National Geographic : 1954 Sep
- Fear Gives Way to Curiosity: "Why, It's Not Slimy at All!" California schoolgirls, handling a tame Garter Snake for the first time, register mixed emotions as they discover that the reptile's skin is as dry as their own. Many harmless snakes can be tamed to become gentle, unusual household pets. Don Levy rattlesnake, foraging since early dawn and now a little sluggish from a heavy breakfast of shrews and field mice, is returning to a con venient crevice under the stone wall where he can digest his meal. As he is about to enter, the king snake appears right in his path. Although the rattler is not accustomed to giving ground to any living thing, he tries this time to avoid the big king snake; gorged with food, he is not inclined to battle. But the king snake has no intention of letting him go in peace. With a swift move ment he seizes the rattler by the neck and weighs him down with the muscular folds of his powerful body. A furious struggle begins; the grass writhes under the impact of the lashing combatants. Desperately the rattlesnake contorts his body in an effort to free himself from the pointed teeth and choking coils. Once he almost suc ceeds in anchoring himself around a small stump and pulling free. Several times he manages to bite the king snake, but the venom has little effect. Soon the wearied rat tler relaxes; he can no longer resist the king snake's grip. Jaws Expand to Swallow Large Prey Now begins the swallowing process. The rattler, though shorter than the king snake, has a much wider body. How can the nar row jaws of the king snake possibly encompass so large a mouthful? Nature has taken care of that. The jaws of all snakes are put together with ligaments that stretch during feeding, so that the mouth easily distends to several times its normal diameter. Since the snake has no hands with which to hold food, the needlelike teeth are recurved: their tips point backward down the throat. It is virtually impossible for a snake's prey to pull away without severe lacerations. The two halves of a snake's lower jaw can move independently of each other. As the left half of the mandible holds, aided by the teeth of the slightly movable upper jaw, the right half may be advanced along the body of the animal being swallowed. Then the left is similarly advanced, while the right part holds. Slowly the prey is engorged (page 350). 335 National Geographic Photographers Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain Friendly Man Meets Friendly Snake Cold-blooded reptiles enjoy the warmth of human hands. A zoo keeper plays with this King Snake.