Okay, I’m a day late, sorry! But, its time to celebrate and educate about tigers! Stay tuned to learn about tigers this week, and until then, check out the website below for some sad and interesting facts.
While most people think about snakes slithering along the ground, weaving in and out of tall grasses, you can find snakes almost anywhere warm. Many snakes climb trees while others swim through the water. In fact, there are sea snakes that stay in the salty oceans exclusively.
There are two infraorders that snakes fall in, Alethinophidia and Scolecophidia. There are fifteen families in Alethinophidia, which is where most of the snakes fall. They are: Acrochordidawe, or wart snakes, 3 species; Anilidae, false coral snakes, 1 species; Anomochilidae, dwarf pipe snakes, 2 species; Atractaspididae, burrowing asps, 64 species; Boidae, boas, 43 species; Bolyeriidae, splitjaw snakes, 2 species; Colubridae, typical snakes, 1938 species; Cylindrophiidae, Asia pipe snakes, 8 species; Elapidae, elapids, 235 species; Loxocemidae, Mexican burrowing snakes, 1 species; Pythonidae, pythons, 26 species; Tropidophiidae, dwarf boas, 22 species; Uropeltidae, shield-tailed snakes, 47 species; Viperidae, vipers, 224 species; and Xenopeltidae, sunbeam snakes, 2 species. There are three Scolecophidia families: Anomalepidae, primitive blind snakes, 15 species; Leptotphlopodae, slender blind snakes, 87 species; and Typhlopidae, typical blind snakes, 203 species.
While all snakes are legless reptiles, they do not all move the same way. Terrestrial lateral undulation is the most common method of locomotion for snakes. This is basically a “wave” of the body left and right while pushing against environmental elements such as stones or twigs. Sidewinding is used by certain snake species when there is a lack of environmental objects to push against, such as sanding ecosystems. While one side of the snake is in contact with the ground, the “wave” on the other side of the body is pushed up off the ground, and forward. When these previous methods are not possible there is concertina movement, which demands quite a large amount of energy. Since there are no push points, and not enough open space to use the sidewinding method, this method of locomotion requires the snake to brace part of its body against whatever may be restricting the space while the front portion of the snake extends and straightens out. Once this portion of the body is anchored down it then pulls the rear portion forward. One of the slowest forms, yet most subtle, of terrestrial movement is the rectilinear, or caterpillar, form. Belly scales are utilized here as they are lifted before being out down, then the body is pulled forward. Only a portion of the snake’s body can do this at one time as the rest stays on the ground to form anchor points.
In the trees snake movement depends on the type of tree branches and bark available to them. Snakes will use modified terrestrial forms of locomotion to move over branches and use any bark or branches as brace and push points when available. Some snakes will launch themselves out of trees to fall down on prey. Gliding snakes, as I mentioned in my “Flying Animals That Don’t” post, can actually expand their ribs a bit to create more surface area to control their fall, allowing them to glide.
When in the water, the waves of the snake’s body grow larger as they move down the body, pushing against the water and moving the snake forward. This looks similar to terrestrial lateral undulation but uses a different muscle pattern, and sea snakes are capable of using this mode in reverse, pushing themselves backwards.
Another interesting thing about snakes is that you won’t find them braving the cold, snowy slush of winter. Cold-bloodied animals, snakes need external warmth to be active, so, in areas that have cold months, snakes will do something called brumate. This isn’t actually hibernation, where the animals are basically in a deep sleep. Instead, when snakes are brunating they are considered to just be in a lethargic state.
Here are some more cool things about snakes:
- The black mamba is the fastest snake in the world, able to reach 12 miles per hour in short bursts. Something to keep in mind, most humans can’t run that fast.
- The oldest recorded snake died at the age of 47. It was a ball python living in a zoo.
- Some snakes, such as pythons, can survive on only a single meal a year if it is large enough.
- While most snakes lay eggs, some such as vipers and boas give birth to live young.
- On average, live-birth snakes give birth approximately 7 months after mating, while egg-laying snakes will hatch from their eggs only 2 to 3 months after mating.
If you follow this blog at all you’ll read a lot about wildlife and habitat issues with some of my personal experience thrown in. But, if you’re a student or thinking of becoming one, you might like to check out my contributions to another blog as well. Blue Lion Training, a natural resource education company that I intern for, has its own blog and HERE I write about some of the trials of being a non-traditional student, things to consider when researching graduate schools, the benefits of professional organizations, how to be a better biologist, and more.
John is also a contributor that talks about things from a current graduate student perspective, while John and Stacy are professionals in the field. Always a good read, in my opinion, and something you may be interested in if you’re curious about the wildlife/natural resource field at its various stages.
Since it is a business, I’ll point out that if you’re interested in some educational courses, it’s also the place to check out. Some of them are even online and/or offer college credits. They offer some cool things, and no I’m not just saying that.
I haven’t finished the rest of my book, Monster of God, in order to share information on the last two species, so look out for it in near-future posts! It works out perfectly though because I have something else to share with you today. Next Tuesday, July 16th, 2013, is World Snake Day. Not only that but the Partners of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) designated the 2013 as the Year of the Snake!
You should really check out the web site for a lot of cool information about snakes, their environment, and conservation efforts! There are monthly newsletters, teaching materials, and more!
Snakes give a lot of people the creepy crawlies, but I like them. They’re quite interesting. The ancestors of these animals used to have legs, but now their smooth slithering bodies are what sometimes gross people out. In certain snakes, usually boas and pythons, you can even see reminisce of pelvic spurs on x-rays. You can see similar things in whales. How cool is that?
Also, there’s the fear factor, but you know what? Very few snakes want to bite you; you are too big to be their dinner. Instead, most human snake bites are defensive. As I mentioned in my Venomous vs Poisonous post: “Approximately 40% of snake bites, for example, occur when someone is trying to handle a snake in some way, and 40% of those have been found to involve alcohol.”
There are over 2,900 species of snakes in the world and all of them are carnivorous animals. Unable to chew, snakes swallow their prey whole, so each individual’s size plays an important role in what they eat, although some are specialized hunters. Snakes have evolved complex jaws that allow them to eat prey far larger than the snake itself. The belief that snakes can dislocate their jaws is actually false. Their lower jaws are flexible and are not solidly attached by bone as ours are.
There are a variety of ways snakes strike their prey as well. A quarter or so of snakes are venomous, using their venom to paralyze, kill, or otherwise weaken their prey. Many large species use constriction, wrapping their bodies around their prey tighter and tighter, effectively suffocating them. Other snake species swallow their prey while it is still alive.
The smallest of the snakes, only identified in 2008, is the Barbados threadsnake (Leptotyphlops carlae), found on the Caribbean island of Barbados. The largest of these snakes can reach a length of 10.4 cm (4.09 in).
The longest species of snake is the reticulated python (Python reticulatus), found in Southeast Asia. Though the adults generally average 6.5 m (21 ft), the (possible) longest ever captured was 14.85 m (48.72 ft) long. It should be noted, though, that this specimen was not confirmed by scientists and so does not hold a record. That honor goes to a far smaller python that measured in at 10 m (32 ft 9.5 in).
The reticulated python is not the heaviest snaked in the world, only the longest, and even then it has tight competition. The heavy weight champion is the green or common anaconda (Eunestes murinus), which can reach lengths up to 6.6 m (22 ft). The longest and heaviest verified animal was 5.21 m (17.09 ft) and weighed 97.5 kg (215 lbs). These snakes are thicker around than the python. But, as with the python, there have been unverified records of enormous anacondas much much larger.
There is no clear cut answer as to which snake is the most venomous. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, such as, venomous against which species? Most tests are conducted on mice, which are obviously far smaller than a human (for example, based on the LD50 test the inland taipan is the most venomous land snake, yet it has caused no known human fatalities). Among the most deadly to humans are the black mamba of africa (Dendroaspis polylepis), the king cobra of India and Southeast Asia (Ophiophagus hannah), the common krait of India (Bungarus caeruleus), and the coastal/common taipan of Australia and New Guinea (Oxyuranus scutellatus). These snakes have an extremely high human mortality rates if not quickly treated by anti-venom.
When I was in Africa we actually had a black mamba decide to stop by. Trying to chase it away did little good as it took to the trees instead, only to come down later, right into a flock of guinea hens on the edge of camp. It didn’t want to eat us, but it could have caused serious damage.
Next week, more snakes! Unless you live in Antarctica or a few select islands, there are some of these reptiles living near you.
Imagine yourself lying down on the ground. Now imagine someone else “standing” on your shoulders. And imagine someone else “standing” on their shoulders. It doesn’t really matter how long these three people are together, chances are there is a crocodile just as long. Actually, Krys, the claimed “savannah king,” was a saltwater crocodile estimated at 8.63 meters (28 ft 4 ins) killed in Queensland, Australia in July 1957. We’re talking about a crocodile that was longer than a great white shark. Just sit there and ponder that for a moment. Now consider the fact that saltwater crocodiles can get out of the water, too.
Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), also known as estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodiles, Bäru, baula, Mururrba, madarrpa, salties, and I’m sure many more, can grow to be the largest reptiles in the world, surpassing 7.1 meters (23 feet). It’s rare for such a large animal to be found, however, due to extensive poaching for many years as well as legal substance and trophy hunting. But, even a smaller croc of, oh, 5.2 m (17 ft) will weigh around 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs).
These animals can be found on the eastern Indian coast, down through all those countries such as Myanmar and Thailand that surround the Bay of Bengal, Cambodia and Vietnam, those island nations between the mainland and Australia, and then the northern coast of Australia itself. After all, they’re saltwater crocs, they don’t mind an ocean swim.
Crocodiles are carnivores, and this particular species happens to be one of the most aggressive. They will attack any species that may enter their territory, whether on land or in the water. This can include humans. Their powerful jaws can kill many prey species as they are initially attacked, but larger prey often drowns as the croc pulls them into the water. The ‘death roll’ is a technique crocodiles use to throw their prey off balance, making them easier to pull down into the water.
Humans have been living with these animals for tens of thousands of years. Some tribes have developed a spiritual connection to the salties while, for the most part, all have learned to respect the animal. Some have come to believe the crocodiles only attack humans that are evil or have done something wrong, for example. But as has often been the case, with the expansion of Western civilization came the end of a more peaceful co-existence. Enormous and deadly animals, often times the saltwater crocodiles were hunted for the sole purpose of elimination and often times as trophies. Soon they began being hunted for their skins, their belly being used for belts and wallets and shoes. Overhunting, a common problem in the world of wildlife, began driving the saltwater crocodiles’ population lower and lower. A long living alpha predator, females reach breeding age between 12 and 14 years, whereas the males don’t breed until 16 years. By these times the animals are already a minimum of 2.2 m (7 feet) in length and could easily attack a human.
At one point India and Australia banned the hunting of salties in their entirety, a move to allow the crocs to breed and grow after years of overhunting. In the end, however, this move created resentment, even among the aboriginal peoples accustomed to living with crocs, for both the governments that made these rules from safety and afar, and the crocodiles themselves. What could be done if a particular animal decided to make a village its hunting ground, snatching people and pets alike? With these laws in hand, absolutely nothing.
In the culture we live in, where living things are valued based on their economic worth, and where enormous animals with rows of deadly teeth aren’t seen as cuddly or cute, a push to save the salties came with a focus on their monetary value. People wouldn’t be willing to assume the risk of allowing crocodiles to live, it was argued, unless they could get something out of it in return. And economically, what these animals could offer humans were their skins.
Eventually Australia moved to regulate both the hunting of salties and the harvesting of wild eggs. Wild specimens would be killed for their meat and skins whereas eggs could be kept or sold for the rearing of crocs in captivity, both for zoos and more for the future collection of their skins as well. Such a move has led to the rebounding of the population, though often continues the dearth of very large crocodiles.
In the deep outback where many of the Australian aboriginal people still live, these new allowances co-exist with their ancient reverence of the saltwater crocodile. Hunting and egg collecting are done not only within legal limits, but also with their traditional rituals and respect attached. This provides the people with the money necessary to live in the larger current culture while also allowing them a way to keep their traditions and values alive. And while the saltwater crocodile no doubt prefers to be the hunter instead of the hunted, these animals thrive in their natural environments, no longer threatened with extinction.