I hate snakes!
I know, I know,”hate” is a strong word. But everyone is afraid of something. For me, it’s heights and SNAKES!
I’m fine with the horses, on every corner, here on Vieques Island. They are beautiful. I’ve even grown very fond of the green iguanas that are scurrying all around. I don’t even go all wiggy when I see a spider. But snakes…eeek!!! Maybe I have watched too many Indiana Jones
When we were in Belize there were snakes everywhere. We were told that when the most venomous viper, the fer-de-lance
, bites someone, it means certain death if that “someone” is over 50 years old. Gulp! I found a squished one on the road when I was out running one morning. It took me about a week to get over it, and I did pool exercise the rest of the time we were there. Double eeek!!!
But wait. I don’t have even a trace of bad snake thoughts here on Vieques, because this tiny, beautiful island has absolutely no snakes. Not one. They probably don’t even sell gummy worms in the grocery stores. It’s one of the reasons I love it here.
It wasn’t always like this. In fact, back in the 1870s, when there were sugar plantations
here, there were snakes and an infestation of rats who loved to eat the sugar cane.
So, an enterprising Puerto Rican sugar cane farmer had a brilliant idea when he imported 9 little furry mongooses from India to eat the rats. They did such a good job with the rats, that the farmer started breeding them and selling them to neighboring islands. The rum industry was saved and the mongooses were the heroes of the Caribbean.
There is no doubt that these frisky little creatures are great at destroying rats, but when they are face-to-face with any kind of serpent, they become super prize fighters!
They are snake annihilators!
They are…my heroes!
Note: I think Speedy Gonzales was part mongoose. These little guys are fast! Thank goodness we have a great friend named Mike Hopkins who has, through time photography, captured some wonderful photos of the mongoose here on Vieques Island. Thank you, Mike!
Photo by Mike Hopkins, Travel Thru My Eyes
About the Mongoose
Mongooses are long furry creatures with a pointy face and a bushy tail. They are a little like a rat or ferret, but not exactly. They are similar to squirrels, but different. They resemble weasels, but really are not anything like them. It’s hard to describe mongooses. Despite popular belief, mongooses are not rodents. They belong to the Herpestidae family, which also includes civets and meerkats. There are 34 species of mongooses and they range in size from 7 inches to 2 feet long.
Natively, mongooses are from Africa and Asia, but were introduced to the Caribbean and Hawaii to save the sugar cane industry. Yay!
Many varieties of mongooses live in large groups called colonies. Each colony can have as many as 50 members. And being so social, they love to chatter…incessantly. They communicate with each other about foraging information, threats and group movements.
Mongooses are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals. They love to munch down on small animals such as birds, fish, crabs, rodents, frogs, insects, worms and reptiles, like iguanas, and snakes…don’t forget the snakes. When a mongoose gets into a nest of eggs, they are known to pick them up and crack them on sharp objects or rocks before feasting. So they’re pretty smart as well.
Although there hasn’t been much research done on the reproduction habits of the mongoose, their gestation period is 42 to 105 days, and they give birth to between one and four babies at a time. Baby mongooses are called pups and a group of them is called a litter. They become fully mature at 9 months to 2 years and live generally from 5 to 10 years in the wild.
While we haven’t been able to snap any pictures of them, we’ve seen several mama mongooses with their babies scampering across the roads.
And speaking of the bambinos, much like bratty children in the grocery store screaming for candy, mongoose pups often chirp, squeal and whine at their mamas when there is a choice piece of food that they want. And, just like harried human mothers, mongoose mamas eventually give in to keep peace in the colony.
Celebrity Mongooses – VIA (Very Important Animals)
I can’t say that the mongoose in mainstream culture has really ever been on my radar. I guess I’m just not “with it,” because this frisky creature is celebrated in many ways.
Botswana, Jamaica and Grenada and several other countries, all have stamps featuring the mongoose.
The German military has an armored multi-purpose vehicle
called the Mongoose. These machines have been deployed throughout missions in Afghanistan.
An American manufacturer called Mongoose
makes parts for BMX bicycles.
When Fidel Castro was in power in Cuba, the CIA mission to capture and take him out was called, “Operation Mongoose
.” It failed, and eventually Lyndon Johnson axed the operation.
Literary Mongoose Muses
DH Lawrence climbed mulberry trees in the nude. Charles Dickens had two ravens, two St. Bernard’s, two Newfoundland’s, a spaniel, a mastiff, a Pomeranian, a cat, a canary, and a pony. Katherine Anne Porter kept a brightly painted Mexican pine coffin in her apartment during her later years (she reached the age of 90). Flannery O’Connor chased butterflies and raised peacocks.
But every true Bohemian, like Anton Chekhov, needs a mongoose.
Chekhov named his Svoloch. In a letter, the frisky pet was described as “a mixture of rat and crocodile, tiger and monkey.” Chekhov kept the critter for a little over a year and finally ended up donating Svoloch to the Moscow zoo.
In the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
, Juno Diaz uses the mongoose as a ethereal super hero that represents the courage and resilience of the “little guy.” In this awesome book, the mongoose appears in a golden light, and becomes a fantastic force for good.
Without a doubt, mongooses are popular and literary, but what makes them legendary (in my book) is their ability to fight and kill snakes! With their nimble paws and precise bite, mongooses are able to force any snake to take a non-existent knee! Rattlesnakes, cobras…you name it, like the honey badger, the mongoose “don’t care.”
With a speedy paw stroke the mongoose attacks a snake’s fangs, and after all, a snake without fangs is pretty useless in a fight.
Some scientists believe that the mongoose’s thick coat and specialized acetylcholine
receptors make them immune to snake venom.
I guess when Mother Nature was handing out superpowers to the animal kingdom, the mongoose was first in line.
It’s worked out nicely for me.
Each morning as I walk / run all around the island, I have no fear knowing that these incredible creatures are scampering in the jungle, in the background, clearing the island pathways of any vipers that might be a threat.
Thank you, mongooses of Vieques! You rock!