Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Ireland Has No Snakes

Saint Patrick (above in a stained-glass window of St. Mary's cathedral from a picture by Martin Rondell) was supposed to have been the one responsible for ridding Ireland of snakes, after they attacked him on a forty-day fast when he was converting the pagans of Ireland to Christianity. But snakes weren't on Ireland during or even before his time.

Experts say the story is simply an allegory for the riddance of evil symbolized by the snake in religious Christian iconography. Nigel Monaghan of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin says, "At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so there was nothing for St. Patrick to banish. So what was it that really made Ireland snakeless? Geological evidence may provide answers.

Director Mark Ryan of the Louisiana Poison Center at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport says, "There are no snakes in Ireland for the simple reason they couldn't get there because the climate wasn't favorable for them to be there."

Scientists say the recent Ice Age had much to do for keeping snakes away from Ireland (no, it wasn't because they were abused, like what the man in the top-left picture is doing). The last Ice Age kept Ireland too cold for reptiles to live on until the climate became warmer only ten thousand years ago, after which swelling seas kept snakes from moving into the island, which had no land bridge to mainland Europe unlike Great Britain. Only animals like bears, boars, lynxes, and one reptile---the viviparous lizard (pictured here)---got through.

Jump here for news on real snakes found in a plane. No, it's not the movie.

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