Snakes are one of the most maligned creatures on the planet. They are abhorred by many, loved by few. Gaining an understanding of these slithery serpents may just improve your attitude toward them.
There are approximately 3,000 species of snakes in the world. Snakes are reptiles, which means that they are cold-blooded creatures. Being cold-blooded means that their body temperature varies with that of the surroundings. Snakes are also ectotherms, which means they must regulate their own body temperature by seeking the sun to get warm or shade to cool down. They hibernate in the winter.
All snakes are limbless, flexible, and are covered with overlapping scales, which can be smooth or rough and dry. Snakes really are not slimy. Many snakes have specialized belly scales that help them to move and grip surfaces as they crawl. Snakes don't have moveable eyelids or external ears.
The tongue that flicks in and out of the snake's mouth is used to sense smell and to detect prey or predators. The tongue picks up airborne particles, which helps the snake determine what is around it. They are very sensitive to vibrations, and can sense when an animal or person is walking near them.
Large And Small
The world's smallest snake is the thread snake and measures a mere 3.9 inches long, according to National Geographic. The thread snake resembles an earthworm. The largest is the reticulated python, which can attain a massive 30-foot length. The longest snake fossil ever found was 50 feet long and is called a Titanoboa.
Most snakes lay eggs, but some species, like garter snakes, boa constrictors, rattlesnakes, and copperheads, give birth to live young. Only a few of the python species will care for their young. All other baby snakes are on their own from birth or hatching.
Depending on the climate, mating season varies. In cold climates, mating season is in the spring. In the tropics, it can take place any time of the year. When a female snake is ready for mating, she leaves a trail of pheromones, which is a scent trail a male snake will pick up on. The male lifts the female's tail tip with his own tail, then inserts one of two hemipenes into the female's cloaca to deposit his sperm. The female holds the sperm for one or two months; then, as she releases her eggs, they are fertilized by the sperm as they pass by. She guards the eggs until they hatch.
Snake eggs are soft and leathery, instead of being hard like bird eggs. The female snake lays her eggs in a shallow hole or under some rocks; always someplace warm. Baby snakes break through the shell with a special egg tooth, which is then lost after hatching. Snakes reach maturity in two to four years. Snakes can live 20–30 years, however, not many survive predators that long.
Young snakes molt about four times a year, but as they grow older, the molting decreases in frequency. Adult snakes usually only molt once a year. Seldom do they molt twice a year. A molting snake will rub against a rock or some other suitable surface to dislodge the old skin until it can crawl out of it.
Snakes are found all over the world with the exception of Antarctica. The majority of snakes are found in tropical regions, but they also live in deserts, prairies, forests, and in water.
All snakes are carnivorous. They feed on a variety of animals, insects, birds, eggs, and reptiles, including other snakes. Of course, the size of the prey depends on the size of the snake. Large snakes are known to devour animals as large as small deer. They can swallow prey up to three times larger than themselves, due to the fact that their jaws unhinge to accommodate the large animals. Certain snakes have been known to eat cows and crocodiles.
Once the snake has swallowed the prey, the snake's body releases enzymes that break down the prey to nourish the snake. Rarely, a snake has been known to explode after swallowing a whole, live animal. Why this happens, no one knows.
Venomous snakes kill their prey with their poisonous venom. Constrictors squeeze their prey to death. Snakes do not need to eat every day. Some anacondas and pythons can go for a whole year between feedings. Snakes hunt primarily at night.
Snakes come in a variety of colors and patterns. Some are plain and solid colored and some are colorful with pretty patterns. Some snakes can be identified by their color and/or color patterns. Most non-poisonous snakes are of one solid color, but cottonmouths are, too, so this is not a foolproof method for identification. It is best to learn to identify the snakes that live in your area.
Read the How to get rid of snakes page for helpful information and to learn more about About Snakes
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