Welcome to the world of snakes. Listed below are answers to some of the most common snake questions.
New snake species are consistently being discovered, however, scientists currently estimate there are approximately 2,700 living snake species.
Approximately 125 different snake species live in the United States. The number almost doubles when counting all the subspecies.
Types of Snakes
Approximately one-quarter of all snake species, or 750 snakes, are considered venomous snakes. They belong to a handful of snake families.
Depending on taxonomic preferences, venomous snake species range across multiple snake families, with two of the more common being the Elapidae, (cobras, coral snakes, mambas, and taipans) and the Viperidae or vipers, (adders, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and vipers).
Awarding the title World's Largest Snake can be a tricky task. Usually the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) of South America gets credit for being the world's heaviest snake and the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) gets credit for being the world's longest snake.
In addition to size, Anacondas and Pythons also share a handful of additional physical and behavioral characteristics.
For example, both Anacondas and Pythons have spurs on their bottoms, which are believed to be the remnants of legs.
Both snakes are nonvenomous, capturing and killing prey by constriction.
Similar physical characteristics lead many taxonomists to classify both snakes in the same family, Boidae, called the boas and pythons.
Other taxonomists place Pythons in the Pythonidae family, which consists primarily of old world snakes indigenous to Australia, Southeast Asia, India and Africa.
Anacondas remained in the family Boidae, better known as boas, which consists primarily of New World snakes, native to Mexico, Central and South America.
Two boa species, the Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) and the Rosy Boa (Lichanura trivirgata) can be found in many areas of the Western United States. Non-native, pet pythons have been released into the wild, creating a problem, especially in south Florida.
Whether the anaconda and python are placed in the same or different families, their geographical homes and reproductive behavior serve as the two big differentiating factors. As a true boa, Anacondas give birth to live young, while python young are hatched from eggs.
Moving away from large snakes to small snakes, at approximately four inches in length, the Barbados Threadsnake (Leptotyphlops carlae) receives the title of the world's smallest snake.
Snakes can move in one of four different ways: lateral undulation; sidewinding; caterpillar locomotion; accordion locomotion.
Often the Black Mamba ((Dendroaspis polylepis)) receives credit for being the world's fastest snake, capable of slithering up to 12mph across the land. The coachwhip is the fastest snake in the United States.
All snakes have forked tongues, used to gather a chemical picture of their environment.
All snakes lack movable eyelids. Their eyes are protected by transparent scales. When the snake gets to shedding, the scales can turn blue, producing a blue-eyed snake.
Snakes also lack external ears, however, their internal ears readily pick up ground vibrations and possibly air vibrations.
As cold blooded reptiles, all snakes need heat from the sun to warm their bodies, which explains why most snake species live in tropical regions.
The desire for warm weather locations explains why Texas leads the list in indigenous snake species, while Alaska, with only one species, sits at the back of the pack.
Lack of up to date statistics about snake bites leads to many different estimates. Thus said, current medical books estimate that some 45,000 snake bites occur annually in the United States. Of these, approximately 8,000 of those bites come from venomous snakes. Considering these numbers, only five to ten cases of death by snake bite are recorded in the United States on a yearly basis.
One need not be bitten by a venomous snake to be in danger. Spitting cobras can eject venom from afar and hit a potential predator's eyes.
© 2010-2012. Patricia A. Michaels