National Geographic : 1954 Sep
364 National Geographic Photographers Robert F. Sisson and Donald McBain Wheeled Death Stalks Snakes on Every Highway Snakes like to sun on the warm surface of roads and seldom are quick-witted enough to escape onrushing wheels. One scientist estimates that nearly 6,000,000 are killed annually in the United States by automobiles. Most deaths are accidental, but swerving tire marks often indicate that a motorist has murdered a good rat exterminator. Aside from man, hawks, skunks, and snake-eating snakes are the reptiles' chief enemies. for a human being, and the snake, though seemingly sluggish, should be given a wide berth. The coral's beautiful colors are copied by some nonpoisonous snakes in apparent mim icry. The scarlet snake, Cemophora coccinea, and the scarlet king snake, Lampropeltis doli ata doliata, have red and yellow bands sepa rated by narrow black ones; the poisonous coral snake has wide black and red bands sepa rated by narrow yellow ones. The head of the coral snake is solid black from the eyes forward; the nonpoisonous mimics have red dish or yellow heads with no black in front of the eyes (page 344). Boas Have Remains of Hind Legs The fifth and last family of snakes to be found within the United States is the Boidae, or boas, represented by five forms found in the Pacific and far-western States. The rosy boa, Lichanura roseofusca, is gentle and fear less and does not resist being picked up. When threatened, however, it rolls into a tight ball. It feeds on birds and small mammals and is fully grown at a length of three feet. A relative of the mighty anaconda and of the boa constrictor, the little rosy boa sports, like all members of the boa family, a small flap or spurlike projection on each side of the end of its body, the remains of once-functional hind limbs. This, then, is the brief story of our snake friends and foes. Most of the fear we feel for them is totally without basis. We can claim many of them as powerful allies in the never-ending war upon rodents; in unpopu lated areas even the poisonous snakes can be beneficial. Man and his automobiles are the worst ene mies of snakes. Also, because of his pleasure in killing, his superstitions, and his prejudices, man destroys creatures that could, at no cost, greatly assist his multimillion-dollar cam paigns against crop-destroying pests. Perhaps one day, more schooled in natural history, we shall be able to view the serpent clan with less fear and greater objectivity and even refrain from murdering its members on sight. It should not take too much reflec tion to recognize that the snake, like the often despised hawk, owl, fox, and weasel, has a vital and logical role to play in the mainte nance of Nature's delicate balance.