Field Museum's newest curator introduces patrons to exotic snakes

Field Museum snakes
Field Museum’s Boomslang specimen, a venemous snake from Africa Photo credit Field Museum

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The new assistant curator of herpetology at the Field Museum has been introducing the public to some members of her favorite field of study.

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, but for Ruane it's all about the snakes, especially the Boomslang snake and the the Spider-tailed Viper, a native of Iran.

Ruane said Boomslangs don’t have big fangs in the front. “Instead, Boomslangs have enlarged teeth way in the rear of their mouth.”

Ruane said unlike other snakes with these rear fangs, Boomslang venom is lethal to humans - and people weren’t really aware of that for a long time.

And there was an eminent curator at the museum, Karl Schmidt, who started work almost exactly 100 years before Ruane.

“But he also didn’t realize how venomous these snakes might be and was handling one - right here in the museum and got bit by it," she said.

“He went home.  He didn’t feel too good but he sort of felt OK.  And by the next afternoon he was dead.”

The museum has had a specimen of the viper since the 1950's and Ruane said for a long time, most people thought its tail was just deformed.

“But it turns out that what is wrong with its tail isn’t wrong at all.  It’s that they actually have this little appendage at the end of their tail that looks just like a moving spider.”

Ruane says Illinois - and even the Chicago area - is home to a lot of species of snakes.  Almost all of them harmless.​