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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/271

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JANUARY, 1874.


 

CONCERNING SERPENTS
By ELIAS LEWIS, Jr.

FEW animals are more universally feared and detested than serpents. Their presence startles us, however inoffensive they may be. Nor can the gracefulness of their motion, or beauty of color, conquer the discontent we feel when we see them gliding in our path, or coiled and glistening in the sunshine, in which they delight. The enjoyment of many a summer's ramble has been impaired from this cause, and we fear our article may be as distasteful to many persons as are the objects of which it treats. But we may remember that serpents, no less than more attractive creatures, are important in Nature's economies. Their structure is a marvel of mechanical adaptation, less complicated, perhaps, but as perfect in every detail as is that of mammals and birds, and the mechanism which rolls the human eye is not more complete, and scarcely more wonderful, than that which moves the fangs of a viper. Perhaps, in the study of Nature, we should estimate objects by their fitness, rather than by their attractiveness or beauty.

"The serpent," observes Prof. Owen, "is too commonly looked down upon as an animal degraded from a higher type. . . . But it can outclimb the monkey, outswim the fish, outleap the jerboa; it has neither hands nor talons, yet it can outwrestle the athlete, and crush the tiger in its embrace." Serpents, in their mode of locomotion, are creeping animals, as their name implies, and constitute an order of the great class Reptiles. This term also implies creeping, but includes orders of animals which have limbs for locomotion, and do not creep. Of these, turtles, lizards, and crocodiles, are familiar instances; so that animals of several species, which run, walk, or swim, are included in the same class with those which creep. All of these, however, are cold-blooded, the temperature of the body differing but few degrees from that of the surrounding air or water. Their coldness is always