Happy New Year!
Last July, I acquired a pet snake. I named her Peppermint. She’s a ball python (VPI axanthic/lesser, for those who are asking), and a wonderful pet.
Outside of a few fish, I never owned a pet before, so I gathered information for a year before even thinking about getting one.
I consulted friends who were experienced snake keepers, found a reputable local breeder, located a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles...I even made sure to find “godparents” who would care for her should something happen to me.
During that time, I learned a lot about snakes.
For example, with access to plentiful food, snakes in captivity can grow larger and often reach sexual maturity sooner those in the wild.
This matches the experience of children in the US, whose puberties have also been starting earlier. In the mid-1800’s the average age of a first menstruation was 17. Now it’s 10 or 11.
Plenty is not the same as quality, however, and just like humans, snakes can become obese and incur higher risks for clogged arteries, liver disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
I’ll cover more about snakes in future articles, but today, I wanted to focus on appearance—how both snakes and humans present themselves to survive.
The most common and obvious strategy is camouflage. Comparing camouflage in snakes and humans is particularly fascinating because 1) people who use camouflage, such as hunters and military types, tend to hide in the same places snakes do—jungles, deserts, forests, and 2) and they use it for much the same reason: “Hide me, so I can kill before something kills me.”
Compare the six-color desert camouflage pattern used in the Persian Gulf to that of the desert-dwelling sidewinder rattlesnake:
But not all snakes depend upon camouflage. The highly venomous coral snake uses bright red, yellow and black striping to be seen. Its strategy, aposematism, is to warn potential predators that they should rethink their actions, especially if they do not want to die.
Humans use this aposematism, as well. When people dress in striking patterns or colors, we tend to think of birds—as part of a courtship ritual. But not all styles are designed for courtship. A power suit is not about Huey Lewis and "The Power of Love."
It's more Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada."
But what if you have no venom? Batesian mimicry was first described by the pioneering naturalist Henry W. Bates.
In Batesian mimicry, a relatively harmless species protects itself by adopting the color or appearance of a more dangerous one. One of the most famous examples of Batesian mimicry comes from the snake world, where some varieties of the nonvenomous kingsnake shield themselves by mimicking the far more dangerous coral snake.
Batesian mimicry shows up in humans all the time. Whenever somebody dresses in a way to cover insecurities and keep people at a distance—that’s Batesian mimicry. In fact, if one considers the competitiveness of the American workplace, the whole “fake it until you make it” strategy is a form of Batesian mimicry.
Another example of Batesian mimicry took place after 9/11. The attacks—the first on US home soil by a foreign entity since Revolutionary times—plunged the American population into a state of uncertainty that it had never experienced.
And, within three years, GM had slapped the front chassis of a Chevrolet 2500 commercial pickup to the rear chassis of a Chevy Tahoe to create a civilian vehicle festooned with the trappings of a military Humvee. It had smaller, military-looking windows, a more military-looking body design, a sturdy, military-looking gearshift lever, and even featured military-looking imitation hoops that the actual Humvee used to be lifted by helicopter.
This vehicle was called the Hummer H2 (the Hummer H1 was an actual civilianized Humvee, but was too impractical and expensive for most humans who were not Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Today, even as most Hummers have gone the way of cheap gasoline, the fear and uncertainty that we felt in those times lingers on.
People still militarize and weaponize their SUVs and pickup trucks. Even hunting rifles are modified to look more deadly. With a little inspiration and some JB Weld, even the most humble bolt-action rifles might become tactical wonderlands of cheap laser sights, fake magazine wells, and spot-welded stocks vaguely resembling those from AK-47s.
And, of course, many will be camouflaged.
Now, I am chatting about snakes because of Peppermint, and if Peppermint were a dog, rather than a snake, this would be all about us and dogs.
Because none of this shows a particular similarity between human beings and snakes. Snakes are merely another type of animal, just as humans are merely another type of animal. As such, we face many of the same challenges in the day-to-day.
And, we can respond to those challenges in remarkably similar ways.
That's one of the cool things I am learning with Peppermint. Perhaps it’s something that anyone who owns a pet might understand.
That in some aspects, the line between humans and all other creatures is very definite and very solid.
However, in so many others, we humans join the rest of the animal kingdom (and even some plants and a few slime molds, as well), not only through our origins or chemistry—but in what we desire, and how we navigate the world.
That's kind of neat, I think.
Be safe out there, k?
Cover: BG004/Bauer-Griffin / Collection: GC Images/ Getty Images
*Photo by me.
**Pretzelpaws at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7570680 and Crotalus_cerastes_mesquite_springs_CA.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4272850
***Dan Koleska / Collection:500Px / Getty Images
****Released by the distributor 20th Century Fox, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58440589
*****R. Andrew Odum/Collection: Photodisc/Getty Images
******James Devaney / Collection: WireImage/Getty Images