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Superstitions and Religious Beliefs
There are many superstitions about snakes. Some people believe that hairs taken
from the mane or tail of a horse and placed in stagnant water will turn into
slender snakes. In some very early religions, the snake was the cohort of the
mother goddess and symbolized fruitfulness and renewal. In some modern
religions, the snake symbolizes evil.
Serpents as Symbols of Healing
People have believed in the healing power of serpents for thousands of years.
In ancient Greece, at the temple of Aesculapius, the god of healing, large,
yellow, nonpoisonous snakes were trained to lick the wounds of patients.
Statues of Aesculapius usually show the god holding a staff with a serpent
coiled around it. Today, the serpent coiled around a staff is the symbol of the
Garter Snakes in the Classroom
Garter snakes make good classroom pets. They are easily maintained, and their
presence in the classroom can remove many of the misunderstandings and
superstitions that children often have about snakes. But negative feelings
should be respected; if a child is fearful, he/she should not be ridiculed or
forced to touch the garter snake.
To avoid frightening the animal, always handle a garter snake properly. Hold it
securely with one hand just behind the head. Use the other hand to support the
rest of its body. After being handled a few times, garter snakes usually become
docile. Even so, they should always be held with two hands to provide support
and to prevent thrashing around.
Garter snakes can be hard to find outdoors because they are secretive and
well-camouflaged. When found, they can be brought to school.
But it is important to accurately identify a snake before it is picked-up!
Many venomous species closely resemble non-venomous species. Garter snakes can
also be ordered from biological supply companies or purchased from local pet
A cage for a garter snake must have good ventilation, smooth interior walls, a
secure cover, and plenty of space. A standard aquarium, with lid, will work
fine. Wire screens can be used to cover the top of the cage but wire should not
be used on the floor of the cage. (Snakes crawl.) Paper towels are easy to
change and will keep the cage dry. Do not use wood shavings in a snake's cage;
the snake might ingest the shavings along with its food.
The cage should have a forked stick for climbing and one or two rough rocks for
rubbing against while shedding.
Fresh water, daily, is very important. Use an open, shallow dish that is not
easily tipped. The snake will drink the water and will occasionally soak itself.
Garter snakes eat small amphibians, fish, and earthworms. However, garter
snakes swallow their food whole and do not kill their prey before devouring it.
Since the struggle between a snake and its prey can be gruesome, it is better
to feed the snake when children are not around.
Most garter snakes can live well on a diet of earthworms. Place the earthworms,
one at a time, in front of the snake. You can also place small live minnows in
the snake's water dish. Snakes rarely overeat; a good meal once or twice a week
is sufficient. But be sure the snake always has fresh water.
Just before a garter snake sheds its skin, its eyes become cloudy, it becomes
lethargic, and may refuse to eat. During periods of rapid growth, this can take
place several times in a season. Shedding begins around the mouth and the snake
literally crawls out of its skin. In the wild, garter snakes rub against
vegetation. Be sure to keep some rough rocks in the cage to help the snake shed
When the school year is over, the garter snake, like any other living creature,
must be dealt with responsibly. If the garter snake was collected locally, it
can be released back into its natural habitat. If the garter snake is not
native to the area, or has been purchased, it should not be released.
Sometimes, animals in the classroom can be given to students or to other
teachers, but animals should not be given to students without written consent
from the parent or guardian. You can also ask at your local pet store if the
store will accept, or even purchase, the garter snake.
What Makes the Poison in a Snake's Fangs?
A snake's fang is an eye-tooth, or canine tooth. This tooth corresponds to the
sharp-pointed teeth we have at the corners of the jaw between the front and
back teeth. In poisonous snakes, the tooth has a special channel inside it
through which poison travels when the snake bites.
But where does the poison come from? A poisonous snake has glands, similar to
human salivary glands. (Salivary glands produce the saliva needed for our
mastication and digestion of food.) In the snake, these glands produce poison.
The poison runs along a little tube from the glands on each side of the snake's
mouth to its fangs. When the snake bites, the jaw muscles also squeeze the
glands. Poison is forced from the gland through the channel in the fang and
left in the victim's body. In non-poisonous snakes, these same glands look
just the same yet produce no poison.
Although the amount of poison injected may be very small, the poison of
venomous snakes is among the deadliest of all poisons. With some snakes, the
merest portion of a drop will kill.
The Child and the Snake
This is one of the many children's poems written by Charles and Mary Lamb. The
story which it tells is believed to have been founded on fact.
Henry was every morning fed
With a full mess of milk and bread.
One day the boy his breakfast took,
And ate it by a purling brook.
His mother lets him have his way.
With free leave Henry every day
Thither repairs, until she heard
Him talking of a fine
This pretty bird, he said, indeed,
Came every day with him to feed;
And it loved him and loved his milk,
And it was smooth and soft like silk.
On the next morn she follows Harry,
And carefully she sees him carry
Through the long grass his heap'd-up mess;
What was her terror and distress
When she saw the infant take
His bread and milk close to a snake!
Upon the grass he spreads his feast,
And sits down by his frightful guest,
Who had waited for the treat;
And now they both began to eat.
Fond mother! shriek not, Oh, beware
The least small noise, Oh, have a care—
The least small noise that may be made
The wily snake will be afraid—
If he hears the slightest sound,
He will inflict th' envenom'd wound.
She speaks not, moves not, scarce does breathe,
As she stands the trees beneath.
No sound she utters; and she soon
Sees the child lift up his spoon,
And tap the snake upon the head,
Fearless of harm; and then he said,
As speaking to familiar mate;
"Keep on your own side, do, Gray Pate."
The snake, then to the other side,
As one rebuked, seems to glide;
And now again advancing nigh,
Again she hears the infant cry,
Tapping the snake: "Keep further, do;
Mind, Gray Pate, what I say to you."
The danger's o'er! she sees the boy
(Oh, what a change from fear to joy!)
Rise and bid the snake Good-bye";
Says he, "Our breakfast's done, and I
Will come again tomorrow day"—
Then, lightly tripping, ran away.
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Saturday, April 19, 2003 19:20