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Plate Number: II 41

Of Serpents

Of Serpents Plate Number: II 41

I have seen in Carolina eighteen or nineteen Sorts of Serpents; whereof four are of the Viper kind, the others of the Snake kind. It is well known, that the most distinguishing Characteristicks of the Viper is, that it brings forth its young alive; and of the Snake, that it lays Eggs, out of which its young are afterwards hatch'd. But besides this Difference, the Viper has long hollow Fangs or Toils, with an opening near the Point, thro' which they inject their Poison when they bite; its other Teeth are like those of Snakes: Besides which I have observed the following external Marks; the Viper hath the Neck small, the Head broad, the Cheeks extending wide, their Scales rough, the Body short and thick in most; is slow of Motion, can swell his Head and Neck when irritated; hath the Aspect terrible and ugly: Whereas Snakes have the head small, the Body long, the Scales smooth, are nimble and of an harmless Aspect. All Serpents, as well Vipers as Snakes, have forked Tongues, which serve to catch the Insects they feed on; when they are disturbed they thrust them out of their Mouth and shake them.

Vipera Caudisona Americana: The Rattle-Snake

Of these Vipers the Rattle Snake is most formidable, being the largest and most terrible of all the rest: The largest I ever saw, was one about eight Feet in Length, weighing between eight and nine Pounds: This Monster was gliding into the House of Colonel Blake, of Carolina; and had certainly taken his Aboad there undiscovered, had not the Domestick Animals allarmed the Family with their repeated Outcries; the Hogs, Dogs and Poultry united in their Hatred to him, shewing the greatest Consternation, by erecting their Bristles and Feathers, and expressing their Wrath and Indignation, surrounded him, but carefully kept their Distance; while he, regardless of their Threats, glided slowly along.

It is not uncommon to have them come into Houses, a very extraordinary Instance of which happen'd to my self in the same Gentleman's House, in the Month of February 1723; the Servant in making the Bed in a Ground Room, (but a few Minutes after I left it) on turning down the Cloaths, discovered a Rattle-Snake, lying coiled between the Sheets, in the middle of the Bed.

They are the most inactive and slow moving Snake of all others, and are never the Aggressors, except in what they prey upon; for unless they are disturbed they will not bite, and when provoked, they give Warning by shaking their Rattles. These are commonly believed to be the most deadly venomous Serpent of any in there Parts of America, I believe they are so, as being generally the largest, and making a deeper Wound, and injecting a greater Quanity of Poison; tho' I know not why any of the three other kinds of Vipers may not be as venomous as a Rattle-Snake, if as big, the Structure of their deadly Fangs being formed alike in all. The most successful Remedy the Indians seem to have, is to suck the Wound, which in a slight Bite has sometimes a good Effect; tho' the recovered Person never fails of having annual Pains at the Time they were bit. They have likewise some Roots, which they pretend will effect the Cure, particularly a kind of Assarum, commonly called Heart-Snake-root, a kind of Chrysanthemum, called St. Anthony's Cross, and some others; but that which they rely on most, and which most of the Virginian and Carolina Indians carry dry in their Pockets, is a small tuberous Root, which they procure from the remote Parts of the Country; this they chew, and swallow the juice, applying some to the Wound. Having by travelling much with Indians, had frequent Opportunities of seeing the direful Effects of the Bites of these Snake, it always seemed and was apparent to me, that the good Effects usually attributed to these their Remedies, is owing more to the Force of Nature, or the Slightness of the Bite of a small Snake in a muscular Part, &c. The Person thus bit, I have known to survive without any Assistance for many Hours, but where a Rattle-Snake with full Force penetrates with his deadly Fangs, and pricks a Vein or Artery, inevitable Death ensues, and that, as I have often seen, in less than two Minutes. The Indians know their Destiny the Minute they are bit, and when they perceive it mortal, apply no Remedy, concluding all Efforts in vain. If the Bite happeneth in a fleshy Part, they immediately cut it out, to stop the Current of the Poison. I could heartily wish, that Oil of Olives immediately applied to the Wound, might have as good Success against the Venom of these Snakes, as it hath been found in England to have had against the Poison Of the common Adder.

The Colour of the head of this Rattle-Snake is brown, the Eye red, the Upper Part of the Body of a brownish yellow, transversely marked with irregular broad black Lifts. The Rattle is of a brown Colour, composed of several Horney membranous Cells, of an undulated pyramidal Figure, which are articulated one within the other, so that the Point of the first Cell reaches as far as the Basis or protuberant Ring of the third and so on, which Articulation being very loose, gives Liberty to the Parts of the Cells that are inclosed within the outward Rings, to strike against the Sides of them, and so to cause the rattling Noise, which is heard when the Snake shakes its Tail. I have given a Section of a Rattle, that this Structure might the better appear.

The Charming, as it's commonly called, or attractive Power this Snake is said to have of drawing to it Animals, and devouring them, is generally believed in America; as for my own part, I never saw the Action, but a great many from whom I have had it related, all agree in the manner of the Process; which is, that the Animals, particularly Birds and Squirrels (which principally are their Prey) no sooner spy the Snake than they skip from Spray to Spray, hovering and approaching gradually nearer their Enemy regardless of any other Danger; but with distracted Gestures and Outcries descend, tho' from the top of the loftiest Trees to the Mouth of the Snake, who openeth his Jaws, take them in, and in an Instant swallows them.

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