Snakes in Taiwan and the Japanese era

many taiwanese who should know better have insisted the same thing to me, especially up here in Taipei. “there were no poisonous snakes here on Taiwan before the Japanese set up a war time snake breeding facility on YangMingShan to breed super snakes to kill the enemy and deny them the land. when the war was going badly and they had to leave, they released all the snakes.”

what a crock… very funny though. i wonder what the real origin of that story is: there must be some grain of truth there for the rumour to have survived so long, or been started in the first place.

They say the same thing here in HK - Japanese wartime snake breeding for venomous chemical agents led to the present day large numbers of various biting nasties.

HG

[quote=“Huang Guang Chen”]They say the same thing here in HK - Japanese wartime snake breeding for venomous chemical agents led to the present day large numbers of various biting nasties.

HG[/quote]

That’s absurd. The snakes were obviously flown in from Taiwan for dinner and some of them were lucky enough to escape.

thre was a certain Professor Tu and a certain Professor Lee, both taiwanese medical science pioneers, who worked here at NTU (well, the forerunner Taihoko Imperial University) before working at Academia Sinica and so on. they were both rightly famous for their pioneering work on banded krait (AKA umbrella snake, etc Bungarus multicinctus) venom proteins, alpha and beta bungarotoxins. they were the first internationally published Taiwanese scientists. Tu was the first Taiwanese to get a medical degree (in Japan). their labs continued to work on venom research for many years, and there is still a daughter of the famous Dr Lee working here at Sinica, and a son of the famous Dr Tu working in snake venom research in Japan. Tu founded the Uni that became KaoHsiung Medical Uni, the first private medical college in Taiwan.

None of this has any relation to japanese military venom research, though. I cannot find any such records on the web, or in old japanese journals (german translations). any one else have any ideas where to look?

OK, found one reference (apocryphal) to the place: apparently the hill at JienTan, behind the Grand Hotel. From a conference brochure:

During Japanese reign period, the Japanese government once set up a poisonous snake research institute at the back hill area of the present Grand Hotel, but after the defeat of Japan in the 2nd World War, poisonous snakes were released at will everywhere. Therefore, in early period, many poisonous snakes could be seen here. At present, the back hill of Grand Hotel already becomes a famous scenic resort area. In the whole hill, many temples are set up, people may see such recreational sports areas as badminton courts, pavilions everywhere. In the sidewalks of the back hill, many people come for morning exercise, that poisonous snakes are seldom perceived.

fact or fiction?

That’s funny. I went hiking on Yuanshan years ago, and I encountered a big fuckin’ snake. If I remember correctly, it was white. I haven’t done lots of hiking here, but I’ve done a bit, and I never a saw snake anywhere else, except Huaxi Jie.

No, they’re everywhere Ed. In summer I see one every hike or two, sometimes more than one on a single hike especially around Wulai.

As was pointed out in the “snakes” thread several years ago, there is no evidence backing up the story about the Japanese releasing snakes. No non-native species have been found there, just the snakes you would expect to find. So, at most the Japanese (and their Taiwanese assistants) released some regular Taiwanese snakes. Any resulting increase in snake numbers would have been short-lived and things would have gone back to an equilibrium very quickly.

almas john,

Do you mean to say that Taiwanese people have latched on to some myth, which is perpetuated without evidence or examination? How dare you! You ethnocentric Kiwi sheep-shagging fruitcake!

Actually, that would make for another interesting thread: local myths and/or superstitions. Basketball will make you taller, cold water is bad for you (it tightens your muscles), the common cold can be cured by taking medicine, etc. etc.

Here come the detractors…

I often go hiking, but rarely see snakes. (A couple of times I’ve seen huge ones, though.) I suppose that this is because I walk with a big, heavy step that warns them away.

Oh, is that how it works…? So maybe Elvis is now slightly alive, and Area 51 has a little bit of alien corpse hidden away…?

No, you silly billy. I meant that there must have actually been some Japanese snake research centre somewhere, but not necessarily that the number and kind of snakes one sees around taipei, and their ‘venomosity’ is at all influenced by it.

the fact that every person who talked about it mentioned it as being in the hills north of Taipei added credence to it. the fact that i then found a reference to the actual location piqued my curiosity further.

there is of course probably no truth to the supersnake part of the urban legend, but the existence of a snake venom research facility is much more probable. i wonder if they may have actually been creating an antivenom, which was within the bounds of science in that time. another thing that emerged from Lee and Tu’s work (at least a little later) was the development of an analgesic agent, perhaps from the venom of one of the local vipers. this has since been forgotten or disproved, but it is pretty close to what some of my colleagues were working on several years ago (though not from snake venom but from coneshells).

i am trying to find the papers now, but they are in German and in old font, so it’ll take me some time to decipher them (my scientific German is not so good).

The real story is very very simple and banal. The Japanese colonialists did indeed do a great deal of research in the local fauna, flora and people. I’ve seen with my own eyes a whole array of aborigine skulls collected by a Japanese research group.
Among the many other projects they implemented was work in the field of antivenins, hence the snake labs in various parts of the country. Nothing strange about it at all, I don’t think – a lot of people back in those days used to get snakebit, so there was certainly a need for some kind of antivenin resource.
The idea of the Japanese “suddenly panicking and releasing all their charges everywhere” is just an urban myth, I’m pretty sure.

The Hello Kitty Pit viper, Agkistrodon Hellokittyensis was invented by the Japanese though.

Good to know they collected skulls too, nothing at all sinister about that.

[quote=“KingZog”]The Hello Kitty Pit viper, Agkistrodon Hellokittyensis was invented by the Japanese though.

Good to know they collected skulls too, nothing at all sinister about that.[/quote]
Except they were walking about the place inside people’s heads prior to being collected – they didn’t bother waiting for the aborigine owners to die of natural causes.

Anyway, the main thing about the snake thing is that snake populations depend almost completely on small animal populations. If a large number of snakes were released into an area, they’d move away or die off quite quickly until the total numbers were low enough for the remainder to survive. You’d possibly see more for a few weeks or months at the very most, until natural processes restored the balance.

[quote=“sandman”][quote=“KingZog”]The Hello Kitty Pit viper, Agkistrodon Hellokittyensis was invented by the Japanese though.

Good to know they collected skulls too, nothing at all sinister about that.[/quote]
Except they were walking about the place inside people’s heads prior to being collected – they didn’t bother waiting for the aborigine owners to die of natural causes.

Anyway, the main thing about the snake thing is that snake populations depend almost completely on small animal populations. If a large number of snakes were released into an area, they’d move away or die off quite quickly until the total numbers were low enough for the remainder to survive. You’d possibly see more for a few weeks or months at the very most, until natural processes restored the balance.[/quote]

I think a good CNR program would have really helped with the problem of stray snakes.

CNR? Canada National Railway? I suppose that could work - CNR would need to build millions of miles of track in Taiwan and hope that snakes were too stupid to slither out of the way when they heard trains appoaching.

Ohhhhhh, I get it.

The snakes were flown here in drones from the mainland by the PLAAF (People’s Liberation Automated Advertisements on Forumosa).

Thanks for the explanation there robo-poster!
Makes much more sense than the Japanese rumors.

On a side note, I found it funny that my not-very-fluent language exchange partner knew the correct usage of “venomous” vs. “poisonous” when even most native English speakers seem to screw it up… Things are “poisonous” if they toxic when you eat them…nothing to do with them injecting venom after biting/stinging you.

many taiwanese who should know better have insisted the same thing to me, especially up here in Taipei. “there were no poisonous snakes here on Taiwan before the Japanese set up a war time snake breeding facility on YangMingShan to breed super snakes to kill the enemy and deny them the land. when the war was going badly and they had to leave, they released all the snakes.”

what a crock… very funny though. I wonder what the real origin of that story is: there must be some grain of truth there for the rumour to have survived so long, or been started in the first place.[/quote]

A foreigner told me this story last night, so I googled it. No clear answer, but there’s probably some truth that Japanese may have inadvertenly introduced some snakes to Taiwan on board ships.

airies.or.jp/publication/ger … -02-04.pdf
hear.org/cgaps/pdfs/cgaps_btsfactsheet.pdf

There probably were snakes, as well as spiders, lizards, frogs, etc brought between the islands by the Japanese, but they would have not been any different from the type of animals transported from place to place by traders over the millenia. (not that either of those papers provides any such evidence, one examining feral reptiles on the Ryukyu Islands, the other examining US Forces movement of the brown tree snake from Guam. )

The main point here is the Taiwanese claim that ALL poisonous snakes were brought to Taiwan by the Japanese, which overlooks several rather pertinent facts. One, the majority of poisonous snakes here do not occur in Japan, but are either endemic, are subspecies of continental Asian snakes, or are common across Asia. Japan itself has only four or five species of dangerous snakes, all habu (vipers) on the Ryukyu chain including Okinawa, and none of which are found elsewhere (at subspecies level). If the Japanese did bring these snakes, they would have had to have brought them here from other continental Asian locations (feasible) and bred them into localised species and subspecies (completely impossible).

Two, several snakes here feature prominently in the culture and totemology of local tribes, like the Deinagkistrodon ‘Horned vipers’ or ‘long-nosed viper’ play a major part of the Rukai Aborigines’ culture (Pingtung/Taitung). Such a cultural adoption of a snake certainly predated the Japanese by several thousand years.

Like I said earlier, it’s a total crock.

Like a wise man named 木頭湖 once said: “what goes around comes back around”

you should see my new backyard! forest into waterway…