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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/274

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

placing a small pane of glass in a box, in which was a common black snake. He was made to pass over it repeatedly, but evidently found that he had no foothold on it; and the third time, as he approached it, elevated the fore-part of his body slightly, and brought his head down beyond the glass, and, on passing, his body seemed scarcely to touch it. This gave an opportunity to witness the wave-like movement of the scales, that is, of their elevation, which runs from the head to the tail, enabling the animal to move continuously, instead of by a series of minute pushes, as would occur if all the scales be lifted and depressed at once.

In the moulting of the snake, which occurs yearly, and sometimes oftener, the outer covering of these creeping scales is shed; this is true also of the covering of the eyes, so that the cast epidermis represents, with great distinctness, the external features of the animal. In moulting, the outer skin is broken along the back, near the head, and the animal emerges, frequently drawing with him the skin, turning it inside out. Prof. Owen states, however, that in one instance exuviation commenced by the snake rubbing the skin loose around its jaws, working it back against the sides of its cage, when, putting its head through coils made by its own body, it pressed back the skin, turning it outward. We have observed that the black snake, on moulting, becomes more sensitive and irritable, but shy, and inclined, for a day or so, to keep close in a corner of his cage. The scaly covering of serpents must diminish their acuteness of touch; but we have found them sensitive to exceedingly slight irritation. They are without an external ear, and the phrase "deaf as an adder" is a familiar one. Nevertheless, they have organs of audition beneath the skin or protecting membrane, and we know by experiment that snakes hear and distinguish sounds, and are said in some instances to recognize the voice of their keeper. Some species, it has been observed, are influenced by music, and we quote the statement by Chateaubriand of an incident witnessed by himself. He says: "The Canadian began to play upon his flute. The snake (a rattlesnake) drew its head backward, its eyes lost their sharpness, the vibrations of its tail relaxed, and, turning its head toward the musician, remained in an attitude of pleased attention."

The snake-charmers (Fig. 3), familiar to travelers in Eastern countries, handle cobras with apparent impunity, cause them to advance or retreat, to coil and uncoil, to bow their heads, or bring their deadly mouths to their own by musical sounds, either vocal or instrumental. A story is related of an English gentleman, residing in a mountainous part of India, who was compelled to desist playing upon a flute because the music attracted serpents to his residence. The sense of taste in serpents must be very feeble, as it is quite unserviceable. They swallow their food whole, nor have they any teeth by which mastication can be accomplished. Their sense of smell is also obtuse. The