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LEXICON

 

 

snake

Elongated, limbless reptiles of the suborder Serpentes, that are differentiated from the superficially similar legless lizards by the lack of eyelids. Their skeleton consists of a skull and a spinal column with between 200 to 400 vertebrae of which to most a set of ribs is attached (fig.). In Thai, this backbone with ribs is known as kradook ngu, literally ‘snake ribs’ or ‘snake bones’, a name that due to its resemblance, which can clearly be seen in the main bridge at Talaat Nahm Khwan-Riam floating market, which has been fashioned in the form of the skeleton of an ancient rice barge (fig.), is also used as a ship's term for the keel or the the skeleton of a boat. Both in Thailand and Indo-Malay territory there are about a hundred different species of snake, including the net python, with a length of up to ten meters one of the largest kinds in the world. Also native is the very venomous cobra (fig.) and the groove headed adder together with a number of other less venomous species (fig.). Some species live on land, others in trees (fig.) and yet others in either fresh or sea water. Basically, snake venom is modified saliva and there are four distinct types of venom that act on the body differently, i.e. hemotoxic venom, which acts on the heart and cardiovascular system; neurotoxic venom, which acts on the nervous system and brain; cytotoxic venom, which has a localized action at the site of the bite; proteolytic venom, which dismantles the molecular structure of the area surrounding and including the bite. The most venomous snakes however live in the water, both in fresh and seawater alike. Snakes have a forked tongue which they use to scent evaporated molecules in the air. To interpret these scent particles they posses a sensitive organ on the roof of their mouth, called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson's organ, that allows them to determine which direction a scent is coming from and which can pick up scents for over a kilometer away. By sticking out its tongue, scent particles will stick to it and when retracting it, the tongue will brush against the cavity with the vomeronasal organ (fig.). By regularly sticking its tongue in and out, the scent particles are taken in and after analyses by the brain will recall a certain memory, whether of prey or of an enemy, enabling the animal to react more alert. Snakes have a very flexible lower jaw, the two halves of which are not rigidly attached, and numerous other joints in their skull, allowing them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow their prey whole. Snakes regularly shed their skins, replacing the old skin with a new one. Prior to this so-called moulting, a fluid is produced between the old and new skin. This liquefying process makes the snake's eyes become milky and causes the old skin to separate from the new skin beneath it. The moulting process lasts a few days, after which the eyes become clear again and the snake will crawl out of its old skin, leaving the outer layer behind in one piece, turned inside out. The skin replacement helps the snakes get rid of parasites. In mythology, the snake plays an important role and occurs often in both Buddhist and Hindu stories, e.g. as Ananta, the serpent on which Vishnu rests during his cosmic sleep (fig.), and as naga, the guardian of the Buddha. In the sat prajam wan system the snake is associated with Saturday, hence the Buddha's naagprok position (fig.) assigned to that day. In the Chinese zodiac the snake is the sixth animal, representing the sixth year of the animal cycle (fig.), and those born in the Year of the Snake are said to be keen and cunning, quite intelligent and wise, and an ancient Chinese wisdom says that a snake in the house is a good omen, as it means that that household will never starve. In Chinese mythology, a snake combined with a tortoise is known as guishe and represents longevity (fig.). Worldwide there are roughly 3,100 known snake species, the smallest one probably being the leptotyphlops carlae from the Caribbean, with a length of less than 10 centimeters and the largest disputably being a Python (fig.), more specifically a Reticulated Python, with the longest ever measured at around 10 meters, closely competing with the eunectes murinus or green anaconda from the Amazon which holds the world's record for the biggest girth, exceeding even that of the Reticulated Python. With a body length of between 200 and 540 centimeters, the King Cobra is the world's longest venomous snake (fig.). There have been reports of far larger anacondas and pythons, but they have not been proven. In some parts of Thailand certain snakes, such as cobras and pythons, are caught and killed for consumption or for their skins (fig.). In China, smaller snakes are twisted on skewers and sold as a typical street snack (fig.). Snakes are represented on many a Thai postage stamp, including the Songkraan Day Postage Stamp issued in 2001 (fig.) and a set of stamps on Venomous Snakes issued 1981 (fig.). See also Tortoise and Snake, and snake farm. In Thai ngu.