The Truth behind Snake-Charming

Actually, standing is natural to a cobra. Most species can rise to approximately one third of their body lengths. Dr. Wolfgang Wuster, a cobra researcher at the University of Whales, says that standing is the natural defensive posture of the cobra. This is a kind of warning signal to the enemies. The scientist explains that a cobra that has been in a basket for a while will rear up its body when the lid is removed. This is a natural response of the startled snake. Also, the cobra may spread a hood, another element of the defensive posture, by spreading its ribs located in the neck under elastic skin. 

In a “charming” situation, the cobra seems to be hypnotized by the pleasant sounds of the flute. Scientists say that cobras cannot hear the way people do. However, they are very sensitive to vibrations and, perhaps, are able to feel the music. Indeed, the cobra responds to the sight rather than to the sound of the flute. What the snake actually does is matching the movements of the snake charmer. 

Probably, the strangest thing is how the snake charmer manages to take control of the venomous snake so that it does not inflict a deadly bite. •Herpetologists•explain this with the fact that cobras are defensive, and not aggressive. “Cobras are generally reluctant to strike, and many specimens will rear up for a considerable period of time when cornered, but will not attempt to strike,” says Wolfgang Wuster. “Second, the flute is a rather hard object, and once the cobra has bitten it a few times, it will probably learn that this is both painful and futile, and desist in future.” 

Contrary to how scary it looks, avoiding a cobra’s bite is not too hard to an experienced snake charmer. According to Wolfgang Wuster, the cobra’s striking range cannot reach further than one third of its body length, that is the height of the snake when it is standing. So the charmer will know how far from the cobra he should sit. In comparison, the attack of a rattlesnake may be much more dangerous because its range is half its body length.

Furthermore, the biting technique of the cobra makes its attack more easily predictable than the attack of a rattlesnake. And once predicted, the attack can be avoided. “Vipers (such as rattlesnakes) strike outward in a punching movement,” explains Darryl Frost, curator in the Department of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “Cobras tend to bite downward from standing–the same movement as if you set your bent elbow on a table and swung your hand downward. It’s slower and easier to predict.” 

Even if a snake charmer were bitten, the bite would not necessarily cause much damage. While some cobras have venom that is 20 times as powerful as that of a rattlesnake, it is difficult to assess the potency of such venom exactly, since the deadliness of a bite depends on a variety of factors relating both to the victim and to the snake. Fortunately, cobras do not have an appetite for people–we are too large for them to swallow us whole. That is why cobras generally avoid any contact with people and prefer mice, frogs, lizards, small fish, birds and eggs of birds, etc. 

Often, cobras are the ones who suffer from their seemingly “charmed” life. Of course, there are some people who take care of their snakes. In many cases, however, cobras are treated very badly by snake charmers. Many charmers extract the fangs from the cobras, which is a very dangerous job, because the cobra must be caught–certainly not an occupation for the weak-hearted–and some even sew their mouths shut! What is more, many snake charmers do not feed their snakes, but catch new ones as soon as the old ones die.