Slithery snakes are found on every continent besides the frosty land mass of Antarctica. A billion-dollar black market fuels the desire for fashionable python skin, and anacondas and rattlesnakes often feature as baddies in movies like Snakes on a Plane. But there's so much more to these cold-blooded animals than their skin or human projections. P.S. — it's possible but improbable that a snake will come up your toilet.
There are more than 3,000 snake species on the planet, and only 600 are venomous. An even smaller number of species (about 200) are capable of killing a human. This means that many of the snakes you will encounter are harmless animals. Various snakes differ in looks, whether they're nocturnal or diurnal, and where they live. Some snakes, such as mole vipers, burrow, and some like the yellow-lipped sea krait hunt in the ocean before returning to land to rest, digest, and make babies.
Snakes wrap themselves around tree branches so flexibly that it's easy to forget they have more bones than humans. These vertebrates have long spines, hundreds of ribs to encase their organs, and special skulls and jaws to consume larger animals. Constrictors use their bones and muscles to squeeze the life out of prey.
The black mamba can sprint in short bursts of 10-12 mph and holds the Guinness World record for the fastest land snake. Human beings running for their lives can outrun a snake. Snakes can accelerate and strike at 6.7 miles per hour which is ten times the speed of a jackrabbit trying to escape a predator.
If you ever see snakes wrapped together, they're often fighting, not mating. Snakes fight over females, which is at least one thing they have in common with people. They intertwine, rise, and try to wrestle each other to the ground, and it's generally not mortal combat but a display of dominance. Snakes can engage in cannibalism when they're hungry or stressed, and some snakes like the kingsnake and king cobra have diets that mainly comprise other snakes.
The world's largest snakes by length or weight are pythons and boas. A 33-foot reticulated python holds the record for the longest snake in the world, and in the venomous snake category, the king cobra reigns supreme, with the longest on record being 18 feet long. Green anacondas are typically around 20 feet long. There have been cases of snakes eating humans, but it's a rare exception.
Snakes like the black mamba strike fear in the hearts of many. The black mamba's potent venom can kill a person within 20 minutes of the bite occurring, but fatalities can occur up to three hours later. Attacks tend to take place when the snake feels provoked. Between 1978 and 2012, 17 people in the U.S. were killed by pet constrictors.
Hibernation is a term associated with warm-blooded mammals. Snakes brumate when it's cold. Some snakes become less active for up to an impressive eight months. They often hide out in dens with hundreds of other serpents, a nightmarish notion for many people. This overwintering dormancy is due to vulnerability during frigid seasons. The snakes are less able to digest prey.
Ball pythons are popular and long-lived snakes with chilled-out temperaments. Milk snakes are also very docile and grow up to a manageable size of 4 feet. And corn snakes are a kid-friendly species that pose no harm if treated well. They're friendly, easy to care for, and can be handled without issue.
As snakes grow, they shed their skin. This process is known as ecdysis, and instead of shedding small pieces of skin like humans, a whole piece of skin comes off over a one to two-week period. This happens naturally multiple times a year and after a snake heals from a wound. Snake vision is impaired while molting occurs, and if you have a pet snake, you'll notice its eyes change to a blue color. Snakes thus feel quite vulnerable during this time.
Snakes are steeped in symbolism, whether as the trickster tempting Eve or as a fertile force of regeneration, aesthetically similar to an umbilical cord. Sayings like 'snake in the grass' link these fascinating animals with deception and betrayal, and popular games like Snakes and Ladders further utilize snakes as stand-ins for vices and bad luck.
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