Pharyngula

If only we were molluscs, we’d be safe

In a story about large snakes thriving in California, Hank Fox noticed an interesting warning.

As for other potential prey, human beings – like rodents, beavers and deer – are mammals, government scientists confirmed.

This is obviously why we pay the government scientists the big bucks: to keep hairy bipedal animals with mammary glands informed about their taxonomic status. I’m imagining some blase Californian reading the article which tells them that these pythons eat small mammals, completely unconcerned, until, like a howling siren of alarm, the paper informs them that they happen to be mammals, too, and are therefore likely to be eaten by snakes.

And it gets more amusing. The snakes are traveling to California from Florida, following a trail made by the “large population of beavers along the way” — a path that is unimpeded by the presence of few lions and tigers to eat them. After explaining that the snakes will not be found in the colder areas of the state, readers receive another terrifying nugget of information.

Such remote areas, however, could not support every panicked Californian seeking to avoid the giant snakes.

How many panicked Californians are there, anyway? Did they all read their morning paper, gasp in shock, “Holy crap, I’m a mammal? Snakes are gonna eat me!” and run for the hills?

This was apparently on the front page of the SF Chronicle…I hope the writer had fun putting it together, and that not too many readers clogged the freeways as they fled to the Sierras.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Clarke
    February 27, 2008

    That’s “Sierra.” There’s only one sierra in the Sierra Nevada.

    SF Chron writer Steve Rubinstein does have a flair for deadpan humor, doesn’t he?

  2. #2 Kytescall
    February 27, 2008

    “How many panicked Californians are there, anyway? Did they all read their morning paper, gasp in shock, “Holy crap, I’m a mammal? Snakes are gonna eat me!” and run for the hills?

    This was apparently on the front page of the SF Chronicle…I hope the writer had fun putting it together, and that not too many readers clogged the freeways as they fled to the Sierras.”

    If this ever happens, let us know. It probably won’t be as funny as the aftermath of Orson Wells’s The War of the Worlds broadcast, but it should make the news a bit more interesting.

  3. #3 Elizabeth
    February 27, 2008

    Funny. But the writer is Steve Rubenstein.

  4. #4 Ken Mareld
    February 27, 2008

    OOOO, that story was fun. In a damn the consequences way. The only way for Burmese Pythons to slither their way to California is either by hitchhiking or taking a Greyhound Bus. The ecosystem challenges are quite daunting. Mojave Desert anyone? The Sierra Nevadas anyone? Freaky silly Pythons, give me an Anaconda any day. Now there is a flat ass snake to tell you that you’re not on top of the food chain.
    More worrisome are those little bugs on Vancouver Island that came from Australia (with some help from California gene cousins) that are killing Dogs, Cats and Horses.
    Human mobility has enhanced the mobility of other biologicals. Eventually we just have to get used to it.
    Policies that don’t accelerate our needed tolerance to those changes are a good thing. Policies that do accelerate our exposure to ecosystem changes are not.
    Would you like to play a game of chess?

  5. #5 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2008

    why do i think this will end up becoming the plot for the next “Snakes on a Plane” movie.

    will they get Arnie to substitute for Samuel L Jackson, is the obvious question.

  6. #6 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2008

    jinx!

  7. #7 Epistaxis
    February 27, 2008

    Did they all read their morning paper, gasp in shock, “Holy crap, I’m a mammal? Snakes are gonna eat me!” and run for the hills?

    If you live in San Francisco, it’s not exactly far to the hills. But except for our governator, I think Californians are more likely to exclaim that species is a social construct, then invite the snakes to a diplomatic summit with no preconditions.

  8. #8 Hank Fox
    February 27, 2008

    This being California we’re talking about, there’s already someone thinking worriedly about all the preservatives and persistent poisons in manflesh, chemicals that will build up to toxic levels in these poor climax-predator snakes, impacting their health and reproductive rates.

    I wonder if we could get the pythons to congregate just around Sedona, Arizona, and maybe only eat vegans.

  9. #9 jc.
    February 27, 2008

    Seriously as a fan of reptiles and amphibians I get so tired of the ever repeated snakes eat people thing (much like the wolves eating peple thing*). Has there ever been a verified case of a snake actually attacking and eating any person ever? Ever?
    *In todays paper in stockholm the story of a 70 year old hunter being attacked by a wolf seems to be unraveling into a probable dog attack.

  10. #10 demallien
    February 27, 2008

    Brian @15
    My personal favourite is the dugite. Their reason for attacking seems to be because they’re annoyed that you disturbed their afternoon sunbath by walking too close. Of course, being Australian, they are deadly venemous…

    To slightly change the topic, I’m wondering how creationists deal with this sort of press-release. I mean, it’s not just that we’re related to monkeys this time, but to any mammals… Do they see this stuff, and just ignore it as yet another part of the global Darwinist conspiracy???

  11. #11 Mrs Tilton
    February 27, 2008

    Lilly @16,

    unless we can contrive to have them congregate inside the PETA offices

    Riding the U-Bahn the other day I saw a poster for a heavy metal band. The poster showed a typical heavy metal zombie creature (think Iron Maiden’s “Eddie”) wearing a toque and a lumberman’s jacket, sporting a maple leaf flag and carrying a spiked club. In the background, similarly-clad zombies were braining and skinning baby seals. The band was called “The Canadians” and the poster hyped their “2008 Sealkilling Tour”. Then I read the fine print and saw that this was all just so much PETA agitprop.

    And that really pissed me off. Not that I like the idea of baby seals being clubbed to death, mind you (far from it). I wasn’t even pissed off because PETA are a shower of arrogant self-righteous doctrinaire obscurantist prigs (though they are that). No, I was pissed off because, if that poster had been for real, The Canadians would have instantly won the world prize for most hilariously tasteless heavy metal aesthetics of all time[FN1]; but no, it was just a stupid fundraising campaign.

    So, yes, if I can help you in any way in your plan to have large snakes devour PETA, just let me know.

    [FN1] What, you think Cannibal Corpse would win the prize? Nah. They take themselves far too seriously.

  12. #12 Lilly de Lure
    February 27, 2008

    Damn, beaten to the punch! Fernando, I’ll second Mrs Tilton’s suggestion (a much more sensible one than my own).

  13. #13 negentropyeater
    February 27, 2008

    “The snakes are traveling to California from Florida, following a trail made by…”

    but wait, isn’t this evidence for G*d’s will at work, isn’t he sending these snakes to punish these morally void Californicationians ?

  14. #14 True Bob
    February 27, 2008

    I hate when I hit Post with no name/email filled in. Now I have to retype.

    Predators – puma concolor is in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The panther is no slouch in the killing things department.

    And as for potential python prey, why vegans? Carnivores and omnivores are yummy as well. Had any beef lately? (If you don’t know, don’t ask – you’ll be sorry)

  15. #15 Mrs Tilton
    February 27, 2008

    Lilly @23,

    Lordi? Lordi???!!! I’m sorry, but anybody appearing on, let alone winning, the Grand Prix d’Eurovision is statutorily excluded from the definition of “metal”. They were pretty damn funny, though.

    Glad they won, too; definitely a break from the usual winning pablum. Serbia’s offering last year? No thanks, I’ve already heard enough Whitney Houston for one lifetime. (2nd place Ukraine — a polyglottically nonsensical transvestite wrapped in foil — were robbed, to say nothing of the French, whose poor score can only be the result of a nefarious conspiracy.)

    Ireland will be represented this year by none other than Dustin the Turkey. (Now, there’s a worthy target for Googling!) Dustin will be singing “Irelande Douze Pointe” (sic). This could be Ireland’s big comeback year, even if nobody, not even Dustin, can hope to top “My Lovely Horse”.

  16. #16 maxi
    February 27, 2008

    Mrs Tilton @32

    There was outrage, outrage on the BBC Breakfast sofa yesterday at Ireland’s entry. “They are making a mockery of the whole contest”, was the cry.

    Ummm… excuse me? Isn’t Eurovision meant to be a mockery? Who takes it seriously, really? I was lead to believe it was an opportunity for Terry Wogan to take the piss out of Johnny Foreigner and for me to just get pissed. I shall stay in for the choosing of our act this saturday though, that has to be worth watching.

  17. #17 Jason B
    February 27, 2008

    And now we know how they’ll overcome the deserts, mountains, et cetera…

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/snakes_on_a_plane_2.jpg

  18. #18 mona
    February 27, 2008

    There are few free-roaming African lions and tigers between Florida and San Francisco, the geological survey said.
    … As for other potential prey, human beings – like rodents, beavers and deer – are mammals, government scientists confirmed.

    Well, obviously, the writer was really just talking to the super scientists and Scientist Extraordinaires.

  19. #19 LARA
    February 27, 2008

    Such is the beauty of nature’s buffer systems. Too many pink, hairless monkey’s running amok, upping the carbon content of the atmosphere and altering global temperatures? Just wait a few moments and a top predator will appear to set things straight.

  20. #20 Zeno
    February 27, 2008

    This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has a story about stop-action special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen which mentions the six-legged octopus that attacks the Golden Gate bridge in It Came From Beneath the Sea: “Harryhausen points out that he didn’t have the time or the budget to animate eight legs.” I guess it was a hexapus.

  21. #21 Sarcastro
    February 27, 2008

    The natural enemies of the python are lions, tigers and other large cats.

    A lion? In Asia!?

    (cue Monty-Pythonesque panic)

    At Yellowstone, I remember listening to a camp ranger telling the cautionary story…

    We used to have a lot of fun with that when I worked the park. Problem was that then people didn’t believe us when we told them the bison would kill them if they got too close in order to take a picture. We had a pool going on for when the first Japanese tourist (well, not specifically, but it was always a Japanese tourist) would get gored by a bison every year. Grizzlies just didn’t maul enough people to make betting on it viable.

  22. #22 ihateaphids
    February 27, 2008

    ooh but the family pets had better watch out!
    (note that this is not a BURMESE python, but still!)

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/02/27/australia.snake.ap/index.html

  23. #23 John Vreeland
    February 27, 2008

    IM IN UR WILDLIFE UPGRADIN UR PREDATURZ

  24. #24 AgnosticOracle
    February 27, 2008

    This is obviously why we pay the government scientists the big bucks: to keep hairy bipedal animals with mammary glands informed about their taxonomic status.

    Look on the bright side. At least the article didn’t give equal space to the claim that humans aren’t mammals.

  25. #25 G. Tingey
    February 27, 2008

    Mere 23-foot reticulated pythons …

    Try THIS for size:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/02/27/scimonster127.xml

  26. #26 Sven DiMilo
    February 27, 2008

    You can key them out by their ORVs

    The 2-wheeled subspecies can also be recognized, even when dismounted, by the brightly-colored plastic take-me-to-your-leader Imperial Stormtrooper suits they sport.

  27. #27 Tatarize
    February 27, 2008

    A mammal eh? I thought my nipples were suspicious. Though, being I man, I’m not convinced I can only assume God has a plan for my nipples and I ain’t no kin to no monkey.

  28. #28 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 27, 2008

    Has there ever been a verified case of a snake actually attacking and eating any person ever? Ever?

    I’m sure a little research will find you one.

    Think about it: does a sufficiently large snake have any reason not to?

    I think you’ll find that if you just click “Back” in your browser that you will be sent back to the original page with the comment box still filled in. At least I know that it works in MSIE

    That depends.

    It even changes once every few years or so, perhaps between servicepacks. It often happens that MSIE leaves the post intact on one computer but not on another.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 27, 2008

    Has there ever been a verified case of a snake actually attacking and eating any person ever? Ever?

    I’m sure a little research will find you one.

    Think about it: does a sufficiently large snake have any reason not to?

    I think you’ll find that if you just click “Back” in your browser that you will be sent back to the original page with the comment box still filled in. At least I know that it works in MSIE

    That depends.

    It even changes once every few years or so, perhaps between servicepacks. It often happens that MSIE leaves the post intact on one computer but not on another.

  30. #30 MikeM
    February 27, 2008

    Big Fucking Pythons
    Are coming to kill us all.
    Be careful, mammals.

  31. #31 G
    February 27, 2008

    I can’t believe I’m the first to be saying this, but:

    “I for one, welcome our new python overlords.”

    /Kent Brockman

  32. #32 Vitis01
    February 27, 2008

    As a California boy that grew up in the Sierra, I will laugh when those city folk running from a python come face to face with a nasty rattlesnake. The ones up in the High Sierra are bigger and more territorial than the ones you find in the Foothills. I’ve been chased while backpacking!

  33. #33 Hank Roberts
    February 27, 2008

    Bugs? Vancouver Island?
    Dogs, cats?
    Cite, please!

    >Buffalo

    I recall hearing decades ago that one tourist was convicted of violating the law against harassing the buffalo at Wind Cave National Park on the basis of the evidence of his own camera’s pictures.

    His empty car was reported. The ranger found it and looked and saw a bit of something way out on the prairie, walked out, and found the tourist, still alive, barely. They got the medical crew in.

    He said he’d been attacked by a buffalo.

    The pictures in his camera showed a sequence like:

    – buffalo through windshield
    – buffalo seen through open window
    – buffalo hindquarters departing
    – one buffalo far off lying down in prairie grass
    – same buffalo, closer view, still lying down
    – same buffalo, closeup, eyes closed
    – several views of buffalo from various angles, not moving
    – picture of tourist’s foot prodding buffalo in ribs
    – buffalo with visible eye open
    – buffalo standing up

    Pictures stopped there.

    Note that every tourist entering Wind Cave is told that a buffalo can outrun a human being, and not to mess with them.

    Keep that window rolled UP!

  34. #34 raindogzilla
    February 27, 2008

    I’m thinking python-skin Chuck Taylors for everyone!

  35. #35 BaldApe
    February 27, 2008

    Sarcastro said:
    A lion? In Asia!?

    Not so much anymore, but they used to be there.

    Admittedly not Burma, but closer.

  36. #36 nighthawk808
    February 28, 2008

    @G: You may want to read #12.

  37. #37 gerald spezio
    February 28, 2008

    Hillary, “snakes vs beavers thing” has more literary potential than all the Freudians/Jungians/psychosci farceurs could exhaust thru finding the dark incommensurables, explanatory animas/animuses, liberating enemas, rampant hostilities, & mean-spirited personas.