Thirteen years ago I was seated at the round table at what was then Tyler’s Restaurant in Opelika. I was attending a meeting of oldtimers collectively known as the “Geneva Street Think Tank.”
It met on weekday afternoons, and its members included several well-known Lee County residents, several of whom are now deceased. The latter included Winston SmithT, General Alfred Harrison, Merrell Jones, Willie Cosby and Bill Triplett.
During the meeting the subject of animals believed by some to be dangerous arose. Bob Sanders, who at the time was conducting the meeting, queried me. “Mount, you write about critters of various kinds, but you haven’t warned about venomous lamp eels, the eels with legs. Why not?”
I responded that the animals to which he was referring were actually harmless salamanders of several species. “I’ve been bitten a few times by so-called lamp eels and have suffered no ill effects.”
Sanders replied, “You must be one of the few who are immune to lamp eels’ venom. My granddaddy told me he knew of an elderly man who was bitten by a lamp eel, and he died before they could get him to a doctor, and granddaddy wouldn’t tell a tale.”
Merrell Jones spoke up. “How come you haven’t warned people about blue-tailed scorpions, and ones with red heads, both of which are poisonous?” Another member added, “And what about those changeable scorpions, the ones that can switch colors back and forth between green and brown?”
I informed them that such critters are not scorpions but are lizards and are harmless, except possibly when ingested. I told them I had read reports of cats having gone into convulsions after consuming blue-tailed lizards.
One member said, “Where I grew up, there was this orange worm called a thousand-leg. We were told it’d try to count your teeth and if it succeeded you would die.”
Jones piped up and said, “I ain’t never seen a worm with a thousand legs, and if there was one it couldn’t see good enough to count your teeth unless you stuck it in your mouth.”
Then there ensued a heated debate about “glass snakes,” which are actually legless lizards. On one side were those who believed that when a ‘glass snake’ is killed, it will break into writhing little pieces, each one of which will grow into a new individual. On the other side were some who contended that precisely at the stroke of midnight, the pieces would miraculously reunite, in correct sequence, and a new ‘snake’ would result and crawl away as if nothing happened.
Sanders, using his coffee cup as a gavel, banged it on the table and said, “Let’s change the subject. There’s no way we can settle this without evidence one way or the other.”
Then Jones spoke up. “I’ve got evidence. I killed a glass snake once and stayed up till midnight watching the pieces. They didn’t come back together, and they didn’t make any new snakes.”
“What about what some consider the most feared animal in North America, the dreaded snow snake?” a member asked. I’d never heard of a snow snake, nor had any others seated at the table. “Well,” he elaborated, “the snow snake lives in cold climates and will seek an exposed body orfice of an individual, such as an anus, and upon finding one, will quickly enter it and freeze the victim to death.
Sanders arose, banged his cup on the table, and said, “Now I’ve heard everything. Meeting is adjourned.”
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.