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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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Snakes: They’re all Around

Posted July 20, 2009 12:01 AM by Vi Pham

Snakes are everywhere! They're in the grass, in the trees, in the water, and in the air!

Snake in the Grass

Terrestrial snakes live on the ground - whether in a field, on a forest or jungle floor, among rocks, or on the sand. These snakes tend to be long and thin, allowing them to slip into and under almost anything. Personally, I've kept a lot of snakes in my house; if a snake can fit its head through a space, the rest of its body will most likely follow. This is especially true for juvenile snakes since their head-to-body circumference ratio is larger in comparison to their full-grown versions.

A common natural hideaway for a terrestrial snake is under the trunk of a fallen tree. Because it's dark and cool there, the snake can retreat from the heat of the day and find a safe place to hide from potential predators. Terrestrial snakes also have colors and patterns that help them blend into the grass, logs, dirt or sand. These features break up the reptiles' shape so that they are even less recognizable as snakes.

Watch Where You Step

Fossorial snakes and semi-fossorial snakes live in the ground. They burrow into the substrate and make homes there. Because snakes lack limbs and claws to dig with, it's not uncommon for a snake to invade another animal's burrow and force it out (or just eat it). These reptiles have evolved in a way that helps them travel through soil or sand. Their heads are slightly pointed (like gardening spades) and their scales are rough.

Swimming Snakes

Marine and aquatic snakes spend much of their time in the water. Over the years, marine snakes have adapted to living in the sea. Their tails have become wider and flatter, providing these reptiles with a natural rudder or paddle. Their nostrils have moved higher on the skull so they can take a breath easily while swimming. Many species of marine snakes have special muscles to close their nostrils when they have to swim beneath the surface. Marine snakes also have salt glands that allow them to excrete the salt they ingest from seawater.

Almost all snakes know how, or can easily figure out how to swim. Only a few, however, spend a significant amount of time in the water. Even fewer still never venture onto dry land.

That's Not a Vine

Arboreal snakes live in the trees. Just like the tails of marine snakes, the snouts of many arboreal snakes have evolved to resemble the shape of a leaf in order to blend into the surrounding foliage.

Some arboreal snakes are extremely thin, which makes them look like vines. Many of the larger species are shaped much differently. Their heads are large and most of their body mass is towards the end of their bodies. This allows them to use the front portion of their bodies to easily reach or strike at potential prey without throwing themselves out of their trees. In my experience, I have also found that arboreal snakes tend to be stronger and more muscular than terrestrial snakes, which gives them an advantage in the trees.

Some extraordinary arboreal snakes can also be found gliding from tree to tree. They are the result of some amazing evolution. I'll discuss these flying snakes in detail later, in the locomotion portion of this series.

Next Time

In the next portion of my snake series, I'll present different families of snakes and discuss what separates one family from another.

Thanks for reading!

Other Blog Entries

New Animal Attractions
Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction
Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 1)
Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)
Snakes: Clever And Deadly Behaviors
Snakes: Do The Locomotion (Part 1)
Snakes: Do The Locomotion (Part 2)

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#1

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/20/2009 9:53 AM

I have had my fair share of small snakes scaring me on land. But I am more cautious of snakes in the water. I remember reading about water moccasins killing someone in a book. Are water snakes more poisonous?

Great entry!

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/20/2009 12:38 PM

Different species have different degrees of potency.

One species of marine or aquatic snake may be extremely venomous while another may pose very little threat to humans. It's the same with venomous terrestrial and arboreal snakes. Of course, you'll never hear news about the venomous snakes that don't kill people. Only about the highly venomous ones.

There is some debate though over the most venomous snake in the world. Some sources will say the Belcher's Sea Snake whereas others will say the Inland Taipan. A single bite from either of these snakes could kill over 100 humans!

Luckily, you don't have to worry about seeing these in the wild in the US.

Thanks for reading!

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/20/2009 2:05 PM

Surprisingly even though an Inland Taipan snake can kill a adult human in less than an hour there have been no documented fatalaties. Are snakes with more venom often more docile than less poisonous snakes?

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#4
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Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/20/2009 2:41 PM

Most snakes try to avoid biting for defense. It is stressful for them, especially if they feel they are in great danger. Most snakes will attempt to flee the scene before biting.

Many snakes will strike out just for show, in order to seem more dangerous. I've had a few snakes strike at me without even opening their mouths.

The Inland Taipan may be very reluctant to bite, or people just know to keep out of the way

I'm not sure about aggressive trends between venomous and non-venomous snakes, but there are certain species that are considered more aggressive than others.
The black mamba (briefly discussed in my next entry) and the Russell's viper are both very aggressive and venomous.
Texas Rat Snakes are surprisingly aggressive although they are popular non-venomous pet snakes. Black Racers are also aggressive.

Age also plays a role. Young snakes can be very easily threatened. If I was that small I'd be easily scared too. Many young snakes, including the venomous ones, will bite with very little provocation.

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#5

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 12:54 AM

Hi.....i hate these creatures. My country is full of dreaded snakes. More so in the olden days when there were lots of forests. I've seen King Cobras in the wild, normal cobras, huge pythons and several other varieties.....but but never learnt to like them!!!!

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#6

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 1:38 AM

Snakes are magnificent. I kept 36 at one stage and bred many more. I just love them. What is the snake in the first picture?? Looks like some type of corn?? Very nice looking snake. Maybe snowcorn?? Anyway, if you treat them with love and respect they are very nice pets.

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#8
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Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 8:17 AM

That is my leucistic texas rat snake. I believe she was two years old when I took the picture. I also have several hypomelanistic corns at home. I'll be posting pictures of them soon too.

What type of snakes have you bred?

I'm so glad to meet a fellow snake enthusiast! I hope you will continue to read my entries!

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Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 8:46 AM

Very nice snake, looks very healthy. I bred various corns and rat's. Had taiwan's, corns (various), rat's (various), sinaloan's, king's, red tails and some local pythons. I even made my own breeding cage if I can call it that. Built all my own snake cages. Had my own mouse factory. I even bred them for my own use. Too expensive to buy all the food. I just love the little hatchlings when they come out. Biting everything that moves. Then a day onward they are as calm as can be. The corns were the best to breed in my opinion. Not aggressive at all. My wife was so scared the first day and when we sold after many years she was the one crying. She also just loved them. Jeez, do I now miss them.

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#7

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 4:50 AM

I have been living in Denmark and England for the past 15 years and the thing I miss mostly is the wild life animals, birds and snakes. I was born in the Transvaal in a town called Vereeniging where we saw a variety of snakes in the veld and in the three rivers around the town. My cousin and I discovered a pair of full grown Ringkals living under a huge steel pipe, they lay sunning themselves every day. We visited these two snakes as often as we could for a number of years, I think they eventually became accustomed to our visits, when we arrived and they heard our car door slamming they stood high looking over the tall elephant grass to see if there was any danger approaching, to our surprise we noticed that they did not retreat to their large hole under the pipe but continued sunning themselves outside.

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#10

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 9:06 AM

Ong Pham,

There was a bright green snake called the Bamboo Viper in Vietnam, otherwise known as the "two stepper", which was reputed to cause a person to fall over after two steps because of a rapid nerve toxin. Although I saw many of them, I never knew of any victims. Can you tell me anything about them?

I like snakes too! And your Rat Snake looks like our Eastern Hog Snake.

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Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 10:28 AM

From what I've been able to find, the "two-stepper" also called "Two Step Charlie" and "three-stepper" are probably one or more species of genus Trimeresurus, Asian pit vipers.

Most are green in color, so it'd be difficult to distinguish between them. All are primarily hemotoxic. Hemotoxins destroy blood cells and keep blood from clotting. They also cause organ and tissue damage.

Interestingly, death by hemotoxins is reportedly much slower than death by neurotoxins, though the location of the bite and the amount of venom injected would affect the speed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimeresurus
Here is a wiki page that contains some information and some pictures. Maybe you'll be able to identify which species you saw.

Hope that helps!

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Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 7:00 PM

Thank you.

It is T. albolabris. Color and size are identical. Given your explanation of the toxicology, perhaps there is some myth or exaggeration connected to the beast. It was told to us that of the 100 varieties of snakes in Vietnam, 99 were poisonous, the other one would eat you alive. (Seen him too!)

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#12

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/21/2009 10:45 AM

Have also learned that snakes are great at camophlaging themselves. I've met a few in the business world.

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#14

Re: Snakes: They’re all Around

07/22/2009 11:48 AM

I live down south near fresh, brackish and salt water bodies - so snakes, amphibians and various other 'creepy crawlies' are in large supply...we learn quickly about water mocs / cottonmouths and have seen them moving along the water - unbelieveably quick on water and land...as a kayaker; I've been given two polar opposite suggestions on how to handle a cottonmouth encounter.

One suggested I make as much noise as possible to scare the snake, the other told me not to make noise as the startled snake would likely look for dry land - which could mean my kayak! Yikes!

Needless to say, they might be beautiful - but I'd prefer to admire from afar!

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