Wondrous Wildlife
The Eyes Have It
By Vern and Lori Gieger

     Things are not always what they appear to be. Many wild animals are masters of disguise. It is amazing to look at something and think you know what it is, then take a second look, and say to yourself ah ha, it’s a . . .
     This was the case with our most recent temporary houseguest. Escaping from his “enclosure” one to many times and causing chaos, he came to us, injured and unwanted. The owner pointed out how pretty he was, and how friendly he was, as we all held him and chatted about his general species...how important they are to eco system etc.
At first glance, we thought it was a corn snake, thinking ok, with a little TLC he’d be ready for release in a very short time. But, something didn’t seem quite right; the head shape just didn’t fit, the coloration and pattern was unusual, and his body was so slender.
Finally, I ask, “Como se llama?” (“What is it called?”)
     “Oh, se llama Falso cascabel.” (“Oh, it a false rattlesnake.”) Cascabel?! Seeing the look on my face, as Vern is cradling “the little darling” in his arms, the owner assured me it was quite harmless.
     Once I recovered from my near heart attack, and “the little darling” was treated and resting comfortably in his “escape proof cage,” we started questioning what kind of snake he really was. We are familiar with local snakes, their appearance, as well as their common and proper names, but had not heard of a “falso cascabel” or observed one with this type of coloration. Since he was in the process of shedding his old skin, making his eyes cloudy, and difficult to see, identification was that much more difficult.
     Having our suspicions, we decided to ask the experts at the Rehab Center in Guadalajara. They confirmed our suspicions; it indeed was an “ojo del gato” (cat-eyed snake). Venomous? Yes. (But not a serious threat to humans.) Typically, cat-eye snakes are native to the coastal area of Jalisco.
     While cat-eye snakes are slightly venomous, they do not have an effective delivery system. They have small grooved fangs near the back of the upper jaw; aided by gravity the venom drips down into the open wound. A blotchy patterned snake, with golden beige and sandy colors, it can at first glance, be mistaken for a rattlesnake. Hence the nickname “Falso Cascabel.”
     In appearance, they do mimic the rattlesnake, which may protect them from natural predators; the lack of a “rattle” makes them easy for us to distinguish. Despite their resemblance to a rattlesnake, they are named for their eyes; they have vertical pupils, like those of a cat.
     Having been in captivity he was somewhat accustomed to people, and did not feel threatened by our presence. Interestingly, it is common for venomous snakes to be quite calm and tolerant, not attempting to bite. (Unprovoked.) Most venomous snakes are reluctant to use their venom in defense, as it takes time and energy to replenish their supply, and that could mean missing a much needed meal. Approximately 25% of the time when venomous snakes bite in defense, they deliver what is called a dry bite, no venom is injected.
     Although this experience is not without an adrenaline rush, it has reaffirmed that just because a snake is venomous doesn’t make it a malevolent creature, just waiting to attack.