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Notes about Snakes


A SERPENT'S first instinctive impulse of self-preservation, like that of every other animal, lies in escape; probably a more nervous creature does not exist. If surprised suddenly, or brought to bay at close quarters, it may be too terror-stricken to attempt flight; then it bites, following a curious general rule which seems to obtain throughout nearly the whole animal world, from a passionate child downward, no matter what the natural weapons of offence may be. Young Felidæ will keep their talons sheathed until they have exerted all possible force with their soft milk-teeth, and a lizard will seize the hand which restrains it with its insignificant little jaws, when its tail or claws might inflict far more injury. The Boidæ never use their constrictive powers in self-defence (unless they are gripped), and it seems probable that if a venomous snake's fangs lay in its tail, it would use its teeth first when attacked before bringing them into play. Indeed it must be remembered that very few animals are provided with exclusively defensive weapons, and that the python's enormous strength in constriction, the viper's poison apparatus, the lion's teeth and claws, and the electric discharge of the gymnotus are given them primarily for the purpose of securing their food.

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