The Sleepless Snake
The sleepless snake, Anguis Insomnis, is one of nature’s most mysterious creatures. When they are born, the baby snakes are a pristine white. But as they grow older, their scales become jet black. Starting from around the eyes, the sleepless snake has more and more of it’s scales turn black each time it sheds its skin, until finally, there is no white left.
Their venom gets stronger as they grow older, too, and when more than half of their body has turned black, the snakes change sex, from male to female.
The sleepless snake was given its name because of the fact that it never closes its eyes. But recent studies suggest that the snake truly never sleeps. A large number of animals had their brainwaves monitored for 24, 48 and 72 hours respectively ,by a group of researchers at the Shanghai institute for snakology, and none of them showed brain activity that might indicate sleep.
Today, the sleepless snake is found almost exclusively in central Asia. Hoewever, fossil records, combined with recent biomolecular findings, indicate that the snake once ranged through the whole Eurasian continent. It is believed that the last ice-age greatly reduced the snake’s area of distribution, decimating the population in Europe, and forcing it to seek shelter in the warmer south in Asia. As the climate got warmer again, populations spread north once more.
Under the Ming Zhao dynasty (714 B.C to 497 B.C), the snake was considered a sacred animal. Historians believe that the black makeup woman wore at that time, in varying degrees of skin-coverage, was an act to honor and revere the snake.
Ancient texts from the Ming Zhao attribute various powers to the snake. It is believed that its scales have the power to make one fertile. The white ones for the men, the black ones for the women, they were administered as-is, to be swallowed whole one hour before conception.
It’s venom was believed to hold the secret to immortality. The more potent the poison was, the stronger its powers were believed to be, and completely black snakes were worth a fortune. The texts indicate that the royal family kept thousands of snakes in captivity, to harvest for their medicine.
Recent studies have discovered that there might be some truth to the legends around the snake. A detailed analysis of its venom has shown that it contains a large amount of telomerase. Telomerases cut off the strands of DNA capping our chromosomes, called telomere. This telomere is a kind of buffer, before the important code on the chromosome. Every time cells divide and chromosomes get duplicated, they loose a bit of their telomere, and this phenomenon is one of the candidates who might be responsible for the aging of the body.
But when the venom cuts the telomere, the cell sees this as an attack, and restores the telomere to ~1.5 time their former length, more than compensating for the bits that were lost during normal cell activity. Although the venom in itself is highly toxic, if the telomerase where purified correctly, and dosed right, it might prolong life.
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