Myths About Snakes

Environment

Snakes are amongst the most fascinating animals in nature but they are always surrounded by myths, especially in India. RobinAge spoke to Ashish Godse, member of Conservation of Reptiles and Environment Welfare (CREW), to help our young readers understand snakes better.

Why did you start CREW?
Mother Nature provides every living being with food, air, water and shelter. For thousands of years human beings have exploited nature for their benefit and development. In this process, knowingly or unknowingly, we have also harmed it to a great extent. All animals, including us, depend on the environment. We can no longer afford to damage or pollute the environment in any form and conserving nature is our responsibility. We formed this society for Conservation of Reptiles and Environment Welfare (CREW) with the main purpose of protecting reptiles.

The environment is like a house of cards. Even if one card is taken out, the entire formation will collapse. Snakes are an important component of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, people do not understand snakes and therefore fear them. This is why snakes are commonly killed by people when these slithering creatures enter our homes. With CREW we hope to spread awareness among people and appeal to them to help us rescue snakes and rehabilitate them. CREW was founded in 2009 by a group of seven nature lovers who became CREW’s founding members. Over the past two years, CREW has rescued hundreds of snakes in and around Virar near Mumbai in a radius of 10 to 15kms.

Do we need to save snakes like tigers need to be saved?
Tigers are facing a serious threat from illegal hunting and smuggling of their skin, nails, bones and teeth. They are almost on the verge of extinction. Therefore consistent efforts are needed to conserve and increase the tiger population. At the same time, snakes, which form a vital element of the ecosystem, are also in danger due to rapidly spreading urbanisation. Their homes and food sources are getting rapidly destroyed by increasing reclamation and construction work. Hence, instead of killing snakes, it is necessary to rescue them and relocate them in their natural home - the forest.

What do you do after rescuing a snake?
After rescuing a snake, we take it to our place for a check-up. After that we release the snake into its natural habitat - the forest. If the snake is wounded, we keep it under observation and give it the necessary treatment required. Once the wounds heal, we release the snake into the forest.

Are the rescued snakes kept in an exhibition or zoo?
Normally we don't keep snakes without a good reason. Keeping snakes can be risky and is also unkind.

Can a person die of a snake bite?
Not all snakes are poisonous. A person can die only if bitten by a venomous snake and only if he/ she doesn’t get appropriate, timely treatment.

How do you help someone who has been bitten by a snake?
If someone has been bitten by a poisonous snake, a band or a rope should be tied above the bite's location. Also the arm or leg should be tied in such a way that minimum movement is possible. The victim should then be immediately rushed to a hospital where antivenom can be administered.

How many types of venomous snakes are found in India?
There are mainly four types of venomous snakes in India. These are the cobra, Russell's viper, saw-scale viper and krait. Other snakes that are found here are not harmful but useful. 

How do you identify venomous and non-venomous snakes?
Almost all venomous snakes have distinctive marks on their body in the form of stripes, designs, patches or bands. A study of these markings helps identify snakes.

How can snakes be useful?
Rats can multiply so fast that within 18 months, two rats can produce up to 1 million rats! These rats and other rodents destroy tons of food grains every year. Rats are the staple diet of snakes. Snakes thus play a very important role in controlling their population and saving our food grains.

Do snakes have bones and skeletons like humans?
Snakes have symmetrical bones running along the entire length of their body. 

Can snakes see in the dark?
Snakes generally have average eyesight while some snakes have very poor vision. Snakes usually have
just enough eyesight to be able to detect movements and hunt their prey during the day or at night.

Why do snakes cast away their skin?
Snakes grow a new skin underneath the old one. They shed their skin to allow their body to grow and also to remove parasites that may have grown on the old skin. Many snakes shed their skin twice a year while some species shed their skin five to six times a year.

How much can a snake grow in length?
Depending on the species, snakes can vary in length from about 4 to 5 inches to up to 30ft. The average length of a snake is 3 to 8ft.

What do snakes feed on and how many times in a day do snakes eat?
Snakes usually eat once in a week depending on their size and the size of the prey. Snakes feed on live mice, lizards or frogs, whichever is easily available.

Do snakes sleep?
Snakes don't have eyelids like other animals. Their eyes always appear to be open. They mostly sleep by burying their face between the folds of their body.

Does a cobra actually dance to the tune of the snake charmer's flute?
Cobras cannot hear sounds like other animals do and so they only sway to the movement of the flute and not to the music.

Can a vine snake break the skull of a person?
A vine snake is very delicate and fragile. It can't even break an egg with its mouth so it's impossible for this kind of snake to break the skull of a person.

Is it true that a python can break the bones of its prey? Is a python poisonous?
Yes, a python is powerful enough to crush bones, but it coils around its prey to suffocate and kill it. It does not break any bones. Pythons are not poisonous.

Were you ever scared of venomous snakes?
We are well trained to handle different types of snakes. We also take all the necessary precautions while handling venomous snakes. With training we were able to rescue snakes. No animal attacks humans unless it is provoked - that is something we all need to remember.

Have you ever been bitten by a snake? What do you do if a snake bites you?
I have been bitten a couple of times but by nonvenomous snakes. In the case of non-venomous snake bites, we just wash the wound with antiseptic and apply some ointment if required.

Can we catch a snake using a big cloth or a gunny bag?
This should never be tried as it is very risky. Without proper knowledge and training, one should not play around with snakes.

How can we prevent snakes from entering our homes?
Snakes are likely to enter premises only when they are in search of food like rats, lizards or frogs. Hence, you should always keep our premises clean and pest free.

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