a very different motive; but we are inclined to believe that he has quite misinterpreted the phenomenon.
“In the savannahs of Izacubo, in Guiana, I saw the most wonderful, the most terrible spectacle that can be seen; and although it is not uncommon to the inhabitants, no traveller has ever mentioned it. We were ten men on horseback, two of whom took the lead, in order to sound the passages, whilst I preferred to skirt the green forests. One of the blacks who formed the vanguard returned at full gallop, and called to me, ‘Here, sir, come and see Serpents in a pile!’ He pointed out to me something elevated in the middle of the savannah which appeared like a bundle of arms. One of my companions then said, ‘This is certainly one of those assemblages of Serpents which heap themselves on each other after a violent tempest. I have heard of these, but have never seen any; let us proceed cautiously, and not go too near.’ When we were within twenty paces of it the terror of our horses prevented our nearer approach, to which, however, none of us were inclined. Suddenly the pyramidal mass became agitated; horrible hissings issued from it; thousands of Serpents rolled spirally on each other, shot forth out of their circle their hideous heads, presenting their envenomed darts and fiery eyes to us. I own I was one of the first to draw back; but when I saw this formidable phalanx remain at its post, and appear to be more disposed to defend itself than to attack us, I rode round it, in order to view its order of battle, which faced the enemy on every side. I then sought what could be the design of this numerous assemblage; and I concluded that this species of Serpents dreaded some colossean enemy, which might be the great Serpent or the Cayman, and that they reunite themselves after having seen this enemy, in order to attack or resist him in a mass.”
It is a curious fact but recently discovered, that some, at least, of the Pythons incubate their eggs like birds. This fact was lately witnessed in the case of a female of the Python bivittatus of Kuhl, in the menagerie of the Museum at Paris. Incubation was prolonged without interruption during nearly two months. The number of eggs laid was fifteen, all separate. After being deposited the snake collected them together, and coiled round them the posterior part of its body; a second coil was then formed upon the first, and a third upon the second, and so on, until the whole of its body was rolled into a spiral form, the several coils together forming a cone, at the top of which was its head, the eggs being all concealed within. Its temperature was sensibly augmented above that of the surrounding atmosphere while incubation was going on; it ate nothing during the whole period; but drank greedily several times. At length, at the end of fifty-six days, without the female having once quitted the eggs, one of the little Pythons was hatched; and in the course of a few days there were seven others; but no sooner were they evolved than the mother left them to themselves, shewing no further affection for the offspring which she had so sedulously incubated.
Family III. Colubridæ.
More than half of the total number of species belonging to the Order Ophidia are of this Family, which is the most extensive of all the natural groups of Reptiles. They are widely scattered over the regions of both hemispheres, extending nearly to the limits of the Frigid Zones, though, like other Reptiles, most abundant in the tropics. Few of them attain a large size; but their form is for the most part slender and elegant, and many are adorned with the most brilliant hues and reflections.
The true Snakes are destitute of poison-fangs; they have two rows of teeth in the palate, and a similar row in each jaw; the head is covered with broad plates, the under parts with parallel shields or scuta, which beneath the tail are arranged in two series; the tail is lengthened, tapered, and destitute of any terminal appendage; there are no spurs or other vestiges of limbs, either externally or internally.
HEAD OF SNAKE.
The prey of the Snakes consists of any small animals which they can procure; lizards and frogs, small birds, mice, and shrews, are the food of the smaller kinds, and the larger devour rats, voles, and poultry; eggs and milk are delicacies with these reptiles. They are remarkably agile in their motions, and of some, as the Black Snake (Coluber constrictor) of North America, the fleetness on the ground is reported to be equal to that of a horse. Many of them climb about trees in search of prey, and are often seen lying along upon the branches, with the foreparts hanging down, or gliding from bough to bough; and there are some species (Leptophis) of great length and tenuity, distinguished by their bright colours and changeable metallic reflections, which spend their lives among the foliage of trees. Most of the Family will voluntarily take to the water on occasion, in which, though not displaying any especial natatory structure, they are able to swim with great elegance and rapidity both at and beneath the surface. The common Ringed Snake of our fields will often, as it is said, go into the water in the pursuit of frogs, its favourite prey.
The smaller harmless Snakes are exceedingly numerous in warm countries, and inhabit various localities and situations. Rocky places, old dry walls, heaps of stones and rubbish, are favourite haunts of many, others glide among the heaths of upland plains, and others rustle the fallen leaves beneath the trees of the damp forest; some live in the long grass of savannahs, some in the dense and impenetrable jungle; some resort to the naked and burning deserts of sand and stone, and not a few prefer the vicinity of swamps and morasses. They occur, in fact, everywhere; “but the numerous enemies they have among the smaller quadrupeds and birds keep their increase in check. The wild hog, peccary, badger, hedgehog, weasel, civet, ichneumon, and other Carnivora, devour them with avidity; the stork, the serpent-eater of the Cape, the kite, laughing falcon, and buzzard, are their implacable enemies; while man wages incessant war against them wherever he and they come in contact.”
Though the number of poisonous Serpents does not amount to more than one-fifth of the whole, the malignity of those causes the whole to be looked on with aversion; and as the means of discrimination between the harmless and the noxious are scarcely known to any but naturalists, it is considered safe to wage a war of extermination against the whole Order; and a Snake is therefore commonly killed, as a sort of duty, wherever it can be met with. Yet it has been shown that not only are the majority of species harmless, but some (probably most) are capable of being domesticated, and are susceptible of personal affection. Professor Bell observes of our British species, that “it is easily tamed, and may be made to distinguish those who caress and feed it. I had one many years since, which knew me from all other persons; and, when let out of his box, would immediately come to me, and crawl under the sleeve of my coat, where he was fond of lying perfectly still, and enjoying the warmth. He was accustomed to come to my hand for a draught of milk every morning at breakfast, which he always did of his own accord; but he would fly from strangers, and hiss if they meddled with him.” In the Dictionnaire d’Histoire Naturelle, there is related an instance of a Snake which had been so completely tamed by a lady, as to come to her whenever she called it, to follow her in her walks, writhe itself round her arms, and sleep in her bosom. One day, when she went in a boat to some distance up a large river, she threw the Snake into the water, imagining that its fidelity would lead it to follow her, and that, by swimming, it would readily overtake the boat. The poor animal exerted all its efforts; but the current proving at that juncture unusually strong, owing to the advance of the tide, in spite of all its struggling it was borne down the stream, and was unfortunately drowned.
Like all other Serpents, the Snakes shed the outer layer of the skin at irregular periods, dependent on the state of the animal’s health, on its abundance of food, on the temperature of the weather, and other circumstances. Sometimes the sloughing takes place four or five times a year. It appears that the skin is always reversed in the process, and is first split behind the head, when it is detached by the animal’s drawing itself through narrow apertures. White of Selborne thus describes the cast skin. “About the middle of this month (September), we found in a field, near a hedge, the slough of a large Snake, which seemed to have been newly cast. It appeared as if turned wrong side outward, and as if it had been drawn off backward, like a stocking or a woman's glove. Not only the whole skin, but even the scales from the eyes, were pulled off, and appeared in the head of the slough like a pair of spectacles. The reptile at the time of changing his coat, had entangled himself intricately in the grass and weeds, in order that the friction of the stalks and blades might promote this curious shifting of his exuviæ.
“It would be a most entertaining sight, could a person be an eye-witness to such a feat, and see the Snake in the act of changing its garment As the convexity of the eyes in the slough is now inward, that circumstance alone is a proof that the skin has been turned; not to mention that now the inside is much darker than the outer. Thus it appears that Snakes crawl out of the mouth of their own sloughs, and quit the tail-part last, just as eels are skinned by a cook-maid. . . . . . . While the scales of the eyes are becoming loose, and a new skin is forming, the creature in appearance must be blind, and must feel itself in a very awkward and uneasy situation.”
Genus Natrix (Laur.).
The distinctive characters of this genus are the following.
BELLY AND TAIL OF SNAKE.The head is well marked, of a long-oval form, flattened and covered with plates; the gape is wide; the body is very long, nearly cylindrical, but slightly flattened; the tail cylindrical and slender; the scales overlapping, placed in longitudinal series, lance-shaped, generally keeled; the plates or shields on the belly are simple and arched at the margin; those beneath the tail arranged in a double series.
Our own common Ringed Snake (Natrix torquata, Ray.) is a familiar example of this genus. It reaches the length of three, and even occasionally four, feet; and is of a pale olive or greenish hue above, with numerous black spots, placed in alternate rows; the under parts are pale yellow, chequered with black, or sometimes bluish lead-colour; a broad yellow collar passes behind the head, followed by two patches of black.
During the summer season, the Ringed Snake is rather common in rural districts, concealing itself among the brushwood of coppices, the herbage of ditches and hedges, gliding beneath the shelter of the dense heath, or basking in the
sun on some exposed bank, or on the short turf by the road-side. Late in the autumn, it retires into winter quarters, in some situation usually selected for warmth; such as beneath the roots of a tree, or under a quickset hedge, where sometimes a considerable number spend the cold season, coiled up together in torpidity, until the balmy air of spring warms them into renewed life and activity. Dr. Carpenter mentions an instance which occurred within his own knowledge, in which thirteen hundred Ringed Snakes were found in an old limekiln. This species does not usually climb, but Mr. Jesse states that it does occasionally ascend into the branches of a tree, probably for the purpose of rifling the nests of birds, on the eggs and young of which it often regales. It is fond of the water, in which it swims with elegance and facility, with the head and neck raised above the surface; and this is not surprising, when we consider that its favourite food is that expert swimmer and diver, the frog. Mr. Bell, in a very interesting manner, describes the mode in which the hapless victim is seized and swallowed, taking occasion to explain the peculiar mechanism of the jaws in this Order, a structure to which we have already alluded. “I have seen,” observes this gentleman, “one of these voracious creatures in pursuit of a frog, which appeared perfectly conscious of its approaching fate, leaping with less and less power as it found its situation more hopeless, and the crisis of its fate approaching, and uttering its peculiar weak cry with more than usual shrillness, until at length it was seized by its pursuer by the hinder leg, and gradually devoured. The manner in which the Snake takes its prey is very curious. If it be a frog, it generally seizes it by the hinder leg, because it is usually taken in pursuit. As soon as this takes place, the frog in most instances, ceases to make any struggle or attempt to escape. The whole body and the legs are stretched out, as it were, convulsively, and the Snake gradually draws in, first the leg he has seized, and afterwards the rest of the animal, portion after portion, by means of the peculiar mechanism of the jaws, so admirably adapted for this purpose. . . . . When a frog is in the progress of being swallowed in this manner, as soon as the Snake’s jaws have reached the body, the other hinder leg becomes turned forwards; and as the body gradually disappears, the three legs and the head are seen standing forwards out of the Snake’s mouth in a very singular manner. Should the Snake, however, have taken the frog by the middle of the body, it invariably turns it by several movements of the jaws, until the head is directed towards the throat of the Snake, and it is then swallowed head foremost. This process will remind all who have witnessed the curious sight of the great Boa taking its food, of the manner in which that enormous reptile effects its deglutition, after it has, by the pressure of its mighty sides, killed and crushed the bones of its victim.
“The scene above described is one which I have often witnessed; and I once saw two Snakes seize upon the same hapless frog. . . . . On placing a frog in a large box in which were several Snakes, one of the latter instantly seized it by one of the hinder legs, and immediately afterwards another of the Snakes took forcible possession of the fore-leg of the opposite side. Each continued its inroads upon the poor frog’s limb and body, until at length the upper jaws of the two Snakes met, and one of them, in the course of its progress, slightly bit the jaw of the other; this was retaliated, though evidently without any hostile feeling; but after one or two such accidents, the most powerful of the Snakes commenced shaking the other, which still had hold of the frog, with great violence, from side to side, against the sides of the box. After a few moments’ rest, the other returned the attack, and at length, the one which had last seized the frog, having a less firm hold, was shaken off, and the victor swallowed the prey in quiet. No sooner was this curious contest over, than I put another frog into the box, which was at once seized and swallowed by the unsuccessful combatant.
“The frog is generally alive, not only during the process of deglutition, but even after it has passed into the stomach. I once saw a very small one, which had been swallowed by a large Snake in my possession, leap again out of the mouth of the latter, which happened to gape, as they frequently do immediately after taking food; and, on another occasion, I heard a frog distinctly utter its peculiar cry, several minutes after it had been swallowed by the Snake. In taking lizards or birds, it always, as far as my observation goes, swallows the head foremost. After it has taken its food, it usually remains inactive for many days, not usually seeking a fresh meal until the former one is digested.”
Notwithstanding the high authority of Schlegel, who asserts that Snakes never drink, repeated observations have proved that they do. Dr. Cantor observes that the majority of Indian Serpents are partial to water, and that with the exception of the arboreal species, they both drink and moisten the forked tongue, which are distinct operations. The same observation has been made of African Serpents, and equally applies to our own Ringed Snake. It is particularly fond of milk, so that it often creeps into dairies to drink out of the vessels. It has been even accused of twining up the legs of cows, in order to suck their teats, but this is manifestly absurd. The fondness of Mr. Bell’s tame Snake for milk, we have already cited.
The same appetite is observed in the Black Snake (Coluber constrictor, Linn.) of North America. So partial is it to this diet, that it is difficult to keep it out of a cellar where milk is kept, after it has once found its way thither. A pleasing story will be familiar to the memory of some of our readers, of a Black Snake in New England, that was accustomed to come and partake with a little child of its basin of bread and milk, the boy now and then correcting the greediness of his self-invited guest, by raps on the head with the spoon, when he thought it took more than its share.
In the museum of the Zoological Society is a tame Snake that had been eleven years in the possession of a gentleman, to whom it had shown strong attachment. Mr. Jesse mentions that Eton boys have always been great tamers of Snakes, and many school anecdotes are current of the attachment of these reptiles to their owners. The Rev. R. Sheppard had one in his rooms at Caius College, Cambridge, nearly three months. He kept it in a box of bran; and during all that time, he never could discover that it ate anything, although he frequently put both eggs and frogs, the favourite food of this species, into the box. When he was in the room, he used to let the animal out of its prison. It would first crawl several times round the floor, apparently with a desire to escape; and when it found its attempts fruitless, would climb up the tables and chairs, and not even up the chair of its owner, as he sat at table. At length it became so familiar as to lie in a serpentine form on the upper bar of his chair; it would crawl through his fingers, if held at a little distance before its head, or lie at full length upon his table, while he was writing or reading, and this for an hour or more at a time. When first brought into the room, it used to hiss and dart out its forked tongue; but in no instance did it emit any unpleasant vapour. In all its actions it was remarkably cleanly. Sometimes it was indulged with a run upon the grass in the court of the college; and sometimes with a swim in a large basin of water, which it seemed to enjoy very much.”
The following curious facts recorded by Mr. Jesse, remind us of the stories told of the Indian Snake-charmers:—“A respectable land-surveyor informed me, that while he was making a survey of some property, he was attended by a man who had the character among his neighbours of being a shrewd fellow; but what more particularly entitled him to distinction was his extraordinary intimacy with Snakes. On being questioned on the subject, the man said he would soon show the party more than they had ever seen before. It was a sunny spring morning, and they were running a line through a copse. The Snake-fancier suddenly dropped the chain-handle, and jumped upon a bank. The next moment he came forward with two full-sized Snakes writhing about his hands and wrists. After viewing them some time with much affection and admiration, he said: ‘Why, bless you, sir, I know their ways as well as they do themselves.’ He then stepped to a road which was near at hand, and placed one of the Snakes on the hard ground; taking a thin twig, he tapped the reptile very gently on the head. It immediately darted towards him, when he presented his hand to its open mouth, and continued to play with it, now and then gently tapping it on the head with the twig. He then said that it should counterfeit death, and soon afterwards, the Snake to all appearance lay dead. Those who were standing by thought that this was actually the case; but the Snake-fancier said that it would soon become sprack again, if they left off looking at it; and accordingly, on their removing to a distance of between twenty and thirty yards, the Snake was observed to glide speedily into the nearest hedge. On one occasion, and upon one only, the same person saw a Snake in the act of casting its skin. He said, to use his own words, that it reminded him of a labouring man drawing his round or smock-frock over his head. He further added, that the head of the reptile was about midway in the old skin, and it extricated itself from the worn-out garment by passing the body through what he called the vent-hole of the old skin. The new skin was perfect in colour and appearance; but the Snake appeared in a very languid and exhausted state.”
The female lays from sixteen to twenty eggs, which are about as large as those of the Blackbird, connected by a glutinous matter in long strings or chains. They are laid in holes in banks that face the south, in dungheaps, in cucumber and melon beds; and, according to Mr. W. C. L. Martin, in the crevices of lime-kilns. They are not, in general, hatched until the following spring. The eggs are covered with a whitish, parchment-like membrane; filled with a glairy fluid, in the midst of which the embryo Snake is coiled up in a little spiral.
Family IV. Viperadæ.
The curse pronounced upon that primal adversary of man, “the Serpent which beguiled Eve through his subtilty,” announced a perpetual enmity between his seed and her seed; and while this without doubt referred to “that old Serpent, the Devil,” it has had a subordinate fulfilment in that animal type under which he was represented; and the universal horror and aversion with which the venomous Serpents are regarded, is a perpetual memento of that solemn and humbling transaction with which the history of the human race commences. In the whole range of animal existence, there is none that can compare with the venomous Snakes, for the deadly fatality of their enmity; the lightning stroke of their poison-fangs is the unerring signal of a swift dissolution, preceded by torture the most horrible; the bite of the American Rattlesnake has been known to produce death in two minutes. Even where the consummation is not so fearfully rapid, its delay is but a brief prolongation of the intense suffering. The terrible symptoms are thus described:—a sharp pain in the part, which becomes swollen, shining, hot, red, then livid, cold, and insensible. The pain and inflammation spread, and become more intense; fierce shooting pains are felt in other parts, and a burning fire pervades the body. The eyes begin to water abundantly; then come swoonings, sickness, and bilious vomitings, difficult breathing, cold sweat, and sharp pains in the loins. The skin becomes deadly pale or deep yellow, while a black watery blood runs from the wound, which changes to a yellowish matter. Violent headache succeeds, and giddiness, faintness, and overwhelming terrors, burning thirst, gushing discharges of blood from the orifices of the body, intolerable fetor of breath, convulsive hiccoughs, and death.
The subtil agent of such terrible effects is a transparent tasteless fluid, slightly tinged with yellowish green, and of the consistence of a thin solution of gum-arabic in water; when dried, it is more glutinous and adhesive. It is commonly said to be neither acid nor alkaline, but it invariably changes vegetable blues to reds, though in a slight degree, which proves it to have the properties of an acid. It has no peculiar smell, and when applied to the tongue, produces a greasy feeling. It produces no baneful effects except it be mingled with the blood; it may be received into the mouth and swallowed with perfect impunity, though any scratch or ulceration of the surface would render such an experiment highly dangerous. Several circumstances affect the result of a poisoned wound; the injection of the venom into an artery, the heat of the weather, the more direct and forcible character of the stroke, the vigour of the reptile, the time that has elapsed since it last exerted its powers, and the debility of the sufferer, are all important circumstances.
We have already described the peculiar structure of the gland by which this deleterious fluid is secreted from the blood, and accumulated; and we now quote from the distinguished zoologist to whom these pages are so much indebted, an account of the interesting mechanism by which it is injected into the wound.
“It will not perhaps be wholly uninteresting,” observes Professor Bell, “to describe the very beautiful apparatus by which the poison wounds are inflicted, which render these, and so many other Serpents, so formidable. On each side of the upper jaw, instead of the outer row of teeth which are found in non-venomous Serpents, there exist two or three, or more, long, curved, and tubular teeth, the first of which is larger than the others, and is attached to a small movable bone, articulated to the maxillary bone, and moved by a muscular apparatus, by which the animal has the power of erecting it. In a state of rest, the fang reclines backwards along the margin of the jaw, and is covered by a fold of skin; but when about to be called into use, it is erected by means of a small muscle, and brought to stand perpendicular to the bone. The tooth itself is, as it were, perforated by a tube, the mode of formation of which, was not understood until it was demonstrated by Mr. Smith in the “Philosophical Transactions” for 1818. This tube, although completely enclosed, excepting at its basal and apical orifices, must be considered as formed merely by the closing round of a groove in the external part of the tooth itself, and hence not in any way connected with the inner cavity of the tooth, in which exists the pulp upon which the substance of the tooth is formed. The base of the tooth, and consequently the basal orifice of the tube just described, is embedded in a sac, into which the poison is poured from the ducts of the glandular structure by which it is secreted, and which is believed to represent the parotid gland of the higher Vertebrata. The poisonous fluid itself is inodorous, tasteless, and of a yellow colour. It is secreted in greater quantity, and its qualities are more virulent in a high temperature than in cold. Its secretion may be greatly increased by local irritation; as is evidenced by the following fact. Some years since I was dissecting very carefully and minutely the poison apparatus of a large Rattlesnake, which had been dead for some hours; the head had been taken off immediately after death, yet as I continued my dissection the yellow poison continued to be secreted so fast as to require to be occasionally dried off with a bit of rag or sponge; I believe that there could not have been less altogether than six or eight drops at the least.
“When the animal inflicts the wound, the pressure on the tooth forces a small drop of the poison through the tube; it passes through the external orifice, which is situated on the concave side of the curved tooth, and is in the form of a slit. The manner in which the blow is inflicted is as follows. The animal throws itself in the first place into a coil more or less close, and the anterior part of the body is raised. The neck is bent somewhat abruptly backwards, and the head fixed almost horizontally. In an instant, the head is, as it were, launched by a sudden effort towards the object of its anger, and the erected tooth struck into it, and withdrawn with the velocity of thought. It is found by experiment, that the effect of subsequent wounds is greatly diminished either by the diminution of the quantity of venom, or by some deterioration of its strength: so that if a venomous Serpent be made repeatedly to inflict wounds, without allowing sufficiently long intervals for it to recover its powers, each successive bite becomes less and less effective. A gentleman of my acquaintance had some years since received a living Rattlesnake from America. Intending to try the effects of its bite upon some rats, he introduced one of these animals into the cage with the Serpent; it immediately struck the rat, which died in two minutes. Another rat was then placed in the cage; it ran to the part of the cage farthest from the Serpent, uttering cries of distress. The Snake did not immediately attack it; but after about half an hour, and on being irritated, it struck the rat, which did not exhibit any symptoms of being poisoned for several minutes, and died twenty minutes after the bite. A third and remarkably large rat was then introduced into the cage: it exhibited no signs of terror at its dangerous companion, which, on its part, appeared to take no notice of the rat. After watching for the rest of the evening, my friend retired, leaving the Serpent and the rat together; and on rising early the next morning, to ascertain the fate of his two heterogeneous prisoners, he found the Snake dead, and the muscular part of its back eaten by the rat. I do not remember at what time of the year this circumstance took place, but I believe it was not during very hot weather.”
Though there are no external characters by which the venomous Serpents may invariably be distinguished from those which are harmless, yet
HEADS OF VIPERADÆ.
there is in most an aspect of malignity, which well indicates their deadly character. Their flattened head, more or less widened behind, so as to approach a triangular figure, their wide gape, and extensile tongue, and the sinister expression of their glaring eye, cause an observer to retreat with shuddering precipitancy. They are in general bold and fierce, rearing up themselves, and with sparkling eyes advancing resolutely to the combat, instead of retreating from the foe, sometimes springing with great agility on an intruder to inflict the fatal stroke. The Najas or Hooded Snakes of Africa and India, Dr. Smith describes as always ready for fight, advancing, when their haunts are invaded, upon the intruder with the head and forepart of the body almost perpendicular, the neck expanded, and an expression sufficiently indicative of the malignant purpose they have in view: nor does the retreat of their enemy always put a stop to their advance. An officer of the Cape Corps, worthy of implicit credence, assured Dr. Smith that he had been chased twice round a waggon by an enraged Naja, and was delivered only by a Hottentot, who disabled the savage reptile by a blow with a long stick. Some species, as the Horned Vipers (Cerastes), will neither remove to avoid danger, however imminent, nor give any indication of their presence, until actually trodden on by the unwary foot, when the sudden injection of the deadly poison tells the intruder of his fate. Others, as the Rattlesnakes (Crotalus), on the approach of danger, give warning by agitating a series of horny cells, loosely articulated within each other, with which the extremity of the tail is furnished, and thus often permit the avoidance of their deadly stroke.
Besides the important distinction of this Family of Serpents, which is derived from the form and structure of their poison-fangs, they are for the most part marked by the large size and great width of the head, which is covered with small scales; by the scales of the body being in general rough and keeled; and by the tail being usually short in comparison with the body, and often thin or slender. The belly is clothed with broad band-like shields or plates, as in the Snakes: there are no vestiges of limbs. Some have a deep pit, like a second nostril on the cheek, just in front of the eye, as the Rattlesnakes, whose singular caudal appendage we have just noticed. Others have the tail terminating in a small recurved spine, and others have two minute spines resembling recurved horns, on the tip of the nose. The Najas have the power of dilating the skin of the neck to an enormous extent when irritated. All the species with which we are acquainted, bring forth their young alive, the eggs being hatched in the moment of birth: the term Viper is an abbreviation of vivipara, which expresses this quality.
One of the most remarkable phenomena in Natural History is the power which, from time immemorial, has been exercised in the East by certain persons over the most venomous Serpents. It is more than once alluded to in the Sacred Scriptures, and multitudes of modern writers have described the practices of these Snake-charmers with more or less of accuracy. The Snakes chiefly subjected to their skill are the various species of Cerastes, or Horned Vipers, and of Naja, or Hooded Snakes, which are common both in Africa and India. Many persons affirm that there is nothing extraordinary in the process; that the Snakes are tamed for the purpose, and deprived of their fangs, before the exhibition; but there are facts well attested that cannot be so summarily disposed of. Bruce, who often witnessed these performances, affirms that there can be no doubt of their reality. “Some,” he says, “have doubted that it was a trick, and that the animals so handled had been first trained, and then disarmed of their power of hurting: and, fond of the discovery, they have rested themselves upon it, without experiment, in the face of all antiquity. But I will not hesitate to aver, that I have seen at Cairo (and this may be seen daily, without trouble or expense) a man who came from above the catacombs, where the pits of the mummy-birds are kept, who has taken a Cerastes with his naked hand from a number of others lying at the bottom of the tub, has put it upon his bare head, covered it with the common red cap he wears, then taken it out, put it in his breast, and tied it about his neck like a necklace; after which it has been applied to a hen, and bit it, which has died in a few minutes; and, to complete the experiment, the man has taken it by the neck, and, beginning at the tail, has ate it, as one would do a carrot or a stock of celery, without any seeming repugnance.
“I can also avouch, that all the black people in the kingdom of Sennaar, whether Funge or Nuba, are perfectly armed against the bite of either scorpion or viper. They take the Cerastes in their hands at all times, put them in their bosoms, and throw them at one another as children do apples or balls, without having irritated them by this usage so much as to bite. The Arabs have not this secret naturally; but from their infancy they acquire an exemption from the mortal consequences attending the bite of these animals, by chewing a certain root, and washing themselves (it is not anointing) with an infusion of certain plants in water. One day, when I was sitting with the brother of Sheikh Adelan, prime minister of Sennaar, a slave of his brought a Cerastes, which he had just taken out of a hole and was using with every sort of familiarity. I told him my suspicion that the teeth had been drawn; but he assured me they were not, as did his master Kitton, who took it from him, wound it round his arm, and at my desire ordered the servant to carry it home with me. I took a chicken by the neck, and made it flutter before him; his seeming indifference left him, and he bit it with great signs of anger; the chicken died almost immediately. I say his seeming indifference, for I constantly observed that, however lively the Viper was before, yet, upon being seized by any of these barbarians, he seemed as if taken with sickness and feebleness, frequently shut his eyes, and never turned his mouth towards the arm of the person who held him.”
Sir W. Jones was assured by a learned native of India, that he had frequently seen the most venomous and malignant Snakes leave their holes upon hearing notes from a flute, which, as he supposed, gave them peculiar delight. Mr. Gogerly, a missionary in India, confirms this statement. He observes, that some persons who were incredulous on the subject, after taking the most careful precautions against any trick or artifice being played, sent a charmer into the garden to prove his powers:—“The man began to play upon his pipe, and proceeding from one part of the garden to another, for some minutes stopped at a part of the wall much injured by age, and intimated that a Serpent was within. He then played quicker and his notes were louder, when almost immediately a large Cobra di Capello put forth its hooded head, and the man ran fearlessly to the spot, seized it by the throat, and drew it forth. He then showed the poison-fangs, and beat them out; afterwards it was taken to the room where his baskets were left, and deposited among the rest.” “The snake-charmer,” observes the same writer, “applies his pipe to his mouth, and sends forth a few of his peculiar notes, and all the Serpents stop as though enchanted; they then turn towards the musician, and approaching him within two feet, raise their heads from the ground, and bending backwards and forwards, keep time with the tune. When he ceases playing, they drop their heads and remain quiet on the ground.”
The “Penny Magazine” for April 1833, contains the following very precise and circumstantial narrative, communicated by a gentleman of high station at Madras. “One morning as I sat at breakfast, I heard a loud noise and shouting among my palankeen-bearers. On inquiry, I learned that they had seen a large Hooded Snake, and were trying to kill it. I immediately went out, and saw the Snake creeping up a very high green mound, whence it escaped into a hole in an old wall of an ancient fortification; the men were armed with their sticks, which they always carry in their hands, and had attempted in vain to kill the reptile, which had eluded their pursuit, and in his hole had coiled himself up secure, whilst we could see his bright eyes shining. I had often desired to ascertain the truth of the report, as to the effect of music upon Snakes. I therefore inquired for a snake-catcher. I was told there was no person of the kind in the
village; but after a little inquiry, I heard there was one in a village distant about three miles. I accordingly sent for him, keeping a strict watch over the Snake, which never attempted to escape, whilst we, his enemies, were in sight. About an hour elapsed when my messenger returned, bringing a snake-catcher. This man wore no covering on his head, nor any on his person, excepting a small piece of cloth round his loins: he had in his hands two baskets, one containing tame Snakes, the other empty: these, and his musical pipe were the only things he had with him. I made the snake-catcher leave his two baskets on the ground, at some distance, while he ascended the mound with his pipe alone. He began to play: at the sound of music the Snake came gradually and slowly out of his hole. When he was entirely within reach, the snake-catcher seized him dexterously by the tail and held him thus at arm's length; whilst the Snake, enraged, darted his head in all directions, but in vain: thus suspended, he has not the power to round himself, so as to seize hold of his tormentor. He exhausted himself in vain exertions; when the snake-catcher descended the bank, dropped him into the empty basket, and closed the lid: he then began to play, and after a short time, raising the lid of the basket, the Snake darted about wildly, and attempted to escape; the lid was shut down again quickly, the music always playing. This was repeated two or three times; and in a very short interval, the lid being raised, the Snake sat on his tail, opened his hood, and danced quite as quietly as the tame Snakes in the other basket, nor did he again attempt an escape. This, having witnessed with my own eyes, I can assert as a fact.”
Fatal accidents, however, sometimes occur to the professors of the psyllic art, for there are still to be found “deaf adders,” “which will not listen to the voice of the charmer.” “In Madras,” says a writer in “Chambers's Miscellany,” “this belief [in the powers of the charmers] received a sad shock by a circumstance that occurred. One of the most noted serpent-charmers about the district chanced one morning to get hold of a Cobra of considerable size, which he got conveyed to his home. He was occupied abroad all day, and had not time to get the dangerous fang extracted from the Serpent's mouth. This at least is the probable solution of the matter. In the evening he returned to his dwelling, considerably excited with liquor, and began to exhibit tricks with his Snakes to various persons who were around him at the time. The newly-caught Cobra was brought out with the others, and the man, spirit-valiant, commenced to handle the stranger like the rest. But the Cobra darted at his chin, and bit it, making two marks like pin points. The poor juggler was sobered in an instant. ‘I am a dead man,’ he exclaimed. The prospect of immediate death made the maintenance of his professional mysticism a thing of no moment. ‘Let the creature alone,’ said he to those about him, who would have killed the Cobra; ‘it may be of service to others of my trade. To me it can be of no more use. Nothing can save me.’ His professional knowledge was but too accurate. In two hours he was a corpse! I saw him a short time after he died. His friends and brother jugglers had gathered around him, and had him placed on a chair in a sitting position. Seeing the detriment likely to result to their trade and interests from such a notion, they vehemently asserted that it was not the envenomed bite which had killed him. ‘No, no; he only forgot one little word—one small portion of the charm.’ In fact, they declared that he was not dead at all, but only in a sort of swoon, from which, according to the rules of the cabalistic art, he would recover in seven days. But the officers of the barracks, close to which the deceased had lived, interfered in the matter. They put a guard of one or two men on the house, declaring that they would allow the body to remain unburied for seven days, but would not permit any trickery. Of course the poor serpent-charmer never came to life again. His death, and the manner of it, gave a severe blow, as has been already hinted, to the art and practice of snake-charming in Madras.”
Roberts also mentions the instance of a man who came to a gentleman's house to exhibit tame Snakes; and on being told that a Cobra, or Hooded Snake was in a cage in the house, was asked if he could charm it; on his replying in the affirmative, the Serpent was released from the cage, and, no doubt, in a state of high irritation. The man began his incantations, and repeated his charms, but the Snake darted at him, fastened upon his arm, and before night he was a corpse.
These and similar occurrences, however, so far from proving the falsehood of the snake-charmers' pretensions, seem to our judgment to be additional evidences of their truth; inasmuch as they make it manifest that these men believe their own powers, though they may sometimes fail. There is, in the present day, a far greater tendency to explain away, or to disbelieve, or boldly to deny, whatever cannot be readily accounted for, than to confess ignorance, or to weigh the evidence by which any assertion is supported; and we have often wondered at the disingenuous manner in which writers will pretend to explain away some straightforward, but unaccountable narration, by carping at some unimportant particulars, while the real gist of the matter is left untouched.
Genus Pelias. (Merrem.)
In this genus the head is depressed, almost oval, somewhat compressed before, and wider behind the eyes: the upper part is covered with small scaly plates, three of which (the vertical, and the two occipitals,) are larger than the rest; the scales of the body are lance-shaped, and keeled; the belly is clothed with broad shields, and those beneath the tail are arranged in a double series; the tail is short, and tapers abruptly; there are no pits or grooves in the scales before the eyes.
The Common Viper, or Adder (Pelias verus, Linn.), the only venomous reptile found in the British Isles, is even more common than the Ringed Snake, particularly in the northern part of Great Britain; in Ireland, however, it is unknown.
HEAD OF VIPER. It is less fond of water than the Ringed Snake, preferring dry woods, sandy heaths, and chalky districts. It grows from two to three feet in length, and is commonly of a yellowish olive hue, marked with a black zigzag band down the body, formed by a series of lozenge-shaped spots, which run into each other at their points; a row of triangular spots runs down each side; a mark somewhat like a V is on the hind head, and between the eyes is a large central dark patch. The species is subject to much variety in colour, from white with black marks, to deep black, in which the marks are visible only in the play of light. It may be readily distinguished from the Common Snake by its zig-zag band, by its darker belly, by its wider head, and in particular by its short and abruptly tapered tail.
The Viper, as its name imports, is viviparous;
or rather the membrane which invests the egg is so tender, that it is ruptured in the moment of parturition. Mr. Bell has examined several in which the young appeared ready to be excluded, but has always found the investing membrane entire, though so thin and soft as to be torn by the slightest force. He gives a figure of the young Viper in this state, the membrane having been removed. It is coiled up so closely as almost to appear like a solid mass; but no sooner is it emancipated, than it assumes all the activity and virulence which belong to the species. The membrane seems to have been unobserved by White in the dissection which he thus records. “On August 4th, 1775, we surprised a large Viper, which seemed very heavy and bloated, as it lay in the grass, basking in the sun. When we came to cut it up, we found the abdomen was crowded with young, fifteen in number; the shortest of which measured full seven inches and were about the size of full-grown earthworms.
YOUNG IN EGG. This little fry issued into the world with the true viper spirit about them, shewing great alertness as soon as disengaged from the belly of the dam: they twisted and wriggled about, and set themselves up, and gaped very wide when touched with a stick, shewing manifest tokens of menace and defiance, though as yet they had no manner of fangs that we could find, even with the help of our glasses.”
Potent medicinal qualities were by our forefathers attributed to the Adder-egg, or Adder-stone; the ovum anguinum of Pliny, the glein neidr of the ancient British. The Druids connected its production with the convoluted assemblages of Snakes which have already been noticed, and Mason, in his “Caractacus,” has embodied the tradition in the following spirited lines:—
“From the grot of charms and spells,
Where our matron sister dwells,
Brennus, has thy holy hand
Safely brought the Druid wand,
And the potent Adder-stone,
'Gendered 'fore the autumnal moon?
When, in undulating twine,
The foaming snakes prolific join,
When they hiss, and when they bear
Their wond'rous egg aloof in air;
Thence, before to earth it fall,
The Druid, in his hallow'd pall
Receives the prize;
And instant flies.
Followed by the envenom'd brood.
Till he cross the crystal flood.”
Divested of poetry and superstition, these “Adder-stones,” however, are nothing more than perforated beads of blue glass of great antiquity.
It has been often asserted, and the same thing is reported of the Rattle-snake, and other Serpents of this Family, that the young when alarmed, retreat into the mouth and gullet of the parent, and there remain until the danger is past. Some viper-catchers deny that this ever takes place, while others as strenuously affirm it. “There is no physiological reason against it. The young might live in such a situation for some time: it is well known that frogs will live and cry in the stomach of a Serpent.”
The food of the Viper consists of mice, shrews, moles; of lizards and frogs; and occasionally, of birds. It does not appear to strike the prey with its fangs, so as to poison it, but to take it exactly in the manner of the harmless Snakes. It is capable of long abstinence; individuals having been kept in a box for six months without food, yet retaining their health and vivacity unabated.
Although the poison of the Viper is rarely followed by fatal results to man in this country, it frequently produces severe symptoms of a highly threatening character. The remedies considered most efficacious are ammonia, administered internally, and olive oil applied externally; especially the latter. For the successful application of salad or olive oil to the part bitten by a Viper, we are indebted to William Oliver, a viper-catcher at Bath, who discovered the remedy more than a century ago. The public experiments on this subject are thus recorded:—“On the 1st of June, 1735, in the presence of a number of persons, Oliver suffered himself to be bit by an old black Viper (brought by one of the company) upon the wrist and joint of the thumb of the right hand, so that drops of blood came out of the wounds: he immediately felt a violent pain both at the top of his thumb and up his arm, even before the Viper was loosened from his hand: soon after he felt a pain, resembling that of burning, trickle up his arm; in a few minutes his eyes began to look red and fiery, and to water much: in less than an hour he perceived the venom seize his heart with a pricking pain, which was attended with faintness, shortness of breath, and cold sweats; in a few minutes after this his belly began to swell, with great gripings and pains in his back, which were attended with vomitings and purgings: during the violence of these symptoms his sight was gone for several minutes, but he could hear all the while. He said that, in his former experiments, he had never deferred making use of his remedy longer than till he perceived the effects of the venom reaching his heart; but this time, being willing to satisfy the company thoroughly, and trusting to the speedy effects of his remedy, which was nothing more than olive oil, he forbore to apply anything till he found himself exceeding ill, and quite giddy. About an hour and a quarter after being bit, a chafing-dish of glowing charcoal was brought in, and his naked arm was held over it, as near as he could bear, while his wife rubbed in the oil with her hand, turning his arm continually round, as if she would have roasted it over the coals: he said the poison soon abated; but the swelling did not diminish much. Most violent purgings and vomitings soon ensued; and his pulse became so low, and so often interrupted, that it was thought proper to order him a repetition of cordial potions: he said he was not sensible of any great relief from these; but that a glass or two of olive oil drunk down seemed to give him ease. Continuing in this dangerous condition, he was put to bed, where his arm was again bathed, over a pan of charcoal, and rubbed with salad oil, heated in a ladle over the charcoal, by Dr. Mortimer's direction, who was the physician that drew up the account. From this last operation he declared that he found immediate ease, as though by some charm: he soon after fell into a profound sleep, and, after about nine hours' sound rest, awaked about six the next morning, and found himself very well; but in the afternoon, on drinking some rum and strong beer, so as to be almost intoxicated, the swelling returned, with much pain and cold sweats, which abated soon, on bathing the arm as before, and wrapping it up in brown paper soaked in the oil.”
The medicinal virtues supposed to reside in the flesh of the Viper are now known to be apocryphal: as late as the last century, however, they were sufficiently credited to cause a demand for these reptiles in the shops of apothecaries. Many persons were thus encouraged to practise the art of viper-catching as a means of living, who sometimes caught the reptile with a pair of wooden tongs, and at others with a forked stick, which being driven down upon the neck secured the head, while the operator seizing the end of the tail, suddenly threw the animal into a bag. A curious story is told of the alarm produced in the house of an apothecary of the old school, by the escape of a whole collection of Vipers from the ill-closed box in which they arrived. Among other terrors resultant, a great black one was discovered coiled up between the sheets of one of the beds, just as its occupant was about to step into it.
Family V. Hydrophidæ.
The number of species contained in this group is not great, and they have all been made known to science within a comparatively recent period. They are not of large size; their forms are slender; but they are most readily distinguished by the oar-like form of their tail, which organ, as well as the posterior part of the body, is flattened vertically, so as greatly to resemble that of an eel, and in some cases, is dilated in the same direction.
HEAD AND TAIL OF SEA SNAKES. The nostrils are closed by a scale, and, as well as the eyes, are so situated as to have a vertical aspect; the pupils are circular, indicating diurnal activity; the ventral plates, formed of two united scales, are narrow, and occupy only the central line of the belly instead of its whole breadth; there are no spurs, nor any vestiges of limbs.
These Marine Snakes are highly venomous, though their teeth display a structure somewhat differing from that of the fangs of the Viperadæ. “The character,” remarks Professor Owen, “most commonly adduced from the dental system as distinguishing the venomous from the non-venomous Serpents, is, that the former have two, the latter have four rows of teeth in the upper jaw; the two outer, or maxillary rows being wanting in the venomous species, and their place being supplied by the single poison-fang. The exceptions to this rule, however, are too numerous for its value as a distinguishing character, in a question of such practical moment as the venomous or non-venomous properties of a Serpent. In all the family of the Marine Serpents, the poison-fang is only the foremost of a row of fixed maxillary teeth. In the Hydrophis striatus there are four teeth, and in Hydrophis schistosa five teeth behind the venom-fang, of rather smaller size than it: the two coloured Sea-Snake (Pelamys bicolor) has also five maxillary teeth, in addition to the perforated one. The poison-fang in this genus is relatively smaller than in the venomous Serpents of the land, but presents the same peculiar structure. . . . It is a curious fact that the smaller non-venomous teeth of the poisonous Serpents all present a trace of the structure of the functional venom-fang, being more or less deeply grooved along the convex interior side; and in the Hydrus, this groove commences by a depression analogous to the oblique basal aperture of the poison-canal in the true fang.”
The prevailing colour in this Family is yellowish, often varying towards green, blue, or white, and often relieved by blackish rings, or by broad lozenge-shaped spots placed transversely across the upper parts.
The Hydrophidæ are natives of the Indian Seas, and the coasts of Australia, but some occasionally stray as far as the shores of New Zealand, and the coral islands of the Pacific. Mr. J. E. Gray affirms that they sleep on the shore coiled up, and that they have been surprised asleep on the calm surface of the tropical seas; but they are oftener seen associated in shoals, keenly pursuing the fishes which constitute their prey. Other authorities affirm that they rarely, if ever, leave the water, that no instance is on record of any having been caught on shore, and that they are incapable of living out of the sea. It is remarked by the Rev. M. John, that he never found a land, a river, or a tank-Snake with a flat tail; such as are sometimes found in rivers, have been brought in by the tide, and can live only a short time out of the salt-water. He further remarks that it is difficult to procure Sea-Snakes, for though often caught in nets, they are held in such dread by the native fishermen, that the offer of almost any inducement will scarcely procure them. The latter remark, however, scarcely agrees with Dr. Cantor's observations.
Dr. Russell describes the Marine Serpents in the water as active and elegant in their movements, but as possessing scarcely any power of locomotion on the land; they speedily die when brought ashore, or put into fresh water. He found in the belly of a female Hydrophis, nine perfectly formed young, inclosed each in its own enveloping membrane, from which circumstance we may infer that in common with other venomous Serpents, these are viviparous.
They are said not to be very ferocious, allowing themselves to be handled when taken out of the water, without manifesting a readiness to bite, but other observations tend to prove that this mildness must not be relied on.
M. Peron saw the Marine Serpents gliding gracefully along in great numbers on the surface of the Indian Seas, waging destructive warfare on shoals of small herrings, which fled precipitately into deeper water. In the stomachs of some which he captured, he found small fishes and various species of marine crustacea. The Serpents, in their turn, become the prey of sharks,—a fact which at first seems remarkable, when we consider the swift agility of the former contrasted with the unwieldiness of the latter; but the naturalist accounts for the fact by supposing that the prey is seized when asleep on the surface. So sound are their slumbers as they float on the waves, that a large ship may pass close among them, without awaking them by the surging of its prow, or by the voices of its crew. They swim and dive with equal facility; often at the very instant when the voyagers are throwing their nets over the slippery reptiles, they will disappear beneath the waves, diving to a great depth, and remaining more than half an hour without ascending to the surface, reappearing at length, at a very great distance from the spot where they had been seen to descend.
The salt water creeks and ditches on the shores of India and the great islands are greatly infested by the Sea-Snakes, and this is probably what Cuvier means when he affirms that the Chersydrus inhabits the bottoms of rivers in Java; for no species inhabits fresh water.
Mr. Gray observes of the geographical distribution of the Family, that of the forty-eight species known [in 1837] twenty are found in the Indian Ocean, sixteen in the salt water ditches of India and the neighbouring Islands, and six in similar situations in tropical America.
Genus Hydrophis. (Daud.)
The belly in this genus is furnished with a range of scales a little larger than those which cover the body; the head is small, not bulging behind, rounded in front, and surmounted by large plates. The species are found in the salt-water canals of Bengal, and in the Indian Ocean.
We illustrate this genus, of which little is known, by the Banded Sea-Snake, or Chittul (Hydrophis fasciatus, Shaw), a slender species, about five feet in length, the ground-colour of which is blue, with alternate circular bands of yellowish white.
Our acquaintance with this interesting group is mainly due to the observations of Dr. Cantor, embodied in a paper on the Marine Serpents, published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society. The author alludes to the Marine Ophidians as a group of Vertebrata, to which but little attention had hitherto been given, from the circumstance of the danger attending their examination in the living state, and also from their geographical distribution being entirely confined to the tropical seas. The author being stationed in the East India Company’s service, on the Delta of the Ganges, had during a considerable period, most favourable opportunities for studying these Serpents, many of which were captured in the nets employed for fishing. His observations are principally directed to the anatomical characters which distinguish the marine from the
terrestrial Serpents, and to the modifications of structure by which the former are adapted to the elements in which they exist. With respect to their physiology, the principal point of interest he establishes is, the circumstance of all the species, without exception, being highly venomous,—a fact which has been denied by Schlegel, who states that the Marine Snakes are harmless; and the same erroneous idea is very current with the natives. Dr. Cantor in proof of the contrary refers to the recent death of an officer in Her Majesty's service, within an hour or two after the bite of a Serpent which had been caught at sea, and also to numerous experiments of his own, in which fowls, fish, and other animals invariably died within a few minutes after the bite had been inflicted.”
Soon after the opening of the bar in October, 1815, reports prevailed at Madras, that a large shoal of Sea-Snakes had entered the river, and that many natives had been bitten while crossing, and had died in consequence. A reward was then offered for each specimen captured, that should be brought to the Superintendent of Police. Pandauls (or temporary hospitals?) were erected, opposite the two principal fords, and skilful natives under the direction of Dr. M'Kenzie, to whom we are indebted for the account, were provided with eau-de-luce and other remedies, and ordered to afford immediate aid to those that were bitten. Many were wounded, and all exhibited symptoms common to those suffering from animal poisons; but none died. A native woman crossing near the custom-house, was seen, on emerging from the stream, to shake off some object from her foot, which to the bystanders appeared to be a Water-Snake. After proceeding a few paces, she fell down, and was carried in a state of insensibility to the pandaul. On examining her feet, two small but distinct wounds were observed on the ankle of the right leg; her skin was cold, her face livid, her breathing laborious, her pulse scarcely perceptible. A ligature was immediately placed above the wound, which had been previously enlarged with a lancet, and a piece of carbonate of ammonia, well moistened with pure nitric acid, applied; while thirty drops of eau-de-luce were administered nearly at the same time in a glass of water. In five minutes a similar dose was poured down her throat, which seemed to increase the spasmodic action of the chest, but the pulse at the wrist became distinct, though feeble. A third dose was given in three minutes more, on which she uttered a scream, and began to breathe more freely. Ten minutes had now elapsed since she had been brought to the pandaul, and in about three minutes more a teaspoonful of eau-de-luce was given, which almost immediately produced violent nausea, and profuse perspiration. When a little salt was put into her mouth, she declared that it was not salt, but sugar: and this the natives deemed an infallible sign of still continued danger. She soon, however, entirely recovered, and merely complained for three or four days of a numbness in the limb, above the wound.
Another case is recorded by a Lascar, who was bitten while in the midst of the river; the symptoms and the treatment were similar to the above; he also recovered, but complained for several days, that he had no left leg.
The consideration of the Hydrophidæ naturally suggests an allusion to an animal of great size, and serpent-like form, believed to inhabit the ocean, and commonly spoken of as the Great Sea-Serpent. For ages the conviction of its existence has prevailed among the inhabitants of Norway; and the fjords, or deep inlets, which mark the rocky coast of that country are the scenes where it is reported to have been most frequently seen. The shores of New England in North America are also said to have been favoured with frequent visits by the mysterious animal during the present century; and very recently reports have been published of its appearance in the midst of the ocean, at a considerable distance from land. A multitude of witnesses of unimpeachable character for veracity, both in Europe and America, have testified to personal observation of the monster, and a great body of evidence exists on the subject; yet it cannot be denied that when these testimonies are carefully collated and examined in detail, they present discrepancies, anomalies, and improbabilities, which greatly diminish their value. Perhaps the most that can with safety be predicated, at present, is that there probably exists some marine animal of colossal size, and lengthened form, which has not yet been received into systematic zoology.
- Our European Snakes drink by suction, not by lapping.
- Letter XXV. (1st series.)
- Pict. Museum, ii. 98.
- “Penny Cyclop.” v. 26.
- “Madoc,” book vii.
- See remarks on page 167.
- Since the publication of Mr. Broderip’s Memoir, Mr. Joseph Henry Green, in his lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons, exhibited a drawing of two muscles which he had detected in the lower jaw of the Boa, the purpose of which is to bring the larynx forward during the operation of swallowing.
- Val. Max. i., 8. § 19.
- “Ann. des Sci. Nat.” (2nd ser.), xvi. 65.
- “Zoology,” i. 569.
- “British Reptiles,” 49.
- “Gleanings,” 71.
- “Bingley’s Animal Biography,” iii. 217.
- “Gleanings,” p. 359
- “British Reptiles,” 60.
- “ of South Africa.”
- Ps. lviii. 4, 5.—Jer. viii. 17.
- “National History Selby,” Lett. xxxi. (2nd Series.)
- “Penny Cyclopedia,” xxvi. 248
- “Proceedings of the Zoological Society,” 1837, p. 135.
- “Proceedings of the Zoological Society,” 1838, p. 80.