Old Wives' Tales
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Legend: A rattlesnake fang embedded in a pair of boots kills generations of owners.
Variations: The apocryphal boots of lore are often said to have killed three generations of the same family, or to have done away with three brothers.
Origins: This legend is even older than the 1937 print sighting (quoted above) would lead one to believe. Another sighting surfaces in a 1782 book, making it easily the oldest intact urban legend in existence.
Snake experts dismiss this story as mere lore due to what's known about the structure of rattlesnake fangs and the potency of that varmint's venom. Although people have been poisoned by the broken or shed fang of a rattler, the tip of such an implement is highly unlikely to contain enough dried venom to do serious damage to the victim, let alone strike him dead. Cases on record have the scratched victim experiencing throbbing and sharp pain in the injured extremity, but only for a few hours. For the injury to be fatal, a much larger amount of venom would have to be injected into the victim — a surface scratch by the tip of a fang would introduce only whatever venom happened to be present on the part of the fang's surface that caused the scratch.
Although there's no truth to the legend about a fatal pair of boots killing one family member after another, its underlying message that it always pays to be careful around rattlesnakes is worth heeding. Though a fang left that long in a boot wouldn't do much harm, supposedly "dead" snakes have been known to bite, sending a number of victims to the hospital every year.
Never assume the head of a decapitated snake
Documented cases of deceased slitherers' delivering fatal bites can be traced back several hundred years to Spanish explorers. In 1956, rattlesnake researcher
Says Bill Sloan of the Arizona Herpetological Association: "As you go down the evolutionary scale, the functions of the brain and functions of the body become a little more separated. There's a reflex action involved when you touch a snake's mouth. The fang is like a hypodermic needle. It's going to continue to work if you put your hand near it."
Which it did in the case of Justin Cluff:
[Arizona Republic, 1999]Barbara "fangs for the memory" Mikkelson
Justin Cluff isn't surprised. The 21-year-old Queen Creek man could have died after picking up the decapitated head of a Mojave rattler a friend had shot with a
The snake head rallied and sank a fang into Cluff's knuckle.
"I had been around snakes so much I felt comfortable with them," Cluff said. "I guess I loosened up on my grip. That's when it bit me. The pain was terrible."
Cluff ended up losing part of his right index finger.
Last updated: 29 June 2007
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