Many people dislike snakes or fear them; others grow up believing that snakes are nasty, slimy, sneaky, and evil things. In reality, snakes are very beneficial creatures. We should all take the time to learn a little more about them; knowledge can put our fears in perspective.
Throughout history, people have been fascinated and awed by snakes. Their anxieties and misunderstandings have resulted in numerous myths. It has been said, for instance, that snakes use their tails to whip people, that they shape themselves into hoops and roll down hills, that they milk cows, and that they hypnotize their prey. Snakes do have many unusual and specialized biological traits but, to the best of science, they are not capable of any of these exploits. Many people, however, are completely unaware of the animal’s ecological importance.
The truth is that even the most venomous snakes won’t attack people unless they are provoked. So fear of snakes should not deter people from enjoying the great outdoors.
Snakes have long been associated with superstitious beliefs, and their use as cultural symbols have been popular throughout the ages. Egyptian pharaohs wore the likeness of a poisonous asp on their headdress to protect themselves from harm and to strengthen themselves against their enemies. The ancient Greeks thought that snakes had power to heal; the canduceus, a winged staff with two snakes coiled around it, is the symbol of medicine. The first American flag pictures a rattlesnake with 13 rattles representing the colonies. The flag bore the words: "Don’t Tread on Me."
The natural habitats of snakes are rural and remote forested places. Snakes are in many cases arboreal (tree-climbing) but some are natatorial (swimming). Many are very shy and will not attack people unless they are harassed or cornered.
Comparatively, little is known about snakes. For example, their crucial role in maintaining ecological balance is not widely appreciated. People don’t realize that a number of snakes control agricultural pests like rats; the skin is used for making shoes, belts, purses, and other luxury items; and certain selective poisonous species are now raised in captivity for venom production. There is a growing list of foreign buyers of crystallized snake venom at an estimated price of $75,000 per kilogram. The venom is used to produce antivenims which physicians administer as antidote to snake bites.
Venom extractors buy poisonous snakes from trappers or hunters, raise these in captivity, and "milk" them for their venom. It is not, however, a job for the faint of heart since milking is done with live snakes. Unfortunately, a number of venomous snakes in captivity particularly the ‘najas’ refuse to eat, and many die after a few months.
In milking, the extractor holds tightly the neck of the snake and lets it bite a glass covered with rubber to collect the saliva. Another method involves stroking its poison glands until it ejects the poisonous saliva through its fangs. Then, small doses of the venom are injected into a horse at intervals until the animal develops immunity to the venom. The blood serum of the horse soon contains the desired level of antivenim. The serum then is extracted and the antivenim is packed in dry form for use in making solutions for hypodermic injections in snakebite victims.
Interestingly, snake extracts are said to have aphrodisiac properties. The "snake penis pills" manufactured in Taiwan are from five species of tropical snakes. Extracts from the penis, livers, and galls are processed into pills and taken by people to strengthen their kidney and reproductive functions and to help keep themselves sexually active.