“Awesome Snake Science!” Takes the Venom Out of Our Fanged Friends

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The other day, when I picked my daughter up from school, she came running. Not in the, “Oh daddy, it’s so great to see you!” kind of way that she normally does (on good days, anyway). This time she was yelling about a snake.

“Daddy. Daddy. There’s a snake. Over there by the sidewalk. A snake eating a frog. And the frog is still in its mouth!”

Being the nature-loving dad that I am, I had to see it for myself. Surely, the child was exaggerating. There might have been a frog in close proximity sometime earlier in the day, but not in the snake’s mouth. No. That only happens on National Geographic specials about the deepest parts of Africa, right? “Take me to it,” I said, and we were off across the school playground to where the snake, which I was sure had left the premises by now, once was.

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As usual, dad was wrong. There it was, right near a coiled hose just off the pathway where she said it would be. It looked to be about 3 feet long. Probably a garden snake. And there, in it’s bulging mouth, was a frog.

It was waist deep, front legs squirming every few minutes as the frog regained ever-diminishing bits of its fleeting energy. Poor thing was half-in/half-out, obviously miserable and trying its damnedest to survive. Since the snake was not of the venomous variety, this beleaguered amphibian was in for a long day.

As we looked on, my lovely daughter and I, a crowd gathered. Her teacher, another teacher, a parent and child, and so on. Each with his or her own unique perspective. “Ew, that’s gross,” squealed one not-very-smart child. “No it’s not,” said I. “It’s nature. Let them be.” My kid was upset that so many had arrived on the scene. She feared someone would kill the snake. As did I.

We stayed until everyone lost interest and the gates of the school were locked. I promised her that I would rescue the snake and its struggling meal should someone intervene.

We talked about it all the way home.

Snakes, much maligned and misunderstood, suffer from great acts of cruelty at the hands of humans. Harmless, even beneficial, snakes are chopped to pieces by spade-wielding numbskulls who can’t tell the difference between a cobra and a rubber toy. Like anything in this life, the more you learn about something, especially those things most feared, the less threatening that thing becomes. And to this end, we have the book Awesome Snake Science!: 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes. Here, you and your kids can engage in activities that teach a number of lessons: How snakes use their tongues; how snakes repel other would-be attackers with their smell; how snakes strike.

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Granted, most of us don’t want to be on the receiving end of that last item, but knowing helps us understand, and with understanding comes acceptance and respect. All of the experiments use the scientific method, so children are learning the process of science, not just the science itself. And you and your kid will be better informed about those slithering neighbors with which we all share our homes.

The book is endorsed by the National Science Teacher’s Association, with high marks from reviewer Cary Seidman: “[Author Cindy] Blobaum explains lucidly why she does not advocate keeping snakes as pets, citing habitat destruction and declining populations among the factors that should sway one against keeping one at home. … Perhaps best of [experiment in the book] is the ‘virtual viper venom’ activity in which children use a fresh pineapple, some gelatin mix, water, and ordinary kitchen supplies to simulate the manufacture of cytotoxic enzymes analogous to rattlesnake venom.”

Seriously, doesn’t that sound awesome?

Pick up Awesome Snake Science! here.

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