January 2, 2013

Wildlife Wednesday New Years Addition

Happy New Year everyone.  I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday season and have a happy new year.  I can't beleive it is 2013 already.  I never got a chance to post yesterday so today will be my first post of the new year. Sticking with the tradition of Allis Alley I am reinstating Wildlife Wednesday's.  I have been racking my brain all mornng trying to come up with an animal for my blog today and then it hit me why not choose a animal that is symbolic to the new year.  According to the Chinease Zodiac 2013 is the year of the snake, so today on wildlife wednesday I am choosing the snake as my subject. 

photo credit: bing images

photo credit: bing images

While all snakes have certain obvious traits in common (such as scales, limbless bodies, and forked tongues), they also posses a wide range of characteristics that are unique to each species.

photo credit: bing images

For instance, certain types of snakes are venomous, while others are not. Some give birth to live young (viviparous), while others lay eggs (oviparous). Some snakes are the size of a pencil, while others are nearly as long as a school bus. Some types of snakes eat rodents exclusively, some eat rodents and birds, some eat fish and frogs, some eat other snakes, and some eat a variety of the above ... and some even live off of eggs!

Classifying the Types of Snakes


According to current scientific classification (which is constantly being revised, by the way), there are somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 snake species around the world. With so many types of snakes in the world, a good classification system is a must!
Snakes are grouped by the same scientific classification that applies to all other animals. Snakes are part of the Squamata order of reptiles -- an order that also includes most lizard species. All types of snakes fall into one of 18 families within the Squamata order, and each snake family is further broken down into genus and species.

As stated previously, there are currently 18 families of snakes around the world. But this number is often argued and disputed, because the scientific classification of reptiles (including snakes) is constantly in flux.
Major Families of Snakes

Here are the five families of snakes that account for the majority of species:

Colubridae -- The Colubridae family of snakes (known as colubrids) is by far the largest family, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the world's snakes. The vast majority of colubrids are non-venomous, though a few rear-fanged colubrid species are able to produce venom (such as the lyre snake of California). But even the venomous members of the Colubridae family are considered harmless to humans. So it's safe to say that colubrids, as a whole, pose no threat to humans.

Boidae -- The Boidae family of snakes (known as boids) includes python and boa species. The three largest types of snakes in the world -- the anaconda, the reticulated python, and the African rock python -- are all members of the Boidae family. But smaller species like the royal python / ball python are also found in this family of snakes. All boids are non-venomous, powerful constrictors. Thus, they rely on strength instead of venom to kill their prey.

Elapidae -- The Elapidae family of snakes (known as elapids) includes cobras, mambas, coral snakes and taipans. All elapids are venomous, and some of the most venomous snakes in the world are found within this family. Elapids produce a neurotoxic venom that attacks the central nervous systems (breathing) of their prey).

Viperidae -- The Viperidae family of snakes (known as viperids) includes rattlesnakes, vipers, adders and other species. All types of snakes in the Viperidae family are venomous. In the United States, most venomous snakes species fall within this family (including all rattlesnakes, the copperhead, and the water moccasin). The coral snake (and elapid) is one of the only venomous snakes in the U.S. that is not in the Viperidae family. Nearly all members of this family produce hematoxic venom that attacks the tissue and blood of their prey.

Hydrophiidae -- As the name suggests, the Hydrophiidae family includes sea snakes. Most sea snakes are venomous, and some species produce an incredibly powerful venom, a drop of which could kill a grown man. Fortunately for humans, sea snakes are reluctant to bite unless provoked (though you should still leave them alone).


photo credit: bing images

photo credit: bing images

photo credit: bing images

Snakes actually do have bones.  Animals with bones are know as vertebrates -- snakes are vertebrates. 
A snake's backbone is made up of many vertebrae attached to ribs.  Humans have approximately 33 vertebrae and 24 ribs.  Snakes have between 200-400 vertebrae with as many ribs attached! That is what makes them so flexible and helps them move along!
All those bones and the strong muscles protect the internal organs.  The throat of the snake takes up the front one-third of the body.  It leads to a really long stomach, which, like the throat, will stretch to the size of whatever the snake is eating. 
Snakes also have two long lungs, a long liver, kidneys and intestines.  The last quarter of the snake has a small anal opening (they have to poop, you know!) covered by a scale called the anal plate, and the rest is tail made up of more bone. 


Snakes have four ways of moving around.  Since they don't have legs they use their muscles and their scales to do the "walking".

Serpentine methodThis motion is what most people think of when they think of snakes.  Snakes will push off of any bump or other surface, rocks, trees, etc., to get going.  They move in a wavy motion.  They would not be able to move over slick surfaces like glass at all.  This movement is also known as lateral undulation.

Concertina method:  This is a more difficult way for the snake to move but is effective in tight spaces.  The snake braces the back portion of their body while pushing and extending the front portion.  Then the snake drops the front portion of their body and straightens an pulls the back portion along.  It is almost like they through themselves forward.

Sidewinding: This is a difficult motion to describe but it is often used by snakes to move on loose or slippery surfaces like sand or mud.  The snake appears to throw its head forward and the rest of its body follows while the head is thrown forward again.  (See picture.) 

Rectilinear Method:  This is a slow, creeping, straight movement.  The snake uses some of the wide scales on its belly to grip the ground while pushing forward with the others.


photo credit: bing images

photo credit: bing images

The jaws of the snakes are not fused together.  That means that unlike our jaws, snake jaws are not connected at the back of their mouths.  This makes it possible for them to eat very big meals, bigger than their own heads!  That would be like you swallowing a whole watermelon! 
If you had your mouth full of a watermelon, do you think you could breathe?  Not likely!  Snakes can.  They have a little tube at the bottom of their mouth that comes out far enough to get air when the rest of their mouth is full. 


photo credit: bing images

Although most snakes have teeth, four rows on the top and two on the bottom, not all snakes have fangs. Only the poisonous ones do.
Fangs are sharp, long, hollow or grooved teeth that are connected to a small sac in the snake’s head behind its eyes.  These sacs produce a poisonous liquid called venom.  When a snake bites, venom is released and starts to work immediately to kill or paralyze the prey.  For some snakes with really long fangs, the fangs will fold back into the mouth so they don’t bite themselves!  When a snake loses or breaks a fang it will grow another.
Since the poison will work almost immediately, some snakes will hold onto the animal, which is unlucky enough to be in its mouth, until it stops struggling and the snake can start to swallow it.  Other snakes will bite and then release the animal so that it does not get hurt when the animal struggles and slowly dies.  These snakes will use their flicking tongue to smell and follow the victim until it dies and can be eaten.
Sea snakes are thought to be the most poisonous of all snakes.  Other poisonous snakes include Adders, Cottonmouths, Rattlesnakes, Copperheads and
Cobras. Spitting Cobras can spit venom up to 6 feet away! Yuk!
In many countries, venomous snakes are caught and their venom is “milked” from their fangs by squeezing the venom sac and forcing the release of the poison.  This venom is then used to create a medicine called antivenom (or antivenin) that is used to save the lives of people bitten by snakes.  Snakes will keep producing more venom for as long as they live. 


Snakes use their senses to hunt, escape danger, and to find a mate.
Some snakes have very keen eyes while others can only distiguish between light and dark.  Since most snakes have poor eyesight their other senses need to make up for it.  Snakes rely mostly on their sense of smell and their sense of touch.
Snakes don't have noses like we do.  They have nostrils to breathe with but snakes smell with their tongues.  When a snake sticks out its tongue it smells its surroundings.  The moist tongue collects scents and small organisms from whatever it touches and from the air around it.  When the tongue goes back into the mouth the forks touches a special sensory organ called the Jacobson's organ on the roof of the mouth and tells the snake what it smells.  Snakes have a small notch in their lips that they can stick their tongues through so they don’t need to open their mouths.
Snakes can absorb vibrations through the ground and determine the size of the prey or danger by its movements.


Snakes will usually mate in spring, right after hibernation ends in colder climates.  In the tropics mating can happen any time of the year.  Male snakes will try to attract a female by doing a type of ‘play fighting’ with other males who want her attention.  They do not try to kill each other…just win the fight! 
Some snakes, such as boas, rattlesnakes and garter snakes, give birth to live young.  That means that the baby snakes develop inside their mother.  When they are born they are covered with a thin membrane, kind of like a goopy baggie.  The baby uses an egg tooth to rip out of the membrane and wriggle free. 
Other snakes lay eggs in a safe, warm place like in a hollow log or buried in the ground. Snake eggs are not hard like chicken eggs; they are kind of leathery and can be torn by the baby snakes with their egg tooth.  The Racer and Coral snake will lay their eggs and then leaves and won’t return.  When the babies hatch, a few weeks later, they will be on their own to hunt for food. King Cobras and some Pythons will stay with their eggs, keeping them warm and safe until they hatch.  This is called “brooding”.  After hatching the snake babies are on their own.
All snakes will lose their egg tooth shortly after hatching.
Snakes will reproduce, or give birth, once a year to every 3 years


photo credit: bing images

photo credit: bing images

The 22.6-foot reticulated python, shot by Kekek Aduanan (right) on June 9, 1970

The skin of the same python, post-butchering.

It is hard to believe but snakes have many enemies. Large birds, wild boars, mongooses, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and even other snakes are a few of the dangers snakes fall prey to.
Many people find it surprising that the largest and the scariest snakes can be afraid of anything, but it is true.  While they are young they are easy prey to many birds and mammals but when they are older and larger they have humans to fear.
Humans hunt snakes for various reasons.  Many different breeds of snakes are captured and shipped to other countries to be sold in pet shops. Venomous snakes are used for making anti-venon, which is made from their venom and is used to save the life of a snakebite victim.  Snakeskin is used for making many things including shoes, purses and belts.  And, unfortunately, many people often kill snakes out of fear.
One of the biggest threats to the snake population, the same as with many other animals, is the destruction of their habitats by humans.  Their homes are being destroyed to make room for ranches, farms and highways.
Snakes have many ways of protecting themselves.  Their coloring alone is great camouflage and some snakes can burrow down under sand or leaves for extra coverage.  Some huff, puff and hiss loudly or shake their rattle tail to scare off a possible predator while others will flop over and hang their tongue out and play dead! Venomous snakes will try to escape or frighten off a hunter before ever trying to bite them.


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