strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Is a Monster Snake in Hand Worth Two in the Bush?

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 25, 2013

Bill Lamar and a live bushmaster in the rain

Bill Lamar and a live bushmaster in the rain

Since we seem to be on the topic of doing crazy things with snakes, take a look at this photo from herpetologist Bill Lamar.  One more thing to give us all nightmares.  He and I once traveled together on a National Geographic assignment about tarantulas. (You can read about it in my book Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time.  Correction:  It’s in my book Spineless Wonders, now out of print, but I am working on an ebook edition.)   I vividly recall a dismal rainy night that we spent about 45 kilometers outside Iquitos, Peru, digging up tarantulas in a downpour.

When we got back to our truck, it would not start again, and we spent that night in and around it with assorted live tarantulas, which seemed utterly innocuous by then.  But Lamar had also collected a live coral snake in a clear plastic bag, which took some getting used to.   All night people woke up from their bad dreams to ask, “Donde es el naca naca?” or “Where’s the damned coral snake?”

We tied the bag to the handle over the passenger door, where the entomologist found the direct eye contact disconcerting, then tucked it into the glove compartment, until someone concluded that the glove compartment probably had not been designed to be snake-tight.  Then we heaved it with considerable relief onto the muddy road outside, until it occurred to us that we might now step on it in the course of our nocturnal wanderings.

But seeing this photo, I am just glad now that he did not find a bushmaster that night instead.

2 Responses to “Is a Monster Snake in Hand Worth Two in the Bush?”

  1. Had a couple of somewhat vaguely similar experiences to this, firstly half a century ago in Sumatra, Indonesia, where, on summer holiday from university in the U.S., was visiting my dad (at the time French ambassador to Indonesia) who had sent me from Jakarta to represent him on an overnight inspection of a dam being built in the jungle by French engineers who had captured a very large reticulated python which had eaten a dog in their camp and was blissfully sleeping it off. They had secured the humongous snake in a burlap bag, planning to release it the following day in a remote area well out of harm’s way.Towards nightfall however,someone noticed that the burlap bag had mysteriously vanished, and despite a frantic search of the premises, was not to be found …… I for one did not sleep soundly in the camp bunkhouse that night, even though, unlike your Bushmaster, the python was a non-venomous constrictor snake. Another “experience” was in a remote hilly area on Mindoro island in the Philippines, where I was doing photography for a book on the Philippine tribes. We had been informed that several tribesmen had recently had unpleasant encounters with large pythons in the area, and one cold, windy night, while snoring happily away in a sleeping bag out in the open (got claustrophobia in the dark and dingy hut where we had been offered accommodation) felt something sliding very slowly down my leg inside the sleeping bag.and, vividly recalling the earlier conversations, immediately thought “snake”, and jumped up yelling my head off while rapidly shedding the bag. To my very considerable embarrassment (and the mirth of the Hanunoo tribesmen who had rushed to my “rescue”) the shaken-out sleeping bag revealed a terrified little kitten which thought it had found a warm, safe spot to spend the night…Lol……….but the mere thought of snakes can really do that to the human mind!

    • And that reminds me of a time last year in Suriname when a herpetologist caught a fer-de-lance outside my tent. Made me kind of nervous, but he just wrapped it up in a plastic bag and hung the bag up at the end of his hammock, in which he apparently slept peacefully. Later, without telling us, he brought the snake back to base camp with us in our helicopter, still alive.

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