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Nature

colors, patterns and shapes…

snake skeleton
Snake skeleton. Photo by Ludovic Charlet from Pixabay.

The form and shape upon which so much beauty and controversy exists. whatever ones point of view is, this creature is an amazing animal. Fast, deadly and often misunderstood.

With about 3000 different types of snakes on the globe and populating every continent except for Antarctica there are an incredible variety in colors and characteristics, we will touch on a few of the more interesting ones.

The longest snake in the world at the time of writing and in accordance with the Guinness book of records is a specimen shot in Celebes, Indonesia in 1912. The length was a whopping 32.ft and 9.5 inches (10 m) and was a reticulated python. These snakes regularly grow in excess of 20 ft (6 m) and are found in Indonesia and Philippines.

According to a BBC article as follows, an Indonesian woman was killed by a reticulated python:

Her sandals and machete were found a day later – a giant python with a bloated belly was lying about 30m away.

“Residents were suspicious the snake swallowed the victim, so they killed it, then carried it out of the garden,” local police chief Hamka told news outlet AFP.

“The snake’s belly was cut open and the body of the victim was found inside.”

The link for this full story is available from here.

There are many such stories with some being of Anacondas and others with Pythons but how do these people get into such a situation?

These constrictors are ambush predators and humans are there prey, among a host of other large animals.

Some articles describe people having a lunch break and sleeping under a tree when attacked, others are awake, but alone and they don’t have much time to shout for help as the snake bites and then wraps its coils around the victim. Each time one breathes out, the snake tightens its grip so you cannot breath back in, within a short time one loses conscious and the rest goes about the snake swallowing the prey.

constrictor swallowing rat
Constrictor swallowing prey. Photo by sipa from Pixabay

Its teeth, in the region of 100 odd, all face backwards so once in the process one cannot be pulled out easily, this is a feature in all snakes and makes the process pretty one sided. The teeth are in rows, 4 on the top and two on the bottom. To swallow something larger than ones own head it is necessary to get the jaw around the prey, a common misunderstanding is that snakes dislocate their bottom jaws but they don’t have jaws like ours, they merely stretch the ligaments to achieve this.

Constrictors mouth showing teeth patterns
Constrictors teeth all facing backwards. Photo by sipa from Pixabay.

But what about other varieties? They are not necessarily as strong but have a different strength in the form of venom.

This may be a good point to address the venom versus poison concept that is often misused. Basically, poison is something ingested via ones digestive system but venom gets into the blood stream via a bite or sting etc. therefore snakes are potentially venomous rather than poisonous.

The formal definition of snake venom is: “highly modified saliva containing zootoxins used by snakes to immobilize and digest prey or to serve as a defense mechanism against a potential predator or other threat (New Oxford American Dictionary).

This venom can be one of three types, hemotoxic, neurotoxic, and cytotoxic.

Hemotoxins affect the blood and cause red blood cells to burst open and stops the blood from clotting which causes serious internal bleeding.

Neurotoxins block or disrupt the signals sent through our nervous systems. this causes paralysis and can effect the respiratory systems.

Cytotoxins destroy body cells and some tissue may be partially or totally liquefied by these toxins.

So which snake is considered the most venomous?

The Inland Taipan is considered the most venomous and has neurotoxic venom but also contains procoagulants which stop the blood from clotting .

The venom is so potent that a single drop is capable of killing 100 people!

Fortunately, this snake is not very aggressive and avoids people so bites are fairly rare. It is native to Australia and can kill one within 45 minutes, there was a report of a man dying in hospital 6 days after being bitten by an Inland Taipan.

A study on snake bites revealed that: 80 odd percent of snake bites are on the hands and fingers and just under 15 percent on feet and legs. almost 60 percent occur when people are trying to handle snakes and of these thirty percent were intoxicated!

…but the snakes get the bad rap…

We are all aware of the cobras, which are apparently charmed by the music… but they aren’t listening to the music at all but rather are following the motions of the flute. The charmer may sit beyond the range of a strike and there are other more controversial ways that the charmers may protect themselves.

Snake Charmers
Snake charmers. Photo by by DEZALB from Pixabay.

The cobra flattens its neck out to look more intimidating and as is the case with most animals, it is a warning. If given enough space to get away, any snake is most likely to choose that option rather than confrontation. Keeping still will allow the snake to assess its options and move away. The problem is most of us are stuck in a “Flee or Fight” mentality.

Spitting cobra venom on undamaged skin should be washed off as soon as possible and generally will cause no damage. The problem with spitting cobras is that they can aim with incredible accuracy and ones eyes are often the target. They are capable of hitting ones eyes (9 times out of 10) at 5 ft (1.5 m) away and their venom is mostly cytotoxic destroying body cells. Immediate washing of eyes can assist in reducing the impact of the poison.

When I stayed on a small farm, I was always weary at night especially where the outside lights were on the house. These lights attracted insects and I used to say – The insects bring the frogs and the frogs bring the snakes…

We had our share of snakes which I normally caught and released out in the bush.

So, how do snakes find their prey?

They use their tongues to chemically sniff by flicking their tongues in and out but some snakes have pit organs on their faces which can be seen as little holes. At night these are especially useful as they allow the snake to ‘see’ its prey much like an infrared camera.

A venomous snake will typically strike the prey and then sit back and wait for the venom to take effect before moving in to consume its prey.

Snakes shed their skins as the grow and a sign of this is that the eyes go a milky or blue color. At this time the snake may be more defensive as aware of its limitations and inability to interact normally with its environment. This behavior may be regarded as aggressive.

snake about to molt
Snake ready to molt. Photo by willypp from Pixabay.

Around 70 percent of snakes reproduce by laying eggs but the other 30 percent give birth to fully developed young. One of the thoughts on this split is that snakes in colder environments are generally live bearers.

Sea snakes are very venomous and live in warm oceans and have a flattened tail for swimming. They are live bearers that give birth at sea but more on these in a later article.

Sea snake
Sea snake with flattened tail used for swimming. Photo by Margaret Saldais from Pixabay.