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Mythology Monday: The Hoop Snake

The Hoop Snake.

HoopSnakeChasing

I’ve heard highly educated people swear that they have heard tell of a snake that took hold of its tail tip and then rolled down the road, like a wheel, after a person who disturbed it with the goal of stinging him/her with its highly venomous stinger. Supposedly, the Hoop Snake is the most venomous snake in the USA. If it rolls into a tree instead of a person or animal, the stinger will become lodged in the tree and the tree will die upon contact. People have very proudly shown me stumps and other pieces of wood that were clearly the remains of a Hoop Snake incident, having the obvious mark of a stinger lodged in the tree (or, you know, evidence of a wood boring insect…). Hoop Snakes are supposed to be responsible for the death of many cattle in the summer time. Along with their cousins, the Milk Snakes, I bet they do a great deal of economic damage to the cattle and dairy industries…

Hoops Snake stuck in a tree

Hoops Snake stuck in a tree

The poor, harmless mud snake is the most common snake accused of being the dreaded Hoop Snake (I just giggle every time I say  the word “hoop,” I think it is because I associate it with a cartoon-like southern accent saying “hoop skirt” and bugs bunny dressing in drag… I digress). It is unclear why this snake in particular is singled out as a Hoop Snake. It is neither likely to bite its own tail nor to roll down the road after people (remember: Snakes Don’t Chase People). Mud snakes are actually one of the most docile snakes you can find. They are super laid back, almost never bite, and hardly ever musk on people. Also they are gorgeous.

Mud snake

Mud snake

Bottom line? A snake really can’t bite its tail and roll down the road after you. Its not physically possible. If it were, trust me, there would be so many YouTube videos… I mean how hilarious and amazing would that be? Also, there is no snake with a stinger full of venom in its tail. Also no snake’s venom is strong enough to kill a tree immediately (if it were to somehow accidentally inoculate a tree with venom). Do not fear Hoop Snakes. They don’t exist.

And because now I can’t get the voice out of my head… Imagine him saying “Hoop Skirt” (I couldn’t get the clip of him saying it without having to pay for it, so this will have to do).

 

 

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Mythology Monday: Brown Recluse

I was at an annual environmental camp and I was bit by something. Because I didn’t see what bit me, and because it is a necrotizing wound, it was diagnosed as brown recluse bite… with a treatment for tickborne disease just for good measure. I have little doubt it was a spider bite, it had the two little classic fang marks and I have been bit by enough spiders to recognize how I react to spider venom. I am not positive it was a recluse.

When a doctor diagnoses a patient with a brown recluse bite, they are frequently using the diagnosis as a catch all term for a necrotic skin ulcer. Is a necrotic skin ulcer fun? No. Frequently, though, it is a bad bacterial infection or fungal infection misdiagnosed as a recluse bite (my brother had a MRSA infection that was called a recluse bite… and then it reoccurred in the exact same spot), or it is a bad reaction to a bite by another kind of spider or insect, which can, if you react to bug bites like I do, cause quite the reaction. I got bit by a bitty little jewel orb weaver last year and it bothered me quite a lot. The bite I have right now is disgusting and awful; I am not saying the diagnosis is wrong, and regardless, the treatment I was given for the bite is right. The only point I am trying to make is the brown recluse does not cause as many bites as are reported.

I guess this makes me special if I was bitten...

I guess this makes me special if I was bitten…

Spiders get some bad press. I personally love spiders. Even if I did get bit by a recluse, I can pinpoint when it happened, and I wouldn’t blame the little guy/lady. I am huge and scary and, let’s face it, pretty clumsy. I would have terrified it and it would have had no escape. The only option would have been to give me a lil’ nip and hope it would then have time to run away. Unfortunately I didn’t know I was bit until much later, I assume the spider got away safely, and I hope it did. Spiders aren’t out to get us. Spiders are our pals, our buddies. They eat all the bugs that are NOT our friends. They eat the things that fly up in our faces and transmit diseases. I have a wolf spider living under my couch that eats all the house centipedes (I HATE house centipedes).

This creepy image came up when I was looking up "shy recluse." And that is how most people picture recluses... lurking around corners.

This creepy image came up when I was looking up “shy recluse.” And that is how most people picture recluses… lurking around corners.

Recluses were named because they are shy and don’t like being around areas of activity. The name, however, seems to give the impression that these spiders lurk in corners waiting to ambush people. The big MYTH to dispel: I have a hard time with this one because, having grown up in recluse territory, this one has been deeply ingrained in me… recluses are extremely unlikely to hide in shoes. A shoe would make a recluse feel trapped (even before your foot is in it) and it would smell like you long after you wore the shoe. That is not to say a recluse has NEVER hid in a shoe (the myth probably started from some truth), but it is probably one of the last places a recluse would pick to hide.

They think we stink. The cartoon says so.

They think we stink. The cartoon says so.

Having lived in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi, I have heard lots of stories about recluse infested buildings. Heck, one of the buildings at my undergraduate institution had been infested at one point, and it was rumored the basement was still filled with recluses. Oddly enough, many of these stories are true. The infestation occurrence with recluses is not understood, because they ARE shy animals and they don’t like being close to other spiders. You may notice, though, in all of these infestation scenarios (at least all the ones I have ever heard and all the major ones in the news), no one living in the buildings gets bit. Here is a great summary  of one of these instances that really helps take away the sensationalism that most journalism gives to these stories.

It’s true that most people see a brown spider and they assume it’s a recluse. I have been guilty of this myself. And, honestly, if you are afraid a spider is a recluse, are you really going to take the time to check the eyes or inspect the “fiddle?” If you look at enough pictures, though, the recluse is pretty distinct and hard to misidentify. If you are faced with an unfamiliar brown spider, be cautious, scoop it up in a container, and check a photo. If it IS a recluse… I would just put it safely outside. But that’s me. I like my spider friends, they keep me safe. I also sleep with 4 tarantulas above my bed (in tanks, of course, but still).

Additionally… the scary pictures of recluse bites you see online? Some of them are real. The SUPER NASTY disgusting ones that show people’s limbs falling off? Not a recluse bite. You can find the exact same pictures under labels for different injuries. These pictures are reused in order to freak people out. What are they actually from? I could guess, but they have been reused so much it is hard to say. I can say that your entire hand does not turn black, with pus and bone exposure, on “day 3” after the bite.

Do brown recluses bite? Yes, but only if  they think they are in grave danger and have no escape route. They are flighters, not fighters. Does a brown recluse bite hurt like the dickens and will it take a long time (up to 6 months) to heal? Yes. Will it kill you? No death has ever been recorded from a brown recluse bite, so unless you’re the first, highly unlikely.

Respect the recluse! Don’t hate. They keep our ecosystem balanced and happy and healthy. And they play the fiddle.

violin

I really wanted there to be a picture of a spider playing the fiddle. Why does that not exist???? This is as close as I could find.

 

 

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Mythology Monday: Snakes drinking Milk

I’ll bet you’ve heard the one about the milk snake. Even so, I will elucidate: It was once thought that milk snakes latched onto the teat of a cow and sucked the udder dry. If milking cows had any issues with their mammary glands, milk snakes were to blame. It’s pretty uncommon to find people that still believe this, but occasionally there are some farmers out there who still blame milk snakes for their (cows’) mastitis issues.

There are a number of tales involving snakes drinking milk. I am not sure why we as humans think everything must drink milk. We see kittens and think “aaaaawwwwwww, give it milk” and end up giving it horrible indigestion and diarrhea (cats shouldn’t drink milk, FYI). Apparently we think snakes, which aren’t even mammals and would have no physiological way to process milk, would find milk super appealing too.

MMMMMMM, DRINK THE MILK.

MMMMMMM, DRINK THE MILK.

In the Indian fairy tale The Snake Prince, the princess must lure all the snakes to her with milk (and sugar) in order to help her husband and find the snake queen.

The princess and her prince

The princess and her sexy snake prince

So this next myth is pretty cute… In Romania, they have grass snakes (which are all over Europe).

Hello, I'm a grass snake.

Hello, I’m a grass snake.

Grass snakes in Romania are also called “house snakes” or “snakes of the home.” They do tend to live under and around houses and show up in people’s shoes etc. It is said they live in the walls of a house and that in the summer you can hear them softly tapping their tails against the wall with the tick of a clock. Never fear though, according to the myth you won’t be infested as there will only be as many snakes in the home as there are souls. It is believed that they bring good luck. Killing the snakes will bring disaster, ruin, and potentially death to the household. AND THEY CAN ONLY BE LURED OUT OF THE WALLS BY A BOWL OF WARM MILK. Adorable.

bowl

I just picture the little lapping sound.

So… snakes don’t drink milk, but historically we really want them to.

 

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Mythology Monday: Snake Chases!

Talkin’ snakes? No doubt someone will bring up a story about a friend, a family member, or even themselves, where a snake got ferocious and chased them. The person in the story was, no doubt, minding his/her own business when the snake just took off after them, unprovoked.

Snake chasing Man, by Elijah Pierce.

Snake chasing Man, by Elijah Pierce.

Hmm. I think not. Snakes don’t chase people. If we do something that makes them afraid or upset, they want to get away from us, not closer to us. In the fight or flight response with snakes, flight is the winner almost all the time. If fight is the winner, it will not lead to a chase. That being said, there are circumstances that could lead to confusion and cause someone to think a snake is chasing them, which is where this myth comes from.

In most of these stories, the supposed offender is the water moccasin (also known as the cottonmouth, for its very impressive defensive gape shown below).

Looks like cotton in its mouth.

Looks like cotton in its mouth.

I will not be the first one to say water moccasins are friendly. They can be very territorial, especially during nesting. However, do you SEE that big ol’ gape above?? THAT is how a cottonmouth expends its energy- getting all cottonmouthy on you, trying to scare you off so it doesn’t have to bite you. Cottonmouths DO NOT CHASE PEOPLE, or anything really.

A point of confusion can occur where the common watersnake (Nerodia species) is concerned. Many water snakes look like cottonmouths in patterning and size.

Watersnakes are curious creatures.  Some people will be “chased” by watersnakes, mistaken for cottonmouths, which are simply trying to give them a good sniffing. I have water snakes follow me around when I catch toads at night. At first they just seemed interested in what I was up to, then they figured out I was targeting their prey for them. Now when they see me, they come a slithering (there are 3 of them that do this) and they stay pretty much on my heels like dogs.

Whatcha dooooin'?

Whatcha dooooin’?

 

Watersnakes can turn aggressive quickly if provoked, which will lead to the idea they are chasing you. If you kick at them/try to grab them, they will puff up and hiss furiously, and sometimes even strike. This doesn’t necessarily make them run away, though. They are warning you not to mess with them, but they still want to give you a thorough inspection…

Some people will tell you about how snakes “ambushed” them in a boat, dropping down from a tree or charging at them and climbing up from the water. To snakes, a boat is a convenient moving island. Often they are equally as surprised to find you on a boat as you are by having them climb on. A snake tired of being in the trees might see a boat as ground and jump down. A snake in the water is actively swimming and is likely TIRED. He wants a rest, and your boat is a nice place to do just that.

Next time you hear a story about a snake chasing down a person, think about it from the snake’s side of the story. And remember…. SNAKES DON’T CHASE.

Mythology Monday: Black Widow

Inspired by the little male black widow I just found in my kitchen, this week we’ll focus on myths about black widows!

black_vs_brown_female_s2

♫ Who’s that lady?♫

 

We all know how black widows received their sinister name- the female eats the male after they mate. Right? Apparently NOT! In the black widow species, the consumption of the male after mating is far less common than in many other spider species. Black widows only occasionally eat the male after mating, and when they do it is because after mating the male tends to become listless. Male spiders can only mate once, then they are done procreating (and if we use anthropomorphism, we can assume some males see no point in life after that event). While some male black widows will wander off after sex to survive a short while (males won’t live long after they have passed on their DNA), many seem to hang around for a few DAYS in the web until the female gets hungry. At that point, the freshly pregnant lady eats the closest thing to her (hey, he’s already in her web). But it IS a myth that she seizes him immediately after copulation, ready to chow down on his tasty male goodness. So do not judge the poor ladies too harshly, the males that get eaten have just given up on life since they have experienced their one shot at intercourse.

♫Heeeeyyy, I think I love you...♫

♫Heeeeyyy, I think I love you…♫

As for the bite of the black widow… It is a myth that the bite is horrendously deadly. The only ways one will die from these bites are if one is severely allergic to the bite OR if one decides to not get medical attention. While it is slimly possible to die from a black widow bite, it is not something one should go into a state of panic over. As long as one remains calm and seeks medical attention they will be fine.

black widow meme

While, obviously, the sooner medical attention is sought the better, survival is not dependent on seeking of medical attention immediately after a bite. Many people who are not sure they have been bit by a black widow will not go to a hospital until they are very ill, and they recover very well. The bite of this spider WILL cause severe sickness, especially if not treated in a reasonable amount of time. The venom is a neurotoxin and causes a variety of symptoms starting with pain, nausea, dizziness, headache, and progressing to hallucinations, fever, and muscle spasms. Most people are able to get medical attention in the early stages where they just have a painful bite and are dizzy and nauseated.

And.... this is just pretty.

And…. this is just pretty.

I hope that was informative… I need to go and try and safely put the little male from my kitchen outside so he can get laid!

 

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Mythology Monday: HELLbenders

The hellbender is the largest salamander in America and one of the largest in the world. It certainly has inspired a good deal of myths over the years. Because of its appearance and unusual, “writhing-like” motions, this critter tends to get labeled as a sinister being. Its name, in fact, was given to it due to the way it moves… as though it is being tortured by infernal flames… as though it were a creature of hell.

Look at them moves.

Look at them moves.

Fishermen have found a rival in the hellbender, as folklore has long been shared that these animals spread their slime over their territory and over fishing lines to keep fish away. It is also said hellbenders eat game fish and a stream where a hellbender is found will be devoid of fish. There is a myth that hellbenders are extremely poisonous, and even touching their thick mucous can cause extreme illness. Some people believe their slime puts toxins in the water which kills the fish. Due to all this bad press, fishermen that snare a hellbender have historically killed them mercilessly.

It lurks...

It lurks…

First of all- hellbenders are federally endangered, if you hook one and you kill it, you are committing a crime.

Second of all- MYTHS!!! Hellbenders are harmless (unless you stick your hand in their mouths, and although they can give you quite a bite, they are more likely to squirm and hit you with their big rudder tail than chew on you). Finding a hellbender in your fishing stream means you are in healthy waters and are VERY likely to have a good fishing day. They do NOT eat game fish, or really much fish at all. Their diet mostly consists of crustaceans.

Nom nom. Tasty crayfish.

Nom nom. Tasty crayfish.

They do produce a thick slime (hence one of their nicknames, snot otter) but it is not toxic… at least, not to the environment. I don’t recommend eating it. The handsome hellbender is a good omen and fishermen should be so lucky to come across one!

HellbenderColoringPgHelpHellbenderW260

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Mythology Monday: Xolotl, king of the A-xolotls!

This Mythology Monday is devoted to the Aztec god Xolotl (would have been pronounced “sh-ō-lōt-uhl”).

Classic representation of Xolotl.

Classic representation of Xolotl.

Aztec gods are not often “the god of ___.” They usually represent many things. Xolotl is a trickster god (kind of Loki or Coyote esque), he is the god of fire and lightening, he is the guardian of the underworld (in an Anubis manner, he guides soul through the underworld, and he also guides the sun through the underworld at night), he is the god of deformities, and of the evening star.

xolotl (1)

Xolotl is the twin of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent, another one of my favorites), although they look nothing alike. Xolotl is typically personified as a man with the head of a dog, a skeleton with the head of a dog, or a man with the skull of a dog.

Representation of Xolotl by Amrock.

Representation of Xolotl by Amrock.

So why do we, the lovers of amphibians, reptiles, and other less loved critters care?

The dog head of Xolotl.

The dog head of Xolotl.

Xolotl…. Sound a little like axolotl? Not a coincidence! The a-xolotls lived in Aztec waters, and Aztecs thought they looked like little water dogs. Because of this dog like appearance, they made a connection with the god Xolotl. They thought the a-xolotls to be the earthly incarnations of Xolotl and Xolotl’s devoted followers.

So respect the a-xolotls! They are little manifestations of a powerful Aztec god!