Every year, July 16 is observed as World Snake Day. World Snake Day is observed by wildlife enthusiasts to increase awareness about the different species of snake and conservation of a sometimes dangerous but mostly misrepresented reptile. Snakes are one of those creatures with the most misconceptions in the world. Due to their very ancient lineage, snakes give a glimpse of prehistoric times. It is believed that they have their origin in the terrestrial lizards that existed millions of years ago. The word ‘snake’ comes from the Old English word ‘snaca.’ There are organisations like ASP, Advocates for Snake Preservation, which are working with dedication to change the way people view and treat snakes.
There are more than 3,500 species of snakes, of which ~25% are venomous, and ~200 species pose a considerable risk to human life. Snakes are found in every continent except Antarctica. There are many different species of snakes, small, as small as four inches (Barbados thread snake), heaviest-more than 500 kilograms (green anaconda), longest – as long as 25 feet (reticulated python). The King Cobra is the most giant venomous snake and most fascinating to many.
Snakes generally are not aggressive except when they are hunting for food, or they need to defend themselves. Snakes use a variety of methods to protect themselves, including camouflage or simply curl up to avoid being seen. They use their tongues to smell their air and shed their skin three to six times a year. There is an abundance of colour to the Snakes, and they are cold-blooded. While most snakes lay eggs, some give live birth. Interestingly, snakes eat their prey whole and separate their lower jaw from the upper jaw, helping them. Snakes are highly effective predators and play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature and controlling rodents and pests. Snake venom has been used for anti-tumour treatments to antibacterial properties.
Snakes have a mention of playing a role in religion and mythology, from the Bible to the Mahabharata to ancient Egyptian texts. Krishna’s Kalinda Mardhanam on a multi-hooded snake in the River Yamuna. The picturesque Sheshnag Lake, considered one of the holy places in Kashmir Valley, is believed by many that it was created by Sheshnag (the King of Snakes). Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, estimated to be built 11-12 thousand years ago, have carvings of abstract symbols and animals such as foxes, lions, bulls, snakes, and insects. Bible mentions that it is due to the snake in the Garden of Eden, the eve consumed the forbidden apple, and what followed is history. Ancient temples in India also have snakes inscribed on the walls. Recently, a snake sculpture belonging to the 17-18 centuries on palaeographic grounds was found in a remote village close to Trichy.
Maximum snake bite incidents occur when humans inadvertently step on or otherwise disturb the peaceful creatures. Though the exact number of snake bites is unknown, it is estimated that the world over, there are around 5 million snake bites. Half of them is envenoming’s, and around one lakh people die of snake bites each year. Snake bites also cause many amputations, other permanent disabilities. In India, it is estimated that 11000 fatalities a year.
There are many myths about snakes. The most widely perpetrated one is that a bowl of milk will attract snakes. Reptiles cannot digest milk and other dairy products. When a snake bites, its venom spreads quickly and sucking removes little of the poison. Sucking the venom out from a snake-bit person saving a life.
Climate change, loss of habitat and exploitation threaten many snakes. Snakes are an important part of our ecosystem. Fear and negative attitudes about snakes are the biggest barriers to their conservation.
Next time you see a snake, move away, take precautions, and leave it to itself.
Snakes need our help.
*A Toonlog on the topic was posted in 2020