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Tongues aren't just for smelling

After you spent all that time in grade school conditioning yourself to know that snakes stick out their tongues in order to smell things, it turns out that those tricksy animals were also tasting with their tongues, all along. Maggie 5

Decapitated copperhead bites self

"It finally quit movin' though, now that it bit itself," says our intrepid narrator.

And that, writes wildlife ecologist David Steen, could have something to do with the fact that a decapitated copperhead head can still inject venom. More importantly, if it did, the rest of the snake's body likely wouldn't have any special defense against that venom.

This isn't an area where there has been a lot of research and experimentation (just imagine the required permits!), but snakes do not have special immunity from their own venom. When venom is stored in a snake's body, it is located within specially-evolved glands that can safely contain it. This is the same basic idea that allows us to hold potentially harmful stuff in our appendix or gall bladder. If chemicals escaped from a snake's venom gland (or our appendix or gall bladder), it would be bad news.

Snake wine drinker suffers bite

NewImage

A Chinese woman reportedly suffered a snake bite when the reptile jumped from her wine bottle and struck her hand. Apparently, the woman from Shuangcheng, Heilongjiang Province had been drinking pickled snake wine to treat her rheumatism, but this particular snake was still living. Snake wine is a common curative in traditional Chinese medicine. (Global Times)

(image: Genghiskhanviet/Wikipedia/CC)

Video: Snake eats snake

A baby king cobra dines on a water snake. (via National Geographic)

Escaping python

I'm delighted by this video of a pet python, titled "Julius Escaping." This lovely creature passed on last year. RIP, Julius.

Are you a pessimist or an optimist when it comes to giant snakes?

Tired of measuring your relative pessimism/optimism by half-empty and half-full glassware? Try this new method, courtesy herpetologist Michael Dorcas. Read the following quote, then decide — is this fact comforting or distressing: "We’ve walked right past a 15-foot python without seeing it." Also potentially relevant to your interests: PBS' 2012 documentary about dissecting a giant python. Maggie

Stunning snake portraits

Snakeeeeee

NewImageIn 2011, photographer Mark Laita created Sea, a book of stunning portraits of strange ocean creatures. Now comes Serpentine, in which Laita points his lens at a stunning series of snakes. Above, Rowley’s Palm Pit Viper (Bothriechis rowleyi).

Serpentine by Mark Laita (Amazon)

"Snakes in a Frame: Mark Laita’s Stunning Photographs of Slithering Beasts" (Smithsonian)

Medical cures from the mouth of a mamba

Here, scientists suck all the dignity out of a Jameson’s mamba — a snake capable of killing a human in just a few, painful hours. The photo is part of a story in the February issue of National Geographic, exploring the potential medical uses of venom. There are also more photos. And you will meet cobra farmers.

© Mattias Klum /National Geographic

Snake actually on a plane

Reuters: "The three meter-long (9.1 foot) non-poisonous Amethystine python appeared about an hour into the Qantas flight between Cairns in northern Queensland and the Papua New Guinean capital of Port Moresby on Thursday." Rob

Pythons cuddle man


REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

A man is seen wrapped with pythons, some which include the Albino Burmese Python, as part of a show celebrating the coming Year of the Snake in the Chinese calendar. Spectators look on in Malabon city, north of Manila.

Cake or snake?

NewImage
Gareth Branwyn of MAKE says: "Francesca Pitcher from North Star Cakes in the UK created this amazingly realistic Burmese python cake for her daughter’s birthday. She posted it on her Facebook page and it’s gone viral from there. Duff Goldman from Ace of Cakes even tweeted about it."

Snake Cake! Run for Your Lives!

You cannot poison an opossum

As we established last week, biology is freaking crazy.

Here's more proof. For this, you don't even need to go to exotic Australia. The common American opossum produces a protein called Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor (LTNF). This protein does pretty much what the name implies—seeking out potentially deadly poisons and neutralizing them. The benefit: Opossums are all-but immune to the venom of poisonous snakes. (Including the venom of snakes native to continents where the common American opossum does not live.) But it gets weirder, as Jason Bittel explains on the BittelMeThis blog:

So they took some rats and injected them with LTNF, then pumped them full of otherwise lethal doses of venom from Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees. But the rats just laughed in their faces.

“Dude,” said one scientist, “we have to kill these rats. Do you watch AMC’s Breaking Bad?” The other scientists nodded of course because everybody watches Breaking Bad. So next they tried to kill the rats with ricin, an extremely lethal poison made from castor beans. (How lethal? Just ask Georgi Markov, the real-life Bulgarian defector killed by a ricin umbrella gun. That’s right, I said ricin umbrella gun.)

Alas, the ricin was a no-go. The now-snooty rats danced Ring Around the Rosie.

“That’s it!” screeched the lead scientist. “It’s time to release the botulinum toxin. Surely this will conquer the awkward opossum’s super serum!” But after many maniacal laughs and a few bolts of lightning, the rats were still alive.

(The paper does not mention what became of the super rats. I can only assume they went on to write “The Secret of Nimh” while the evil scientists lost their rat-killing grant.)

Read the research paper

Read the rest of Jason Bittel's story on the strange and wonderful biology of opossums.

CORRECTION: This post originally referred to echidnas as marsupials. This is incorrect. They are monotremes. The editors apologize to any monotremes, marsupials, or zoologists who were offended.

Image: Jesus and the 12 Opossums, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from mollyeknox's photostream

A guide to the "snake fight" portion of your Ph.D. thesis defense

Pictured: Laocoon, who had some serious problems with his methodology.

I'll bet you didn't know that, in order to earn a Ph.D. from a major American university, you must first defeat a snake in combat. Don't feel too bad. They almost never mention this until you've already begun your graduate studies. Luckily, Luke Burns has a handy FAQ over at McSweeny's that will make sure you pass both your oral thesis defense and your mandatory snake fight with flying colors.

Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.

Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.

Q: Are the snakes big?
A: We have lots of different snakes. The quality of your work determines which snake you will fight. The better your thesis is, the smaller the snake will be.

For god's sake, read the full FAQ. You do not want to arrive at your snake fight unprepared.

Via Andrew Thaler

Image: Groupe de Laocoon, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from hailemichaelfiseha's photostream