Nag-Panchami is here. And with that in view, Anuj Ghimire brings to us a brief write-up on Snakes to familiarize the readers yet again with these often feared and yet magnificent creatures.
Snakes are one of the most feared animals in the world. The images of these crawling, slithering reptiles are quite terrifying in everyone’s eyes. But there is more to it than what meets the eyes.
These limbless reptiles are one of evolutions greatest survivors. Without proper limbs, they have survived for ages, just by crawling, thanks to a vast array of modification that makes up for the lack of limbs.
There are about 3000 species of snakes which are spread across almost everywhere in the world, except New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica. They are a highly diverse group of reptiles. From the dry desserts of Sahara to the very green Amazon rainforests to the highest peaks of the Himalayas– snakes have utilized every type of land there is as their base. Not only that, they are equally equipped to climb trees or walls and even have an aquatic life.
From the smallest of blind snakes to the largest Anacondas, they share similar characteristics and behavior. Most people loathe snakes, some get jittery even by an image of the reptile- and some even get the chills even with their mention. But though they are deadly, it can be said that snakes in their own right are magnificent animals. Most of them are aesthetically beautiful, with stunning color patterns. However, the fact that they are deadly and kill scores of humans every year is a striking fact enough for those who ‘hate’ them to continue doing so.
And yet, although feared to guts, the serpents are still worshipped in our part of the world. It could be because of the associated fear or to appease them to not come inside the house. Whatever the reason- there’s a sense of admiration for the reptile in Nepal.
Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, Snakes are worshipped and their photos are glued to the main door of a traditional Hindu household. I somehow see an underlying inclination towards the act of conservation of snakes in this festival.
Although a deadly animal, Snakes are of use to us in some manner. They help clear rodents from the surroundings which is especially beneficial to agriculturists. Our homes would be infested with pests, which carry various diseases, if snakes don’t feed on them. Therefore, the concept of worshipping Snakes as a means of thanking them could have developed in the agrarian society.
Snakes: Facts and figures Nepal
In case of Nepal, as far as 89 Species of Snakes have been recorded till date out of which only 17 are found to be venomous and less than 10 kinds are fatal enough for humans. Only a few snakes are venomous — the Proteroglyphous i.e. front fanged snakes, whose fangs are on the front end and fixed. And among those few, there are even lesser snakes which can actually kill. Rest of the venomous snakes are rear fanged (Opisthoglyphous) and shouldn’t be much trouble for humans. But whether they’re venomous or not, snakes are feared and killed for that very reason.
The most common and venomous kind found in Nepal are the Common Cobra (Naja naja), Himalayan Krait (Bungarus bungaroides), Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Banded Krait (Bungarus fasciatus), Monocellate Cobra (Naja kaouthia), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii).
Among the fiercest snakes in Nepal, though most people brand Cobra as the deadliest, Russell Viper comes very close to winning the category. Vipers have hemotoxic venom, which degrades the tissues and cells, whereas Cobras have neurotoxic venom that attacks the nervous system.
The title of the largest snake of Nepal goes to the Python, but the largest Venomous snake in the world is King Cobra, which is also found in Nepal, and has been reported to be found (seen) in Kathmandu 3 times.
The most common and non-venomous snake found in Nepal is the Oriental Rat snake (Ptyas mucosa). Himalayan Pit Viper (Gloydius Himalayanus) is a venomous snake that has been recorded up to an elevation of almost 3000 meters in Nepal, and around 4000 meters in Pakistan. Apart from these species, most of the snakes found here are rare fanged and hence not very fatal to humans, but among these rear fanged snakes, one Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus) has been found to be lethal for humans.
The main thing is, snakes are dangerous, definitely so, but it’s all for their survival. They don’t go around biting humans unless threatened in some way. With rapid urbanization and corresponding habitat loss, they are forced to come into the human settlements and that too, they come for the rodents in your house, not for you.
The common concept is that people think that every snake is venomous, but as mentioned earlier, I would like to reiterate that in Nepal there are only 17 kind out of 89 found species that can be fatal enough to kill humans, even among that, some 5-7 kinds are absolutely deadly.
That doesn’t mean you should go catch every snake you see, they’re better left undisturbed. And please, don’t touch any snake until you know for sure that they are not venomous.