Why Indiana Jones Was Right to be Scared of Snakes

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I, like most everyone else, am really looking forward to May 22, when the new Indiana Jones movie hits screens. Indy is the perfect hero, except for that one flaw: his fear of snakes. After some research, though, I found that he may not have been too far off in being scared of snakes. Here are some reasons he was right.

They might take over the country

It sounds like something out of a horror movie: deadly snakes slither into an unsuspecting town, slowly killing the poor citizens. Unfortunately, it's really happening. A drought in Australia earlier this year started pushing snakes into cities in search of water, where they took to biting the people they saw. The number of snake attacks went up during the drought. And not even the Americas are immune from the snake attack. In two events that would shock Captain Planet, deforestation in Brazil is making deadly snakes flee to cities, while global warming might force Burmese pythons to expand their habitat to the southern third of the United States. Ironically, extreme climate change may have created one of Indy's safe havens. Contrary to the popular St. Patrick explanation, Ireland may be snake-free because of the Ice Age. The temperatures were too cold for snakes to survive for years, and once the earth warmed up, the surrounding seas probably kept the snakes away. After all, this was long before snakes discovered air travel.

They're really, really, really deadly

snake fangs.jpg

Popular Science recently called snake venom evolution's most effective killer, which is some pretty high praise. Turns out the poison is so ninja-like, it covers every base. It can slow prey down, giving the snake a better chance to catch it, while some even contain a diuretic, so the prey leaves a trail of urine. Venom can be divided into three categories, each with their own deadly attribute. The cytotoxins break down the cells and muscles, essentially starting digestion before the prey even enters the snake's mouth. Hemotoxins go after the blood, either clotting it or destroying the red blood cells. And neurotoxins either numb or overload the nervous system. Even though these toxins are ridiculously lethal, scientists are mining them for potential cures for cancer and the venom from a Brazilian pit snake even formed the basis for ACE inhibitors.

It's in his genes (your's too)

Those hidden picture games in the old Highlights for Kids magazine may hold the key to why Indy was so scared of snakes. A recent University of Virginia study found that we may be genetically hard-wired to spot snakes. Shown a series of color photographs, both adults and children had an easier time spotting a snake among pictures of non-threatening images than a non-threatening object among pictures of snakes. The researchers also found that the same holds true for spiders, which is why these creepy crawlers freak us out so much.

snake eating deer.jpgHe searched for "snake eating" on Youtube

Searching for "snake eating" on Youtube may make you never want to eat again. You'll find an array of snake meals, from hippos to deer to eggs. The unique jaw structure of the snake allows it to swallow some enormous food. The lower jaw is unattached to the skull, only held on by muscles and tendons, allowing it to open as wide as 150 degrees. Once it traps the prey in its jaws, the snake creeps forward, pushing the food into its body, where muscles and digestive acids break it down. The knowledge that a particularly hungry snake could eat him was probably enough to turn Indy off the critters forever.

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April 11, 2008 - 4:14am
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