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Snake

Snake

Wiggling animal without legs

There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the planet and they’re found everywhere except in Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand. About 600 species are venomous, and only about 200—seven percent—are able to kill or significantly wound a human.

Nonvenomous snakes, which range from harmless garter snakes to the not-so-harmless python, dispatch their victims by swallowing them alive or constricting them to death. Whether they kill by striking with venom or squeezing, nearly all snakes eat their food whole, in sometimes astoundingly large portions.

Almost all snakes are covered in scales and as reptiles, they’re cold blooded and must regulate their body temperature externally. Scales serve several purposes: They trap moisture in arid climates and reduce friction as the snake moves. There have been several species of snakes discovered that are mostly scaleless, but even those have scales on their bellies.

How snakes hunt

Snakes also have forked tongues, which they flick in different directions to smell their surroundings. That lets them know when danger—or food—is nearby.

Snakes have several other ways to detect a snack. Openings called pit holes in front of their eyes sense the heat given off by warm-blooded prey. And bones in their lower jaws pick up vibrations from rodents and other scurrying animals. When they do capture prey, snakes can eat animals up to three times bigger than their head is wide because their lower jaws unhinge from their upper jaws. Once in a snake’s mouth, the prey is held in place by teeth that face inward, trapping it there.

Habits

About once a month snakes shed their skin, a process called ecdysis that makes room for growth and gets rid of parasites. They rub against a tree branch or other object, then slither out of their skin head first, leaving it discarded inside-out.

Most snakes lay eggs, but some species—like sea snakes—give live birth to young. Very few snakes pay any attention to their eggs, with the exception of pythons, which incubate their eggs.

There are roughly a hundred snake species listed by the IUCN Red List as endangered, typically due to habitat loss from development.

Here’s a fact to make ophidiophobes feel uneasy: Five species of snakes can fly.

Sea snakes

Most snakes live on land, but there are about 70 species of snakes that live in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Sea snakes and their cousins, kraits, are some of the most venomous snakes that exist, but they pose little threat to humans because they’re shy, gentle, and their fangs are too short to do much damage.

Timeline

February 12, 2022
While around 70% of snake species are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs, there are in fact three methods of giving birth. Viviparous snakes give birth to live young, while ovoviviparous snakes grow their young in eggs that remain in the body of the female. Young are born live and the female keeps the egg inside of her.
February 12, 2022
Snakes use a range of senses to find prey. Their sense of smell is particularly important, though they don’t use their noses! Instead, they smell using their forked tongues. As they flick them in and out of their mouth, they collect chemical particles from the air and then transfer them to a special organ on the roof of their mouths, known as the Jacobson’s organ, which determines the scent. Snakes can also detect heat from prey animals and sense vibrations.
February 12, 2022
Snakes, whether you love them or fear them they are fascinating. They live without limbs, survive in a wide range of habitats throughout the world and come in all colours and sizes. The smallest, the Barbados thread snake, is just 10cm long!

Further Resources

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Snake Facts!

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June 7, 2019

News

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Date
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Matilda Boseley
June 4, 2020
the Guardian
Snake eels live most of their lives burrowed in the soft sand on the ocean floor. Their long thin bodies make it easy for large fish to swallow them whole. The eels in turn burst through the stomach of fish in an attempt to escape. Photograph: Bruce Cowell/Queensland Museum
Clare Wilson
January 23, 2020
New Scientist
Snakes are currently "milked" for their venom to produce antidotes, but lab-grown glands could mean we can avoid having to keep the reptiles on farms
Tribune News Service
November 21, 2019
Tribuneindia News Service
TheTribune: TORONTO: Snake ancestors that lived nearly 100 million years ago, had legs and a cheekbone which have disappeared entirely in their modern day descendants, according to a study which examined fossils of an ancient rear-limbed reptile called Najash rionegrina.
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