Snakes are long reptiles with no legs.
They eat meat.
They catch their food in different ways.
Some snakes kill prey with a poison bite.
Some snakes kill prey by squeezing it.
Snakes are vertebrates, which means they have a backbone, and belong to the group of animals called reptiles. This group also includes crocodiles, lizards, and turtles.
Like all reptiles, snakes warm their body temperature by lying in the sun and lower it by moving into the shade. There are about 2,400 species, or kinds, of snakes in the world.
Like all living things, snakes have their place in the environment and form part of a food web. This is called biodiversity. They are both predators and prey. Snakes generally avoid people and strike when threatened. They should not be hunted out to be killed.
Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)
Snakes live almost everywhere: in deserts, forests, oceans, streams and lakes. Some are live on the ground, some live in trees, and others spend most of their lives in water.
Snakes cannot survive in places where the ground stays frozen all year around, so they are not found in the polar regions or on high mountain tops. Several islands, including Ireland and New Zealand, do not have snakes.
Body and Behaviours
Snakes have long, flexible bodies. They have short tails. Having no arms or legs means they can slide into holes, cracks and burrows in search of prey or to hide. People think snakes are slimy, but they are not -their body is covered with dry scales. The scales are patterned, which helps us identify the snake type.
Snake's eyes are covered by clear scales rather than movable eyelids. Therefore their eyes are always open and they appear to stare.
Snakes smell and taste with their tongues. The narrow, forked tongue is flicked out, and takes in small particles in the air, water or ground. The tongue flicks back into the snake's mouth, and a special part of the mouth analyses the particles and gives the snake information about prey or predators nearby. They do not have external ears and are probably deaf to most sounds. They "hear" by sensing ground vibrations with their belly scales and lower jaw. Their vision is used to detect movement - they have difficulty seeing still objects. Some snakes have better vision at night, and others see better in daylight. Snake's skin does not grow, so they must shed their skin regularly, having grown new skin underneath.
There are four ways in which snakes move, using their muscles and scales.
the snake pushes off to get going, and then moves in a wavy motion.
it braces the back end while extending the front end, then drops the front part, straightens, and pulls the back part along. This is effective in tight spaces.
the snake throws its head forward, and the rest of the body follows while the head is thrown again. This is how snakes move on loose or slippery surfaces like sand or mud. Watch it here.
it uses some of the wide scales on its belly to grip the ground, while pushing forward with the others in a slow, straight movement.
All snakes are carnivorous, which means meat-eating. Snakes must find prey, and they eat whatever they can catch. Snakes cannot chew, so they swallow their prey whole. They are able to disconnect their jaws so that they can open their mouths very wide to swallow large prey.
Snakes have different ways of catching prey, either by poison or suffocation. Venomous snakes kill their prey with poison, called venom. These snakes have a couple of long teeth called fangs which are hollow and fold back when not in use. They are used to inject poison when the snake bites its prey. Constrictors are snakes that kill their prey by suffocating it. They coil round and round their victim so it cannot get away, then start squeezing until it dies of suffocation.
Most snakes hatch from eggs that have a leathery shell. Snake eggs are rather oblong in shape. The female lays them in a moist, warm place where the warmth of the sun and the earth control the incubation. It may take up to 60 days for the eggs to hatch.
However, not all snakes lay eggs. Some snakes give birth to live young, the eggs having developed inside the mother's body.
Biggest snake: there is debate about whether the anaconda or the reticulated python are the biggest snakes. Anacondas live in South American jungles, and the longest ever measured was almost 9 metres long. The longest Asiatic reticulated python ever measured was over 10 metres long. However, anacondas are thicker and heavier, growing to a thickness about that of an adult man.
The king cobra is the biggest venomous snake in the world, closely followed by Africa's black mamba.
Australia has 30 different kinds of venomous snakes. The most deadly include the brown snakes, copperheads, death adders, red-bellied black snakes, and tiger snakes.
The largest and most poisonous of the Australian snakes is the taipan (say tie-pan). It is considered to be possibly the most venomous snake in the world. It grows to over 2.5 metres in length. There are two species, or kinds, of taipan. The more common one found in the far north of Australia, in Queensland, the Northern Territory and the top of Western Australia where winter temperatures are above 18ºC. The inland taipan lives in a very remote part of Australia, in the centre, and is rarely seen, so little is known about it.
The taipan has excellent senses of smell and eyesight. It quickly moves in on its prey, strikes fast, draws back and waits for the poison to work. As soon as the poison has worked, the snake eats the prey. Their preferred food is rats, and so taipans are often found in the Queensland cane fields where rats are plentiful. They also eat birds, mice, lizards and small marsupials. The female taipan lays 10-20 eggs after mating. Taipans are the most intelligent, nervous and alert of the Australian venomous snakes. They generally stay away from humans, escaping before they are noticed. However, the taipan will defend itself fiercely if it is cornered or threatened, often delivering several bites
Venomous snakes, including taipans, cobras and others, are 'milked' of their venom by getting them to inject venom into a jar through a rubber cover. The venom is used to make medicine called antivenoms to help save people who are bitten by those snakes.
First Aid treatment if bitten by a snake:
- Dial 000 (in Australia): if possible help should come to the patient rather than moving the patient to get help;
- Reassure the patient and keep them calm and still;
- Apply a pressure bandage to the area: bandage from below the bite to above it, firmly but not tight enough to restrict breathing.