Snakes are some of the coolest creatures on Earth for good reason. There is something about them that we can't quite put a finger on, but millions of people around the world are absolutely obsessed about them.
When I was a kid, all I could think about were snakes. I would go to the library (no smart phones or internet) and read as many books I could find to learn about my favorite reptile.
Here are some of the most interesting snake facts that you might have never known.
Fact #1 - They Swallow Their Food Whole
Snakes can swallow whole animals up to three times their head size because of a complex jaw and skull structure.
- The lower jaw consists of two parts separated by flexible cartilage
- A snakes brain is completely encased in bone to protect it while feeding
- A snake is able to breathe even when swallowing a large meal with the aid of its flexible and movable breathing tube called a glottis
- A snakes skull has many joints which aid in the swallowing of large food items
Fact #2 - Locomotion: How Snakes Move
Lateral undulation: The wave-like patterns of movement that propel a snake across the ground. Most often, this is seen or understood to be an “S” shaped pattern. It is considered the most basic method of locomotion for a snake.
Sidewinding: A type of locomotion used by some snakes helps them move across loose or slippery surfaces. It is similar in appearance to lateral undulation mentioned above; however, it differs in that while a sidewinding snake will lift parts of its body off the ground as it moves. Desert dwelling snakes such as the Sidewinder Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes) use this movement method almost exclusively. Still, other species will use it from time to time if they are on loose surfaces.
Concertina: When using this locomotion method, a snake anchors its upper body in place and then draws the lower part of its body forward after which is pushing the upper half of the body forward. It keeps doing this and making forward progression. It looks very much like an accordion being played, and that is why it is called “concertina”
Rectilinear: Large bodied snakes such as boas, pythons, and anacondas use this method of locomotion. The snake’s stomach scales are slightly lifted off the ground and then pulled forward and downward. The scales “grab” hold of the ground, and then the snake pulls them back, causing its body to be moved forward. The snake repeats this cycle of lift and stretches along with several parts of its body, which causes the forward momentum.
Slide-pushing: A startled snake will often use this locomotion type to try to get away as quickly as possible. It is a very inefficient means of movement, and most snakes will only use it if they have been frightened. A snake trying to move by using slide-pushing will bend and push off against any surface its body is touching. It looks similar to lateral undulation, sidewinding, and concertina, but it is much more erratic than all three of those.
Fact #3 - They Are Not Deaf
Indeed, snakes do not have an outer ear, and it is also true that they have trouble hearing airborne sounds, but they are not deaf. They have a fully developed inner ear that picks up some airborne sounds; however its main function is to pick up ground vibrations through the snake’s jaw bone.
Fact #4 - They Have Built-In Infrared Sensors
Some snakes rely on their own heat detectors for tracking prey. The most widely known (and notorious) species of snakes which do this are the Pit Vipers, but other species such as pythons have more rudimentary heat-sensing organs. These sensors allow the snakes to pick up prey's body heat at wavelengths between 5 and 30 micrometers. A rattlesnake that is blinded by darkness can “see” well enough using these infrared sensors to strike a mouse with pinpoint accuracy
Fact #5 - They Smell With Their Tongues, Not Taste
When you see a snake flicking its tongue in and out of its mouth, it is not trying to “taste” you or anything else. It is collecting tiny particles from the air on each fork. These particles are then drawn back into the mouth where the each fork of the tongue is placed into an organ on the roof of the mouth called the “Jacobson’s Organ”, which the snake uses to smell with. This smelling method is so accurate that a snake can tell which direction a particular animal passed but do so several minutes after. Some venomous snakes rely on this method of smell to track prey they have envenomated because the toxins in the venom cause chemical changes in the animal, and the snake can smell this with their tongue!
Fact #6 - Some Snake Still Have Remnants of Legs
These vestiges can sometimes been seen and felt around the vent of some snakes. They are especially noticeable in old-world pythons. These remnants are called pelvic spurs and serve no useful purpose in modern snakes.
Sub Fact - They Have Salmonella on Their Skin
Snakes and other reptiles harbor salmonella on their skin. This is why it is essential to wash your hands before and after handling a snake. Children under three should not be allowed to handle a snake because of their propensity to put their hands in their mouth and nose.
Fact #7 - Some Snakes Play Dead to Protect Themselves from Predators
Some species of snake invoke what is known as apparent death to help defend themselves against predators. They will writhe around as if in pain and then lay still on their backs. To top off the display, some snakes will evacuate their bowls, open their mouths and let their tongues hang out to give an even more believable performance. Many predators will not eat an animal that seems to be dead. In the United States, the most well-known snake to use this trick is the Hognose.
Fact #8 - They Are Ambush Predators
Despite popular folklore, snakes do not chase down prey and kill it as a cat does. They do not hunt in packs as dogs and wolves do. Instead, they lie in wait, carefully concealed from even the keenest of eyes, and then strike when least expected. A venomous snake will strike its intended prey and then wait for the toxins' effects to do its work. A constrictor will strike and coil, causing the prey to stop breathing and the heart to stop pumping as the coils tighten and restrict the diaphragm.
Fact #9 - No One Knows The Deadliest Species
The reason for this fact is because we measure how deadly a snake is in terms of both the toxicity of the venom it yields and how many people are killed each year by a particular species. For a long time being bit by an Australian Brown Snake resulted in a 100% mortality rate. This was due to how powerful the venom is. Now there is antivenom available.
The Inland Taipan (aka Fierce Snake) also of Australia, is known to be the most toxic of snakes producing venom that is so potent that a single bite can kill up to 100 adult humans. But the Inland Taipan is rarely seen, and when it is, it almost always flees unless one tries to handle it.
The Black Mamba of Africa causes far more deaths than the Inland Taipan despite having venom which isn’t nearly as toxic. This can be attributed to a few things.
- You have a better chance of getting proper medical treatment in Australia.
- Many people in Africa walk around without shoes or other clothing that could help protect them from snake bites.
- The Black Mamba is notoriously aggressive and is one of the few snakes that will attack even if you are fleeing. Most snakes will leave you alone as long as you leave them alone.
When someone asks about the deadliest snake, be sure to ask if they mean the potency of the venom or the number of people killed.
Fact #10 - All Species Are Carnivores
A question often asked by people wanting to get a snake is – Can you recommend a vegetarian snake? The answer is no. There is no such creature. All snakes are obligated carnivores. This means like cats and ferrets, they have to eat meat to survive. Some snakes like the Dasypeltis genus of the colubrid family eat only eggs, but since eggs are undeveloped living birds (which are meat), even these snakes are not vegetarians.