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21 Facts About Snakes
by Brandon Cornett
People have strong feelings about snakes that range from fascination to fear. Snakes have also been wrongfully vilified over the years by movies and literature. In truth, snakes are amazing animals that you need not be afraid of. After reading these facts about snakes I think you'll agree.
21 Interesting Facts
- By current classification, there are approximately 3,000 snake species on our planet. This number has changed over the years and will continue to do so, largely due to changes with the system used to "label" snakes.
- Snakes are members of the Squamata order of reptiles. This order also includes most lizard species.
- There are nearly 20 families of snakes. The most common families include Boidae (boas and related snakes); Pythonidae (the pythons); Viperidae (vipers, rattlesnakes, etc.); Elapidae (cobras, mambas, etc.); and Colubridae (the largest family, mostly non-venomous snakes).
- Most snakes (more than two-thirds) are non-venomous. Only about 500 snake species are venomous, and of those only 30 - 40 are considered harmful to humans.
- Australia is the only continent where the venomous snakes outnumber the non-venomous species. Many of the world's most venomous snakes can be found in Australia.
- Snakes live on every continent except for Antarctica, where it is much too cold for snakes to survive.
- There are about 30 species of rattlesnakes in the world. Nearly all of them are found within North America (the United States, Mexico and Central America).
- Snakes begin shedding their skin soon after their birth. They continue to shed their skin throughout their entire lives, though the rate at which they shed slows down when they reach adult size.
- In terms of sheer size and mass, the anaconda (Eunectes Murinus) is the largest snake on the planet. Average adult length is about 5 meters, or nearly 17 feet long. The longest anaconda on record was nearly 26 feet long.
- While the anaconda is the largest snake on record, the longest snake is the reticulated python (Python reticulatus). The "retic" can exceed 30 feet (10 meters in length). The longest on record was over 32 feet.
- The king cobra is the largest venomous snake in the world, reaching lengths of more than 18 feet (6 meters) and weighing more than 20 pounds.
- Snakes can go a long time without eating, sometimes fasting for months at a time. This is especially true of the big constrictors, such as the Anaconda and the reticulated python. Snakes typically eat large meals (relative to their body size) and have much slower metabolisms than we humans have.
- Australia's inland taipan snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) is said to possess the strongest venom of any land snake. Fortunately, it seeks unpopulated areas and rarely bites people.
- The saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) is widely regarded as one of the world's most dangerous snakes. It has a powerful venom, as do many venomous species. But it also lives in highly populated areas and has an aggressive nature.
- Certain types of snakes can go months without eating. This is especially true of the big constrictors, such as the Anaconda and the reticulated python. Snakes eat large meals (relative to their body size), and they have much slower metabolisms than we humans have. This partly explains how they can go so long between meals.
- Africa's Gaboon viper has the longest fangs and highest venom output of all the venomous snakes. Fortunately, this snake is relatively slow-moving and placid (when compared to other venomous snakes in its range).
- Some of the more primitive snakes, such as boas and pythons, still have the vestiges of a pelvic girdle as part of their skeleton. They also have small claws or "spurs" that are believed to be the remnants of hind legs lost through evolution.
- All snakes can swim quite well. Some species, such as the water moccasin, spend most of their lives near water.
- Sea snakes have adapted to life in the ocean in various ways. They have flat tails like the tail of an eel, and they move in much the same way. But they are still reptiles and therefore must return to surface to breathe.
- Snakes do not have external ears. But they do have certain bone structures of the internal ear (such as the stapes bone). While they cannot hear like an animal with external ears, it is widely accepted that snakes can pick up on ground vibrations and even certain low-frequency airborne sounds.
- The scales of all snakes are made of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up the hair and fingernails of humans.
I hope these snake facts help you appreciate the wonderful world of snakes. Understanding these creatures is the key to reducing the fear and hysteria that often surrounds them. Snakes provide an important ecological role everywhere they exist. They have been around for millions of years and deserve our respect and understanding -- not our persecution.
References: The Reptile Knowledge website (see link below). I also referred to the New Encyclopedia of Snakes, by Chris Mattison (Princeton University Press, 2007).
About the Author
This fact sheet was provided by Brandon Cornett. Brandon is the creator of ReptileKnowledge.com, a website full of information on snakes and other reptiles. Learn more by visiting http://www.reptileknowledge.com
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