Anyone that is familiar with the snake in the city tv show would know how dangerous snakes can be on one hand, and how harmless they can be on the other hand depending on the species. Since I started watching the show, my mentality about snakes has changed a lot. Also considering the fact that I am an advocate of biodiversity conservation and how wanton destruction of biological diversity can be harmful to the planet and human existence at large.
Hence, whenever I see a dead snake, perhaps killed by neighbours or whatever, I try to analyze it to see if it is a dangerous or a harmless one. According to specialists, poisonous snakes differ from non-poisonous ones in the shape of their heads. While the former are known to possess broad, triangular heads, the heads of the latter might be triangular but broadness is usually lacking. Other insignias of poisonous snakes include elliptical pupils, rattled tails, patterned colours, as well as heat-sensing pits.
Growing up in a semi-urban neighbourhood, I had a totally different orientation about snakes. They are generally considered an avowed enemy of man irrespective of their species, colour, size, variety, race, or gender. Consequently, they are greatly feared, hunted, and killed anywhere they are found. Funny enough, some of them are considered edible and are eaten as meat back in the day.
This is not the case with some parts of Nigeria though, the Southeastern part to be precise. In some parts of Anambra and Imo states, it is totally forbidden to kill snakes, especially the python species. These snakes are considered gods and must be treated in a sacred way. People that are domiciled in these areas are already familiar with this custom and have learned to cohabit with snakes. However, visitors that are not aware of the customs often make the mistake of killing some of these snakes. It is believed that the killing of the snakes will come with serious consequences unless a befitting, human-like burial and festivals are held for the killed snakes. This often translates to a huge financial burden on the offenders.
A story that sticks
My encounter with snakes dates back to as early as I became conscious of my own existence. I remember vividly how snakes are found and killed virtually everywhere in our house back then - sitting room, kitchen, bedrooms, just name it. The location of our house was a developing area with patches of houses truncating a large expanse of vegetation. Of all these snaky memories, one particular event stands out.
Being a new site where access to the market was limited, my dad took solace in rearing local chickens for our meat supply. The hens are preserved for adding to the population of chickens while the cocks are sacrificed whenever there are needs and they are matured enough. Mature hens would lay eggs (10 to 20 on the average), incubate them for about 21 days, and new chick hatch out of the eggs afterward.
One fateful morning, my dad gathered everyone, me and my siblings, and demanded to know what happened to the eggs that have been laid by the mature hens in the flock. All the eggs have disappeared overnight to the surprise of everyone. We replied on the negative since no one knows what could have led to the disappearance of the eggs. Maybe some thieves snuck up and stole all the eggs, we all concluded.
That day, new eggs were laid by the hens and the same thing happened the following day. All the eggs disappeared overnight, but this time, we all saw the shells of the eggs scattered all about the floor in the hen house. Upon further investigation, my dad concluded that a snake, or snakes, must have been responsible for eating the missing eggs. How possible is it for snakes to eat eggs? we all wondered. My dad, sensing our confusion, promised to show us that it was indeed true.
He went out that day and returned with a few eggs. When he started boiling the eggs, we all felt happy that we were going to eat eggs, not knowing that he has got another trick up his sleeves. He finished cooking the eggs, went to the pen, and added the boiled eggs to the freshly laid eggs of the day. We never knew what he was up to until the following day.
My dad woke all of us earlier than usual the following day and told us to come to pen. The sight that met us was a scary one. A very big snake laid lifelessly on the floor of the pen with an outline of one of the eggs it has swallowed being visible in its belly. How come? What killed it? It was then dad explained to us that some species of snakes feed on chicken eggs by swallowing them. Once the eggs get to their bellies, they continuously slam their bellies on the ground to break the egg. The contents of the egg get into their bodies while the shells are regurgitated by the anti-peristalsis movement of the gut.
The problem with this particular snake is with the boiled egg that has been mixed with the freshly laid eggs. The snake swallowed the boiled eggs like every other egg it has been swallowing and expected it to pass through the same process. It died from continual slamming of its belly against the floor in an attempt to crack the egg and regurgitate the shell. A boiled egg will never obey the process.
Even though I was far from starting my formal education then, the knowledge has since stuck with me and any time I hear of eggs disappearing from a pen, I normally recommend the same procedure to get the pest snake.
Snakes remain an avowed enemy of man
While conservationists would advocate for a halt to the wanton killing of snakes, the animal remains a staunch enemy to most people. Granted that some snakes are totally harmless, it will take only a professional to discern between venomous or non-venomous snakes. No one dare take chances with a live snake if they lack the knowledge to discern between it being harmless or otherwise.
What do you all think?