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Snake Facts

Why do snakes shed their skin? A snake is

covered with scales, which are composed of a
material similar to human fingernails and
protected by a thin layer of skin. As a snake
grows the skin stretches, becomes worn and
needs to be renewed by a shedding process.
The frequency of shedding depends on the
rate of growth. Some snakes may shed every
couple of weeks while others may only shed
once a month. The shedding process takes
several days. The first step is the formation of
a new layer of skin beneath the old one.
During this time snakes will become grayish
or bluish in color. Its eyes will turn very blue
and the snake has difficulty seeing. Snakes
often remain in hiding and refuse food until it
has shed its skin. Snakes shed their old skin in
one piece starting from the head, and turning
the skin inside out as it crawls out of the skin.
Many times a snake will soak itself in water
just before shedding to assist with the
shedding process. The shed skin stretches
making it longer than the actual snake. After
shedding a snakes coloration is bright and it
shines. It also hunts for food immediately after

Why does a snake flicker its tongue? A

snakes tongue is a forked sensory structure
used to explore its surroundings and help it
find food. As the tongue flicks in and out it is
picking up air-borne particles and tasting
Are snakes slimy? Snakes are not slimy but
rather they are dry to the touch. They appear
wet because of their smooth, highly polished
A healthy outdoor environment teams with a
variety of animals. Each animal plays a role in
the total picture, including snakes.
Snakes do not usually travel very far. Most
have specific habitat and range.
In general, snakes like cool, damp, dark areas
where they can hide out during the hottest
time of day. During the early part of the day
they may move into a sunny spot to warm up.
Snakes are most active at dusk and early in
the morning. During new construction, natural
habitats are disturbed and snakes are forced
to move into new areas. Snakes are especially
attracted to fire wood stacked directly on the
ground, old lumber piles, junk piles, flower
beds with excessive mulch, weedy gardens
and boards or other items lying on the ground.

{{{{13. Crush the head of a snake after killing it It is capable of attacking with a severed head
Superstition says that one should crush the
head of a snake after killing it otherwise its kin
might find an image in its eyes and seek
revenge. In fact the reason is that a snake can
bite or kill a person even with a detached
head. And in order to completely neutralize it,
it is necessary to crush its head. Also, being a
cold-blooded organism, even if some of its
vital organs stop working it will stay alive for
hours and die a slow and painful death. So it is
recommended to crush its head to give it a
quick and painless death. }}}}



1. There are many superstitious beliefs regarding

snakes in India. As against the popular belief
snakes would neither hurt nor rush after human
beings to bite them. Snakes attack only when
humans accidently step on them or when they get

the feeling that they are attacked by human

2. Yet another superstitious that prevails among
people is the belief that snakes drink milk. The real
fact is that snakes hate milk and it is scientifically
proved that when snakes are forced to drink milk
they get sick.
3. It is falsely believed that snakes can listen to
music. Snakes never dance to the tune of the
snake charmers. In fact snakes cannot hear the
music it is the movement of the snake charmer
that forces the snakes to follow a particular
4. It is believed that the female species of the
Cobras don't exist and that Cobras usually mate
with species of other snakes. This is not true and
the fact is that Cobras only mate with its own
5. Yet another popular belief is that snake's take
revenge and that snakes when hurt would
definitely come back to take revenge. It is
scientifically proved that the brain of a snake is not
much developed therefore it has absolutely no
memory to take revenge.
6. Another false belief is that a bite received from a
snake in water is not poisonous but the fact is that

venomous snakes either when bitten on land or on

water is equally poisonous.
7. After summer showers there is a belief that
snakes would come out of their holes to eat the
sand but this is not true. Snakes don't come out to
eat the sand dust, they actually come out to
maintain their body temperature. Snakes cannot
control their own body temperature.
8. Pythons are believed to squeeze and crush the
bones of its victims in its own ring before
swallowing them but the true fact is that Pythons
only suffocate their victims to death. A dead victim
is enough for the Python to swallow its prey. 9.
Another mysterious belief is that if a snake bitten
person in turn bites the snake the poison would go
away from the body of the victim. If the victim
takes the risk of biting the snake the snake would
only attack the victim again and this would only
result in the snake injecting all its poison into the
body of the victim which would in turn result in the
quick death of the patient. (It is observed that
victims who bite the snake get their mouth
10. If the head of the Cobra gets cut then there is
a belief that the cut part of the snake hood would
fly and bite the victim. Even though this is not true

the cut part of the snake hood for some time after
being cut has the power to give an intense bite.
11. For some species of snakes there is a wrong
belief that the poison resides in its tail. There is
also a wrong belief that when such varieties of
snakes bite they inject poison through their tail into
the body of the victim but for certain snakes there
is a small projection seen on their tail which is
poison less and till now no snake is scientifically
proved to have poison in its tail.
12. The belief that snakes have supernatural
powers but this is not true and the belief that
Golden coloured snakes have diamonds in their
mouth is just but a fantasy.
13. Yet another myth is that snakes fall in love with
women are known as true snakes and if these
snakes are hurt they would in turn cause the ruin
of the family. There is yet another superstitious
belief that some snakes when hurt would result in
causing leprosy to the individual.
14. The belief that highly venomous snakes would
hang themselves upside down from tress and that
they would come down only after the death of the
victim is also a mistake.
15. The belief that in the olden days famous
ayurvedic physicians used their magical powers to

bring the snake which bit the victim back to the

victim and once again made it (snake) to bite the
victim, so as to take the poison away from the
body of the victim is not true. Also the belief that
physicians involved snake treatment would
towards the end get the curse of snakes and
would end up as Leprosy patients is also not true.


Friends this is to inform you that feeding milk to
any snake is injurious to the snake.. Snakes are
Carnivore and can not digest Milk as milk is a
vegetarian Diet..
Snakes lack the ability to detect color and taste so
they may drink milk feeling that it is water, But
actually it kills the snake.
Specially for indians who feed milk to snakes on
This is to inform you that snakes can not Digest
Milk and this causes infection to the Digestive
system and Ulceration,
because of the Infection or we can call it Luctroceintolerence in medical terminology

Snakes and common misbeliefs

Snake means death! It is amazing to find foolish and

utterly absurd misbeliefs like this and many more about
this misjudged creature. Compelling folklores,stories,
myths and legends have us convinced. Below are the
some common beliefs about snakes.
1. It is totally eroneous to believe that snake bites can
be cured by mantras, mantriks,magic spells roots
and herbs.Do you know that in our country about
25,000 people die playing fools to such beliefs?
Anti-Venom is the only cure for the snake bite! The
other remedies are useful to relieve fear and treat
shock, but should never be substituted for or
interfere with the anti-venom treatment. Snake
bites are cured only when timely treatment is
rendered to the patient. Mantriks casting spells,
using snake stones to suck out the venom,
Naagveli, kinds of oil, ash etc. are all futile. The
snake stone is merely a benzoin or a gall stone, and
has no effecton the venomous bite.
2. Snakes are revengeful. There is no scientific basis
to this. A snake's brain is not developed to the
extent of retaining memory. It is said that if you kill
a snake, another (its mate) will follow you and take
revenge. That, of course is wrong, but may have
some basis in fact. When you kill a snake it expels
its musk from the anal opening; it is very possible
that a nearby snake may show up to investigate
what the musk (a sex - attractant) is all about.

3. Snakes guard wealth. This is a common misbelief.

Old crumbling houses, 'wadas' are ideal for snakes
as they find plenty of hiding places together with
rats and mice. In the days of yore, people often
buried their wealth and it could be a possibility that
a snake and the hidden wealth were unearthed
together, giving this impression.
4. Old snakes have hair on them. Hair does not grow
on snakes. Periodically snakes cast of moult and if
some moult remains, it appears like hair.
Sometimes some snake charmers even stick hair
onto the snake's head.
5. 5. Snakes hypnotize. This is believed to be so
because snakes stare fixedly as they do not have
eyelids and cannot blink.
6. Snakes sway to the music of the flute. This
misbelief has been strengthened by our ever
popular but ludicrous Hindi films. Even though it is
now proven that they can detect some airborne
sounds, there is no evidence that snakes can
appreciate music. Snakes are said to dance to
music. While playing the flute, the snake charmer
sways and the snake moves to the swaying
movement. It is the natural instinct of the snake to
keep a close track of any moving object. In fact
they instinctively stay away from artificial
vibrations.The music of the snake-charmers only
serves to charm the audience.
7. Cobras, particularly the king cobra, are supposed
to wear a 'nagmani' that makes one a

millionaire. The poor Irula tribal snake-catcher has

a good answer to the legend of the jewel or light in
the head of the snake. When asked about this
belief, an Irula will reply, " if it was so we would
be rajas not snake-catchers."
8. Snakes suck milk from a cows udder by coiling
around its legs. This is not true. Milk is not part of
a snake's natural diet. Where they would find it in
nature, how they would obtain it with no powers of
suction and with over hundred sharp teeth in the
way, and of what nutritional value a few spoonfuls
of milk would be to a snake, are questions that
should be considered.
9. Sand boa bites cause leprosy. The blotches on the
skin of the sand boa have given rise to this notion.
Since this harmless snake has a body pattern that
vaguely resembles that of patients suffering from
this dreaded disease, people are quick to make this
association. Actually, snakes are clean and free of
10. A green tree snake pierces a man's head with
its pointed head. The vine (common green whip)
snake is accused of poking one's eyes out or
`stinging' one on the forehead. Actually, the
pointed nose of this harmless snake is soft and
rubbery.The vine snake can inflict a painful(but
harmless) bite on the finger or even on the nose,
but no one has ever received an eye injury.

11. Snakes like the sweet pungent smell of the

kevada or the raat-ki-rani. This is an
unproven statement.
12. A small snake of Kashmir is supposedly so
deadly that it melts the snow it passes through !
14. The tails of rat snakes, despite various stories
about them, are no more dangerous then pieces of
rope and so not have stingers, do not suffocate
cows, lash down paddy and so on.
15. Bites by a snake with rings on its body, does
not give the victim's body a ringed pattern.
16. In north western India, kraits are supposed to
suck a man's breath away as he sleeps.This is
perhaps the farmer-labourer's explanation for the
respiratory paralysis that a severe krait-bite brings
17. In Maharashtra, the little earth bound saw
scaled vipers are believed to jump through the air
for six feet or more. Six inches would be more
18. Cobras are believed to mate with rat snakes,
but they in fact mate with only their own species
and generally keep away from the larger and
sometimes cannibalistic rat snakes.
19. The red sand boa has an extremely blunt tail;
thus there are several popular stories about `two
headed snakes'. Just as it fools the mongoose and
other predators into attacking its tail while the head

seeks escape, a large percentage of humans are also

20. Pregnant women loose their eyesight if they
see a snake. This is not true.
21. Snakes hold their own tail in their mouth, form
a coil and chase people. Snakes use their tails as
22. Pythons suck their prey from a distance.
Many of our old traditions respect flora and fauna.
These sacred traditions had a meaning and were
observed thoughtfully. For example, worshipping the
banyan tree during vata poornima, or worshipping
bullocks. But somewhere down the line, these traditions
lost their meaning and became plain ceremonies and
rituals. The very next day after worshipping the
bullocks we are cruel to them or we cut down the
beautiful banyan tree that we worshipped!
Similarly, Nag Panchami is celebrated with fervor. We
perform a puja, pay obeisance to the snake only for that
day and the next day if it crosses our path we are scared
to death and kill it. Due to lack of proper information,
misbeliefs and fears, many important species of flora
and fauna have become rare and are threathened with
extinction ; consequently, disturbing the natural cycle of
coexistence. Rampant killing of the snake has led to
enormous increase in the number of rodents, which in
turn destroy food grain. Records indicate that about 26

% of food grain produced in the country every year gets

destroyed due to rodents. The number is likely to
increase if the number of snakes continues to decrease
at todays pace. Legal restrictions can control the
destuction to some exent. The Wild Life Protection Act
of 1972 passed by the Government of India has
included all Indian snakes in the list of animals to be
protected from being killed. The Act also bans sale of
items made from snake skin. Exceptional import
licenses are issued, but strictly for scientific purposes.
Snakes will continue to be killed until we all learn to
observe these rules.

Nagpanchami And Other

Myths Abt Snakes
In India, snakes are worshipped from ancient
times. Lack of scientific knowledge about snakes,
fear and because snakes consume the rats which
helps the farmers are some of the probable
reasons why this tradition may have been
established. In many Indian epics there are a lot of
examples of stories about snakes. These
superstitions and the misunderstandings were
deeply rooted in the minds of common people

because of 'valuable' contributions made by snake

charmers who is more or less a juggler and the
Indian films. In addition to this, nowadays satellite
channels are also doing the same. Those people
who believe that they are educated do carry some
misunderstandings in their mind about the snakes.
If we have to make our society prosperous and
healthy we must test these superstitions and
misunderstandings on a logical and scientific
background. In this article, we are going to take an
over all view of some misunderstandings about the
Snakes Drink Milk :
Snakes are cold blooded and carnivorous animals,
whereas milk is often consumed by the mammals.
Before the 'Nag-Panchami' for many days the
snake charmer does not give any water for
drinking to his snake. Because of this the snake
drinks the milk which is offered on the day of 'NagPanchami' to satisfy its hunger and thirst. But if the
milk is not digested then the snake dies. Thus by
forcing the snakes to drink the milk we are
indirectly killing them on the day of 'NagPanchami'. If we provide Pepsi or Coca-Cola for
drinking, instead of milk, snake will drink it.

Divine Vision of snake on the day of 'NagPanchami' :

On the day of 'Nag-Panchami' many people in the
rural areas offer milk and some type of grains
(Lahi) on the snake's hill. On such occasions, if the
snake comes out of the hill because of some
reason or because of wetness of milk, people feel
that snake has given them the divine vision and
some of them go forward to offer Haldi and KumKum. If the snake is without poison then its ok.
Even if it bites nothing will happen. But if the snake
happens to be poisonous then one may have to
loose his life. We know that today is the day of
'Nag-Panchami' but the snake is unaware of this,
for the snake all days are alike.
Snake dances when the charmer/juggler plays the
Been or Pungi :
Snake does not have any hearing or acoustic
organ in its body. In other words snakes do not
have ears. They are totally deaf. When the
charmer plays his Been or Pungi he is giving a
particular motion to the Been or Pungi. The snake
is giving a defensive response to this and it is not
responding to the music played on the Been or

Pungi. Snake can not hear any sound, which is

propagated through the air. If we hold a black cloth
in between the snake and the Been we will see the
snake is not dancing and this is sure.
Snake take revenge :
We often hear myths like if the snake escapes
from human attack, then it takes revenge or if we
kill a male snake then the female can take
revenge. The snake has an undeveloped brain. So
its memory is also very weak. Snakes can not
keep in its mind any event or any person in
particular. Therefore the snake which escapes
from human attack or a female snake whose male
is being killed can not perceive a particular person.
Physical description

Snakes range in length from Anacondas and Pythons, 25

to 30 feet long, way down to a 2008 discovery in
Barbados who's only about 4 inches long (the Barbados
Threadsnake, Leptotyphlops carlae). The weight range
for snakes runs from 0.002 pounds up to 500 pounds or
more (Anacondas).
U.S. snakes generally range between 8 inches and 6
feet. Their coloration is highly varied and protects them.
As with other animals, their color and pattern is

designed to blend into their surroundings, to fool the

eye of predators. They may be a uniform color, dull or
bright and with subtle markings. Some have colorful
patterns of spots, bands, blotches or stripes. Others
have a head that's different in color from the rest of
their body. With some, the color changes between the
head and the tail.
Eyes: Snakes don't have eyelids. It's this missing
feature that gives them the stare we find so
disconcerting. In many mammals, including humans, an
unblinking stare is menacing, a sign of aggression, but
snakes can't help it. Their eyes fit tightly in their head
and have limited movement, too. A clear membrane
called the brille protects the eyeball. The pupils of pit
vipers, a group of venomous snakes, are vertical and
elliptical, which adds to their alien appearance. The
pupils of other snakes are round, like a human's. In the
U.S., that's one way to distinguish a non-venomous
from a venomous snake, but with one exception: the
venomous Coral Snake.)
Snakes don't see color. Except for some species who
hunt using their sight, a snake's vision in unremarkable.
Pit vipers are equipped with heat-sensing organs (seen
as indentations, "pits," between the eye and nostril on
each side of their face) that can locate warm-blooded
prey. The pits give them binocular heat-sensing "vision"
that's especially helpful to nocturnal hunters.

Ears: Snakes don't have external ears. They also lack

an eardrum and some of the other internal structures
common to mammals. Instead they have a small ear
bone called the columella. Ground vibrations are
transmitted to the columella through skin, bone and
muscle, delivering a sound pattern. Snakes also pick up
sound waves through the air, but probably don't hear
these sounds as well as a human does.
Nose: Snakes have a nose and nostrils they draw air
through. It's their primary method of detecting smells,
but not their only one.
Tongue: All snakes have a forked tongue, and what's
with all that flicking in and out they do? Well, as it turns
out, they're tasting their environment, including us if
we're nearby. They use their tongue to sample chemical
molecules in the air which they draw into their mouth
for identification by a special organ named the
vomeronasal organ, or "Jacobson's organ."
Unique to reptiles, the Jacobson's organ is located on
the roof of the snake's mouth, where our soft palate
would be. This organ has chemical receptors that are
each specialized to receive only a specific type of
chemical. Essentially this is what the snake is doing with
his tongue: He flicks it out through his "lips" and waves

it around in the air to catch microscopic particles in

receptors that are on his tongue. He then draws his
tongue into his mouth and deposits these particles into
the Jacobson's organ, where they are sorted by
chemical type and analyzed. While this is going on, the
tongue is already back outside grabbing more particles.
The amount of tongue flicking is directly related to
changes in the snake's environment. When we approach
it, we are a perceived change and his tongue goes wild.
The results of the chemical analysis are transmitted to
the snake's brain, along with other information gathered
by infrared sensors located on his face. He arrives at an
answer: Yummy, a big, fat rat is right over there, or
eek! it's a human!
Teeth: All snakes have tiny teeth, but they're not
designed for chewing. They're used to hold prey, which
is always swallowed whole. Snakes are known for being
able to swallow prey that's sometimes wider than the
snake's own head. What makes this possible is a unique
set of jaws. Where a human's upper jaw is fused to the
skull, the snake's is held in place by muscles, ligaments
and tendons that give it a lot of mobility in all directions.
In addition, the lower jaw is double-jointed, allowing it
to dislocate when necessary. And, finally, the bones on
the front of a snake's lower jaw aren't fused into a
"chin," like that of a human; instead, they're held in

place by muscle. All put together, these features allow

snakes to open their mouth up to 150 degrees.
Fangs are sharp teeth at the front and back of a snake's
upper jaw. They're hollow, which allows venom to pass
through them when the snake strikes. The venom
originates in a gland located under each eye and flows
through a duct to the fangs. Venom is used to
immobilize prey. Venomous snakes have long, grooved
fangs that fold backward when they're not needed. Nonvenomous snakes have stationary fangs.
Scaly skin: A snake's skin is scaly and made of keratin,
the same stuff that makes up our fingernails and hair.
There's a wide variety of types: Some species of snakes
have small, soft scales. Some have overlapping scales
and some scales are keel-shaped and appear rough.
Some scales are soft. Some are smooth and shiny and
look like they're slick. But snakes aren't slimy. Others
have little shine or none at all. Snakes have only a
single row of scales along their belly. The scales on a
snake's skin help to camouflage him and provide
gripping power for holding prey.
As a snake grows, his skin doesn't grow with him. It
eventually fits like a constricting girdle, and the skin can
wear out, too, like old clothing. So, he gets rid of it.
When it's time, the snake's body secretes a fluid

between layers of skin that softens and separates them.

He moves to a safe hiding place and stops eating. The
inner surface of the outer skin liquefies, allowing it to
separate from the underlying new skin. He sheds his old
skin all in one piece by first rubbing his head against a
rough surface to make it peel. Then he spends up to
several hours crawling forward out of the skin, leaving it
inside out, like a dirty sock laying on the floor. The brille
sheds, too, leaving the snake visually impaired or even
blind for a few days, during which he stays hidden. The
snake's body now has beautiful new skin. This process,
called molting (ecdysis), occurs as often as needed,
perhaps as often as every three weeks or as long as
once or twice a year. The faster the snake is growing,
the more often he sheds his skin.
Touch a snake and he'll feel cool. This is because snakes
are cold-blooded; they can't generate body heat
(ectothermic). Their body temperature is the same as
the temperature surrounding them. If the air around
him is 40 degrees, he'll be 40 degrees, too. Humans
have a relatively constant body temperature of around
98.6 degrees, so a snake will always feel cool to our
touch, unless he's been basking in the sun on a 100
degree day. And, that's not likely: They prefer
temperatures in the mid-80s. In hot weather they're
inactive, hiding out where they can stay cool. Snakes
regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of

sun. When the temperatures start falling at the end of

summer, snakes become more visible, spending more
time in the sun to warm up. This is when they're most
likely to be seen by us.
Since snakes also don't like it to be too cool, in winter
they hibernate. They generally crawl into caves or holes
in the ground below the frost line, sometimes in large
groups. While hibernating, they don't eat and they move
very little. Some snakes return to the same den year
after year. Harmless and common, garter snakes are
very cold hardy and among the last snakes to hibernate
in the fall. In spring, males leave their den first and the
females follow later.
Movement: If a snake is cornered by a human, he'll
become frightened and express it by hissing and
shaking his tail. Trapped, he may advance as a bluff to
try to scare the individual away. If that fails, he may
eventually strike. A snake can strike about half the
length of his body.
Snakes have four main methods of moving. The Sshaped, "serpentine" movement is the most common.
The snake accomplishes this by contracting his muscles
and thrusting his body side-to-side. He moves himself
forward by pushing against resistance points, such as
rocks and branches. In water, the S-movement easily

moves the snake forward (note the curves of the

snake's body in the image at the top of this page.)
Snakes can also propel themselves by creating a rippling
movement, something like a caterpillar uses. Another
method is "sidewinding," where he contracts his body
and then flings it. Snakes climb by first extending their
head and front of their body. Then they bunch up and
cling tightly with the middle part while pulling up the tail
end. Finally they spring forward to get a new grip with
the front end. And so forth. Some snakes can "fly" by
flinging themselves from high tree branches. They don't
actually fly, they flatten their bodies and glide. They are
venomous and, fortunately for us, live far away in
Southeast Asia.
Snakes live everywhere: parks, meadows, woodlands,
mountains, grasslands, swamps, marshes, deserts and
urban yards. Snakes like a warm climate and prefer
temperatures no lower than about 65 degrees. Some
are desert species, but a brook or pond with lots of
cover around it will probably attract the greatest
number of species. All snakes can swim very well and
look for some of their prey in or near water. (A snake's
eyes and nose are located on the top of the head, which
allows him to see and breathe while swimming.) Snakes

come in four varieties: arboreal (tree-dwelling), fossorial

(burrowing), aquatic and terrestrial (ground-dwelling).
The snakes living in your yard will most likely be
terrestrial. Most snakes are considered terrestrial, even
when they spend a lot of time in trees, underground
and in water.
In urban areas, snakes hide out in untrimmed shrubs,
woodpiles, debris piles, in rock piles, under deep mulch,
under porches and sheds, in crawlspaces, in basements
with a rodent problem. In summer, snakes seek cool,
moist places. In winter, they seek warmth and hibernate
below the freeze line.
Food sources
All snakes are carnivores and they're doing us a favor
when they visit our yard: Rodents are high on their list
of delicacies. In fact, the U.S. Natural Resources
Conservation Service says snakes are earth's "most
effective control of the rodent population." Snakes also
gulp down huge quantities of insects, other reptiles, just
about anything else they can swallow, and depending
on your gardening pet peeves, including slugs. Most eat
once a week to once a month. The frequency depends
on the availability and size of food. Not all snakes eat all
things. Some species seek out eggs or snails only.
Others feed on worms and insects. Smaller snakes eat

smaller prey.
Snakes use their hearing, sight and Jacobson's Organ to
locate prey. In the case of pit vipers, they also use their
infrared, heat-detecting ability. Some species use one
sense more than others, depending on their life style.
Snakes eat their food whole. Some can eat up to 100
percent of their body weight in one meal. After a meal,
they raise their body temperature to speed up digestion.
They do it by sunbathing, lying under a warm rock, or
even by extending into the sun only their body section
that contains the digesting prey, while staying otherwise
Snakes have very powerful digestive enzymes capable
of breaking down the bodies of prey, including their
bones. Some snakes, like boas, suffocate their prey by
wrapping their body tightly around him. Venomous
snakes bite their prey to paralyze or kill them before
Mating usually takes place in early spring when
temperatures begin to warm up, although some mate in
the fall. A female lets males know she's ready to mate
by releasing chemicals from glands in her skin. Called
pheromones, they leave a scent on the ground as she

moves about. The males follow it until they catch up

with her. A male begins courting by crawling all over her
and bumping his chin on the back of her head or flicking
her body with his tongue. He aligns his body with her's
and wraps his tail around her. When she's ready to
accept him, the female raises her tail to expose her
cloaca (klo-A-kuh), which is the posterior opening
through which the intestinal, urinary and genital ducts
empty. Mating commences and semen enters the
female's body through this opening. Males, uniquely, are
doubly endowed. That is to say, they have two penises,
called hemipenes, which are hidden when not in use.
Mating usually takes place only once a year. After
mating, the males go their own way.
The time between mating and laying eggs is normally
one to two months, depending on the species. Leatheryshelled eggs (up to 100) are laid usually in early
summer, in a spot that will provide protection and
moisture: under rocks, in leaves, under debris. Once
laid, the mother gives her eggs no attention, the eggs
and babies are on their own (a few exotic species, like
Pythons, will guard their eggs for a few days.) Baby
snakes have a sharp bump on their snout, called an egg
tooth. They use it to slice their way out of the shell. The
egg tooth disappears later on.
Some snakes give birth to live young (up to 150 at a

time) and carry their babies for 3 months or more.

There are also some snakes who hold their eggs until
they hatch and then deliver live babies.
Newborns range in length from 3 to 17 inches. They're
miniature versions of the adults and are able to start
hunting immediately. Males and females look alike
throughout their lives. The babies grow quickly at first,
slowing down considerably after maturity. They never
completely stop growing. Snakes live 10 to 40 years,
depending on the species.
Birds, birds of prey, skunks, opossums, raccoons, fish,
other reptiles, minks, ferrets, house cats. The biggest
threat to snakes is habitat loss and killing by humans.
Do snakes breathe air with lungs?

Snakes do not have a diaphragm like people do, so they

circulate air in and out of the lungs by narrowing the rib cage to
push air out and then widening it again to create a vacuum to
suck air in.

Do snakes have a heart?


Two atria and one ventricle make up the threechambered heart of a snake. The right and left atria receive
blood from the lungs and body, respectively, and pass it to the
ventricle to be circulated again. Encased in a sac, called the
"pericardium," the heart is located at the branching of the

How do snakes breathe?


When a snake breathes, it pulls air into the trachea and lung by
expanding its rib cage, and pushes air back out of the lung by
contracting its rib cage, because snakes have no diaphragm.
The diaphragm is the large muscle below our lungs that help us

Where is a Snake 's heart?


The snake's heart is encased in a sac, called the pericardium,

located at the bifurcation of the bronchi. The heart is able to
move around, however, owing to the lack of a diaphragm. This
adjustment protects theheart from potential damage when
large ingested prey is passed through the esophagus.

Snake Respiratory
System Anatomy
Snakes have a small opening just behind the tongue
called the glottis, which opens into the trachea, or
windpipe. Unlike what mammals have, the reptile
glottis is always closed, forming a vertical slit, unless
the snake takes a breath. A small piece of cartilage
just inside the glottis vibrates when the snake
forcefully expels air from its lungs. This produces a
snakes characteristic hiss. Snakes are able to
extend their glottis out the side of their mouth while
they eat, which allows for respiration while they
consThe trachea is a long, strawlike structure
supported by cartilaginous rings. These rings are
incomplete in that the snake looks more like a C than
an O. A thin membrane completes the open part of

the C. This configuration is also seen in lizards, but

the function of the incomplete rings remains
unknown. The trachea usually terminates just in front
of the heart, and at this point it splits into the two
primary bronchi, airways that direct air into either the
left or right lung.
In most snakes the short left bronchus terminates in a
vestigial, or rudimentary, left lung. The size and
functional capacity of this lung varies depending on
the species. It can be complete in some of the water
snakes where it is used for hydrostatic purposes. The
right bronchus terminates in the functional right lung.
Snakes breathe principally by contracting muscles
between their ribs. Unlike mammals, they lack a
diaphragm, the large smooth muscle responsible for
inspiration and expiration between the chest and
abdomen. Inspiration is an active process (muscles
contract), whereas expiration is passive (muscles
The portion of a snakes lung nearest its head has a
respiratory function; this is where oxygen exchange
occurs. The lung portion nearest the tail, regardless
of the lungs size, is more of an air sac. The inside of
these sac portions look more like the inside of a

balloon than a lung. There is no exchange of

respiratory gases.

Snake Anatomy
I remember a very good professor telling me once:
You have to know the normal, or you will never know
the abnormal. Veterinarians must know anatomy in
order to perform a physical examination, interpret Xrays and perform surgery. Reptilekeepers also should
know anatomy, so they can examine their charges,
perform physicals and identify problems.

Snake Anatomical Road Map

Because snakes are basically one long tube, it is
possible to partition their main anatomical parts into
sections. If you lay the snake out straight on a table
with its head on your left, going from left to right, the
first 25 percent of the snake consists of the head, the
esophagus and trachea, and the heart. Those are the
major organs and parts.
In the second quarter, about 26 to 50 percent of the
snake, are the top of the lungs, the liver, and then
three-fourths of the way down the liver, the stomach.
In the third quarter, about 51 to 75 percent of the
snake, you encounter the gall bladder, the spleen
and the pancreas (or the splenopancreas depending

on the species). Following this triad of organs you will

find the gonads (testes or ovaries). Coursing between
these structures is the small intestine, and adjacent
to them is the right lung (and in some species the left
lung, as well). In the last quarter, the last 76 to 100
percent of the snake, youll find the junction between
the small and large intestine, the cecum (if present),
the kidneys (right in front of the left) and the cloaca.
If you can remember this anatomical road map for
snakes, youll be a better herpetologist.

Snake Outer Beauty

Most reptiles have four legs. Snakes, however, do
not have legs. They also lack a pectoral girdle
(shoulder bones) and with the exception of the
boids, which retain a vestigial pelvis and external
spurs they also lack a pelvic girdle (rear leg
support). As with all reptiles, snakes are covered with
scales, which offer protection from desiccation and
injury. They can be smooth and shiny, such as a
pythons scales, or rough and dull, such as a
hognose snakes scales. The outer, thin layer is the
epidermis, which is shed on a regular basis. The
inner, thicker, more developed layer is the dermis.
This dermal layer is filled with chromatophores, the
pigment cells that give snakes their color.

Scales are formed largely of keratin derived from the

epidermis. As the snake grows, which they do their
entire lives (growth just slows as they get older), this
outer layer of epidermis sheds off. New scales grow
beneath the older outer scales. Eventually, the outer
layer sheds off, usually in one piece and inverted as if
it were a sock pulled from the top down. This
shedding process is called ecdysis.
In general, if the shed skin comes off in shards, it
may be a sign of some underlying problem. The
snakes health or husbandry issues, such as
improper environmental temperatures, humidity or
caging furniture, might be to blame. Scales are
attached to each other by soft skin generally not
noticed from the outside that folds inward between
each adjacent scale. Scales cannot stretch, but when
a snake eats a large meal, the skin folds are pulled
out straight to expand the surface area.
Basically two types of scales are on a snake. Its top
and sides are generally covered by smaller scales.
These can juxtapose or overlap like shingles on a
roof. The bottom of the snake is covered by short but
very wide scales that look like rungs on a ladder.
These special scales are called scutes. They form
the belly of the snake and are integral in the snakes
ability to move.

Snakes have two eyes, but they do not have eyelids.

A spectacle, a transparent scale that is actually part
of the skin, protects each eye. When a snake
undergoes ecdysis, it sloughs this spectacle off along
with its skin. Spectacles turn a light, semiopaque blue
as the snake prepares to shed. Herpetologists call
this condition in the blue. This is normal, but
snakekeepers who have never seen it happen before
may mistake it for a problem. Immediately before the
actual shed, spectacles again become clear. This
means that the shed is imminent.
It is imperative that shed skin be examined every
time a snake sheds to make sure these spectacles
come off. Occasionally one does not, and this results
in a retained eye cap. Like other shedding problems,
a retained spectacle can be a sign of a health or
husbandry problem. In addition, if a retained
spectacle is not removed, it can cause problems with
the animals vision and can potentially damage the
Snakes lack an external ear, but they do have an
internal ear, and they are capable of detecting low
frequency sounds ranging from 100 to 700 hertz. (A
young person with normal hearing can hear
frequencies between approximately 20 and 20,000
hertz.) A snakes inner ear also allows it to detect

motion, static position and sound waves traveling

through the ground.
Another external feature found in boids and crotalids
are the labial pits, a series of openings along the
upper and lower lips that contain heat-sensing
organs. These pits help snakes acquire prey, and
they warn them of possible predators nearby.
All snakes have a single vent, which is an excretory
opening. This vent opens on the bottom of the snake
near the tail and leads into a compound structure
called the cloaca, which will be discussed later.

Snake Head Features

A snakes head contains the eyes, nostrils, mouth
(and structures within), brain, and a special sensory
structure called the vomeronasal or Jacobsons
organ. Its paired openings are just in front of the
snakes choana, the open slitlike structure on the
upper inside of the reptiles mouth. All snakes have a
forked tongue. When they flick their tongue, the tips
pick up minute scent particles in the air and place
them in direct contact with this organ. In essence, this
is how a snake smells.
Snakes teeth line the inner surfaces of the upper and
lower jawbones (maxilla and mandible, respectively).

Nonvenomous snakes have four rows of upper teeth:

two rows attached to the maxillary (outer) bones, and
two rows attached to the palatine and pterygoid
(inner) bones. Only two rows are on the lower jaw;
one is attached to each mandible. Most venomous
snakes substitute fangs for the maxillary teeth. These
fangs can either be in the front of the mouth, such as
in a rattlesnake, or the back of the mouth, such as in
a hognose snake.
Snakes use their teeth for grasping, not chewing.
Their teeth are recurved, so once a prey item is
bitten, the only direction for it to move is toward the
snakes stomach.

Snake Gastrointestinal
Tract Anatomy
Gastrointestinal Tract of the Snake
For the most part, the mouth does little more than
catch food for the snake. Very little chewing, if any,
occurs. After a snake catches its prey, its kinetic
(moveable) skull walks the jaws in a stepwise
fashion, ratcheting the prey deeper into the throat
until ultimately its swallowed.

Saliva produced has little digestive significance; its

role is mostly to serve as a lubricant. The esophagus
courses alongside the trachea and extends from the
back of the mouth to the stomach. Its longitudinal
folds allow for great stretchability to accommodate
large food items.
The junction between the esophagus and the
stomach is clearly noted at a site approximately equal
to three-fourths the length of the liver. Long and
tubelike in shape, the stomach ends in a tight valve
called the pylorus, where food is dumped into the first
loop of the small intestine called the duodenum. The
duodenum is found just after the end of the long,
spindle-shaped, dark-brown liver.
In snakes the small intestine is usually straight, but
some species may have short transverse loops. The
small intestine terminates at the junction with the
large intestine. A cecum, a small appendage between
the small and large intestines, is present in some
snake species. It is not known why some snakes
have a cecum and others do not, but the appendage
is generally found in herbivorous animals but not in
The large intestine ends at the cloaca, a threechambered structure with multiple functions. Feces is

discharged from the large intestine directly into the

cloacas forward chamber, which is called the
coprodeum. The middle chamber, called the
urodeum, receives the urogenital (urinary and
reproductive) ducts, which carry urine and either
eggs (females) or sperm (males). The proctodeum,
the posterior chamber, acts as a general collecting
(mixing) area for digestive and excretory wastes. The
male hemipenes open into the portion of this
compartment nearest the tail, and both male and
female snakes have scent glands that also open in
this location.
Like mammals, reptiles have relatively advanced
(evolutionarily speaking) metanephric kidneys. They
are situated in the rear part of a snakes body
attached to the inner wall with the right kidney in front
of the left. They are brown and consist of 25 to 30
lobes. These look like a stack of pennies that have
been knocked over.
Because snakes lack a bladder, the ureters leave the
kidneys and open directly into the urodeum. Just
before entering the urodeum, the snakes ureters
widen, which acts as a urine storage organ.

Snake Cardiovascular
System Anatomy
The three-chambered reptilian heart is composed of
two atria, which receive blood from the lungs and
body, and a large ventricle, which pumps blood into
arteries. This heart is evolutionarily more basic than
the mammalian four-chambered heart, but because
of divisions and valves within the ventricle, the snake
heart still functions as a four-chambered heart very
similar to its mammalian counterparts.
Snakes and other reptiles have an interesting
adaptation to their cardiovascular system that
mammals lack. It is called the renal portal system. In
this type of system blood from the animals tail
passes through the kidneys first before returning to
the general body circulation.
This may be significant, especially in sick reptiles,
because many of the drugs used to treat infections
are eliminated from the body through the kidneys.
With certain drugs injected into a reptiles tail or rear
legs, the renal portal system may cause the
medication to lose some of its effectiveness.

Veterinarians must understand the drugs they are

using and how best to administer them.

Snake Immune System

Snakes, unlike mammals, do not have lymph nodes.
When a snake is sick, you wont see swollen lymph
nodes under the chin or arm pits like you might in
people, dogs and cats. Snakes have a lymphatic
system, but it just is not as easy to find. In some
species, such as boids, a tissue similar to tonsils is
found in the esophagus. The spleen is a small,
spherical, reddish organ located between the gall
bladder and the pancreas. In younger animals it
functions in the creation of red blood cells, and in
older animals it helps in the destruction of cells and in
blood storage. In most snakes the spleen is usually
tightly adhered to the pancreas, and the two organs
are often collectively referred to as the
The pancreas is found just behind the gall bladder
and just after the end of the stomach. It is a major
endocrine organ. Among many things, it helps

regulate the bodys blood-glucose levels and

produces digestive enzymes.
Interestingly, a snakes gall bladder is not associated
with the liver like it is mammals, lizards and turtles.
The single- or double-lobed thymus, a spherical,
reddish-pink structure, is found just in front of the
thyroid gland, which is just in front of the base of the
heart. The thymus is one of the organs responsible
for producing immune cells that fight infection.
The thyroid gland is responsible for the production of
thyroid hormone, a key in metabolism, and it is
responsible for the normal shedding cycle.
Reptiles have one or two pairs of parathyroid glands
found either just in front or just behind of the thyroid.
These difficult-to-find glands regulate calcium and
phosphorus levels in the body. Because most snakes
eat whole prey, the parathyroid glands do not play as
significant a role in disease as they do in other
reptiles, such as the green iguana.
About three-fourths of the way down a snakes body
are a pair of adrenal glands commonly called stress
glands. These glands are found closely associated
with the gonads (testes or ovaries) and urogenital
structures (kidneys and ureters). The adrenals are
pinkish, tubelike structures found adjacent to, or just

in front of, the gonads. These glands are very

important and function similar to the mammalian
glands. When a reptile is stressed, the adrenal
glands produce corticosterone, a type of steroid. This
is important because the hormone suppresses an
animals immune system, thus making it more
susceptible to disease.

How Snakes Digest Their Food

Snakes are often found to go hungry for long intervals. Such
behavior is mostly observed after they have huge meals. Here
are some interesting facts about how snakes digest their food.
Did you know?
The digestive enzymes of snakes are so powerful that they can
dissolve bones and egg shells. However, hair, claws, insect
shells, etc., are usually excreted by these animals.
Snakes have long, narrow, and limbless bodies. Due to this
body shape, their internal organs are arranged in a linear
manner. As far as the digestive system of snakes is concerned,
it runs through almost the entire length of the body. It starts
from the buccal cavity, and extends till the anus. The system is
well adapted to the feeding behavior of these animals.
Most snakes often exhibit an intermittent feeding behavior with
long intervals between meals. Such intervals may span from a
few days to weeks, months, and even years in some cases. An
interesting fact is that when an infrequent feeder snake gets
active, their digestive system remains inactive. After the meal,
the snake turns inactive, but the digestive system gets active.
They have specialized digestive systems that undergo rapid

growth to cope up with the increased demands of digestion.

The increased rate of activity slows down once the meal is
digested completely. The digestive system shrinks in size, and
turns dormant. Let us take a look at how snakes digest their
Digestion in Snakes
Intake: The digestive system of a snake starts from the mouth,
which is highly modified to swallow the prey in whole. The jaws
as well as parts of their skulls are flexible enough to swallow
large prey. Another interesting fact is that, in most cases, the
prey is swallowed (without chewing) headfirst, so that its
horns, limbs, hair, feathers, or spines, do not get stuck and
cause injury to the snake. However, such injuries may happen
in some cases. The process of digestion begins in the mouth,
as the prey is coated with saliva that contains digestive
enzymes. The process of swallowing may take several hours or
even days.
Digestion: The long tube-like structure that connects the mouth
with the stomach is called the esophagus. In snakes, the
esophagus is muscular as well as lengthy. It may measure onequarter to one-half the body length of the snake. The organ is
highly distensible to facilitate movement of large prey to the
stomach. It is the contraction of the muscles on the walls of
the esophagus that aids to move the prey to the stomach. The
cells on the stomach walls produce strong digestive juices that
help dissolve the prey. Even the small intestine produces some
secretions that help in the process of digestion.
The small intestine is a tube-like structure that absorbs

nutrients from the food. The liver too, produces bile that is
stored in the gallbladder. The bile is sent through the
duodenum to the small intestine, so as to break down fat. The
pancreas also produces some digestive juices. The food is sent
to the large intestine, through the cecum. As compared to
other parts of the digestive system of a snake, the large
intestine is the least muscular and thin-walled structure. The
large intestine ends in the rectum, which, in turn, opens up to
the cloaca that leads to the opening outside the body.
Everything, except the claws and hair of the prey, is digested
by snakes