Snake Rattle Rolls Back the Years. New Exhibitions Slavery Here and Slither at Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough

Article excerpt

EVER since the Biblical serpent caused mayhem in the Garden of Eden, snakes have had an image problem.

Think of words like viper and venom, and it's no wonder they are associated with treachery and evil - without even being respected like other fearsome animals such as tigers and lions.

Yet there's far more to these creatures, as the SLITHER exhibition at the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough shows.

For one thing, did you know that all snakes in the UK are protected by law?

Or that some harmless species, such as the US milk snake, mimic the colourful stripes of the venomous coral snake to ward off predators? You'll find plenty of information about the history of snakes, how they reproduce, grow - and locate, attack and kill their prey.

There are some 2,800 species of the reptiles, ranging from Europe's common grass snake to the mighty South American green anaconda, which can weigh up to 150kg.

A good feature of the exhibition is several interactive screens, which provide interesting information on such topics as snake movements and how the many models on display are made from dead snakes.

I most enjoyed the screen on snakes sounds, though. There's a sort of horrific fascination in hearing the menacing rattle of the western diamondback rattlesnake, the bizarre popping and sucking sounds of the western hooknose snake - and best of all, the deep, hollow and chilling hiss of the African puff adder.

I confess that, rather childishly, I played all the sounds a few times. Another bad boy of the snake world is the Mozambique spitting cobra.

It shoots at the eyes and the projectile venom can severely injure or even blind a person.

There's a continuously playing video on herpetologist (snake expert) Mark O'Shea, who is studying the nasty creature in South Africa. …


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