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King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

Exciting celebrity news for Central Florida today! A king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) has decided to forgo its native range—the forests in India and Southeast Asia–and pay a visit to Orlando, Florida.  The king cobra is the world’s longest venomous celebrity with a length of up to 5.6 meter (18.5 feet) (although the one “visiting” Florida is a mere 2.2 meters (8 feet) long).  Unlike many other celebrities, king cobras are known for intelligence, sensitivity, and potent neurotoxic venom.  They (king cobras) also have the ability to rear up the anterior 1/3 of their body, extend their hood and growl loudly. The creature escaped decided to visit Orlando when a tree limb dislodged by a storm crashed open its terrarium.

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King cobras are known for hunting smaller snakes and large rodents.  A ten man team is desperately trying to capture the celebrity before it bites anyone or escapes into the wider ecosystem (like Florida’s famous albeit disreputable pythons).

Hold on…my editor is frantically mouthing that King Cobras are not part of America’s celebrity culture—apparently they are only revered in Hindu and Hinayana Buddhist societies and Christians deplore them (and all other snakes) as taboo. King cobras have never been featured on “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” (although I think it would really spice up those extremely formulaic shows).

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It is important to distinguish between celebrities and dangerous poisonous snakes, I have failed to do that here and I am exceedingly sorry. Please be sure to make this distinction in your own life (except when feeding rats to Sean Penn).

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Across the vast continent of North America temperatures have plummeted.  As I write this, sub-zero winds sweep across the Great Plains. Buffalo is seemingly gone–buried beneath uncounted tons of lake-effect snow.  Obviously, with all of this November cold, Americans are obsessed with one question:  what happens to snakes in the winter?

This seems somehow wrong.

This seems somehow wrong.

Snakes live in places that get very cold during the winter, yet the poor reptiles are cold-blooded and can’t be slithering around in snow and ice.  In fact, considering that their bodies become the same temperature as their surroundings, how do they avoid becoming snakecicles?  What happens to them when the mercury dips?

Technically speaking, snakes (and other reptiles & amphibians who live in climes which turn cold) do not hibernate—they brumate.   Brumation is a different sort of metabolic dormancy than mammalian hibernation, but there are many similarities. When reptiles go dormant, their breathing and heart rate drop to almost nil.  Brumating reptiles do not eat (or produce waste)—though they wake up occasionally from their dormancy to drink water.

Garter Snakes dormant in a hibernaculum

Garter Snakes dormant in a hibernaculum

As temperatures dip in autumn, temperate reptiles get all Roman and they seek out a hibernaculum—a sheltered environment which protects them throughout the winter. Hibernaculums are usually deep within the ground in holes, crevices, and burrows which reach beneath the frost line.  Certain species of snakes brumate together to share trace warmth.  Just imagine a colony of hundreds of little garter snakes in suspended animation beneath a snow covered rock wall in that picturesque New England snowscape!

Wait, where are the snakes?

Wait, where are the snakes?

Although it is not exactly the topic of this post, amphibians and aquatic reptiles also brumate—sometimes underwater or deep within the wet mud at the very bottom of ponds and lakes! The turtles, frogs, and newts take in sufficient oxygen through their skin to stay alive in their deeply reduced metabolic state—although they occasionally wake up from their torpor and swim about. An indelible memory of my childhood is seeing some little newt swimming beneath the ice of the frozen cranberry bog which I was standing on!

When spring comes and temperatures become warm enough, the snakes depart from their underground dens and sun themselves until they have sufficient energy to become active. Of course some reptiles live in such wintry locations that they have very little summer.  There are snakes (like northern rattlesnakes) which brumate 8 months out of the year!  Scientists believe that this prolonged dormancy allows the snakes to live longer—like an automobile turned off in a safe garage.

Garter snakes awaken en masse in the spring

Garter snakes awaken en masse in the spring

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Today is World Egg Day! At first I had an image of the entire planet splitting open and some giant hatchling slithering out into the galaxy—WorldEgg Day–but a moment of reflection revealed that WED is instead a day for the entire world to celebrate eggs. Indeed the World Egg Day Website reassures us that, “World Egg Day is a unique opportunity to help raise awareness of the benefits of eggs and is celebrated in countries all around the world.”

Ogc3sEcThis website has been unflagging in its dedicated to oviparous creatures. Catfish, turkeys, the vast majority of snakes, all fowl, and even the amazing platypus and echidna are creatures which reproduce by means of eggs. They are all well worth celebrating! Hooray!

Yet somehow, I feel like the World Egg Day High Council (an arm of the even greater International Egg Commission) cares little about ovuliparity (external reproduction via egg). Instead they are concerned only with devouring eggs. They are in fact ovivores of the highest degree—to such an extent that they have built an international organization to promote the continuous eating of eggs to the exclusion of all else. We live in a strange world.

Dasypeltis scabra feeding on a fresh pigeon egg (from exotic-pets.co.uk)

Dasypeltis scabra feeding on a fresh pigeon egg

However, since I am an ovivore myself (although not exclusively) I support the council’s overarching plans—at least to a degree. In order to celebrate World Egg Day, allow me to propose a suitable mascot for the event—the egg-eating snake, Dasypeltis, a delightful genus of reptiles which lives up to the council’s ultimate utopian dreams of eating nothing but eggs. To quote exotic-pets.co.uk, “The Egg Eating Snake must be one of the nicest snakes we have ever come across. With no teeth, a calm nature, [the snake lives entirely] on eggs…no more defrosting rodents!”

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There are 11 species of snake within the Dasypeltis genus and all have evolved to feed exclusively on eggs. These non-venomous snakes live throughout Africa, but prefer wooded areas with large numbers of birds. The snakes possess acute senses which allow them to determine whether an unbroken egg is rotten or too developed for them to eat. Not only are the snakes gifted at hiding and climbing trees, they also have specialized anatomical features for egg consumption including supremely flexible jaws, supple necks, expandable balloon-like throats, and internal vertebral knobs for bursting the egg once consumed. The snakes regularly consume eggs much larger than their own heads. After eating breakfast, the poor creature looks like a maraca! Once the unbroken egg is swallowed whole, the snake’s internal organs burst it open and leech all nutrients out of it. The indigestible shell is regurgitated. Virtually no nutrients are wasted.

Common egg-eater snake (Dasypeltis scabra). Photo by Mond76

Common egg-eater snake (Dasypeltis scabra). Photo by Mond76

Finally, and best of all, Dasypeltis fasciata not only lives entirely on eggs: the snake also reproduces by egg! It is an Oviparous ovivore. Females lay one or two clutches of 6-25 eggs each. The little eggs measure 36 mm x 18 mm (1.4 x 0.7 inches) and are sometimes eaten by rodents or lizards.

dscf0643-300x225You could write to the International Egg Council and explain why this snake would be the perfect mascot to help them popularize eggs. Undoubtedly the exalted high egg commissioners would quickly acknowledge that there can be no purer avatar of the incredible edible egg than this lovable snake. Happy World Egg Day!

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