Listen to part of a lecture in a zoology class.
The snake is one of the most feared creatures on our planet. It may seem strange, con-sidering that, compared to say, oh, car accidents and murders, snakes attack and kill very few people in the United States each year. There are perhaps fewer than ten deaths in any given year. So why are we afraid of them? Perhaps it’s the suddenness with which snakes can attack, by surprise, and their reptilian appearance. And, outside of the United States, snakes do kill a high number of people, sometimes up to 10,000 or more in India each year. Tigers and lions also kill, but they are cats and are furry and in zoos. Anyway, so they, um, I mean snakes, are to be feared. My main focus today is on snakes in general, what kind of snakes there are, and their major characteristics.
Most people distinguish between poisonous and non- poisonous snakes, and that’s a good place to begin. Excuse me. Let’s start right here in our own country. There are perhaps over 2,000 species of snakes, and most are nonpoisonous. Among the more common nonpoisonous snakes is the garter snake. In the United States, we have four poisonous snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and cottonmouths. With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, rattlesnakes can be found in every state. In fact, Hawaii has no snakes at all. So if you have a real phobia about snakes, I suggest you move to Hawaii. Well, at least for the sunshine. There are many species of rattlesnakes, but they all have the unique feature of a rattle at the end of their tails. It has many hard cartilage pieces that hit each other to produce the rattle sound. The rattlesnake is a member of the viper family of snakes, as are the copperhead and cottonmouth, which are mostly found in the Southeast. The coral snake has two types, the eastern and western, and is distinguished by the very colorful bands around its body.
Around the world, the deadliest snake is the cobra in its many variations. It is responsible for more deaths in Africa and India than any other snake. Some of them can even spit their venom at their intended victim. In Australia, there are nine of the ten most venomous snakes in the world. It is estimated that the taipan snake has enough venom in one bite to kill over 200,0 mice. South America also has its share of venomous snakes but is perhaps more famous for having the largest snake in the world, the anaconda, which is not poisonous. It’s still dangerous because it’s a member of the constrictor family like the python of Southeast Asia. Constrictors wrap their bodies around a victim and squeeze it to death.
Now, a snake does not chew its prey. It has lots of teeth, and there are those dangerous fangs on the poisonous ones, but it cannot chew its food. After it poisons, squeezes, or bites its prey to death, it has the unique ability to unhinge its jaw and swallow its prey whole. It may take several minutes, but then the prey is inside the belly. The belly will be distended, and the snake will not need to eat again for several days. There are even stories of them eating pigs and dogs whole. The snake’s digestive tract will absorb everything, flesh, organs, bones, and all. Birds and mice are a favorite prey of snakes. People are always wary when going to garbage dumps in Africa and India because cobras tend to hang around them and kill rats.
The snake is a cold-blooded animal, which means its body has no internal mechanism for adjusting its tem-perature, like humans and other mammals. The snake, like many reptiles, is influenced by the external temperature, meaning its body’s temperature. I mean, when it’s cold outside, the snake will be just as cold. This is a big reason why you don’t see snakes in very cold places. Heat doesn’t seem to affect them as much as cold, but even in the desert areas of the world, snakes will be near shade most of the time and also near sources of water. Rocky areas are a favorite hiding place as well as inside dead trees. Be careful when hiking anywhere, and never stick your hand into a dark opening without shining a flashlight first to make sure it’s empty.
Another characteristic of snakes is that they shed their skins. As they grow, they get bigger, and their outer layer of skin peels away from their bodies. The snake accomplishes this by rubbing against an object like a rock or tree. Some anacondas have grown over fifty feet long, but most snakes are in the one to ten foot range. Some of the smallest snakes are the most lethal, so don’t let size fool you.
Listen to part of a lecture in a history class.
Professor: Okay, so last class, we finished talking about the Mexican War, which ended with Mexico ceding Arizona, New Mexico. Nevada, and California to the United States. This was the second biggest expansion of the Unrted States, after the Louisiana Purchase in the early nineteenth century. Even before the war ended, the value of California was significantly raised by the discovery of gold there. Now, in those days, gold could be dug or found by individuals who staked out a piece of land or river and paid for the mineral rights. As long as a person worked the land, his claim was valid. This was a holdover from Mexico’s mining customs since the land was Mexican up to that point. Nowadays, big companies have most of the possible gold fields already staked out But the Cali¬fornia Gold Rush, as it came to be called, produced a wave of migration to the west coast of the United States that hastened the entry of California as a member of the Union.
Gold was first found in January 1848, on the American River in the Sierra Nevada hills near Coloma. It was found in the river by some men who were building a lumber mill for a man named Sutter. So it has become known in history as the Sutter’s Mill gold find. Sutter and the other men tried to keep it a secret, but rumors spread, and, by the spring of 1848, the word was out in San Francisco. Men literally dropped their work tools and headed for the American River hoping to strike it rich. The news reached the east coast by the summer, and President James Polk confirmed the rumors in December 1848. Then the rush was on.
San Francisco became the base of, uh, I guess you could say base of operations. The tiny settlement exploded from about 1,000 people to more than 25,000 within two years. Merchants moved in to make profits off the miners. The miners’ nickname was forty-niners since they went there in 1849. Now San Francisco has a football team with the same name. Anyway, men came to get rich, and some did, but most didn’t, losing everything and sometimes their lives in squabbles over miner’s rights and stakes they had claimed. Just getting to California was extremely difficult since there was no intercontinental railway. Sailing around South America, a several-month-long voyage, was fatal for many prospectors. Others sailed to Panama, crossed the danger-ridden isthmus to the Pacific side, and then sailed again for San Francisco. There is no doubt that the building ot the railway was given impetus by the discovery of gold in California.
Besides the railroad, the discovery of gold had other effects. An interesting side note is that blue jeans were first made during the gold rush. Levi Strauss realized the workers needed tough pants for working the gold fields. He had a large shipment of a blue material from France called denim, so he made it into pants, and blue jeans were bom. The most significant result for the United States was that California became a state. Thousands of people descended on the land from other parts of America and even around the world. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the land had been part of Mexico and was still operating under Mexican customs. Sometimes there were disagreements over certain valued areas, and men weren’t above murder to get what they wanted. It was a savage time, and even the Native Americans were driven from their lands by gold hungry prospectors. Technically, the gold was being taken from land that now officially belonged to the United States government. Soon it became obvious that some control was needed, and law officers were hired and a government set up. Soon, there were enough residents to apply for statehood. On September 9, 1850, California became the thirty-first state in the Union.
Did anyone make a profit? Well, certainly the first people to reach the fields and make big discoveries did. Later, people had a harder time, and, by the mid-1850s, almost all the easily accessible gold was taken. Only with a lot of capital and large groups of laborers could someone get to digging up the less accessible gold. Merchants perhaps profited the most from the gold rush, selling equipment to prospectors and providing supplies and lodgings. The long-term results of the California Gold Rush are easy to see. The expansion of the American railway system to the west coast was the biggest. The inclusion of California as a state and the increase in immigration were also results. After the gold rush came a second rush of immigrants seeking land for farming, and I guess you can call this second rush an agricultural rush. But it all came, both agriculture and gold, at the expense of the Native Amencan people, whose numbers were thinned by disease, starvation, and outright murder.