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gratify my never quite forgotten desire to know life by pupils of the Government schools, are more of this interesting poison. One day, how- here grouped so as to show at a glance all the ever, a man offered me a small lot of snakes, and typical Indian poisonous serpents. just then I learned of a supposed antidote in- Twenty-four years after my first essay,
the vented, it was said, by the famous French herpe-Smithsonian published 1 the results of another tologist, Bibron. In fact he never did invent an four years of additional work on the problems antidote, and how the queer mixture of iodine which had interested me in my early life. Much and corrosive sublimate got his authoritative of what I did in 1859 to 1862 needed no reëxname is still a mystery. I began in 1859 to amination, but new questions had arisen, and study the matter, and soon found that the anti- novel and accurate methods were now at our dote was worthless, and that no one knew much disposal. Moreover, I had been haunted for a about snake venoms. Not quite a hundred years year or more by the idea that serpent poisons previous Fontana wrote on the poison of vipers might not be simple but complex, not one thing an immortal work, and nearly another century but a mixture of two or more, and that this before him there were written two quaint books, might explain the causes of the difference be
(FROM A PAINTING BY ANNODA PROSACT BAGCHEE.) I, Ophiophagus Elaps ; 2-7, inclusive, Varieties of Cobra; 8, Trimesurus Carinatus, coiled around No. 1; 9, Daboia Russellii :
10, Bungarus Fasciatus; IT, Bungarus Cornutus ; 12, Echis Carinata ; one unknown. one by Redi, 1664, and one by Charas, 1673. tween rattlesnake and cobra bites, and possibly Both of these little volumes are still worth read- give the clue to methods of successful treating. Charas's belief in the value of volatile salt ment. When a maggot like this gets into the of the ashes of calcined vipers as a remedy for brain of a man accustomed to want to know viper bite is an instructive exhibition of a form why, it breeds a variety of troublesome pleasof medical idiocy not without modern illus- ures. In my case it drove me once more to trations.
the laboratory, and caused me to seek the My own researches were carried on in the skillful aid Dr. Edward T. Reichert, now intervals of a life of great occupation, and were Professor of Physiology in the University of published in 1862 by the Smithsonian Institu- Pennsylvania. Together we solved many pertion. About 1872, unaided by Government, in plexing problems. As some of these have for a climate where heat makes all labor difficult, the general reader an unusual interest, I purpose and at a cost in the way of money and mortal to restate here a few of our results, since our risks which few can comprehend, an Indian large Smithsonian memoir is not likely to come surgeon, now Sir Joseph Fayrer, created on before many of the readers of THE CENTURY. this subject a vast mass of material knowledge It has occurred to me that in telling my which without reward he gave to the Govern- story it might be well to show in popular shape ment of India. The illustration on this page was how the work was done, as well as its results. meant for a frontispiece to his splendid volume, To make it clearer, I must first explain the but was for some reason unused and came to me
1 “Researches on Serpent Poisons,” by S. Weir as a gift from Fayrer. The snakes, drawn from Mitchell, M. D., and Prof. E. T. Reichert.
GILA MONSTERS — POISONOUS LIZARDS. mechanism which enables the serpent to use its thrown up in numbers into the paddle-wheel poison.
covers of the old side-wheel steamers. I never We have in America as venomous serpents had the good luck to get a living specimen. the several species of rattlesnake, the water The centipede and the scorpion rank high moccasin, the copperhead, and the beautiful in the popular mind as poisoners, but they are coral snake, the little elaps of Florida, too small gentle apothecaries compared to the serpent. with us to be dangerous to man.
We are in America the privileged possessors India is preëminently the home of the poi- of the only other animal at all approaching sonous snakes, of which there are no fewer than the poisonous snakes in lethal vigor: it is a fifteen genera. The cobra is most abundant, lizard, the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) but the Ophiophagus elaps is the most dreaded, of Arizona. This strange creature is the only and attains at times the length of fourteen feet. poisonous lizard known. I have heard of but Unlike the cobra and the crotalus, this serpent one death in man from its bite, and for a long is viciously aggressive, and will pursue a man while it was looked upon by all except the with activity.
Indian as harmless. Sluggish, inert, well arAmong the vipers the daboya is entitled to mored with a tough, defensive skin, a feeder rank as a poisoner close to the cobra, and the on birds' eggs and on insects, it is most difficrotalidæ are represented by a number of cult to induce this good-humored and most snakes which are somewhat less effective slay- hideous reptile to bite at all. When once it ers than the cobra. While these genera are takes hold, no bulldog could be more tetoo sufficiently abundant on land, the In- nacious. The odor of its poisonous saliva is dian seas also abound in species belonging exactly like that of magnolia buds. Its bite to the family of hydrophidæ. These serpents causes no local injury, and its venom is a deadly are agile and dangerous, but as yet no one heart poison. seems to have made any examination of their All of the great family of thanatophidiæ venom, nor directly experimented to learn have substantially the same mechanical aranything of its relative hurtfulness. Poisonous rangements for injecting their venom. When water-snakes are found in abundance on the not in action the two hollow teeth known as shores of South America, and used to be fangs lie pointing backwards, wrapt in a loose
Vol. XXXVIII.- 66.
cloak-like cover, a fold of the soft skin of the which is ordinarily employed to close the interior of the upper jaw. At the base of each mouth by lifting the lower jaw, to which it is of these fang teeth is an opening connected made fast. A little circular muscle around a with a tube running backwards under the eye part of the duct keeps it shut and prevents to an almond-shaped gland which forms the waste of venom. poison. This body continuously manufactures Let us observe what happens when the venom, and holds in its cavity a supply for rattlesnake means mischief. He throws himuse. Over the gland runs a strong muscle, self into a spiral, and about one-third of his
length, carrying the head, rises from the coil and stands upright. The attitude is fine and warlike, and artists who attempt to portray it always fail. He does not pursue, he waits. Little animals he scorns unless he is hungry, so that the mouse or the toad he leaves for days unnoticed in his cage. Larger or noisy creatures alarm him. Then his head and neck are thrown far back, his mouth is opened very wide, the fang held firmly erect, and with an abrupt swiftness, for which his ordinary motions prepare one but little, he strikes once and is back on guard again, vigilant and brave. The blow is a stab, and is given by throwing the head forward while the half-coils below it are straightened out to lengthen the neck and give power to the motions which drive the fangs into the opponent's flesh; as they enter, the temporal muscle closes the lower jaw on the part struck, and thus forces the sharp fang deeper in. It is a thrust aided by a bite. At this moment the poison duct is opened by the
A SNAKE STAFF.
relaxation of the muscle which surrounds it, off a snake's head and then pinch its tail, the and the same muscle which shuts the jaw stump of the neck returns and with some acsqueezes the gland, and drives its venom curacy hits the hand of the experimenter through the duct and hollow fang into the if he has the nerve to hold on. Few men
have. I have not. A little Irishman who took In so complicated a series of acts there is care of my laboratory astonished me by coolly often failure. The tooth strikes on tough skin sustaining this test. He did it by closing his and doubles back or fails to enter, or the ser- eyes and so shutting out for a moment the pent misjudges distance and falls short and too suggestive view of the returning stump. may squirt the venom four or five feet in the Snakes have always seemed to me averse to
air, doing no harm. I had a curious experi- striking, and they have been on the whole ence of this kind in which a snake eight feet much maligned. six inches long threw a teaspoonful or more Any cool, quiet person moving slowly and of poison athwart my forehead. It missed my steadily may pick up and handle gently most eyes by an inch or two. I have had many venomous serpents. I fancy, however, that near escapes, but this was the grimmest of all. the vipers and the copperhead are uncertain An inch lower would have cost me my sight pets. Mr. Thomson, the snake keeper at the and probably my life.
Philadelphia Zoological, handles his serpents A snake will turn and strike from any post- with impunity; but one day having dropped ure, but the coil is the attitude always assumed some little moccasins a few days old down his when possible. The coil acts as an anchor and sleeve while he carried their mamma in his enables the animal to shake its fangs loose from hand, one of the babies bit him and made an the wound. A snake can rarely strike beyond ugly wound. At present the snake staff is used half his length. If both fangs enter, the hurt is to handle snakes. doubly dangerous, because the dose of venom I saw one October, in Tangiers, what I had is doubled. At times a fang is left in the flesh, long desired to observe — a snake charmer. but this does not trouble the serpent's powers Most of his snakes were harmless; but he as a poisoner, since numberless teeth lie ready refused, with well-acted horror, to permit me to become firmly fixed in its place, and both to take hold of them. He had also two large fangs are never lost together. The nervous brown vipers ; these he handled with care, but mechanism which controls the act of striking I saw at once that they were kept exhausted seems to be in the spinal cord, for if we cut of their venom by having been daily teased
into biting on a bundle of rags tied to a stick. they give up, and seem to become indifferent They were too tired to be dangerous. I have to approaches, and even to rough handling. often seen snakes in this state. After three or four When a man or an animal is bitten by a rattlefruitless acts of instinctive use of their venom snake, death may take place in a few minutes.