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Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)

Posted August 10, 2009 12:01 AM by Vi Pham

There are over 2900 known species of snakes in the world, and they make up fifteen families. In Part 1, we examined Leptotyphlopidae, Boidae, and Viperidae. Today, we'll look at Elapidae and Colubridae.

Dangerous Delinquents

Elapidae has well over 200 species. All members of this family are venomous, but many aren't a threat to humans. It just so happens, however, that some elapids are the most venomous snakes in the world. This group includes the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), and some sea snakes. In contrast to the hinged fangs of vipers, elapids have fixed fangs.

The king cobra is the longest, but not the most massive. venomous snake in the world. King cobras can reach a length of 6.7 m (22 ft); however, most only grow to 4 m (13 ft). When faced with danger, the king cobra will, like most other snakes, attempt to flee. If there is no easy escape, it will flatten its upper body by spreading its ribs to form the very distinctive cobra hood.

The second-longest venomous snake is the black mamba. Named for the color of the inside of its mouth, the black mamba is actually a brown, olive green, or metallic color. Black mambas can be as long as 4.5 m (14 ft), but average 2.5 m (8 ft). To make up for the fact that it isn't the longest venomous snake, the black mamba is the fastest snake on land and can travel up to 20 km/h (12 mph). It is also extremely aggressive and will not hesitate to strike when threatened.

Continental Colubrids

Colubridae is the largest snake family of all, with over 1,700 species. Colubrids are found on every continent except for Antarctica. There is no common characteristic among all colubrids, however. If a species of snake does not fit into any of the other families, it ends up in Colubridae.

Several Colubridae species are venomous, but only a few species, like the boomslang (Dispholidus typus), are dangerous to humans. Some venomous colubrids are rear-fanged. This distinguishes them from vipers and elapids, whose fangs are at the front of their jaws.

Colubridae consists of many vaguely-defined subfamilies. Herpetologists continue research in hope of finding distinct relationships among colubrids. Colubrinae is the largest subfamily with almost 100 genera. Elaphe is a genus of non-venomous colubrids found in Asia, Europe, North and Central America.

On a personal note, most of the snakes I have worked with are from this genus, specifically Elaphe guttata (corn snake) and Elaphe obsoleta (rat snake).

That's all for now!

If you have any questions, please ask! I will gladly consider focusing on certain families or species for several blog entries if there are enough requests. But if there aren't any suggestions, then my next entry will be about snake behaviors. I will discuss the use of camouflage, aggressive displays, defense mechanisms and more!

Editor's Note: Click here for Part 1.

Other Blog Entries

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

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United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2008
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#1

Re: Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)

08/10/2009 9:28 AM

Cha-Ching!

Just putting another reason in my current registry of why I justifiably fear snakes.

Until snakes can be defanged, I will try to ignore them.

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Join Date: Jun 2009
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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)

08/10/2009 10:08 AM

Snakes can be defanged. But it is extremely traumatic to the snakes and many don't survive the procedure (which is often just having their fangs ripped out, it's terrible!).

Venomous snakes can also be devenomed, which is where the snakes have their venom pits removed. This can also be extremely painful for them.

Good news for you is that most snakes don't have fangs to begin with, just teeth. And it should be relatively easy to ignore most snakes, especially since they'd much rather stay out of sight than in your way.

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Active Contributor

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#3

Re: Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)

08/11/2009 10:57 AM

Hi Vi Pham,

I am interested in animals, specially in snakes as I come from India - apparently a land of snakes.

While I do read your documents on CR4, I am looking forward to some insight on the impact of expanding human habitation on snakes and the impact; Do these have a chance to survive on a long term? underground??

Thanks, keep up the good work,

Anand C J

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)

08/11/2009 9:32 PM

Hey cjanand,

Over the years I have thought a lot about the impact of human development on reptiles, especially for those reptiles, like snakes, that seem to have gained a bad reputation.

Right now my entries are more about what snakes are and how they function (there is still a lot of information to cover!). But at the end of my series I will probably include an entry about the effects, whether good or bad, of mankind on reptile livelihood and reptile conservation (and now that I know that there is interest in the topic, I will definitely try to do so and I'll try to answer your questions as best I can).

I'm really glad that you have an interest in snakes and I hope you will keep reading my posts!

Thanks!

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