Snakes: What You Should Know

Snakes are reptiles. You have dry skin with scales. They live on land as well as in water and are found all over the world except the Arctic and Antarctic or in the far north. Where it is colder, they hibernate.

There are around 3,600 different species of snakes. For example, they can be classified according to whether they are poisonous or not. Snakes can also vary in size. In the past one also spoke of giant snakes. Today we know, however, that they are not related to each other at all, but are simply particularly large.

Snakes are cold-blooded, which means their body temperature fluctuates depending on the outside temperature. When it gets cold, they hibernate and are unable to move. Most snake species, therefore, live in the warm tropics of Africa, Asia, and America. There are only a few species of snakes in Central Europe. Slowworms also look like snakes, but they are not snakes.

Snakes are dangerous but also strong. That is why they have always been a symbol of different things throughout history. In ancient Egypt, there was a snake goddess. In the Bible, a snake seduced Adam and Eve, so they had to leave paradise. In India, a snake played an essential role in the creation of the earth. In China, a snake was the symbol of cunning, but also of insidiousness. The Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent guards nature, especially water.

What is the snake’s body like?

Unlike lizards and crocodiles, however, snakes have legs and slide on their stomachs. Their skeleton has only a few different bones: the skull with the upper jaw, the lower jaw, 200 to over 400 vertebrae, and the ribs. There are only small remnants of the pelvis, there are no shoulders at all.

Snakes breathe with one lung and have a circulatory system. However, it is somewhat simpler than in mammals. The skin does not grow with it. So snakes have to shed their skin from time to time. Sometimes it is also said: “You slip out of your skin”. Dry snake skins can be found from time to time.

All teeth are pointing backward so the snake can swallow its prey in one piece. It doesn’t have teeth like our molars for crushing food. Venomous snakes have two fangs with a channel through which they can inject venom into their prey. Most snakes have fangs at the front of the jaws, but sometimes in the middle.

Snakes can smell well with their nose and taste well with their tongue so they can find their prey. But you can’t see very well. Their hearing is even worse. But they can feel very well when the ground is shaking. Then they usually flee to a hiding place. So if you suddenly stand in front of a snake in nature, you shouldn’t yell at it, but stamp your feet on the ground to make the snake flee.

How do snakes hunt and eat?

All snakes are predators and feed on other animals or their eggs. Most snakes lie in wait for prey to come near. Then they advance at lightning speed and bite their victim. Venomous snakes will release and pursue their prey as it tires and eventually dies. Constrictors, on the other hand, ensnare the prey’s body and then squeeze so hard that it chokes on air and faints. Other snakes swallow their prey alive.

Small snakes mainly hunt insects. Medium-sized snakes prey on rodents like mice or rabbits, as well as frogs, birds, and smaller snakes. But they also eat eggs. Large snakes even hunt wild boar and similarly large animals, otherwise, they’re young.

All snakes swallow their prey whole. They can dislocate their lower jaw and swallow animals that are larger than themselves. After that, they often go weeks without eating.

How do snakes reproduce?

In the tropics, snakes mate at some point in the year. In the cold areas they do it after hibernation, so in spring. Only then do the males look for a female, because otherwise, they live as loners. Viper males like to fight over a female, the other males tend to avoid each other.

The males have something like a small penis called a “hemipenis”. With this, it brings its sperm cells into the body of the female. Between two and 60 eggs then develop in the abdomen of the female, which depends very much on the individual snake species.

Most snakes lay their eggs in a sheltered spot. Very few species of snakes warm or defend their eggs. Mostly they are left to their own devices. Even after hatching, the young are not cared for by their parents.

The adder, for example, is an exception. She lives in cold areas and keeps her eggs in her stomach. There they hatch and are born as fully-formed snakes.

Which snakes live with us?

The poisonous adder lives in parts of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. The asp viper is also poisonous. However, they only exist in the Black Forest, in western Switzerland, and in a few places in western Austria.

Far more common are non-venomous snakes. We have the smooth snake, the Aesculapian snake, the dice snake, and best known, the grass snake. In very few places in Switzerland, you can still meet the viper snake.

Which are the biggest snakes?

First of all: it is very difficult to find out the biggest snake. You could measure the length or weigh the weight. You often build both together, which is particularly difficult.

It also depends on whether you are comparing particularly long or heavy individual snakes that you have ever found. That would be something like the “record holder” of each individual species. But you can also compare the mean value. To do this, you measure a certain number of randomly found snakes and pick out the middle one.

Then you also have to consider whether the snake should still be alive today or whether it is already extinct and you only measure a petrifaction. The results are very different. In the next section, everyone can make the comparison themselves.

How are snakes related to each other?

The families of the boas and the pythons are related to each other, as are the families of the adder and the viper.

For example, the “big anaconda” from South America belongs to the family of boas. She is a constrictor. On average, it grows to about 4 meters long and weighs 30 kilograms. However, some are said to be up to 9 meters long and weigh over 200 kilograms. One fossil, the Titanoboa, was 13 meters long. The entire snake is estimated to weigh just over 1,000 kilograms.

The pythons live in the tropics of Africa and Asia. They are also constrictors. The reticulated python from Asia is one of the largest among them. Females can grow up to 6 meters long and weigh around 75 kilograms. The males remain shorter and lighter. As an exception, a reticulated python should be able to grow 10 meters long.

Adders are non-venomous and swallow their prey alive. There are 1,700 species of them, some of them here too. The best known is the grass snake. Very well known from this family are the rattlesnakes in North and South America.

The vipers are close to the adders. They are poisonous. An old word for “viper” is “otter”. That’s why we also have the adder. But you shouldn’t confuse them, for example with the otter. It is a marten and therefore a mammal.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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