Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns can be found here.
There’s almost three feet of ice-snow pack on the ground where I live, Dear Ones. I am so thirsty for color. I just painted my nails “Tidal Wave.” Desperate times, desperate measures, folks. Cabin fever and winter-weariness affects so many of my friends and students who, like me, are NOT skiers and would rather not be outside in the negative nine-degree weather. So it’s no surprise this week’s column features an animal known for its burst of chartreuse green, and for sounding like a forgotten superhero: the green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps).
I had heard of this snake because of course it’s always trotted out on those “deadliest animals” shows on cable. But last month, while I was teaching a month-long class in UNC-Wilmington’s astounding creative writing program, I happened upon the Cape Fear Serpentarium. I couldn’t resist the rickety wooden sign and, once inside, the creeping and the slithering (although truthfully, since most of the creatures inside are nocturnal, the slithering was fairly rare on a morning visit). For my money, the serpentarium’s jeweled star was the diurnal green mamba, swish-and-sliding around to get a better look at the gaping visitors who ooohed and ahhhed over his bright color—by far the brightest snake in the entire building. I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about the dazzling green of the green mamba—the likes of which I’ve simply never seen before on this planet.
When I say the mamba is green, I mean:
See why I was drawn to this green during one of the bleakest winters in recent memory? This is some serious apple green. Kermit the Frog green. Grass green. Green mambas grow to about six to seven feet long and are found in southeast Africa, usually preferring the shade of the dense branches of a cashew or mango tree. Mamba heads are flat and said to be ‘coffin-shaped’ and the green mamba’s head is no exception, but it also has a particularly defined canthus—the ridge from the snake’s nostril up along where you’d almost expect an eyebrow to rest above their vibrant (unblinking) yellow eye.
Skip to 1:05 to get a taste of the mamba in motion and its fierce eyes. But caution to the squeamish if you watch longer than that—a real?/simulated bite happens and I don’t want you to scream and scare your co-workers!
When newly hatched, the baby snakes are practically a ridiculous shade of turquoise, but don’t let that beauty draw you too close. The green mamba’s venom can kill a person in just over a half an hour after working to halt your lungs. Which is why, in this very rare instance in this column, I was perfectly content to have a nice thickness of glass separating me and that bright ribbon as it stretched and fussed over just where he might decide to settle in that day for an afternoon nap.
And now it’s your turn, Dear Ones: What animal have you been lucky and amazed to observe from behind the safety of a pane of glass? Let me know in the comments below!