will cure those spots you have on your face, and if you have cancer
it will help that, too," asserts the old woman with her gapping
smile. She thrusts the glass jar in your car window, "Fifty pesos."
just outside of Matehuala, is dotted with clusters of snake oil
vendors hawking assorted serpentine and wildlife products. But the
car-halting attraction is the lurid display of rattlesnake corpses
dangling by the dozens off of wooden railings. "One hundred and
twenty pesos," states the vendor noting your glance at a five-foot
dried and complete rattlesnake carcass. She brings it to you, making
sure you note its tail which bears six rings of rattle.
are a modern day incarnation of a thousand-year-old relationship
that has existed between Mexicans and snakes. As medicine for physical
afflictions, snakes have been greatly recognized and utilized. But
their potency in the spiritual world of Mexico is even more renown.
From the Toltec serpent-god, Kukulcan, which creeps down the side
of the Kukulcan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza, to the Aztec god of wisdom,
Quetzalcóatl, manifested as a feathered serpent, the snake appears
repeatedly in Mexican mythology. Some anthropologists have suggested
that the patroness of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe, is an incarnation
of the snake goddess, Cihuacoatl (Snake Woman), upon whose sacred
ground the Virgin was seen.
their cultural aspects, the snakes in Mexico are noteworthy from
a zoological perspective, especially the rattlesnakes-viperidae.
"Mexico is habitat for the largest variety of rattlesnakes in the
world: thirty-one different species," claims herpetologist David
Lazcano Villarrea, at the University of Nuevo Leon. "And while different
species of rattlesnakes can be found in all parts of Mexico, one
of the rarest-crotalus tranversus-is found in the nearby environs
of Mexico City," Professor Lazcano proudly declares. When asked
how dangerous are rattlesnakes in Mexico, the professor immediately
becomes defensive on the behalf of his fanged friends. "Snakes haven't
done anything to harm nature the way humans have. If people leave
rattlesnakes alone, they won't get bit." However, he does estimate
that between 500-600 deaths a year in Mexico are from snakebites.
But these are not all from rattlesnakes.
the most dangerous genus of snake in Mexico is micrurus fulvius
tenere-the coral snake, of which there are fourteen species in Mexico.
Coral snakes, as the name suggests are colorful and mostly found
in the tropics of Oaxaca, though not entirely, as one species is
found as far north as the state of Nuevo Leon. Additionally, various
species of boas are found throughout Mexico; for example, one commonly
known boa constrictor is the "bull snake, which is only feeds on
rodents," points out Professor Lazcano. Other non-venonmous snakes
are king snakes, glossy snakes, patch-nose snakes, and garter snakes
to name just a few. All together, herpetologists have identified
an impressive sum of almost 500 snake varieties in Mexico.
the most fascinating snakes, according to the professor, is a little
blind snake--lepthlops dulcis. This tiny serpent--the smallest in
the world--surfaces after heavy rains and would easily be mistaken
for a ordinary worm lying on the pavement next to puddles, but when
inspected carefully by a herpetologist, it clearly shows tiny vertebrae
at the end of its tail. These small snakes live in and survive off
of ant and termite nests.
reputedly a tasty dish, is not a regular part of Mexican cuisine.
Nonetheless, the snake vendor, at your car window, determined to
make a sale, persists with "Ok. I'll add these packets of dried
snake meat to the snake oil-all for 50 pesos." You wonder about
the karma of eating snake, but then you consider the medicinal merits
that the old woman attributes now to the snake meat as well as the
snake oil. You hand over the fifty pesos, receive the snake oil
and meat, and turn to say "Thank you" to the weathered old woman.
Is it just your imagination? She is smiling, looking strangely god-like:
Is it Cihuacoatl, you wonder, or is it the sunlight playing tricks
on you? You drive on.
Copyright Sheila Maynes