Snakes have gotten something of a bad rap over the past few thousand years. What with that one snake tricking that nice lady nice lady into eating an apple way back when, thus condemning the entire human race to mortality, snakes have been mistrusted if not flat-out feared. And while it is understandable that people may fear an animal that can easily kill them, we think these fascinating, diverse creatures that range from several inches to 30 feet long, and from friendly and docile to aggressive and deadly, deserve for people to find out more about them.
The History of World Snake Day
The snake is one of the oldest mythological characters and has been revered by civilizations the world over. There are about 3,458 species of snakes known so far, ranging from the semi-frozen tundra of northern Canada to the steamy jungles of the equator and most of the world’s oceans. Snakes are highly effective predators and play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature in each of these realms. Snakes are also fascinating in that they have a prehistoric lineage, thus giving us a glimpse back to a prehistoric time when the earth was ruled by reptiles—many people have no idea that modern reptiles are literally the living, breathing cousins of dinosaurs.
The species that seem to fascinate people the most are the King Cobra, the largest venomous snake in the world most people have seen in movies being coaxed out of a basket by a snake charmer; the Rattlesnake, that has forced countless people to suck its poison out of the bite before it’s too late; and the Reticulated Python, the world’s longest snake that kills its prey by strangling it.
World Snake Day was created to help people learn more about these animals and how much they contribute to the world as we know it.
How to Celebrate World Snake Day
Have you ever thought about having a pet snake? Snakes may not be the right pet for everyone, but if you have it in you to take on the challenge it is to own and care for a pet snake, World Snake Day may be the time to make that decision. If not, however, you can take advantage of this day to learn some more about these incredible animals. Here are some interesting facts to help you do that:
1. Where do snakes live?
Snakes are found in every continent except Antarctica in the sea, forests, deserts, prairies, and even your backyard or garage.
2. What do snakes eat?
Snakes consume many different animals including insects small rodents and frogs. Snakes eat their prey whole because their lower jaw can separate from the upper jaw. Very large snakes can even eat small deer, pigs, monkeys, and even primates.
3. How do snakes behave?
Snakes rely on the environment to regulate their body temperature. They spend as long in the warm sun as they need to in order to get warm, and when they become too warm, they find shade to cool off. They are generally not aggressive unless they are hunting or feel like they need to defend themselves. They shed their skin three to six times a year.
4. How do they defend themselves?
Snakes use a variety of techniques defend themselves, including camouflage, biting and envenoming those they feel are threatening them. Sometimes they simply curl up in a tight ball to hopefully avoid being seen.
5. Why are some snakes endangered?
Fortunately, snakes are not widely hunted, but their numbers are still declining due to deforestation and climate change causing the deterioration of their habitats and a declining amount of available prey.
There is an incredible diversity of snake species that occupy a wide range of environments in tropical and temperate areas, from deserts and mountain summits to oceans. With about 3,458 species known so far, snakes are a successful group of predatory vertebrates. Since 2008, 309 new species of snake have been described.
WCS Zoos maintain approximately 50 species of snakes. A brief profile of four interesting snakes is provided below.
Reticulated Python Malayopython reticulatus
Oviparous (egg laying), females lay between 15 and 80 eggsper clutch. The female coils around her clutch protecting it from predators. Remarkably the female coiled around the eggs also raising the incubation temperature several degrees above the air temperature through muscular contracting called “shivering”. It is one of the largest snake species known with record a maximum record of 28 feet. More typically large adults are in the 10-20 foot range.
Green Tree Python Morelia viridis
The green tree python is a beautiful tree dwelling species from the tropical forests of Indonesia and Northeastern Australia. It often sits with coiled draped on either side of a branch. Its prehensile tail helps it hang on to its tree top perch. This species is also oviparous and hatchling emerges in one of two color patterns, bright yellow or dark orange. They lose this coloration after about one year of age.
King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah
The king cobra is the largest venomous snake species in the world achieving a maximum length of 18 feet! Female kings build a nest mound by gathering forest floor leaf litter in their coils. The snake then excavates a several chambers and deposits eggs in one of them. The decomposing leaf litter generates heat and acts as a natural incubator. The female stays with the eggs and aggressively defends the nest site.
Timber Rattlesnake Crotalus horridus
The timber rattlesnake appeared the American revolutionary war Gadsden flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnakecoiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words “Don’t tread on me”. The timber rattlesnake is still found in a large range across the Eastern US however some populations of this majestic rattlesnake are in decline and many states have placed on their protected species list.
Don Boyer is the Curator of Herpetology at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo