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Dog Days of Summer

by Mollie Fuller

    Dogs go mad and foam at the mouth for no apparent reason; snakes go blind and strike at anything that comes near them; no use going fishing because the fish won’t bite; wounds and sores won’t heal; and the list of myths goes on and on concerning Dog Days.  These are just that… myths, handed down for generations.  The real beginning of Dog Days, can be partially traced to the time when folks used to say hunting dogs became lethargic and lazy and wouldn’t hunt during this time.

    Webster’s definition of Dog Days is 1) the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere; 2) a period of stagnation or inactivity.   Why do we call the hot, sultry days of summer Dog Days?

    The term, Dog Days, was generated in ancient Rome and named after the star Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star besides the sun.   It was thought that due to the rising and setting of Sirius at around the same time of the sun each day this time of year, that Sirius added its heat to the sun’s heat, therefore making the days hotter.   It is also said that the ancients sacrificed a dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius.

    Curiously, one of the myths of Dog Days is still believed today and that is that snakes are blind and more aggressive this time of year.  One expert, Dr. Jim Armstrong, Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife specialist, doesn’t buy this theory, however, saying that snakes are no more aggressive this time of year than any other time.

    More to the point is that Dog Days correspond with the snake’s mating season, which may explain why you see more snakes at this time of year.  Also, it is one of the  times when snakes are shedding.  Snakes must shed their skin in order to grow.  To help the old skin slide off, a gray-white lubricant is secreted under the old skin. This liquid is visible under the clear scale that protects the eye, making it look clouded over.   This does impair a snake′s vision.  Although snakes are not known to shed any more in August than in any other summer month, shedding blindness is the probable origin of this myth.  Although not truly blind, the impaired vision may make a snake more dangerous than normal because escape becomes less of an option for the snake, therefore it will defend itself more aggressively during the shedding process.

    Since we are in the middle of Dog Days right now, a good way to appease the wrath of Sirius is to tread lightly, never put your hands or feet somewhere you can’t see them, keep an eye out for all dangerous species, man and beast alike, and perhaps go stagnate on the couch in front of the AC for awhile.

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