Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.
What Are Snakes?
Snakes are some of the most feared animals, up there with spiders and centipedes for many. Some people even suffer from ophidiophobia, an intense fear of snakes. This fear is not unfounded. Our bodies have evolved to fear animals that could potentially harm us, and some snakes certainly can be deadly. Snakes are an order of reptiles distinguished by their long, limbless body and elongated tails. There are more than 2,900 species of snakes, all different in their own way and far from the feared man-eaters we may see on television. Many snakes are non-venomous and are even kept as pets. Today, we're going to learn about some of the most interesting types of snakes and their characteristics.
A rattle can be a soothing toy for a baby, but when hiking in the desert, a rattling noise takes on a different feel. Rattlesnakes are known for their diamond-shaped heads and sand-like, triangle-patterned skin. Their rattles are made of proteins like our nails and hair. When vibrated, the rattle gives off the characteristic hissing noise. This is meant to deter predators and give warning of a strike. Rattlesnakes are versatile, and although they are characteristic of the desert, they live all over North and South America in deserts, forests, swamps, and even high altitudes. Not all rattlesnakes are large. The Colorado desert sidewinder is only about two feet long and is named for its unique motion, swaying side to side across the sand.
In the trees of sub-Saharan Africa in the forests and savannas live the graceful mambas. Mambas are slender snakes that are highly venomous. The black mamba is famed for its silver scales and contrasting black mouth. Black mambas grow up to 14 feet long and are quite fast, moving up to 12.5 miles per hour. That's faster than most humans can run!
They can be found on the ground in rocky areas. Although they will not seek out humans to attack, human development is encroaching on their habitats, putting mambas in greater contact with people, leading to more aggressive encounters. Green mambas are less aggressive and smaller than black mambas. They are mostly found in the trees.
Walking through the crowded streets of India, you are likely to see traditionally dressed men sitting in front of a woven basket. As the men play the flute and tap the open basket, a cobra springs out. Snake charmers like this have been a staple in Indian folk art. The swaying motion of the charmer and the music are supposed to put the threatened cobra into a trance, preventing it from attacking its aggressor.
Cobras are large, venomous snakes found in India, southeast and southern Asia, and Africa. One of the most impressive cobras is the king cobra. Growing up to 18 feet long, king cobras are the largest venomous snakes. When threatened they can raise one third of their body up from the ground, towering as tall as a grown man. These snakes are especially interesting as they only feed on other snakes, sometimes even other king cobras!
Not all snakes prefer a life on land. Anacondas are water loving snakes native to the tropical forests of South America. These snakes are constrictors, meaning that unlike the other snakes we've seen, they are not venomous but rather suffocate their prey by curling around it and literally squeezing the life out of it. But, don't think that a bite wouldn't be painful. Anacondas have sharp rows of teeth that curve backwards, preventing prey from pulling away.
The green anaconda is the largest snake in the world. At 30 feet long, it is nearly the length of a school bus. Although pythons can grow slightly larger, this snake weighs in at 550 pounds. These massive animals can attack caiman, capybara, and even jaguars when hungry, detaching their jaws to swallow prey in a single gulp after suffocating them.
If you're a little freaked out by these snake facts, you might be thinking of a beach vacation instead of a trip to the jungle or the desert. But, unfortunately, snakes have taken up residence in the ocean as well. Sea snakes are aquatic snakes that have adapted to a life in salt water. Their bodies are flattened and are mostly no longer adapted to slithering around on land.
Although they do surface for air every few hours, these amazing animals have evolved to breathe through their skin as well, exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen with the ocean water like amphibians. These highly venomous snakes mostly live in coral reefs in the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. Although they are some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, they are not aggressive and have small jaws, preventing them from biting most parts of a human. Fingers and toes are still at risk, though!
Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes famous for their tail equipped with a rattle for warning predators of a strike. They live in many types of habitats from forests to deserts. Mambas, like the black mamba, are primarily arboreal, venomous snakes living in sub-Saharan Africa. Cobras are native to Asia and India and have neck ribs flattened into a hood. They are also venomous. Anacondas are non-venomous constrictors living in the jungles of South America and are some of the largest snakes on Earth. Sea snakes are venomous and adapted to live in the Indian and Western Pacific oceans.
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