green tree snake
Green tree snake

Welcome to the snake section here on AC. In this section you will find information about different topics relating to snakes; including information about keeping snakes as pets and about snakes in the wild. Some of the species you can read about here are not recommendable as pet and the keeping of hilghy venomous snakes are best left to experts. If you want to get started in keeping venonous snakes we recommend getting one of the less venomous species and then slowly move towards the more dangerous species (if you want to keep such species). Make sure that local hospitals have antivenom to treat bites from the snake you’re getting before bringing it home and that you don’t violate any laws or local regulations.

Snakes are reptiles in the order Squamata; an order which also contains the lizards. Within Squamata, snakes are placed in a special suborder called Serpentes. All species of snake are carnivorous and lack legs, eyelids and external ears. Snakes have developed from lizards that lost their legs. Since they have developed from animals with four legs, snakes are tetrapods despite having no legs. 

Paired organs are placed differently in snakes compared to other animals; they are placed behind each other instead of side by side. Another interesting anatomical feature found in snakes is how they can stretch the lower jaw, allowing them to swallow very large prey.

Separating snakes from legless lizards can seem hard, but is in reality not all that complicated. Snakes lack eyelids and external ears while lizards have eye lids and external ears, so if you see a “snake” with eye lids and external ears it is actually a legless lizard.  

Snakes are found on ever continent except Antarctica. There are 15 families of snakes containing 456 genera and over 2,900 species. Snakes range from 10 cm to 9 m (4 in to 30 ft) in length. The smallest snake species in the world is Leptotyphlops carlae that grows to be 10 cm / 4 in. The largest snake in the world is either the Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) who grows 9 m / 30 ft long or, if you count by weight, the Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) who only grow to a length of 7.5 m / 25 ft but is heavier than the Reticulated python.

It is hard to know exactly when snakes developed as their skeletons seldom fossilize. Some fossils have however been discovered and the oldest of these that clearly come from a snake is about 150 million year old. Fossils from this era have been found in both South America and Asia. Python and boas are among the most primitive now living snakes. Snakes are believed to have developed from burrowing lizards and one of the earliest snake species is Najash rionegrina.This species was a two legged burrowing animal.

All snakes are strictly carnivores. They feed on most types of animals of a suitable size ranging from insects and fish to larger mammals. Some snake species have specialized in hunting other snakes. There are also a number of snakes specialised in eating snails and another group that eats eggs. Snakes swallow their prey whole, so body size and how big prey items a snake can swallow decides what kind of animals it prey on.

A common misconception is that snakes dislocate their lower jaw to swallow prey, but this is technically not true. Snakes have a very flexible jaw structure and the lower jaw is not rigidly attached, allowing the snake to open its mouths wide enough to swallow whole prey without ever dislocating anything.

Snakes stay dormant while digesting their food. How long this process takes depends on the temperature, with the ideal temperature for digestion being 30 degrees C (86 degrees F). The digestion is very effective and even breaks down bone, so the only thing that remains of an animal after digestion is hair and claws. If a snake is disturbed by a predator when digesting it can regurgitate the prey to be able to escape.

Most species of snakes lay egg but some give birth to live young. Some of the egg laying species guards the eggs. All snake species uses internal fertilization where the male snake fertilizes the eggs inside the female using his paired forked hemipenes. The hemipenes is stored in the tail of the male and is often hooked or spined to be able to grip the wall of the female cloaca and increase the chance of fertilization.

Some of the species that give birth to live young are ovoviviparous, i.e. the fertilized eggs stay in the body until the offspring are ready to hatch and hatch on birth. Other species, such as the Boa constrictor and the Green anaconda, are viviparous and feed their young through a placenta as well as through a yolk sac. This is very uncommon in reptiles.

Venomous snakes are often referred to as poisonous snakes which are incorrect. Venom has to be injected to work, while poison is dangerous when inhaled or ingested as well. There are however a few truly venomous snakes. Rhabdophis snakes get their poison from toads which make these snakes poisonous if eaten. The other exception is a small population of garter snakes in Oregon that become poisonous due the newts they eat.

Snake venoms are complex mixtures of proteins and different species have different venoms. Snake venom might contain neurotoxins, hematoxins, crytotoxins and bungarotoxins or a mix of different types of toxins. Almost all snake toxins contain hyaluronidase which ensures that the venom spreads quickly through the prey. Snakes store their venom in glands near the back of the head and venomous snakes use their venom when hunting for food and to protect them selves. Some venomous snakes are harmless to humans while others can kill quickly. Roughly 250 species of venomous snake can kill a human with one bite. Some research suggests that all snake species are venomous and that the snake species we have considered non-venomous are in fact equipped with weak venoms despite their lack of fangs.

Many snakes can have a life span of over 40 years in captivity if given proper care. How old different species become in the wild is largely unknown.


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