Despite the generally aversive nature of humans towards snakes, they are important in maintaining the environment. They form a key link in the food chain and they play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem and the food web. Snakes are particularly useful to farmers as they keep the population of pests, such as rats and insects, under control; they can also fall prey to large birds, mongooses, wild boars, and raccoons. Thus, they are both predators and prey.
Snakes are carnivorous reptiles. They have supple skin covered in scales, a forked tongue, eyes that never blink or close, and an elongated leg-less body. They are vertebrates, meaning they have a backbone, and many species of snakes have skulls with highly mobile jaws and a vestigial pelvic girdle (1). Snakes are thought to have evolved during the Jurassic period.
Some Famous Types Of Snakes
There are around 3,000 snake species in the world, of which around 600 are venomous (2). Each species has its own special characteristics. Let’s learn about some of the most common species.
- King cobra: King cobras are the longest venomous snakes. These fast-moving snakes have amazing agility, and their color depends on the location where they live. They are most commonly found in India, southern China, and Southeast Asia.
- American copperhead: American copperheads create and produce very dangerous venom. These nocturnal (active at night) creatures live in warm areas. They are found across Texas, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina.
- Black mamba: Black mambas are considered the longest snakes found in Africa. These deadly snakes are fast-moving and aggressive and can strike at a moment’s notice. They aren’t black, but gray, olive, or brownish. They are found mainly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and the Republic of Congo.
- Corn snake: Also called the red rat snake, they wrap their bodies around their prey. Their bodies are orange with red lines down the sides, which resemble multicolored corn. They are endemic to North America and are most commonly found in Texas and New Jersey.
- Garter snake: Garter snakes have very bright colors that make them attractive and have very sharp teeth. These snakes are native to North and Central America.
- Rattlesnake: Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes most commonly found in North and Central America. The rattle of these snakes start producing sound after the first shedding of the skin (molting), but when they get wet, they do not produce any sound to warn potential aggressors.
- Black rat snake: Black rat snakes are long, non-venomous snakes native to North America. They blend their colors with their surroundings and can produce a foul smell when they sense danger. They are known to feed on rats, mice, and other pests.
- Ball python: Also known as the royal python, it is a non-venomous species. Ball pythons have a unique defense mechanism, wherein they roll up into a ball when threatened. Ball pythons are the tiniest of all the pythons and are found mainly in Africa.
- Green tree python: Green tree python is a non-venomous species endemic to New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Cape York Peninsula in Australia. These nocturnal snakes often spend their time coiled around branches, and their head lies right in the middle of their coils.
- Burmese python: Burmese pythons are some of the largest species of snakes in the world. They have a prehensile (capable of grasping) tail and are excellent climbers. These snakes are considered to be semi-aquatic creatures and are most commonly found in Southeast Asia, Eastern India, Cambodia, China, and Florida.
- Reticulated python: Reticulated pythons do not have any venom and are seldom known to bite. However, they wrap around and suffocate any prey they find. They have very complex color patterns, including olive green, black, white, and gold, and a diamond-like geometric design that allows them to camouflage with their surroundings. They are native to Southeast Asia.
- Boa constrictor: Boa constrictors have a large and thick body, a head shaped like an arrow, and lips that sense heat. These snakes are known to constrict their prey to death before consuming it, hence the name. They are native to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands.
- Eastern coral snake: Also called the American cobra, eastern coral snakes are extremely dangerous snakes due to the potency of their venom. They spend most of their time underground and are endemic to the southern parts of the United States, the Northern part of Mexico, North and South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.
- Water moccasin snake: Also called ‘cottonmouth,’ it is a type of pit viper. Its bite is extremely painful and could be deadly due to its powerful venom. It is known to be the only venomous species of water snakes in North America. It is commonly found in the waters of Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.
- Green anaconda: It is a non-venomous snake species. These snakes are avid swimmers and are known to be the heaviest snakes in the world. They are endemic to South America.
Are Snakes Blind And Deaf?
No, snakes are not blind, but they usually have poor eyesight. Their vision is adequate to track movements but is not very sharp.
Snakes such as pythons, copperheads, and rattlesnakes have openings called pit holes in front of their eyes. These pit organs can detect infrared thermal radiation, which helps them sense the heat given off by warm-blooded prey even in the dark.
How Do Snakes Detect Preys And Predators?
Snakes smell prey through their forked tongue. When a snake flicks its tongue in the air, it gathers chemical particles and sends them to a sensory organ called the vomeronasal system, enabling the snake to determine the presence of prey and predators around it. Snakes such as the python and pit vipers sense their prey using their infrared heat-sensing organ (4).
How Do Snakes Move Without Legs?
Snakes develop several modes of locomotion depending on their native environment. Most snakes use their belly scales to grip surfaces and move (5).
The major modes of locomotion in snakes are as follows:
- Lateral undulation: In this mode, the body of the snake flexes alternately to the right and left, resulting in rearward-moving waves. It is the sole mode of locomotion in water and the most common mode of locomotion on land.
- Sidewinding: In this mode, all of the body-segments that are oriented in one direction are in contact with the ground, while the other segments are lifted up, resulting in a “rolling” motion. This mode helps the snake move in slippery mud or sand.
- Rectilinear: In this mode, the belly scales are lifted and pulled forward before the body is placed down. The ribs of the snake do not move in this mode, making this the slowest mode of locomotion. This mode is often employed by pythons, boas, and vipers as it makes the prey harder to detect their movement.
How Do Snakes Feed?
Snakes are strictly carnivorous and feed on lizards, frogs, eggs, birds, worms, insects, fish, small mammals, and other snakes. Usually, snakes cannot bite and tear their food into pieces, so they swallow the prey whole. Snakes have a very flexible lower jaw, allowing them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow their prey, even if it is larger in diameter than the snake itself. The body size of a snake influences its feeding habits.
Some snakes have a venomous bite, which is used to kill their prey before eating it, while others kill their prey by constriction. Snakes become dormant while digesting their food. The surrounding temperature plays a large role in digestion as snakes are cold-blooded animals (ectothermic). The digestive enzymes of snakes dissolve and absorb everything but the prey’s hair, feathers, and claws, which are excreted as waste (6).
What Is Venom?
The venom in venomous snakes is modified saliva that is delivered through the fangs. It is used to immobilize, injure, and kill their prey. The venom acts as a poison for their prey. It also serves as a pre-digestant that initiates the breakdown of food into soluble compounds, facilitating proper digestion (7).
What Is Molting?
The process wherein a snake sheds its scales is called molting (ecdysis or sloughing). It helps the snake replace the old and worn skin and get rid of parasites, such as mites and ticks.
Snakes stop eating and move to a safe place before molting. In snakes, the complete outer layer of skin is shed in one layer. Usually, the cast skin peels backward over the body from head to tail in one piece. After molting, a thicker and brighter layer of skin is formed (8).
50 Facts About Snakes For Kids
- The only places where there are no snakes are Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand, Ireland, and Antarctica, as snakes are cold-blooded creatures.
- The African egg-eating snake has bony protrusions on the inside edge of its spine. The snake uses these to break the shells of the eggs.
- The venom of a king cobra is strong enough to kill an elephant.
- Venomous snakes tend to be brightly colored, which acts as a warning for predators to stay away from them.
- A viper snake species of Fer-de-lance has been recorded swallowing a prey 1.6 times its body weight.
- Snakes have more than 200 teeth that point backward. They are used to bite and grip their prey securely.
- Snakes can swallow prey three times larger than their mouth.
- Most snakes lay eggs, but some snakes give birth to live young ones that slither off and take care of themselves.
- The biochemicals in certain snake venoms can be turned into medicines.
- Some species of snakes can glide by flattening their ribs and trapping air under their bodies as they fall. By undulating back and forth in an S-shape, they can glide through the air.
- Snakes don’t have legs but can slither quickly, with some species being quite fast at slithering.
- Snakes lack eyelids. Instead, they have a transparent scale that covers their eyes. Hence, they never blink.
- A snake’s tail begins where its body ribs end. Many tree-dwelling snakes have prehensile tails to grip branches, while aquatic snakes have side-flattened, fin-like tails for swimming.
- Snakes have a sensory organ called the ‘Jacobson’s organ’ on the roof of their mouth, and they flicker their tongue to pick up scents from the air. These help them detect prey and predators.
- Some snake species, such as the ball python, can survive without food for up to two years.
- Snakes used in snake charming performances respond to the vibrations and movements of the flute and the snake charmer, not to the sound of the flute.
- Snakes living in colder climates go into a state known as brumation through the winter months. In brumation, they become less active, and their metabolism slows down tremendously.
- Snake scales are made up of ‘Keratin,’ the same protein found in our fingernails and hair.
- A group of snakes is called a bed, a den, a pit, or a nest.
- The African gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) has the longest snake fangs, measuring about two inches (five centimeters).
- The black mamba is considered the world’s fastest snake and can slither up to speeds of 12 miles per hour.
- Some snakes can fake death by flipping onto their backs with open mouths and their tongue sticking out when they feel threatened.
- Snakes do not have a voice but can make a hissing sound by sending air through an opening in their mouth.
- When a snake is ready to shed its old skin, the eyes get cloudy and are temporarily blinded because they are covered with old scales.
- Snakes don’t have a nose but have nostrils to breathe. They smell with their tongue.
- A mother python coils herself around her eggs and makes her body shiver to heat herself and keep her eggs warm until they hatch.
- The ‘thread snake’ measures about four-inches long (ten centimeters), which is about the size of a toothpick.
- The smallest snakes in the world are the Brahminy blind snakes. They typically measure two to four inches long and are often mistaken for earthworms.
- The thickest snake is the anaconda. The biggest one found to date measured about 44 inches (111 centimeters) around.
- The ‘Rod of Asclepius’ is an illustration featuring an Aesculapian snake wrapped around a staff. The image is a symbol of physicians and is also found on the World Health Organization logo.
- When threatened, some species let out a foul smell from their anal gland as their defense mechanism.
- Snakes are capable of opening their mouths up to 150 degrees.
- Some snake species breathe partially through their skin, which allows them to dive deep underwater.
- Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as ‘Snake Island,’ located offshore Brazil, is known to contain up to five snakes per square meter.
- The two heads of two-headed snakes are known to fight each other for food despite sharing the same body.
- Two drops of venom from the black mamba can be strong enough to kill a human in ten minutes.
- The Asian vine snake (genus Ahaetulla) has binocular vision, with both eyes capable of focusing on the same point.
- A snake’s vertebral column consists of 200 to 400 vertebrae.
- Snakes have a three-chambered heart that controls the circulatory system. The three chambers include the left atrium, the right atrium, and the ventricle.
- Venomous snakes, such as the Viperidae and Elapids, have advanced fangs that enable them to inject venom more effectively.
- King cobras and the Australian bandy-bandy consume other small snakes as their prey.
- Each year, snakes shed their skins three to six times. The process of molting usually lasts for a few days.
- Bee stings kill more people than snake bites every year.
- Snake poops look like a bird’s dropping.
- The Titanoboa is the largest snake fossil found to date. It is estimated to be 50-feet long and three-feet wide.
- Australia is home to most species of venomous snakes in the world.
- The king cobra is believed to be one of the most intelligent snakes in the world.
- A severed head of a snake can still bite for an hour after being cut off. This is because of the slow metabolism of snakes.
- The cottonmouth snake species is the only venomous water snake found in North America.
- Most snakes are not aggressive. They become aggressive only when provoked or threatened.
People develop ophidiophobia (phobia of snakes) due to a lack of knowledge about venomous and nonvenomous snakes. When snakes put on defensive postures or even try to rattle their tail, it is to try to prevent you from killing them. Although snakes are often kept as pets, they are best suited to live in their natural environment, where they play an essential role in the ecosystem.
2. Priyanka Kantivan Goswami, Mayur Samant, and Rashmi S Srivastava; SNAKE VENOM, ANTI-SNAKE VENOM & POTENTIAL OF SNAKE VENOM; International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (2014).
3. Kathryn Knight; SNAKES HEAR THROUGH SKULL VIBRATION; Journal of Experimental Biology (2012).
4. Do snakes really smell with their tongues?; AnimalSmart.org
5. Bruce C Jayne; What Defines Different Modes of Snake Locomotion?; Integrative and Comparative Biology (2020).
6. Snakes: Facts; Idaho Public Television
7. William K. Hayes; Roles and Variation in Snake Venom; Loma Linda University Health
8. Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?; Wonderpolis.org
9. Marshall D McCue; Snakes survive starvation by employing supply- and demand-side economic strategies; Zoology (Jena, Germany) (2007).
10. Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala; Snake charmers; National Library Board, Government of Singapore
11. TITANOBOA; Florida Museum, University of Florida
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