Mythologically, the snake is said to be one of the first reptiles on planet Earth. Snakes have played a major role in mythology, the mythological name for a snake is 'serpent'. The term serpent comes from Old French, which means 'to creep'. The total number of known species of snakes in the world is a staggering 2900. They abound in all kinds of land terrains, extending their domain over all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. Fossil evidences reveal that modern snakes evolved from ancient lizards and their rise coincides with the emergence of mammals. In this article, you will be introduced to the different families of snakes with their immense variety of features, spread all over the world.
Various Types of Snakes
Though snakes are generally thought to be venomous, dangerous and basically a threat to mortality, majority of them are nonvenomous. It's the venomous kind that has created a bad name for all snakes, which results in thousands of snakes being killed for no reason other than their frightful appearance. A venomous snake uses fangs in its mouth to either kill or immobilize its prey. The snake uses venom and modified saliva to achieve this. There are eighteen families of snakes and there are venomous snakes in many among them. Some of the prominent snake families are the Elapids, Viperids and Colubrids. Let us take a look at these eighteen families of snakes.
These are the species of ancient aquatic snakes, that extend their domain from western India and parts of Sri Lanka to Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Members of this family are File snakes, Wart snakes, Java wart snakes and Dogface snakes, characterized by baggy skin and pyramidal patterns. They range in size from more than half a meter to about 2.43 meters. They hunt in streams, rivers and estuaries catching fish.
Did You Know ?
The acrochordidae is one of the most hunted snake family. They are getting extinct due to the human fancy of making handbags out of their skins!
The family of Aniliidae only consists of a single species of snakes known as pipe snake, false coral snake or Anilius scytale. Found in South America, this snake is characterized by a cylindrical body, bright red and black bands, prominent head scales and it preys on fish, lizards, frogs, insects and burrowing amphibians. It has a vestigial pelvic girdle, carried forward from its lizard ancestry.
One interesting feature of the Aniliidae snake family is its ovoviviparity (Embryos develop within eggs, while they are still within the snake's body and are born live, unlike other snakes whose egg embryos develop outside, and young ones hatch outside.)
This family of snakes includes Leonard's pipe snake, Weber's pipe snake and the mountain pipe snake. Found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo, snakes belonging to this family have small heads, with symmetrical shields, small eyes, smooth scales and short, blunt tails.
Concentrated primarily in Africa and the Middle East, the Atractaspididae family of snakes includes 64 different species, including Cameroon racer, Mole viper, Stilleto snake, Natal black snake and burrowing asps among others. These are small and most harmless snakes, with a few capable of causing tissue necrosis through a venom sting.
This is the family of boas or Boidae, which are large nonvenomous snakes found in Asia, Europe, America, Pacific islands and Africa. Among the 43 species that are part of this family, one of the most popular ones is the Boa Constrictor, which can grow up to 13 feet and weigh more than 50 pounds. They capable of expanding their jaws to a great extent, have palatal teeth, are large in size and kill their prey through the technique of constriction and suffocation. They also show ovoviviparity.
Endemic to Mauritius, this family is characterized by two species, one of which is already extinct. The only extant species is the Round Island Boa, which can grow to a length of 5 feet, has keeled scales, with a dark brown dorsal surface and preys mostly on skinks and geckos. Interestingly, its dark brown color changes to a lighter shade over the course of a day, aided by an ingenious system of polychromatic cells.
The Colubrid is from the Colubridae of the snake family. The colubrid's body is completely covered with scales. They are normally harmless and non-poisonous. However, some snakes of this family like the Boomslang and the African Twig snake have caused human deaths. Their fangs are generally at the back of their mouth. Some of the snakes found in this family are the Queen snake, the Common Keelback, King Snake, Corn Snake, Bull Snake, Rat Snake, Garter Snake, Smooth Snake, Water Snake Mussurana and Milk Snake. Other snakes are the Boomslangs, Mangrove snakes, Vine snakes and tree snakes. The Queen snake of this family is nonvenomous. Queen snakes are not more than sixty centimetres in length. It is either gray, dark brown or olive in color.The Common Keelback is another nonvenomous snake. It is found in drains, ponds and drainage systems. It feeds mainly on frogs, small fish and frogs.
This family is made up of 8 species of burrowing snakes, found in China, New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. It includes the red-tailed pipe snake, found all over Asia and the island pipe snake of Indonesia. They can be identified by their black and white bellies. They have a cylindrical body with smooth dorsal scales and have short tails.
The Elapids are found in the sub-tropical and tropical regions around the world. They have a set of fixed hollow fangs, which they use to inject the venom into their victim. Their length ranges from eighteen centimeters up to five to six meters. There are 213 species in this family. Some Elapids are kraits, king cobras, cobras, mambas, Australian copperheads and coral snakes. All the Elapids are venomous. Their venom is neurotoxic and is more dangerous as compared to viper venoms.
The Most Dangerous Snake Family
The Elapidae is the most dangerous snake family.The world's most dangerous snake, the black mamba is a member of this family. The most venomous land snake, the fierce snake is also a member of this family. A type of sea snake, the Hydrophis belcheri has the most toxic venom compared to all other snakes.
The Hydrophiinae or sea snakes consists myriad species and they are a part of the Elapidae family. These group of sea snakes are related to the cobra. They are about 2 meters in length. There are about fifty species of these snakes and almost all of them are venomous. They have short and hollow fangs located near the front of the upper jaw. Their venom is made up of neurotoxins and mytotoxins. The fatal dose of their venom is about 1.5 milligram. Sea snakes however do not bite humans and are harmless unless provoked. Their poison is generally more toxic, as compared to venom from land snakes.
This family consists of a single species, known as the Mexican python. Known to grow to a maximum length of 1.57 meters, these snakes are muscular, with small eyes, narrow head and can be identified by their dark color and white scales. They are found throughout Mexico and in the Mexican Pacific.
Nonvenomous yet deadly are the pythons or the Pythonidae family. These primordial beasts are ambush predators, who hunt sedately and kill by constriction and induced asphyxiation, like their cousins, the boas. They are found in Africa, throughout the Indian subcontinent, China, Hong Kong, Nicobar islands, Myanmar, Philippines and Indonesia. Some of the most popular members of this family are African rock python and the Reticulated python.They swallow their prey whole and then digest it for days.
Did You Know ?
The Reticulated Python is the longest snake and the longest reptile on Earth. It can grow to a length of more than 28 feet! Being the top predators in their habitat, they prey on any animal, ranging from rabbits to deer and antelopes.
Localized in Brazil, West Indies and Mexico, the Tropidophiinae family or Dwarf Boas grow to only about 2 feet in length. They are nocturnal and mostly land-dwelling snakes, with a peculiar color changing ability. Two known defence mechanisms, demonstrated by these burrowing species are the ability to coil up into a compact ball when threatened and bleeding through eyes, mouth and nostrils.
Endemic to Sri Lanka, the Uropeltidae family, consists of 47 nonvenomous snake species. These land-dwelling snakes grow to a length of 20 cm to 75 cm and have the ability to dig through the soil, to create shelters for themselves. They feed on earthworms and other such small organisms. Their skin is covered with smooth scales and the body is cylindrical. They give birth to live young ones, being ovoviviparous in nature.
The Viperidae, commonly called vipers, are found all over the world except Madagascar, New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia. They have relatively long and hinged fangs. These fangs allow the vipers to penetrate deeper into the flesh. There are about four sub-families of Viperidae, the Azemiopinae, Vipernae, Crotalinae and the Causinae. Common Viperidae is vipers, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, bushmasters, adders and copperheads. Viperid venoms have a number of proteases, which are protein-degrading enzymes. These proteases have symptoms like necrosis, blood loss, disruption of the blood clotting system and strong local swelling.
Consisting of just two species, the Xenopeltidae family consists of the Sunbeam snake and its cousin. Found in China, Vietnam, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, this snake gets its name from the peculiar feature of iridescent and polished scales that cover its body. These non-venomous snakes are known to grow up to a length of 3 feet. They are a fossorial species, known to inhabit forest slopes and kill their prey through constriction.
These are a family of nonvenomous snakes, also known as dawn blind or primitive blind snakes. Fifteen different species are known to exist within the Anomalepididae family and they are endemic to South and Central America. Characterized by blunt heads and tails, these are a small species of burrowing snakes. Since they spend most of their time underground, their eyes have become vestigial organs.
Known as thread snakes this family of 90 burrowing snake species is found throughout Asia, Africa and America. With an average maximum body length of 30 cm, these snakes have cylindrical bodies small, flat heads and polished scales.This oviparous species has an average length of only 10 cm, with the offspring only measuring a single centimeter! This family of snakes feeds on termites, ants and other insects.
The Smallest Snake in the World
The Barbados Threadsnake or Leptotyphlops carlae, which is found in the Caribbean is the smallest snake in the world. The maximum length this snake can grow up to is 4.09 inches. It belongs to the Leptotyphlopidae family.
Consisting 203 snake species, the Typhlopidae family is native to Asia, Africa and North, Central, as well as South America. These insect-feeding blind species of snakes are very small in size and spend most of their time in burrows. Grant's blind snake, Jerdon's worm snake and Puerto Rican wetland blind snake are some of the species, belonging to this family.
Snakes are some of the most intriguing creatures created out of the crucible of evolution. No man-made technology can match the amazing biological technology that naturally emerged out of evolution in snakes. Although a majority of the snakes are nonvenomous, they suffer the fate of getting killed when humans perceive them as a threat. Even venomous snakes will mostly bite you, only in self-defense. The only way to rid your fear of snakes is to know more about them, which you now do, through this little introductory write-up. We share a kinship with all life forms on Earth and must learn to share our world with them. Don't fear a snake next time you see it. Be careful, but avoid reacting violently and killing the poor thing. It's only looking for some food or shelter! Stop buying handbags and other objects made up of snakeskin, which is one way of stopping the poaching of these magnificent slithering creatures.