In the forests, rivers and in the hinterland of Ceará there is a wide diversity of snakes – to the same extent that myths about the potential danger of these animals spread from the countryside to the Capital. That’s why there are those who feel distress just seeing images of snakes, but it’s worth the courage to know the characteristics of animals of environmental relevance.
This is because stories such as the black snake that drinks milk, the anaconda that threatens other animals and humans, the salamanta with the shape of an “8” in the body with deadly poison and the bite of the vine snake that would dry the victim to death as thin as the serpent.
Have you ever heard anything like that? In Ceará there are 71 types of snakes cataloged by the State Environment Department (Sema), but only a group of about 10 of them represents a health hazard.
Even so, the animals generate fear in the population when they appear in houses, streets or trails. To get an idea, just in the rainy season this year, between February and May, 2,244 snakes were rescued by the Ceará Fire Department.
Snakes play an important role in pest control – they feed on mice, for example – and some species use the venom as the basis for medicine manufacturing. Scientific research even analyzes the creation of a cancer drug.
But, in the imagination, the myths about the danger of snakes gain repercussion throughout the State and are part of the local popular culture. You can check out some of these stories here:
Black snake sucks at people?
Maybe you’ve heard this story: a mother sleeps while nursing her baby, when a snake takes the little one from her breast to feed and puts its tail in the little one’s mouth so that it doesn’t cry.
In Ceará, the animal associated with this legend is the black Snake (Pseudoboa nigra), but due to the stories it is also known as the milk snake.
“There are several species of black snakes, but the one in the myth appears with some very white spots on its body and they say that the more the snake drinks milk, the more it becomes white throughout its life”, says biologist Castiele Holanda Bezerra.
The specialist is part of the Regional Center of Ophiology (Nurof) of the Federal University of Ceará (UFC) and during the lectures held, the question always appears.
The explanation given is based on two reasons: snakes do not have the structure for sucking milk and, even if there were the possibility, animals are lactose intolerant.
“If they could, somehow, they wouldn’t have lactase, which is the enzyme that digests milk. I would have diarrhea as an intolerant person and it would not be interesting to look for this food”, he reinforces.
We think that, as the myth exists, if a black snake appears in the room of a mother with a child, people already think that it is there for that. It’s not a rare snake either, so every now and then it appears.
Castiele Holanda Bezerra
The story is so old that it was recorded in the book O Povo Brasileiro, by Darcy Ribeiro, with a letter around the 17th century, as he says.
“The Indians spoke of a snake that drank its mothers’ milk with newborns, a myth practically the same as we know it today. It is something very widespread, but without any foundation,” he contextualizes.
Anaconda in Ceará
With the potential to reach more than 9 meters in length, the anaconda (Eunectes murinus) attracts attention whenever it appears in the state. The first scientific report was reported in 2008, but the presence of the animal was commented on before that.
However, as Castiele recalls, the Fire Department has carried out in recent years. “We have the presence of anacondas here in our Metropolitan Region, which is the famous Anaconda. It was found both on the west coast and on the east coast, in Aquiraz, near Fortaleza”, he adds.
The snake does not offer risk to human health due to the absence of poison, but myths arise about the disappearance of animals and human beings that would be eaten by the anaconda. One of them takes place around Lagoa do Urubu, in Fortaleza.
The supposed animal in the place even got a name: Isaura. “There are these animals in our region, so the story of Isaura I don’t know if there really was an anaconda or it’s just a myth”, he highlights.
There is no definition about the origin of anacondas in Ceará, because the animal is usually native to the Amazon region. One of the possibilities is the irregular release and migration of anaconda by water bodies.
Snakes of ‘deadly poisons’
Even without any kind of toxic substance to humans, some species of snakes are considered venomous and part of the characteristics associated with it. has no scientific basis.
One such case is the salamanta (Epicrates assisi). It is said that if the animal developed a shape of the number “8” between the spots, it would have a venom capable of quickly killing a human being.
“The salamanta is a relative of the boa constrictor, it has no venom, but in the countryside people associate it with a very venomous animal. They say that if she closes the “8”, between the spots she has on her body, she would be super deadly”, contextualizes the biologist.
The animal, in fact, if raised from a puppy, becomes docile, as Castiele adds. “The salamanta does not pose any danger, it is even one of the animals raised as a pet. It is sold at breeding sites”, he adds.
Another false association happens with the vine snake (Oxybelis aeneus), which causes fear in the population. The myth says that the sting makes the “victim” dry to death.
“The inner region of the mouth in this species is very black, which serves to scare those who threaten it, and they even say that if it bites the person dies ‘dry’ just like it”, says the specialist.
This causes fear about the danger of the species, however, the animal is not even poisonous. “It is very thin and they say ‘look, if the vine snake bites it will die dry’, but it is not a venomous animal”, he reinforces.