View slideshow Snake dissection encourages reptilian curiosity: A most unusual experience
Junior, biology teacher investigate native species
During a dissection of a Western rattlesnake Sept. 4, junior Brett Lewis and biology teacher Bill McGowen examine the snake's organs in order to find out its gender. Lewis found and shot the snake while dove hunting.
This is the fifth of an occassional series outlining the most unusual experiences of the FC community.
Most children are fascinated by what is inside of animals, but junior Brett Lewis uses dissecting to satisfy this elemental curiosity. Lewis brought a western rattlesnake (crotalus viridis) to dissect with biology teacher Bill McGowen on Sept. 4, taking a slithery window of opportunity to investigate the gooey side of the animal kingdom.
Lewis found and killed the snake with a 12-gauge shotgun while dove hunting on a Northeast foothill ranch he was visiting. The snake was among rocks under a tree, shielding itself from the blazing sun.
"On our walk back from hunting we stumbled across the snake, it was three feet away," Lewis said. "The snake was coiled up and shaking its rattle getting ready to strike. I had to defend myself so I killed it."
The snake was about four feet long after Lewis removed the head. The species usually manifests as a medium snake with a brown or slightly greenish-brown skin. On its back, the reptile had large rounded blotches, and black and white crossbars on the tail. According to Lewis, people he met were surprised to see the snake.
"My mom freaked out, but she freaks out at the smallest things," Lewis said. "When we came home about an hour later the snake was still moving and I guess that is what freaked her out. Others had different opinions, most thought it was cool; it was the first snake to be dissected at Fresno Christian."
Lewis kept the snake in a double Ziploc bag on ice inside of a shoebox when brought to school. Lewis immediately took the snake to McGowen's room in hopes that a dissection would be conducted.
"I opened the box and immediately put it in the refrigerator next to my lunch," McGowen said. "I was so excited about helping Brett to dissect it during lunch that day, I could barely hold it in."
The dissection was used as an anatomy lesson for both Lewis and McGowen to learn about the different internal organs of the snake.
"We learned about what internal organs the snake has and the similarities between humans and snakes," McGowen said. "[Dissecting] is science in real-life and I love this stuff! Or I wouldn't be a biology teacher."
"The insides [of the snake] were mostly red and smelled awful. The organs were all mushy, wet and gooey which was very interesting." --sophomore Brett Lewis
Lewis has a distinctive memory of his dissecting lesson that would -- and did -- make many students cringe.
"The insides were mostly red and smelled awful," said Lewis. "The organs were all mushy, wet and gooey which was very interesting. Everything was all spread out in the body and not where you would expect it. I do remember that the gall bladder was dark green in color. I found this interesting since everything else was red."
Lewis has not dissected anything in several years, but he says he was anxious to reconnect to his scientific side.
"The last time I dissected something was a chicken wing [in Mr. Richard's 7th grade science class]," Lewis said. "I remember that you can pull on a certain muscle and the chicken's wing would move. The skills from 7th grade definitely helped me in this experience. It was kind of nasty [to dissect the snake] but it was cool to see its insides, I would do it again."
Since the beginning of the dissection, both McGowen and Lewis were fascinated to learn the gender of the snake.
"It is hard to tell if the snake is male or female," said Lewis. "The only way to tell is dissection to look for certain organs. We couldn't really tell what the gender was, but decided it was male."
Lewis uses pliers to the cut the skin of the rattlesnake. After shooting and cutting open the snake, Lewis and McGowen examined the snake's gooey insides.
McGowen used the dissection as an opportunity to teach his third period class about the snake. Freshmen Nick Baladjanian says he was entertained by this unique activity while some were a bit squeamish.
"It was awesome to see McGowen dissect the snake because you could see its guts coming out," said Baladjanian. "I would dissect anything and [later this year] I can't wait for the frog dissection it will be so much fun."
Rattlesnakes generally shed their skin one to three times a year, the dead skin creating the rattle. The rattle twitches twenty to one hundred times per second. Depending on the body temperature of the snake, the rattle will speed up with warmth and slow down with cold.
"This snake had thirteen rattles," McGowen said. "The snake is most likely somewhere between three to ten years old, but we cannot be sure."
West of Texas, there are eight subspecies of this rattlesnake, all very poisonous, that can cause injury or even death. Lewis says in the future he will be aware of his surroundings and watch out for unfriendly neighbors.
"When you come up on a snake don't scream," Lewis said. "Stay still and be careful, I will be aware of snakes [when in their natural habitat]."
This species of rattlesnake often avoids contact with predators unless hunting. Humans are usually only bitten if they provoke the snake. When traveling in warm, rocky areas, Lewis advises being aware of snakes, as they often surprise people.
For more information, check out animaldiversity.com.
For other unusual experiences, read I ran away once: A most unusual experience or click on the related articles link in the information box at the top of each article.