Snakes have been around for more than 164 million years, with the oldest fossil snake found in southern England—a small stem-snake (Eophis underwoodi) from around 167 million years ago.
Although snakes have been around for millennia, people usually view snakes with some sort of emotional charge. People love them, hate them, fear them or even bring them into their worship services (hello, snake handlers in churches). It's hard not to feel some sort of strong emotions about serpents—and it's because humans have a long history of folklore with these animals.
Snakes are seen dualistically as good and evil. For the good, snakes' regenerative powers (via shedding their skin) are seen in some cultures as life-affirming. There's the Rod of Asclepius, for the Greek god of healing and medicine Asclepius, which is a symbol of one snake on a staff.
But then there's the caduceus, which has two serpents entwined on a winged staff. Although the American medical field has also adopted this sign to represent medicine, it's probably in confusion with the Rod of Asclepius. The caduceus has many associations including wisdom and negotiation, but also lying and thievery.
Whether you fear, loathe or love it, the snake has and will continue to play an important part in our culture and history as a human species.
So are you ready to sidewind yourself into this serpentine quiz about the oft-misunderstood snake? We hope you have fun! Good luck!
A snake does not have any external ears to help it hear, so it uses the rest of its body (sans the tongue) to help it. The vibrations felt by the muscles, skin and bones of the snake are carried to the snake's inner ear.
Found throughout the continent of Africa, the egg-eater snake (genus name Dasypeltis) has evolved to only eat eggs and thus has no teeth. The Indian egg-eating snake (Boiga westermanni) has also evolved to only eat eggs.
Ophidiophobia is derived from the Greek word for snake, which is "ophis," and "phobia" means "fear of." Around one-third of people have this phobia, which makes it the most commonly reported fear. According to a study, mammals may have an innate fear or disdain of both snakes and spiders.
The copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is a venomous snake found in the eastern part of the United States, and although it can rarely kill a human, it is the most likely to strike humans. The best way to tell a copperhead from other snakes is to look for the Hershey's kisses or hourglass-shaped patterned scales. The other snakes listed are either non-venomous or relatively harmless to humans, including the corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus), which can actually be helpful to humans since they like to eat rodents which can damage crops.
The burrowing asp (from the Atractaspidinae family) is also known as the mole viper, the side-stabbing snake and the stiletto snake. This snake is mainly found in rural areas of the continent of Africa and targets mammals like mice. The snake can attack with a closed mouth, using its fangs, which look like the heel of a stiletto pump, and stab victims sideways.
The African rock python is one species of snakes that goes dormant during the hottest parts of summer. Since reptiles cannot regulate their own body heat, being cold-blooded, then extreme temperatures on either end of the spectrum can be lethal. Other snakes known to estivate are rattlesnakes and the San Francisco garter snake.
Found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, the gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) has fangs that can grow up to two inches long. This snake also has the highest venom yield for any snake, and it is the largest snake in the Bitis genus and the heaviest snake in the Viperidae family.
Approximately 30 percent of snakes are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live offspring. The rest of oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Viviparous snakes, such as boa constrictors and pit vipers, live in colder climates where eggs couldn't develop and hatch.
The Colubridae family has around 1800 species of snakes, accounting for over half the known living snakes species. Most of the species are non-venomous and harmless to humans.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are less than 50 Saint Lucia racers left (Erythrolamprus ornatus). It was first thought to be extinct in 1936, but then was seen again in 1973. The rest of the snakes listed are now extinct or possibly extinct (Saint Croix racer).
Unfortunately, you can't credit St. Patrick for casting out snakes from Ireland because there were never any to begin with. Thanks to the Ice Age, countries like Ireland, Iceland and Greenland were a part of a land mass which was far too cold for snakes to inhabit. Other islands had no snakes because they were made by volcanoes (Hawaii) or were desolate (New Zealand).
The Guinness Book of World Records holds the longest living snake in captivity to be 25 feet, 2 inches, aptly named Medusa. There's also Samantha, another reticulated python, measuring at 26 feet in 2002. In 2016, a captured Malaysian reticulated python (which died three days later after giving birth) was estimated to be over 26 feet.
The name cobra, for the snake genus Naja, comes from the Portuguese term "cobra de capello," meaning "hooded snake." There are 38 known living species of the cobra.
Scientists consider the largest snake by measuring the length-to-weight ratio. So living up to its name, the giant anaconda (Eunectes murinus) has been measured at 550 pounds! This is also known as the green anaconda, which has been reliably measured to be 17 feet long but may grow up to 30 feet long.
The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is located in mainly eastern and southern African. It is one of the most venomous snakes, only second to the king cobra. The black mamba can reach land speeds of up to 12 mph.
The Barbados threadsnake (Tetracheilostoma carlae) is only about four inches long and is considered to be critically endangered. S. Blair Hedges, a herpetologist (scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles) from Penn State, discovered this tiny snake in 2008 and said it was as wide as a spaghetti noodle. Hedges named the snake after his wife, Carla Ann Hess, who is also a herpetologist and a part of the team which discovered this snake.
Kingsnakes (from the genus Lampropeltis) are are type of constrictor snake. They can eat eggs, birds, rodents and other snakes. They're immune to venomous snakes within their vicinity and can be found in the Americas as far north as Canada and as far south as Ecuador.
Sea snakes (also known as coral reef snakes) are venomous elapid snakes. They spend most of their time in or near the water and are considered to be the most venomous snakes. They're typically found in the warmer waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, while the water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) is found in the Southeastern U.S. and is considered only semiaquatic.
Snakes of the viper family, such as the other answers above, have solenoglyphous fangs, meaning they can fold up into the month when not in use. Coral snakes are a part of the elapid family, which means their fangs are fixed, or proteroglyphous. Because of the fixed nature of the fangs, there are much shorter than the hinge-like fangs vipers have.
Snakes don't need as much food as you may think. Since they swallow food, it can take days or, for larger snakes like the anaconda, weeks for food to digest. When people own some snakes, they may try to force feed them because they think they need the food—but snakes will eat when they are hungry.
Found mainly in the northern half of South America, anacondas are massive snakes, with weights ranging from around 70 pounds to possibly 500 pounds and growing from 12 to 17 feet, or even possibly to 29 feet, long. Green anacondas (Eunectes murinus) are primarily aquatic; that lung capacity is great for hunting all those animals it can get its massive coils around.
Even though the black mamba is more poisonous, the African puff adder (Bitis arietans) causes more deaths mainly because it's much more aggressive and can be found in more parts of Africa than the black mamba. When the African puff adder is upset, it will hiss loudly like it's taking long, deep, impatient breaths (you can see its body move as it does it) and then quickly strike. The fangs go very deep, enough to kill prey from the wounds alone before the venom acts.
Unlike the mythical hoop snake, joint snake and the lindworm, flying snakes or gliding snakes (Genus: Chrysopelea) are real. They glide in the air by doubling the width of their bodies and become, essentially, wriggling Frisbees. They've been studied by physicists at universities such as University of Chicago and Virginia Tech and by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The boomslang is a sub-Saharan African snake that is actually shy, and you could say the venom is shy, too, because sometimes it takes hours for a victim to know the venom is doing anything at all. The snake's large fangs are located in the back of its mouth, and it uses them to slowly kill its victim by chewing on it. Humans can die from the bites, but it's only when the snake is being handled or attacked that it will attack humans.
The Brahminy blind snake (Indotyphlops braminus) reproduces asexually via parthenogenesis, meaning embryos grow without fertilization. All the snakes are genetically identical. This tiny little snake grows to be two to four inches long and gets its nickname "flowerpot snake" because of how it was transported all over the world (except Antarctica) and is most common in Florida.
This snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) lives in the Australian outback and is known as the fierce snake—and it's for good reason. It's more venomous than sea snakes, and unlike most snakes, this one hunts for warm-blooded animals such as mammals. Thankfully for humans, it's extremely shy, which is maybe why it practically went missing for about a century after it was first seen by Europeans.
The snake missing from the other answers is the Indian cobra, whose scientific name, Naja naja, comes from Sanskrit, for "nāgá" means "cobra." This particular snake is famous for being used by snake charmers.
The hognose snake (genus Heterodon) is quite a character when it feels threatened. It raises its head off the ground and starts to hiss, giving it another nickname—hissing adder. If hissing doesn't work, the hognose snake will ratchet up the dramatics; it'll play dead (scientific term for this is "thanatosis"), with its tongue hanging out and emitting a nasty smell out of its cloaca (its excrement hole).
The word "brille" comes from the German (also Danish and Norwegian) word for spectacles or glasses. A snake's eyes are fixed and have no eyelids, so the brille is a transparent cover of skin keeps its eyes protected.
The eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) isn't here for a beauty contest. Those superciliary (a fancy way to say related to the eyebrow or the area above the eye) scales above the eyes help the snake to hide among the leaves.
The asp goes all the way back to the Egyptian dynastic period and was seen as a sign of royalty. The asp is also associated with Cleopatra, who allegedly used asp venom for her suicide, as well as Medusa's blood conjuring up asps after her death. The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is found in several kinds of habitats in the continent of Africa, especially by and sometimes in water.
Even though there have been many predators and threats to their populations (e.g., taking them as pets, aquatic pollution, bullfrogs and crayfish), you can find this genus of snakes from Canada's subarctic plains to the all the way down south in Central America. The colorful San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) has been endangered for more than 50 years due to similar threats, including people taking them as pets and the loss of their habitat.
Found in Southeast Asia, this gorgeous snake, with its bright coral-colored head tail and sky-blue stripes, has a unique toxin in its venom. It causes the victim's nerves to fire in synchronicity, basically frying its neural pathways, causing spasms and subsequent paralysis—and then death. Good news, though, for humans—this snake generally avoids them (it prefers baby cobras), and the toxin could be a gateway to better pain treatments.
Getting a snakebite can be a scary experience, but the reason most people die from snake bites is because they don't seek medical attention—so go do that no matter what, as soon as possible. Another thing you should do is keep the bitten part still and below your heart.
Snakes being cold-blooded, they get their heat from the sun and objects warmed by the sun. According to the book "Snakes" by Jen Green, 50 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature when a snake's body no longer properly functions.