Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/85

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75
THE COBRA AND OTHER SERPENTS.

been mentioned above that lie is so excitable that he will strike at a moving adversary long before he comes near enough to actually hit his object; and it is in striking thus from a distance that the poison-controlling muscles act as if he really struck something, and the distended gland gives way to the pressure, forcing the contents, which in other circumstances would have been injected into the flesh, to go instead in two thin streams through the air.

In regard to the manner in which the cobra strikes with effect without opening his mouth, it is necessary to state that while the fangs of the rattlesnake and other viperine snakes are laid horizontally back along the upper jaw when the mouth is closed and only erected when the mouth is widely open, it is not so in the cobra; but whether his mouth be open or shut, his fangs are always

PSM V46 D085 Punctures or bites of snakes.jpg
Fig. 4.—Punctures or Bites of Snakes.

partially or wholly erect, and not in the true sense of the word reclinable. Now, usually when he strikes at an adversary his mouth does not open as does the rattlesnake's, but he simply hits with his chin the point he aims at, so that, the mouth being still shut and the fangs during the act coming out over and slightly below the lower lip, these protruding fang-points penetrate the skin, while at the same instant the potent venom is squirted with force through these natural hypodermic syringes into the superficial punctures. Hence it is that on the bare legs of the natives this so-called "bite" is usually fatal, while the slight protection of trousers saves the European from danger.

As to the third peculiarity of this snake—viz., the fit of temporary lockjaw into which he is liable to fall and the terribly prolonged and real bite he can give when in that state—the account of an interesting adventure I once had will give a fitting illustration. It was a most wonderful exhibition of reptilian hysterics.

In the midst of a South African summer, when the springs and rivers are dried up, the snakes congregate in unusual numbers around the dams which are built by the colonists to store up in the ravines for themselves and their cattle the drinking supply afforded during the rains by the mountain torrents. At one of these reservoirs in Carrie's Kloof, near Grahamstown, I had secured several fine serpents, and was not surprised therefore when one afternoon, as I was sitting by an upper window, I saw a boy running from that direction toward the house, shouting as loud as he could bawl, "A snake, sir—a monster snake!"