Oh Platypus. I had no idea. I mean, I knew you were in a class all your own, or rather a family all your own (Ornithorhynchidae). Not only are you one of five species of mammal to lay eggs, but you (male platypus) have a venomous spur on your ankle. You use your tail to store fat. Your snout is flexible and rubbery. You have a reptilian type of walk on land. You use electrolocation to locate prey (detection of electric fields generated by muscle movement). Your eyes have double cones (most mammals don’t)which allows you to detect motion, luminance, and stuff we don’t even know about. Although you have waterproof skin, skin that covers your ears and eyes and nose when you are underwater, you can only stay in the water for 30-140 seconds.
You are an enigma inside a mystery inside a conundrum inside an amazing furry-egg-laying package.
In 1985, I moved from a small suburb outside Pittsburgh to South Florida. It turns out, South Florida is a swamp. To live there, people must de-muck the land and build canals for the water to flow into, otherwise, their homes get sucked into the ground. Humans have to fight back Mother Nature at every corner. The heat, the humidity, and the rain are all the perfect ingredients for flamboyant flora and fauna.
In Pittsburgh, I enjoyed the zoo: a healthy distance and cold steel bars separated you from the wild animals who wanted to eat your face off. You can imagine my horror upon seeing my first palmetto bug, “WHAT. . .is THAT?” My first alligator (which was sunning itself on my neighbor’s stoop). My first armadillo (squished on the side of the road). And my first Coral Snake. It took a while (about five years of living in Florida) before I saw you. But I knew who you were immediately. You see, when you move to the swamp, they teach a little rhyme that goes:
Red touch yellow:
kill a fellow.
Red touch black:
alright for Jack.
That means if you see a snake with black and red and yellow bands, it could be a Kingsnake or a Coral Snake. A Kingsnake is not poisonous. You could have it over for frozen yogurt or play 4-square in your drive way. But a Coral Snake is the Howard Hughes of snakes. In other words, it doesn’t like to be around humans and when you encounter one, you are both TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. The only difference is: the Coral Snake can bite you and deliver a dose of a powerful neurotoxin which can paralyze breathing muscles resulting in respiratory or cardiac failure. BUT: these bites are rare because the Coral Snake hates people, they just want to be left alone to do their own snake thing. BUT: because the bites are rare, production of the anti-venom has ceased. WHAT? You heard me.
BUT: you would literally have to step on one for it to bite you and even then, it has small teeth and has trouble biting through, lets say jeans, so it would have to CHEW on you to get enough venom in your body to kill you. AND THEN it can take like 12 hours for you to see symptoms.
Anyway, I was riding my bike around my gated community, there were only a few houses and mostly undeveloped land and swamp times. I saw one. We were both like, “Oh ma gerd,” and bolted outta there. I’m sure that Coral Snake tells the tale of seeing that human person on the sweet blue bike all those years ago with the same terror that I relate this story to you, my dearest Samuel. It. Was. Crazyscary.
If you’re out for a leisurely stroll in Western Africa, say Mali or Senegal, here’s some advice: don’t overturn any logs or go poking around in small bushes. You may come face-to-face with a West African Spitting Cobra, also known as the Mali cobra or Katien spitting cobra. If this occurs, do not mention the cobra’s small, two-foot size or its lovely black eyes. Do not talk about your shared appetite for frogs’ legs or animosity for other snakes. Do not mention the heat of Africa or the vastness of the desert. Just be non-threatening, and get out of there.
The reason you shouldn’t provoke a cobra is because they will spit venom on you. And while it’s ok to get venom on unbroken skin, if they spit in your eyes (and they will), that is no fun. You will go temporarily blind and be in excruciating pain. Like all cobras, the West African Spitting Cobra has long ribs in its neck, which the snake can raise to form a hood. If you witness a cobra with its hood out, it’s ticked off. It’s probably going to:
A) Bite you
B) Try to spit in your eyes
Maybe you’re lucky and can get out of there before either of these things happen. The cobra isn’t a bully; it just doesn’t like to be attacked when it’s chilling out. Think about how cool it would be if you could spit venom on someone when you were trying to relax: “Hey, Sam! How’s that book you’re reading? You look like you’re really into it… Ahhhhhhhh!!! My EYES!!!!!!!!!!!!!”