From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

SERPENT. The serpents, or ophidia, form a very natural class of reptiles, in general eavsily distinguished by the total absence of feet, not the slightest vestige of which is discoverable on the most minute dissection. Their motion is, notwithstanding, very rapid in some species, and is accomplished by means of the sinuosities, or folds, which they form with their bodies. When in a state of repose, they usually dispose themselves in coils, with the head in the centre ; and many are enabled to spring to a certain distance by the sudden unfolding of these coils. Serpents are destitute of movable eyelids, or distinct tympanums. All have teeth, but they serve only to retain their food, and are not adapted to the purpose of mastication. They are long, very sharply pointed, and incline backwards. The venomous species have the maxillaries very small and movable, and in them are implanted two teeth much longer than rhe rest, and traversed by a canal, for the purpose of transmitting the poison. These fangs are projected forward in the action of biting, but at other times, are disposed along the roof of the mouth, in such a manner as hardly to be discoverable at first sight. The jaws of serpents are united by ligaments in such a manner as to admit of great extension, which enables them to swallow animals of much greater diameter than their own bodies. The tongue is remarkably extensible, and terminates in two long cartilaginous points. They have only one lung. The skin, in different genera, is an nutated, coriaceous or granulated, or, most frequently, covered with scales. They feed on quadrupeds, reptiles, insects, or worms,and swallow their prey entire. They do not drink, and the power of digestion is slow, one meal serving them for weeks, or even months ; but when an opportunity offers, they take an enormous quantity of food. The ribs are very numerous, and surround a great portion of the trunk. The muscles, even in the smaller species, are endowed with an astonishing power of constriction ; and those species which attain the enormous dimensions of thirty feet or more, are enabled to destroy the larger quadrupeds by involving them in their folds. Serpents inspire an instinctive horror in man and most animals Their hissing, in some species, is truly startling; but, notwithstanding, most of them are perfectly harmless. In northern climates, they pass the winter in a torpid state, and change the epidermis in the spring. The eggs are rounded, and agglutinated in beadlike rows by a mucous substance, and, in the venomous species, hatch before they are excluded from the oviduct, and the young are born living. The females often take care of their young for a time, and, on the approach of danger, have been seen to receive the whole family in their throats, and, when it has passed, to restore them again to the open air. More than three hundred species are enumerated, most of which, including all the gigantic species, inhabit tropical climates. South America, in particular, abounds with them. The venomous species compose about one fifth or one sixth of the whole number; and among these are some whose bite is fatal in a few hours, and even minutes. But few species, and these mostly harmless, inhabit cold climates ; and towards the poles, they seem to be entirely wanting. The venom of the European viper is neither acid nor alkaline, neither acrid nor caustic; is insipid to the taste, and harmless when taken internally ; in short, possesses most of the external characters of simple mucus. It preserves its power after the death of the animal which furnished it. Its strength varies in intensity according to the warmth of the climate and season of the year, being much more dangerous in summer than in winter; as also according to the lapse of time which has intervened since the last bite, and the degree of irritation with which the action is performed. It is much more fatal to small animals than to large, and especially when they are much terrified. We have no true vipers in the U. States.The boas or anacondas inhabit tropical America, and are, in general, easily distinguished by having the plates under the tail undivided. Some attain a gigantic size, and curl their tails about the trunks or branches of trees, and, in this position, lie in wait for the larger quadrupeds.The pythons equal them in size. and pursue the same mode of life. They inhabit the tropical parts of the eastern continent.The species of hydrus are small aquatic serpents, having the extremity of their tails enlarged, and very much compressed ; which conformation gives them greater facility in moving through the water. They inhabit the intertropical parts of Asia, and the neighboring islands, and in some situations are very abundant. We shall now notice some of the most remarkable and best known species of the U. States.The rattlesnakes (crotalus) are exclusively American, and are celebrated for the violence of their poison. They are easily distinguished by the noisy instrument at the end of the tail, composed of horny sacks loosely inserted into each other. The banded rattlesnake grows to the length of four or five feet. It inhabits the Northern and Middle States from about lat. 46°, and is also found in the Western States, and beyond the Mississippi.The diamond rattlesnake (so called from a row of large black rhomboidal figures disposed along the back) attains larger dimensions, and inhabits the Southern States. The same, or a very similar species, is found in South America.The ground rattlesnake (C. miliarius) is a small species, inhabiting the Southern as well as the Western States. It has but two or three rattles on the tail, and is much dreaded, as its small size, and the slight noise of its rattle, render it more liable to be overlooked. The copperhead (trigonocephalus tisiphone) is as dangerous as the rattlesnake, which it much resembles, but is destitute of the rattle at the extremity of the tail. The color is brown, with clouded spots of a deeper hue. It is widely diffused through the U. States.The elaps fulvkis inhabits the southern and southwestern parts of theU. States. The length is about two feet, and the tail very short. It is marked with about twenty broad black rings, alternating with about as many yellow ones. The last are speckled with brown, and are whitish on the margin. The above are our principal poisonous serpents. The following are entirely harmless:The hognose snake (heterodon) is a remarkable reptile. The nose is slightly turned up, and flattened in front, bearing a remote resemblance to the snout of the animal whose name it bears. It possesses the power of dilating laterally the head and upper part of the neck, and, in this state, makes a formidable appearance. It is widely diffused through the U. States, but, like many others, is not found eastward of the Hudson river.The black snake (coluber constrictor) is found throughout the U. States. The color is black, inclining to slate color beneath, with the throat and lips white. The scales are smooth. It grows to the length of six feet, and its motions are very rapid.The chain snake (C. getulus) is eux allied species also, vith smooth scales. The colors are black and white, the black predominating. The white often forms transverse lines on the back, which unite on the sides, thus forming the semblance of a chain. The markings are, however, extremely variable; and individuals are found entirely black, thickly sprinkled with regularly oval white specks. It inhabits the Southern States, but is sometimes found as far north as New Jersey.The coachwhip snake (C.jiliformis) is a very long and slender species, rarely found, and only in the more southern states.The water snake (C. sipedon) is found in all parts of the U. States, and is very common in the vicinity of Philadelphia. Its usual color is brown on the back, beneath pale, with indistinct dark spots ; but the markings vary exceedingly, and it is often fourd transversely banded with white. This variation has given rise to much confusion in the books, where it is repeatedly described under different names. The body is thick in proportion, and it attains large dimensions, sometimes growingto the length of five feet. It frequents exclusively the borders of streams, and, when disturbed, often takes refuge in them, and conceals itself at the bottom.The striped or garter snake (C. sirtalis) is the most common species in most parts of the U. States. The color is brown above, with black specks, and three longitudinal lines of greenish yellow.The collared snake (C. Edivardsii); a small species, of a dark leaden color on the back, having a whitish band disposed across the back of the head. It is found under the bark of trees, from lat. 43°to South Carolina.C. Amcenus (Say); a still smaller species, with a remarkably small head; the color brownish above, and reddish beneath ; the scales smooth. It is founds beneath stones and logs, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, but is rare.C. septemvittatus (Say); with seven longitudinal blackish lines, three above, and four beneath ; the general color, brown above, and yellowish beneath; a small species, inhabiting the Middle and Western States.The scarlet snake (C. coccineus), beautifully marked with scarlet, black, and yellow, inhabits the Southern States.The green snake (C. astivus); a small species, entirely of a bright green color. The scales are carinated. It is found in the Southern States. C. vernalis; another green snake, resembling the former, but with smooth scales, inhabiting the Northern and Middle States, The pine snake (C.melanoleucus); one of our largest species, attaining the length of eight feet. The color is whitish, with large blackish spots. It is common in New Jersey, and is found in all the more southem and western parts of the U. States, and even beyond the Mississippi. It is of a gentle disposition, and is sometimes tamed and kept about houses.The chicken snake, or house snake (C. guttatus), is a beautiful species. The boby is elongated, somewhat flattened on the back, with smooth scales; the color whitish ; a row of large brownish spots, bordered with black, upon the back; a second series of smaller and darker ones on each side, alternating with the former; beneath, with small, square, black specks. The abdominal plates and subcaudal scales are very numerous. It attains a large size, and inhabits all parts of the U. States, from Canada to Florida, as also the transMississippi region. Although it is pretty constant in its markings, no one of our snakes has been the occasion of so much confusion among systematic writers; and it appears repeatedly in the books under a great variety of specific names. We have omitted, in the above account, several species which have been discovered, within a few years, in the region beyond the Mississippi, as also some of the Atlantic states, which are not well understood. There are probably many undescribed species in the U. States.It may not be amiss to say a few words in this place concerning the glass snake of the Southern States. This animal is destitute of feet, and possesses many of the external characters of a serpent; but its anatomical structure shows it to belong to the family of lizards. It is excessively brittle, and is broken with the slightest blow; which circumstance has given rise to the name. (For the Seaserpent, see that article.)