Monday, March 23, 2009

Green Vipers (Death with no feet)

Image of a small, Chinese Bamboo Viper by Brian B. Chen from the Wikipedia Commons used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 LicenseDear Gentle Reader,

Your humble scribe has shown you Hong Kong's fearsome spiders of the apocalypse and shared both his cockroach horror tale from Taiwan and images of the giant cockroaches of Hong Kong

These stories remind your humble scribe of an altercation with a snake that occurred in Taiwan, near Hong Kong.

First, Taiwan has a lot of poisonous snakes.

Here are the main poisonous snakes that a Taiwanese mountain biking website feels its members should be aware of...

Here are some venomous snakes that Yang Ming Shan National Park thinks are important to warn English-speaking residents about on its website. 

(Yang Ming Shan or Yang Ming Mountain is a mountain/nature reserve just beside Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Your scribe lived directly beside the mountain when he first moved to Taiwan.) 

We had one friend in Taiwan who came home from a night at the bar and found a Chinese Bamboo Viper in front of him after he descended into the balcony before his door.  

Our friend made it through that chance encounter. 

The snake did not.

Another friend, who taught at the American International School, always took a rest in the teacher's lounge between classes. Something did not feel "right" about the cushion one day and, when she stood up to readjust the cushion, a snake reared up.  

In that situation the firemen were called and the snake was captured and identified as venomous. 

Taiwan is a not a country that you want to be a fireman in. 

Even if you can escape long-term cancer from fighting fires in plastic and resin plants, there are always the snake removal jobs to do you in...

And then there was Ned...  

Ned liked exploring the backroads of Taiwan on his 150 cc motorcycle, dodging rogue trucks and betel nut crazed drivers. 

(Aside: Betel nuts (and betel leaves) contain a powerful, natural stimulant which is released by chewing. If you have been driving with no sleep breaks for a couple of days, chewing betel nut will keep you zooming around, but not very safely. 

Chewing the leaves and nuts also released a pigment that stains the user's teeth and lips red. 

You might think it obvious to never get in a taxi when the taxi driver's mouth is apparently dripping blood. 

Many people, surprisingly, do not follow that internal (I presume) and prudent advice. 

Usually they live to regret it. This aside is now over.)

Despite the rogue truck drivers and the crazed, betel nut chewing drivers, Ned loved driving quickly on the ribbon of black asphalt that sinuously wound up, down, and around the mountains of Taiwan. 

On one trip, THLUMP.

Ned drove over a brilliant green snake sunning itself on the black asphalt. 

Ned's motorcycle skittered somewhat from the impact and Ned slowed to a stop to ensure that everything was fine. 

Then Ned looked back.

Lying motionless on the road was a one meter (three foot) long irridescent, emerald snake.

Ned, seeing that the snake did not move and was truly dead, turned in a tight circle, drove back, parked his bike at the side of the road, and bent over to look at his "kill".

Our great hunter picked up the snake; it was beautiful.  

Ned thought that it would be a waste to leave this beautiful snake, so he dropped it into his backpack, to somehow preserve when he finally returned home.

The snake was heavy and lumpy and was bumping against his back through the thin material of his backpack.

After a while Ned became worried about the snake. 

He worried that the snake might rot before he arrived at his destination; things turned bad quickly, in Taiwan, because of the heat.

Ned did not want rotten snake juice running down his back--he had a girl to see.

So, Ned stopped his bike and dismounted.

Ned slung the backpack off his back and dropped it on the ground at his feet.

Ned unzipped the bag and plunged his hand in...


Ned grabbed the snake and held it in front of his eyes one last time...


and he threw the brilliant, green snake into the tall grass beside the road, zipped up the bag, mounted his bike, and drove away. 


Ned told your scribe this story at a party where your scribe first met him. 

Your humble scribe was incredulous.

"What did you mean by 'pristine condition'?" your humble scribe asked Ned.

"Perfect. Not a mark on it." he replied.

"Right..." I said slowly... 

"But, what about the tire tracks?" I asked, after a bit of a pause.

"Tire tracks?"

"You know, tracks in the snake from where your tires hit it?" 

A questioning silence filled the air.

"Depressions with tread marks?" I added helpfully.

"You don't understand" Ned said "it was perfect, that was why I liked it so much. I stil wish that I had brought it home." 

"Right..." I said. "Ummm, you know what snakes are made of, right?"

Snakes are made of muscle, mostly. Sure, they have bone and viscera too, but mostly they are muscle. When they are about to be hit, snakes tense up so that they do not get hurt. Snakes can get run over by cars and survive. They tense up, absorb the impact, get bruised, but survive.

"If a snake is dead from being run over by a car, there will be a big tire and tread mark, or a big trauma wound. Otherwise, that snake might just be playing dead..."

"Of course, after a while, a snake playing dead will try to get away. Or fight if it feels threatened...." 

Ned said nothing, but looked a bit pale.

"I think it was alive the whole time. In fact, it sounds like it was a One Hundred Pacer. You know--it bites you, you take 100 paces, and then the venom kills you." I said with a grin.

In retrospect, I was wrong. 

It was likely a Green, or Chinese, Bamboo Viper.

The Yang Ming Shan tourist information guide says this about the Chinese Bamboo Viper:

"In Taiwan, the green bamboo snake is the number one attacker of humans."

The guide goes on to say that "this viper is not too venomous, with only a 1 to 2% mortality rate". But, and here I am guessing, I suspect that the snake's odds of getting you "for good" increase if it bites your face or your neck...

So now you know.  


The other day your humble scribe was hiking, with some friends, up bamboo-studded mountains here in Hong Kong.

As we were bent over double, to go underneath very low-hanging bamboo that was matted with detritus, a friend's girlfriend, who had grown up in Hong Kong's New Territories, called out to us from the back of the line of hikers...

"Don't thrash about with the sticks so much..."

"You'll anger the green bamboo snakes." 

"Just stamp really hard so the snakes can hear you and they might choose to leave. But, if you see one rise, turn and run. You have one second when their eyes close, as they rise before they strike. Oh--and they'll aim for your face or neck."

Just the sort of thing you want to hear when you are crouched over double in a dark, bamboo, natural tunnel on a disused mountain path that the local old guy, crouched fishing at the stream at the beginning, said was dangerous.

Great. (I think of Ned. I don't want to be dead.)

Don't just worry about the spiders of the apocalypse and the giant cockroaches.

Worry about the snakes, too... ...Death with no feet, sliding silently amongst the bamboo stalks, blending perfectly into the background and the foreground.

...We'll go hiking when you come and visit...

Chris, Regina, and Pommes (who is suddenly pleased to be a housecat in Hong Kong)


Teresa said...

I loved this post, Chris.

It brings back so many memories. Of riding with my father-in-law when he was younger and still chewed betel nut. Of my husband winning my heart and my hand by killing snakes for me. I looked at the links carefully and discovered he saved me from a Green Bamboo Snake, a Krait, and a Habu Tortoise snake in the space of about two months. Actually, I wounded the Habu, but it wouldn't die. It just kept bleeding and thrashing around in the cabin where I was supposed to be cooking a meal for the work crew. My snake-killing prince waltzed in and finished off the predator, thus saving everyone's lunch and winning my undying love. Now I'm not sure why we're thinking of moving back to Taiwan...

floreta said...

so heeby geeby! I tensed up the whole way through your story with Ned! I was just waiting for the moment the 'dead' snake would bite him but I guess he was lucky!! I would be way too scared to pick up a snake for fear they aren't really dead at all.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Teresa,

I am delighted to revive memories, and thanks for sharing them here.

Good luck on deciding whether or not you want to return to Taiwan.

Personally, I do not think that would be possible. The Taiwan of ten years ago is gone and has been replaced. It's still fun, and it is very different.


That is how I was feeling writing it; I am so with you on the fear factor.


Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting. I saw it claimed the other day that pigeons are the only birds that can suck up liquid and that they were once used to suck out snake venom from bites. Honest. That's what they said (on the TV show, QI), but I find it very difficult to believe.

debra said...

What a great story, Chris. We have snakes here, but none venomous. We had a snake that we'd see every Spring; it would slither from our metal roof (warm in the sun) to the old apple tree. One year it had a large lump below its head. We never saw it again.

Then there was the blue eyed snake in the crawl space.....

pattinase (abbott) said...

The only place I ever see snakes is at the zoo. I'm not sure what I would do if I saw one. Probably run.

Lauren said...

Oh my goodness, I can't believe that he did that! When I was first reading the story, I was like...there is NO WAY that thing is dead if it looks so pristine. Ned was so lucky! I have a huge fear of being bitten by a snake while backpacking which is why I always carry my snake-bite kit with me when I am in the woods (which will allow you or a buddy to suck out the poison...which is still very dangerous as you don't want to swallow it).

The betel nut sounds interesting. However, I think I will stick with coffee.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I have a friend whose husband works in Taiwan Chris - better not show her this - can't say I am very fond of snakes myself, particularly bright green ones.

Teresa said...


I know that the Taiwan of almost 20 years ago is gone. And I think we will move back in a couple of years because my in-laws are old and at heart my husband is a dutiful Chinese son.

Lauren, my husband's uncles got my brother to try betel nut when he visited Taiwan for our official engagement ceremony. The uncles had a good laugh; my brother got very sick. So of course he smuggled a box home and did the same thing to his friends. It is really bad on the stomach. My fil had to quit because it gave him very bad ulcers. But it's probably something to try once so you can say you did (or to have a friend or sibling try so you can say they did without getting sick yourself).

gigihawaii said...

One of the good things about Hawaii is there are absolutely no snakes here!

Reb said...

It is very pretty - for a snake. I can't believe the luck that Ned had. I also think I prefer hiking in the least you know if you make enough noise the bears will more go away!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Wonderful Sepiru Chris! You are a brilliant raconteur - how I wish we could get you through the telescope to one of our dinner parties here!

Travis Erwin said...

I prefer my venomous snakes with rattlers so at least I can hear them before I see them.

Jenn Jilks said...

Great story - great sake! Oops, snake...
You'd need one after that story! All of our poisonous snakes rattle, too. Besides, the neighbours killed them all off in the 60s.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Dominic,

Sounds difficult to believe to me too. I'd be interested to know more, though. You don't happen to know any pigeon-fanciers, do you? Are there any academic Bert's in the e-audience? A pigeon doctor in the e-house?

We'll wait and see...

Dear Debra,

Tell me more about the blue eyed snake...

And I feel sorry for the potentially cancerous roof snake, I assume that that bulge was distinctly not a mouse...

Dear Patti Nase,

You never know until it happens to you. The question is, would you run towards the snake for a better look, or away?

Dear Lauren,

I was thinking the same thing the whole time at the party as I was hearing the tale.

Not much use of a kit for a hundred pacer, though...

Dear Weaver of Grass,

But they are remarkably beautiful.

But no, I too am not so keen on the obviously dangerous things if I come upon them unexpectedly, and there is a good chance that I could end up injured.

Dear Teresa,

Ten years for men, twenty for you, lifetimes for Taiwan's culture--although they still have the same games at election time that I never tire of.

If you go, we will visit. North? South? Central? Which district are the in-laws in?

Dear Gigihawaii,

And great surf too...

Dear Reb,

Although some research shows that grizzlies are equating noisy people with food... and changing ecosystems are making some of them quite hungry...

Dear Raph,

Likewise, dear Sir. And I would gladly come if the International Space Station becomes a waystation.

Dear Travis,

I hear you, there.

Dear Jenn,

Too bad about the killing in the sixties, although I suppose your cat is much safer.


Junosmom said...

The next time I go hiking I'll think of you, and be happy to be in Kentucky. We do have venomous snakes, but not many and I've not ever seen one, except in displays in aquariums.

Teresa said...

Hi Chris,

My parents-in-law are in Chung-li just South of the Chiang Kai-Shek airport. We would move back to Taiwan for several years, I expect. I suppose where we locate would depend on availability of jobs. I lived in Taipei for 4 years before I was married and then in Chung-li for another 4 years. Most of my husband's siblings are in the Chung-li/Taoyuan area, but the family stems from the countryside between Hsinchu and Miaoli. A lot of relatives live in Toufen. They're Hakka.

I think where we live will depend, too, on his parents' situation. If they are doing pretty well, we have talked about locating in the Taichung area. If they need round-the-clock attention, we will be in Chung-li taking our turns at elder care.

I enjoy Taiwan election-watching, too. My father-in-law, one sister-in-law and several nieces all like to get involved in the campaigns. They've made great improvement in democratic thinking over the past twenty years. The first free election in 1988 or 1989, the family counted up all the bribes collected and apportioned their votes to each candidate based on monetary value of gifts and red envelopes!!! Now they actually inform themselves about issues and make up their own minds.

Heidelweiss said...

Is Ned, by chance, a brick short of a load ;). He REALLY didn't think through the tire track issue? I was laughing so hard at that part of the story. Those snakes (our fave around here, the star of Will's "Poison" book), are so beautiful so I can't blame Ned for wanting to pick it up. The fact that he actually did it...

Teresa said...

Hey Chris,

Since you live in Asia, can you recommend some newer hot spots in Taipei? One of my young classmates will be spending a month there this summer and asked for my thoughts. Aside from election watching, what would you (or blog readers) recommend?


Sepiru Chris said...

Hello Heidelweiss,

Ned's name has been changed.

I recall being in shock when I heard the story, too.

Dear Teresa,

As much as the Heroine would love to return, we have not been back in Taiwan in ages and it changes too fast to give specific advice.

Let me think about it and I'll post an answer next week.


Barrie said...

I am so not a snake person. But...I did enjoy the post!

debra said...

We live in a very old house----1830's or so. There is a crawlspace under the kitchen floor----the kitchen was originally a summer kitchen that was enclosed some 45 years ago. My husband was putting in a heating duct. He opened the crawlspace door, steeling himself for the claustrophobic crawl. He entered the space, headlamp on, and came face to face with the snake, blue eyes and all. He knows no more about it, since he exited the space post haste. The next time he went in, the snake was in the distance, but paid him no mind.
And that, my friend, is the brief and uneventful story of the snake with blue eyes.

Barbara Martin said...

Great post! Now I know what to add to my hiking and nature posts. Something worse than bears.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Barrie,

Glad you enjoyed it!

Dear Debra,

I have a great image! Thanks for sharing that. Maybe I will share an old snake story of my own!

Dear Barbara,

Bears you see coming, snakes... not often...


Sebastian said...

Hi! Just passing through, from Floreta's blog.

You write prolifically, on interesting topics, in great detail.

Therefore, you have won my interest. With practice, and patience, you might yet win my love too!

Bill said...

It’s always interesting to read stories about life in Taiwan, but I feel compelled to comment on some misinformation in this blog entry…

1. First, a technical point…Taiwan doesn’t have a lot of poisonous snakes. In fact, Taiwan doesn’t have ANY poisonous snakes. You can eat them all, and suffer no ill effects. (In fact, people here still do eat snakes on occasion.) What it does have is VENOMOUS snakes. But since most of these are nocturnal, your chances of coming across them in the day are very small indeed.
2. Sorry to hear your drunken friend killed a Green Tree Viper. These creatures are truly awesome to behold, and I always feel privileged when I come across one at night. The animal is just out looking for frogs, inadvertently finds itself on land that used to be its habitat, and gets clubbed to death by a drunken homo sapiens, with whom it had zero interest whatsoever. Wonderful.
3. The snake your buddy Ned ran over with his bike was not a Green Tree Viper (Trimeresurus stejnegeri stejnegeri). They don’t grow to be a meter long. Moreover, since they’re nocturnal, they wouldn’t be out sunning themselves during the day. The snake he hit was a totally harmless (non-venomous) Greater Green Snake (Cyclophiops major). They’re ubiquitous in Taiwan, grow to be a meter long and are diurnal.
4. You don’t need signs of injury or “a big trauma wound” to have a dead snake. I’ve personally seen dozens of DORs (dead on road snakes) that had no external/visible signs of injury, but were just as dead as the ones that had guts spilling out from all sides. All it takes is for one of its internal organs to suffer a mortal wound, and you have a DOR. By the way, some species of snake DO feign death to escape their predators. The Greater Green Snake isn’t one of them.
5. Your Hong Kong friend was a particularly rich vein of misinformation. First of all, while snakes can “hear” vibrations (despite not having external ears), Green Tree Vipers would be sleeping during the day, and the advice to stamp the ground would be counter-productive. As for having “one second when their eyes close” to run…good luck with that advice. Snakes’ eyes NEVER close. They don’t have eyelids. There’s no reason to run from GTVs, either. They’re tiny, and you could take a single step backwards to put all the distance you needed to between the snake and you to be safe. The LAST thing this creature would do is go out of its way to attack something as large as a homo sapiens that isn’t even on its diet. See point #2 to see how these encounters with humans tend to work out for the snake. And GTV’s don’t “aim for your face or neck”. If one actually did “rise before they strike” and aimed at your face, you’d have to be a mere 50 cm tall to be in danger of a viper-kiss. That’s about as long as they get. They are arboreal, however, and could strike out at any perceived threat that came too close. But that’s a whole lot different than “aiming at your face and neck.”
6. To the person who carries around a “snake-bite kit”…Throw it away, it’s useless. Here’s why:

Taiwan has an amazingly rich variety of snakes. In fact, over 50 species on this one small island! Here’s hoping the folks lucky enough to enjoy this fantastic wildlife take steps to preserve and protect it for future generations! If you’re interested in further information about all of Taiwan’s snakes, please check out . It’s under construction at the moment, but will be up shortly and will have information, photographs, videos etc. of all of Taiwan’s snakes!