Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/276

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organs by which this is effected are near the muzzle, but, according to Cuvier, they are without the sinuses which exist in the heads of mammals. We have tested this sense in several species of snakes, but only pungent odors seem to specially annoy them. The tongue of the serpent is a harmless appendage, tough, horny, and double-pointed; and, like the same member in man, has a wonderful propensity to be in motion. That snakes sting with their tongues is an old but erroneous opinion. Perhaps our own species is not equally innocent in that respect. All serpents are carnivorous, and nearly all seize and swallow living food. Their teeth are bony, hard, conical in shape, and exceedingly sharp-pointed. None of the class have grinding or cutting teeth. They are formed for holding their food, not to grind, crush, or cut it. Moreover, all their teeth are recurved in form and position; that is, they point in or backward, so that an object once seized can scarcely escape, and, if the jaws be fully distended, could only with great difficulty be ejected. Instances are given where serpents have died from their inability to swallow what they could not eject from their throats, and it is obvious that life could not continue a very long time under such circumstances, for, as Prof. Owen observes, "while swallowing, the tracheæ may be so compressed that no air can pass, and their only resource is what is contained in the lungs."

In the non-venomous species, which includes those that constrict or crush their prey, are found four rows of teeth in the upper jaw and arch of the mouth, and two rows in the under jaw. Venomous species have usually no more than two rows above, which are on the palatal arch, and two below; but they have on the upper jaw two or more poison-fangs, as shown in Fig. 4, an account of which makes the most fearful chapters in the history of this family of reptiles.

Fig. 4.
PSM V04 D276 Viper eye and fangs.jpg
A. Diagrammatic Section or the Eye of a Viper.
a. Eyeball; b. Optic nerve; c. Chamber into which tears are poured; d. Epidermic layer covering the eye.
B. Head of Viper, showing Poison-Fangs.

We have observed that serpents swallow their food whole. They make a meal from a mouthful, but the mouthful is sometimes a very large one, for they will swallow animals twice or thrice their own