Thursday, August 17, 2006

Real Snakes on a Real Plane

"I've actually taken a snake on a plane and it would have made a very boring film. In the mid-'90s, well before 9-11 and tightened security, I put a single, small gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), a harmless species like most U.S. snakes, into my coat pocket and flew to Texas, where I turned it over to a colleague. Not much thrill, academically speaking."

In a recent opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer, snake expert Mike Dorcas says to enjoy Snakes on a Plane--but then get real about the mostly harmless creatures on which the movie's plot hinges. Dorcas is coauthor, with Whit Gibbons, of SNAKES OF THE SOUTHEAST (Dorcas [r] and Gibbons [l] are pictured above).

Dorcas' Charlotte Observer piece goes on to raise some thoughtful questions about our perceptions of nature, especially in light of how many people only brush up against something wild when they see it in a movie. "As a scientist," says Dorcas, "I do find it is sometimes a particular challenge for me to enjoy movies that rely on biologically unlikely scenarios to thrill the audience. But am I planning to go see Snakes on a Plane? Of course I am."

Snakes run amok are nothing new to Dorcas, anyway. "My brother and I accidentally let a rat snake go in my mom's car when we were kids (well, older teens). She found it two weeks later as she was driving--when it stuck it's head out of the air conditioning duct."


There is something almost mystical about our connection to snakes: in how we associate them with nature's elemental forces, how we attribute special qualities to their eyes and skin, and how they preside over all phases of our existence, from creation to death to resurrection. THE SERPENT'S TALE includes some fifty diverse and unusual accounts of snakes from cultures across time and around the globe. Editor Greg McNamee has gathered together writings that range from a prayer in the Egyptian Book of the Dead to a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Suitable for . . . airplane reading?