A while back, when cat9
, and I went to Mexico, we saw a variety of interesting wildlife, including at one point the coral snake and the milk snake, which have very similar coloration. Our local guide explained, however, that the former was deadly poison and the latter was merely a mimic, and that their patterns of red, black, and yellow bands could be easily distinguished using a mnemonic like "red next to yellow, kill a fellow; red next to black, friend of Jack". Only, just a short while later we had found that our memories were just as liable to substitute other, equally plausible rhymes, like "black next to red, kill you dead; black next to yellow, he's your fellow". Back home, we discovered that there were actually several different variations in coloring, and several different kinds of mimics, that could make things even more confusing. I pictured us debating what the rhyme was and whether that orangey color really counted in a tense moment, and largely wrote it off.
So, drifting off to sleep last night, I realized that surely one group follows the rule of tincture and the other doesn't. And, indeed, true coral snakes (well, in this hemisphere) have color and metal touching, and at least the preponderance of false ones (milk snakes, king snakes, and scarlet snakes) have black and red against each other. And, perversely, I think that will be a lot easier for me to remember.
Of course, I mentioned my revelation to cat9
, and she said "red and black - but isn't sable a fur?" and I said that I thought it was really only the Germans who treated it as a fur, and Western Europe treated it as a color, so that was alright. But certainly I can now imagine us faced with a potentially deadly snake, and arguing over whether its tincture should be considered correct by the prevailing standards of blazonry. No memory aid is perfect.
(And, just as a disclaimer, you really shouldn't use this as the basis to go poking snakes. I have read about coral snakes from other parts of the world that are pink and blue, or other odd things a herald would never go for. On the upside, all of these snakes tend toward the retiring personality, so bites are very rare.)