How Well Do You Know Snakes?
Published on February 14, 2013
Think you know a thing or two about snakes? You might be surprised by a few of these fun facts!
3,000: The estimated number of snake species
There are around 3,000 species of snakes in the world. Around 600 of them are venomous, but fewer than half of that number are dangerous to humans, the World Health Organization reports.
1/10: The amount of food a snake eats compared to a mammal of the same size
Because they're cold-blooded, snakes eat far less food than a similarly sized mammal, according to the San Diego Zoo. A small snake might eat once a week, whereas a giant anaconda might go weeks or even months after a large meal.
25: The length (in feet) of the longest snake in captivity, plus two inches
The Guinness record for longest snake in captivity is held by a reticulated python named Medusa who lives in Kansas City, Mo. In addition to her impressive length, she weighs in at 350 pounds.
40: Length (in feet) of the largest snake that has ever existed
The largest snake that ever existed grew to more than 40 feet long and weighed more than a ton, Smithsonian.com reports. You don't have to worry about running into a Titanoboa, though, because it lived nearly 60 million years ago. And, obviously, is not pictured here.
500: Weight (in pounds) of the heaviest snake species
According to the San Diego Zoo, the heaviest snake species living today is the green anaconda, which can weigh up to 500 pounds.
4: Length (in inches) of the shortest snake known to man
The smallest snake in the world is only 4 inches long and as thin as a piece of spaghetti, according to BBC News. It's a type of thread snake that lives on Barbados that was first discovered in 2008.
2: Length (in inches) of the longest snake fangs
The snake with the longest fangs is the Gaboon viper. According to Guinness, a 6-foot-long specimen had fangs measuring 2 inches.
12.5: Speed (in miles per hour) of the black mamba
The black mamba may be the fastest snake in the world. It's highly venomous but uses its speed to escape threats rather than to attack, according to National Geographic.
40: Age of the oldest recorded snake
The oldest recorded snake was a boa constrictor that died at the age of 40 in 1977, according to the San Diego Zoo. (Actual snake not pictured.)
735,000: Estimated number of pet snakes in the U.S.
Pet reptiles have become more popular in recent years, and it's estimated that there are about 735,000 pet snakes in the United Snakes, er, States, Petfinder reports.
- Don't try to win a staring contest with a snake: It'll never blink, because snakes have no eyelids, says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Their eyes are protected by a special transparent scale called a spectacle. One of the signs that a snake is about to shed its skin is that this scale over its eyes gets cloudy.
- Snakes are not slimy! They're covered with scales that are made of keratin, the same material that nails and hair are made of. The scales are smooth and in some cases shiny, but definitely dry.
- Snakes have no external ears and no eardrums, according to Science Mag, but you'll have to be really quiet to sneak up on one anyway, because they can detect vibrations through the ground. They also still have the tiny inner-ear bones used for hearing, connected directly to the jawbone, which may detect vibrations through the air as well.
- Snakes can't tear or bite their prey, so they have to swallow it whole, even when it's bigger than their heads, says Life's Little Mysteries. But contrary to rumor, their jaws do not unhinge. Rather, the lower jaw consists of two parts that can move independently, attached in front by a flexible ligament.
- Snakes don't flick their tongues in order to look creepy — they're checking out their environment. The tongue collects particles out of the air and brings them to the vomeronasal organ in the roof of the mouth. It's sort of like an additional sense of smell, the Smithsonian National Zoo explains, and it's the same thing your cat is doing when she sniffs something and then stands there thoughtfully with her mouth gaping open.
- Snakes have tails! They look like one long tail, so how do you tell the difference? If you're looking at a skeleton, it's the part with no rib bones, according to Animal Planet. If the snake is still alive, you can find where the tail starts by turning it over and finding the cloaca (the opening used for elimination of wastes), although on second thought, that's probably not a very good idea.
- Most snakes are not venomous — they hug their prey to death or just swallow it whole.
- Only four venomous snakes are native to the United States — the rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth and coral snake, the Smithsonian National Zoo reports. More Americans are killed by bee and wasp stings than by snakebites.
- There are two basic types of snake venom: neurotoxic, which is the kind that attacks the nervous system, and haemotoxic, which attacks the blood, National Geographic explains. But each species has its own particular cocktail, which can vary in different places and even be affected by diet. And it's not all bad: Scientists are looking at the way venom works to find drugs and cures for a number of diseases.
- In the West, many people have a negative image of snakes, but in Asian folklore, the attitude seems more mixed, with many positive associations as well. The snake's habit of shedding its skin makes it a symbol of rebirth. And people born in the year of the snake are said to be beautiful, intelligent, excellent planners and organizers — although also sometimes untrustworthy and calculating.