People are rarely indifferent about them, generally exhibiting emotions that range from religious awe and superstitious dread to repulsion and uncontrollable fear. It is interesting to note that, although most people profess to fear or hate snakes, one of the most visited areas of any zoo is the snake house—proof that snakes are mysterious and fascinating, even if they are loathed. Given their exquisite colours, patterns, and graceful movements as they crawl, swim, or climb, some snakes can be considered among the most beautiful animals.
Very few snakes are truly poisonous. One of the most common, yet harmless, poisonous snakes in North America is the garter snake Thamnophis , whose body has the ability to absorb and store the toxins of the newts , salamanders , and other poisonous prey it eats. Nearly every culture since prehistoric times including various present-day cultures has worshipped, revered, or feared snakes. Serpent worship is one of the earliest forms of veneration, with some carvings dating to 10, bce.
Although Satan is depicted as a serpent in the biblical account of the Creation , snakes are revered by most societies. A vast global compendium of superstitions and mythologies about snakes has sprung up. The hides of six snake species especially python s and wart snake s are commonly bought and sold in the skin trade. The number of rattlesnakes used for their skins is minor in comparison.
Hundreds of thousands of live snakes are collected for sale in the international pet trade. Nearly , ball pythons and 30, boa constrictors are imported annually into the United States. The removal of such enormous numbers from the wild threatens the survival of these species, and many snake populations are in decline as a result of capture and habitat destruction.
Most snakes do not spend much of their time doing anything but resting. The thermoregulation problem varies with latitude and altitude. The actions and reactions of a snake in temperate North America are distinct from those of one living in the American tropical lowlands but are similar to those of another living at higher altitudes in the Andes of Ecuador.
No matter where they live, snakes are subjected to pressures from the living biotic parts of the environment as well as from the physical, nonliving abiotic parts. But the amount or degree of challenge to the snake from different segments of the environment changes drastically depending upon the region it inhabits.
An individual living in the hot, humid tropics of Africa, with comparatively constant temperatures close to optimum throughout the year and ample moisture from both rainfall and the surroundings, faces environmental problems that are overwhelmingly biotic, involving competition with other members of its own species for food, the challenge from other species of snakes and perhaps other vertebrates for possession of the ecological niche , and constant pressure of the predators that find it a tasty morsel.
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On the other hand, the common adder , or European viper Vipera berus , living north of the Arctic Circle in Europe, is the only snake present in the area and lives practically unchallenged in its niche. However, its survival is challenged continually by its physical environment, and death from overheating, freezing, or dehydration is a repetitive threat. Article Media. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Introduction Snakes and man Natural history Dormant periods Interactions between individuals Reproduction Mating Egg formation and laying Early development and growth Molt Locomotion Form and function Vertebrae The skin Coloration Skull and sense organs Urogenital system Specializations for securing food.
Written By: James A. Peters Van Wallach. While the adder is thought to have claimed the lives of around 10 people within the last years or so, modern knowledge about snake bites and good access to medical care have greatly reduced the threat they pose to life. Only those that are susceptible to anaphylactic shock hypersensitivity allergic reaction in humans and other mammals are at major risk.
The venom of the adder is actually quite strong, however, adders do not inject a large amount at any one time or strike repeatedly as with other venomous snakes making them less risk. Female adders often breed once every two years or even once every three years if the seasons are short and the climate is severe. Pairs stay together for one or two days after mating. Males chase away their rivals and engage in combat.
In this act, the males confront each other, raise up the front part of the body vertically, make swaying movements and attempt to push each other to the ground. This is repeated until one of the two becomes exhausted and crawls off to find another mate. Females usually give birth in August-September, however, sometimes as early as July, or as late as early October.
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Female adders give birth to between 5 and 20 live young which are around 15 centimetres long at birth. The young are usually born encased in a transparent sac from which they must free themselves. Sometimes, they succeed in freeing themselves from this membrane while still inside the female. The young snakes, measuring around 14 to 23 centimetres, are born with a fully functional venom apparatus and a reserve supply of yolk within their bodies.
They shed their skins for the first time within a day or two. The young snakes are immediately left to fend for themselves and go into hibernation quite soon after birth, often not eating until into their second year. It is the larger of three British Snakes and can be found throughout the southern regions of Britain, generally in areas close to water where it can find its favourite food, frogs and toads. One of the reasons it can survive the British climate is because it hibernates away from October through to March and April, therefore avoiding the times when the sun is at its weakest, allowing the snake to only come out when it can get enough energy from the sun to survive.
Male Grass snakes measure up to 90 centimetres in length, female Grass snakes are slightly larger measuring — centimetres. Grass snakes vary in colour but are usually olive-green, however, grey or brown is not unusual. Grass snakes have a characteristic orange or yellow collar around their necks. Their undersides are lighter in colour. The Grass snakes preferred habitat is damp areas like ponds, reservoirs and marshes, also making use of the surrounding terrestrial habitat such as grassland, scrub and woodland. Grass snakes are often found in areas where there are ponds, lakes or slow running rivers where frogs and toads live.
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Grass snakes are strong swimmers so can easily move through the water looking for prey, sometimes taking small fish or even the odd small mammal. If threatened, Grass snakes may lie still, pretending to be dead, however, they can rear up in mock attack, hissing. They also excrete a foul-smelling substance, particularly if handled, however, they are otherwise completely harmless to man. In warm weather Grass snakes can be seen basking in the sun. Like all snakes, they are cold-blooded and can only be active and hunt when they raise their body temperature in this way.
Unlike the adder, Grass Snakes do not have any venom so there is no real risk to humans if you come in contact with one. As with all snakes, they are very shy and will disappear quickly if they feel the vibrations of something approaching. To see a Grass snake you have to be very patient and very quiet around their natural habitat. Due to clearance of large areas traditional woodlands and wild areas, Grass Snake numbers have been drastically reduced in recent years to the point where they are now a vulnerable species.
Female Grass snakes mate every other year. Unlike the other native British snakes, they lay eggs and incubate them in their burrows for around 10 — 12 weeks until they hatch in late summer in August or September.
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The females lay 10 — 40 eggs in June or July. The young Grass snakes are immediately independent, however, very few make it to adult life as they are eaten by a wide range of animals.
Destruction of such habitats in peoples gardens is another reason why Grass Snakes, as well as other traditional British animals are on the decline. The Smooth snake Coronella austriaca is found in the southern parts of the British Isles. Males reach a maximum of 60 centimetres, females 68 centimetres in the UK, though adults are smaller in the county of Surrey. Females are slightly larger than males, however, they have shorter tails and are usually uniform silver grey, with distinct spots.
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The male Smooth snakes colour pattern consists of a brown, grey, reddish colour with two rows of small, dark spots running down the back towards the tail. In some cases, each pair of spots may be united towards the neck area, forming a series of cross-bars over the back. There is also a row of dark spots running along each of the flanks.
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These spots that run the length of the body overlay four parallel, rather shadowy stripes that also run down the back and flanks. The head of the Smooth snake is somewhat heart-shaped. This shape is where the name Coronella comes from, which means coronet a small crown.
A relatively thick dark stripe extends from the nostril along the side of the head to a little beyond the neck, only being interrupted by the eye. The tongue of the Smooth snake is reddish brown or dark red. The Smooth snake is so named because it lacks the central keels, or ridges on its scales, unlike our native Adder and Grass snake.
This adaptation means that it is not as swift as our other snakes, however, it is well suited to navigating dense vegetation. Due to this name, the very smooth Slow worm is often mistaken as being a Smooth snake. Smooth snakes are extremely rare and cautious, spending much of their time under ground. In the UK, the Smooth snake is thought of as a heathland specialist, although it will happily hunt in grassland habitats. In Surrey, the Smooth snake shows a marked preference for dry lowland heathland, comprising mosaic mature heather with a deep moss sub-structure to the vegetative layer.
Smooth snakes feed mostly on lizards and other reptiles, including small snakes such as young adders and grass snakes.