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Mass Observation: Snakes Alive

  • Posted April 4, 2011 by Jon Laysell Viewed 4368 times

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There are not many types of snake in the UK; just three: The Adder, The Grass Snake and the Slow Worm. People in the know will tell you that even this is an exaggeration as the Slow Worm isn't actually a snake, or even a worm, but a lizard. Having had my cats butcher one on my kitchen floor, I'm sticking to the snake story though.

Anyway the population of adders is dwindling rapidly, so last week it was reported that scientists are undertaking a genetic survey. [guardian.co.uk] Hopefully this will help uncover the cause of their decline. I can't help but think though that it's just a case of us taking too much of their habitat.

I have only seen two wild adders in my life. One that my mum caught in my nan's back garden and brought into the house to show us. And one that had got past the wild stage when I saw it: My school friend uncovered it from a rock and got scared as the snake reared up, he kicked so hard that the poor snakes head came off. Well that's what he told us any way. All I saw was the headless snake corpse sitting in his father's garage. And my friend telling me he was going to skin it and sell the skin to a shoe shop. It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time I believed him. In fact it had quite an effect on me - giving me a mild phobia of snakes for many years. This fear was only conquered when in my twenties, two girls standing in front of me in an East London chip shop both had pythons draped around their necks like scarves. I had an option, face up to my fear or slink away and wait until they had they gone. I was hungry, and the impromptu session of implosion therapy worked a treat.

The pictures here are of course not of an adder and are not in the UK. This is a Boa Constrictor on the island of St Lucia. The Carib man earns his living buy catching snakes in the rainforest, and then charging tourists, who are just too lazy to catch their own snake, a small fee to handle it and take a few snaps. We were told that this is strictly controlled and that the snake catchers are all licensed. The snakes are held for a maximum period (I believe 3 months) and then released. Of course, I have no idea how long it is before the same animals are re-captured. In this way, some of the poorest people on the island are able to make a living whilst the snakes are protected as they are important to the economy.

Indeed not only have the snakes been protected on St Lucia, but in the past they have been imported. For many years the island was fought over between the British and the French. These armies used to throw snakes into the opposition camps as a form of covert warfare. We were told that the British preferred the constrictor as a more terrifying experience for their enemy, whilst the French favoured the smaller but often deadlier venomous snakes. This also explains the presence of the mongoose on an island, thousands of miles away from anywhere that it could call native.

For anyone in the UK that's interested, you can join in The adder count. [narrs.org.uk] For me though, I know the answer to their decline: Adders are not Multipliers!
Please click here for other obeservations. [photoblog.com]

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    There are 18 comments, add yours!

    • # Jet28

      Wonderful post. We've been having a bit of an snake invasion there - particularly on the beaches!

      2011.04.07 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Moira

      Oh goodness no way would you get me to do that!!!! Lovely shots though

      2011.04.05 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Jacki

      Great pics and an interesting commentary about the snakes in SL. Here in the state of Florida released exotic snakes are a terrible problem in the Everglade area.

      2011.04.05 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Leslie

      Snakes have such a creepy reputation! This is a wonderful post and nice take on the MOP.

      2011.04.04 Edited Reply Cancel

    • # Gillian

      An interesting story to go with this post - lets hope for the snakes sake that they do indeed let them go after 3 months as it must be quite stressful for them to keep being handled.

      2011.04.04 Edited Reply Cancel