Whether you love snakes or they give you the chills, you have to admit they have a way of captivating people’s attention. Cultures throughout history have had a love-hate relationship with these mysterious reptiles. Snakes have been viewed as everything from gods to demons.
Read on to find out some unique facts about snakes and what makes them so fascinating.
1. Snakes live on every continent except Antarctica.
Over 3,000 species of snakes live worldwide in nearly every environment possible, including deserts, swamps, forests, grasslands and the ocean.
The largest variety of snakes is found in warmer climates because all snakes are cold blooded or ectothermic, which means they can’t regulate their own body temperature. They need an external source of heat to survive. In colder areas, many snakes will hibernate for winter or seek warm areas to hide in, such as inside a garage or barn.
The only places in the world that do not have snakes are Iceland, Ireland, Greenland and New Zealand. Why snakes never made it to these island nations is unknown, but many of them now have laws against importing snakes because non-native snakes could cause extensive damage to the local ecosystems.
2. Snakes have been around for over 60 million years.
The largest snake fossil ever found was from what scientists have named the titanoboa. This creature lived over 60 million years ago and grew 50 feet (15 meters) long and weighed up to 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms).
It’s believed this ancient predator would sneak up next to its prey while half-submerged in water, and then bite their victim’s windpipe in one quick motion, similar to a crocodile. A snake that size didn’t need to squeeze their prey to death first like modern-day boa constrictors.
The largest snake in the world today is the reticulated python. By comparison, it can still reach a respectable 30 feet (9 meters) long and weigh in at 350 pounds (160 kilograms).
3. Snakes have no chin.
This is the secret to how snakes can eat animals 75 to 100 percent their size. Instead of one continuous jaw bone like humans, snakes have two bones that come down each side of their jaws. These bones are connected by very stretchy ligaments that allow them to easily spread apart and consume large prey.
How do snakes breathe when their mouths are so full? Snakes actually have a little tube at the bottom of their mouth that comes out far enough to get air when the rest of their throat is blocked with food.
4. Only 70 percent of snakes lay eggs.
The other 30 percent give birth to live young. Egg-laying snakes tend to live in warmer areas where the warmth helps incubate their eggs. Whereas, live-birthing snakes are usually in colder regions where the ground is too cold for eggs to develop.
Snakes do not take care of their offspring like mammals, but some species do protect their eggs and the new babies for a short time after they hatch. King cobras are the only snake known to build actual nests for their eggs, which the mothers guard viciously.
5. Some snakes can fly.
The thought of a flying snake may seem like something out of a nightmare, but a few snake species in the jungles of South and Southeast Asia are known to take flight. These venomous snakes can’t actually gain altitude like a bird. Instead, they’re experts at using the speed of a free fall and contorting their bodies to catch the air and generate lift.
Before taking off, they slither to the end of a branch, dangle in a J-shape, then push themselves off with the lower half of their body. They then quickly flatten to about twice their normal width, which gives their normally round body a concave C-shape that can trap air. By wiggling back and forth, the snake can make turns and navigate mid-air.
They likely do this for many reasons, such as escaping predators, easily moving from tree to tree, and assisting with hunting.
6. The majority of snakes are not poisonous.
Of the approximately 3,000 species of snakes in the world, only 375 of these are venomous. These snakes certainly pose a risk to humans, although many species luckily tend to avoid human contact.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive way to tell whether or not a snake is venomous at a glance. Venomous snakes often have an elliptical-shaped pupil, like a cat’s eye. Whereas, non-venomous snakes tend to have round pupils.
But realistically, you might not want to get close enough to look an unknown snake in the eye. The best way to keep yourself safe is to learn to identify your local snakes. Grab a field guide or speak to a local expert to find out which snakes you need to watch out for.
7. Snakes can hunt in groups.
Snakes have the reputation of being solitary hunters. But that’s not always true. A few species have actually been documented hunting in groups.
Banded sea kraits are a type of sea snake that can live on land or in the ocean. Their venom is 10 times more toxic than a rattlesnake’s, and they primarily hunt eels and small fish. During filming of the Planet Earth series, the BBC caught some excellent footage of sea kraits hunting collectively. Check out their video clip here.
Cooperative hunting has also been observed in Cuban boas. These snakes are known to gather at the mouths of caves to hunt bats as they move in and out of the cave to roost each day. They do this by attaching their tails to small pits in the ceiling of the cave and hanging downwards to grab bats as they fly past.
In a 2017 study, researchers watched a group of Cuban boas hunting for one week. A few snakes would hang across a cave entrance to create a barrier, so when a bat came through, it would be in striking distance of at least one of the snakes. And the snakes were very considerate of each other. Once a snake had caught a bat, it would leave and allow another snake to take its place. No individuals took more than one bat per hunt.
8. Snakes symbolize good luck.
Despite their fearsome reputation, many cultures traditionally believe that snakes bring good luck. In Japan, snakes symbolize wealth and money. It’s said you may lose all your money if you kill a snake. And finding a white snake can bring life-long luck.
In general, the more poisonous a snake is, the more good fortune it will bring. In India and Southeast Asia, meeting a king cobra can be considered a very lucky event. And in some parts of China, seeing a snake enter your home is a sign that you will have a long, peaceful life.