1.26.2010

snake doctor


It was a day of insects. There was the dog tick the size of a pea, the large spider in the drain and the scorpion on my bathroom floor. Alive. My father picked it up and flushed it down the toilet. "Did I ever tell you about the time. .

It seems that among the islands of the West Indies, only three have poisonous snakes. Each island has a legend about how the snakes came to be there—the best being that a warring tribe of Amazonians came and dumped baskets of vipers on the beaches to put fear into the hearts of the local population. In that they have succeeded, lo these many generations after the fact, or folklore.
My father is a herpetologist, and his specialty is classification of snakes. He has been from Burma to Brazil, examining pickled specimens in museums, data in obscure scientific papers and road kill. But his favorite thing to do is to collect snakes himself, and he was determined to prove the relationship of Caribbean snakes to South American ones.
He usually likes to find a local person who knows where the snakes hang out, but in the Caribbean that was quite difficult as most local people are petrified of snakes (and frogs, according to my Trinidadian cleaner). But on one of the islands he finally found a man who said he could show him some vipers who lived among the coconut palms.
At first, there were no reptiles in sight. The man kept flipping over coconut husks with his machete, digging deeper through the layers on the ground, until my father began to despair. Then, one! My father grabbed it. Two! Three! When they had five poisonous snakes in the bag, he was ready to call it quits.
"Can we take these and show them to the people in my village?" the man asked. "They have never believed me about the snakes."
"Sure," said my father.
At the village, he put his hand into the sack of wriggling vipers and plucked one out. The villagers oohed and ahhed. He pressed the head so that the venomous fangs showed, and they were duly impressed. Then he saw a large scorpion near his feet. A couple of Arizona boys had taught him to pick scorpions up by the tail, and he figured he was on a roll. "I could see myself as the seer for the village, with all the young virgins coming to me," he says.
He picked the scorpion up by the tail. It did not sting him. However, it was a very large scorpion, a few inches long, and it clung tightly to his other fingers with some of its legs. He acted cool and kept talking. But he was very relieved when it suddenly loosed its grip and he was able to drop it.
And, oh yes, there was a connection between the Amazonian and Caribbean snakes, he says, so there was "some truth somewhere along the line."

37 comments :

j said...

Eeeuuwwwww. Passing all this along to Peter, who not only loves all things reptilian, but he is also one of your father's greatest admirers. In fact, I think the only time I ever saw Peter truly impressed was when he learned that your father is Herndon Dowling!

To paraphrase Mose Alison: I knew he was a snake when I took him in.

Anonymous said...

Deadly snakes have poisonality, as we say in Brooklyn

neruda said...

That is actually very funny....did you make it up?

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I have been warned to stay away from puns but I couldn't resist this one

The Biologist said...

Heavens forfend! You need a fact checker! None of these is an insect.

Just FYI: Spider, tick, and scorpion are all arthropods, but are NOT insects. Insects have 6 legs and 3 body parts. Spider and tick are arachnids: 8 legs and 2 body parts. (Yes, I know you don't want to look close enough to see.) Scorpion is different from either category and is ... a scorpion.

Claudia said...

Creepy-crawlies? Bugs?

Rattlesnake Ridge said...

Depends upon your intent. Creepy-crawlies sounds about right. Bugs doesn't quite convey the horror of all those legs.

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