• Jessica Evans

6 snake myths - busted

Snakes are known world-wide as creepy crawlies. From being Indiana Jones' only fear, to the very unrealistic story of Snakes on a Plane, the poor reptiles really get a bad rep in pop culture.

Just like other members of the Creepy Crawly Club, like bats, spiders, and owls, there are a lot of myths floating around about snakes. The important thing is they're just that - myths. They are not true and you should not believe them.

It's easy to get sucked into believing these things, so I spoke to Chad Keates, a reptile specialist at Rhodes University's Department of Zoology and Entomology, and he busted some of the most common myths for us. So here are six snake myths that simply aren't true.

1. Boomslangs can only bite you on your fingers.

People seem to think that boomslangs can't open their mouths wide enough to bite a person anywhere but on their fingers. This is so wrong. Boomslangs can actually open their mouths 180 degrees, so they can bite you anywhere they like, they just choose not to. "Most snakes would rather flee," said Chad.

An adult female boomslang, Dyspholidus typus typus. Photo by Chad Keates.

2. Snakes are found in groups, so if you see one, there are probably more around you.

Snakes are actually solitary creatures, meaning they like being alone. They only get together for mating and even then it's not in huge groups.

3. Cutting off a snake's head will make others stay away.

Not only is this gruesome, it's false. There's no reason this would work, and there's no science to support this idea.

Rhombic egg-eater, Dasypeltis scabra, is just one of many completely harmless snakes. Very few snakes are dangerous for humans, and killing them unnecessarily is just bad for their conservation. Not only that, but people are more likely to be bitten by a snake when trying to kill it. Photo by Chad Keates.

4. If you get bitten, ice, or electric shocks will heal you.

The idea of a hospital trip is harrowing to many people, so believe it or not, some people would rather let a snake bite fester and try to fix it themselves than go to a hospital for medical treatment. So a lot of people try to fix a snake bite by applying ice or even sticking their fingers in plug holes - yep, they really do that.

The only way you can fix a snake bite is by going to hospital for proper medical treatment. Anything else you do will have no effect or will only do more damage.

The Albany adder, Bitis albanica. Photo by Chad Keates.

5. Cutting and sucking.

Cutting yourself to suck snake venom out of your blood stream doesn't do anything to prevent damage from the venom. Snake venom travels in the lymphatic system, which is an entirely separate system to your circulatory or blood system, so don't waste your time or energy.

6. Turnicates slow the action of venom so you can get to hospital.

I'll repeat it: snake venom travels in the lymphatic system. Trying to slow your blood circulation has no effect on the travels of venom through your body.

If you use a turnicate on a snake bite, you could suffer shock and blood loss when medical staff remove it. And because you cut off circulation when you use a turnicate, you could even lose a limb for no reason if you try using it on a snake bite.

Southern vine snake, Capensis capensis, one of the deadliest snakes of the Eastern Cape. Even though it's deadly, snakes don't want to bite you, it's their last line of defence, so your chances of being bitten are very slim.

Photo by Chad Keates.

Myths aside, snakes are shy animals and they really only bite humans as a form of defence. They are not evil and they're never looking for someone they can bite. As long as you're responsible around them and you get treatment if you get bitten, you have nothing to fear.

You can find out more about Chad or about snakes of the Eastern Cape on nextgenherpetologist.co.za.

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