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As a whole, snakes are among the most colorful of animals, but some of these slithering reptiles elevate this characteristic to an entirely new level. Allow me to present Diadophis punctatus regalis, the regal ringneck snake. Indigenous to the desert southwest of North America, this snake is a more magnificently colored subspecies of the widely distributed ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus). The regal ringneck snake is a charming shade of shiny blue-gray with a yellow clergyman’s collar and a jet black head—a color palette which would certainly get a person noticed at Delmonico’s but which hardly seems exceptional in an order of animals which includes parti-color beauties like the coral snake, the milk snake, and the paradise tree snake. But initial appearances can be deceptive! If the regal ringneck coral snake is threatened, it will roll over on its back and expose a belly which comes from the most lurid tropical dream of the nineteen-eighties.
The regal ringneck snake is a moderate-sized snake which measures from 20 to 80 cm (8 to 34 inches) in length and makes its home in the mountains which loom above the southwest deserts of the United States (and which stretch down into Northern Mexico). Expert hunters, these snakes are ophiophagous—they live almost entirely on a diet of smaller snakes. Since snakes are very fast and can slip into almost any space or climb almost any obstacle, the regal ringneck snake uses venom to slow down its elusive smaller cousins so it can devour them.
The regal ringneck snakes venom is effective on smaller snakes but has no impact on humans or animals large enough to prey on the snake. The bright orange and yellow belly display instead warns of another threat—like a skunk, these snakes can squirt an unpleasant musty secretion onto creatures which harass them. If you come across a regal ringneck snake showing off his splendiferous belly, it might be wise to leave him alone!
To balance yesterday’s post about the dog star, today we feature three whimsical cat paintings by Tokyo born surrealist Tokuhiro Kawai. I am calling Kawai a surrealist, but perhaps it would be more correct to call him a painter of fantastical narrative: all of his works seem to have some sort of magical fairy-tale story behind them. Although the three monarchical cats shown here are lighthearted, some of Kawai’s other paintings are much more melodramatic and feature fearsome conflict between devils, angels, and heroes.
Each of these paintings features a Scottish Fold housecat either wearing a crown or being ceremonially coronated. The little black and white cat is so self-assured and regal that we hardly wonder at its elevation to the throne. With broad gleaming eyes and fur that seems as though the viewer could touch it, the cat seems real. One wonders if perhaps it belongs to the artist.
Kawai has a particular gift for painting animals and many of his compositions are filled from top to bottom with flamingos, foxes, owls, ammonites, and pelicans. Cats seem to be his favorite and they are pictured as conquerors, tyrants, and gods—in one of his pictures a feisty cat has killed an angel like it was a songbird and is holding the limp corpse in his fangs while standing like a stylite atop a classical column. Fortunately the cat in these three paintings does not seem as violent. The little kitty is clearly dreaming about the trappings of power—what it would be like to wield absolute authority and be pampered all day. Knowing my own pet housecat’s personality, I believe that such an interpreatation of feline psychology is not entirely a stretch.