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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Through the Brazilian Wilderness. 1914.

Page 22

should be so utterly helpless before the few creatures that prey on them. But the explanation is easy. Any highly specialized creature, the higher its specialization, is apt to be proportionately helpless when once its peculiar specialized traits are effectively nullified by an opponent. This is eminently the case with the most dangerous poisonous snakes. In them a highly peculiar specialization has been carried to the highest point. They rely for attack and defence purely on their poison-fangs. All other means and methods of attack and defence have atrophied. They neither crush nor tear with their teeth nor constrict with their bodies. The poison-fangs are slender and delicate, and, save for the poison, the wound inflicted is of a trivial character. In consequence they are utterly in the presence of any animal which the poison does not affect. There are several mammals immune to snake-bite, including various species of hedgehog, pig, and mongoose—the other mammals which kill them do so by pouncing on them unawares or by avoiding their stroke through sheer quickness of movement; and probably this is the case with most snake-eating birds. The mongoose is very quick, but in some cases at least—I have mentioned one in the “African Game Trails” —it permits itself to be bitten by poisonous snakes, treating the bite with utter indifference. There should be extensive experiments made to determine if there are species of mongoose immune to both cobra and viper poison. Hedgehogs, as determined by actual experiments, pay no heed at all to viper poison even when bitten on such tender places as the tongue and lips and eat the snake as if it were a radish. Even among animals