How close is too close? It is amusing to witness how close some photographers get to snakes, of all, vipers. It is quite clear, for them the dopamine kick of likes on social media takes precedence over safety of both self and the subject.
I was no exception. Only difference was I didn’t do it for social media, but worse – I didn’t know why I was doing whatever I was doing. As I think of it today, the only thing that is clear is it was sheer crazy ignorance.
Back then, for some strange reason I presumed pit vipers were harmless or at most mildly venomous – who told me? Some half-baked ‘self proclaimed’ naturalist. What did I do? Believed him blindly and got close, closer and closest to this snake (featured image above is ‘that’ image) – uncropped, shot from a 100mm lens meaning I was just a feet away. Leave alone the misadventure, I failed to realise the harm I was causing the snake.
Do I regret it? Of course. Now, when I think of it two years later, there can’t be a more stupid thing to do. Let me tell you why..
First and foremost, it is absolutely annoying for the snake. Too close for comfort. When was the last time, you enjoyed a stranger physically entering your personal space? Now, imagine if this stranger isn’t someone/something you recall encountering before in your lifetime. Further, the place of this unwelcomed occurrence is in your own home. Even worse, you have been starving for hours or days and just when you thought the meal arrived, this stranger appeared instead. You can imagine how that feels like.
While I am guilty of anthropomorphising the scene here, it best describes what presumably happened. No, generally snakes don’t strike unless unduly and unnecessarily provoked, for instance in this manner. This is obvious and commonsensical but somehow many of us just don’t seem to buy this point. Funny isn’t it!?
Now, coming to the snake. The Malabar pit viper is endemic, and in absolute sense. It is not uncommon to find the same snake around the same tree or shrub or rock for many days. These nocturnal ambush predators are known for their patience. Taking advantage of excellent camouflage, they can wait for hours and sometimes days for a meal. Amidst this death race between this predator and prey, barring scientific study or nature enthusiasts brief observations/quick succession photographic records, don’t you think it would be a crime to come in the way causing disturbance?
Third, coming to speak of it, it is not clear if a malabar pit viper’s bite could prove fatal for humans. However, you are sure not excused from pain and swelling for a few days. Leave alone the trauma and fatigue related impacts on health. Though it is common to see a pit viper still, with occasional slow movement, the strikes are fast, really fast. To give you a perspective, blink of an eye typically lasts an average 220 milliseconds and a person who blinks (all of us do) is likely to not see the strike coming. You know what I mean!?
(Additional reading – I came across this educative article published on a credible website: https://jlrexplore.com/explore/from-the-field/snakebite-prevention-and-treatment-2)
Now that, I have alerted you enough, let us get to the awe part. Pit vipers are one of finest evolutions to witness in the wild. I have seen Malabar Pit Vipers in Green and Brown morphs but there is at least one more, the rare yellow morph. What is distinct is the thermal range finding pits, as big as their eyes. Capable of detecting radiation from as much as a metre away, this acts as an excellent mechanism to disclose both a warm-blooded prey as well as a predator.
As I conclude this microblog, I believe the idea behind this misadventure of clicking a head-on shot must have been to show you, my audience this marvellous creation of pits. Stupid but nevertheless, hope this blog creates enough awareness to exercise caution and discipline in addition to leaving you in awe of this magnificent species.
Place: Amboli, Maharashtra, India
Season: Monsoon of 2017
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