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  • Snakes: Order Squamata, Suborder: Serpentes

    • Includes:

      • Vipers: rattlesnakes, puff adders, horned vipers (all venomous)

      • Elapids: cobras, mambas, coral snakes, kraits (all venomous)

      • Boids: pythons and boas (all nonvenomous)

      • Colubrids: rat snakes, king snakes (they are mostly nonvenomous and not deadly except potentially lethal twig snake and boomslang which are both from Africa)

    • Number of Species: over 3,310

    • Range: all continents except Antarctica and warmer oceans

    • Habitat: marine, freshwater, terrestrial, arboreal

    • Characteristics

      • The left lung is usually absent or greatly reduced in most snakes.  

      • They lack limbs and usually pectoral and pelvic girdles, the exception being pythons, boas, and some other snakes.

      • Snakes have a highly mobile skull. They lack a chin bone and the jaw is separated into four moveable parts that are attached by ligaments. These ligaments stretch and allow them to swallow prey wider than the diameter of their own bodies.

      • They exhibit an extreme elongation of the body. This elongation of the body has required relocation and displacement of internal organs. This has also allowed some large snakes to have over 500 vertebrae. Their unique body shape allows them to access areas not normally accessible to animals of their mass (they don’t have arms or legs to get in the way).

      • Most snakes are well suited for eating large prey due to their lack of a sternum and ability to spread out their ribs while swallowing.

      • They have a transparent scale on their eyes to protect eyes. This scale is called a spectacle.

    • Behavior

      • All snakes are carnivores (meaning they eat meat). 

      • Most snakes capture and kill prey by (1) constriction, some (2) swallow their prey live and others (3) disarm their prey using venom.

        • Snakes that use constriction often specialize in larger, often mammalian prey. Some of the largest snakes can swallow deer, leopards, and crocodilians.

        • Most of them ambush their prey rather than actively searching for food like most lizards.

        • Some species of snakes have tails that break off readily, but they never grow back.

      • Less than 20% of all snakes are venomous.

        • In Australia the ratio flips. 80% of snake species in Australia are venomous.

        • Neurotic venom affects optic nerves (causing blindness) or paralyzing nerves and muscles involved in breathing.

        • Hemotoxic venom destroys blood cells and blood vessels which damages body tissue.

        • Most venomous snakes have a complex mix of these and other types of venoms.

    • Senses

      • Most of them have relatively poor vision except for arboreal snakes which have excellent binocular vision. This binocular give them the ability to track prey in the canopy where scent trails are harder to follow.

      • Snakes do not have external ear openings. Internal ears are mainly sensitive to sounds in a limited range of low frequency, but in general they are considered deaf as that they do not respond to most sounds. They are however very sensitive to vibrations passed through the ground.

      • Chemical senses for snakes are extremely important. The olfactory area in the nose is not well developed. They rely mostly on the pit like Jacobson’s organs in the roof of the mouth to track down prey. The forked tongue takes scent molecules to this organ to be processed to tell them which path to take to find their prey.

      • Boids (pythons and boas) and pit vipers use special heat-sensitive pit organs located between mouth and nostrils to track warm prey (mammals and birds) and aim strikes. This method is helpful as it effective during day and night and above ground and underground.

    • Reproduction

      • Most snakes lay eggs (oviparous), and some have live birth (ovoviviparous).

      • Some species are parthenogenetic which means that they can have offspring when only females are available in a population.

    • Unique Threats

      • Snakes are hunted for their meat and skins.

      • Many people throughout the world kill snakes assuming that they are in fact venomous (and dangerous) in an attempt to protect their families, livestock, and pets. The fact that is that most snakes are not venomous, and even venomous snakes are very shy animals that only want to be left alone.

    • Fun facts:

      • We are not born with a fear of snakes.

      • Snakes are not mean or viscous animals, but are rather very shy animals that simply want to be left alone.

      • Old world vipers don’t have facial pits.

      • Even the saliva of many snakes have some toxic qualities, but this is also the case with many other animals that are considered harmless.

      • Of the close to 7,000 venomous snake bites per year that take place in the United States, less than 5 fatalities occur (that’s only 0.07%)   

      • Snakes probably evolved from a group of lizards closely related to Gila Monsters and monitor lizards.

      • An estimated 50 to 60 thousand people die from snakebites each year. Most of these casualties take place in India, Pakistan, Myanmar and nearby countries. Many of these deaths happen because people in these areas lack access to proper clothing and are unable to get immediate medical treatment. The Russel’s viper, saw-scaled viper and several species of cobras are responsible for most of these deaths.  

    • Information/ Care Sheets

      • Corn snakes

      • Ball pythons

      • Burmese pythons

      • Cobras

      • Rattlesnakes










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