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General Facts About Snakes
In the previous section I covered the history of snakes, how they came to be what they are today. But what are they? How do they live their lives, where do they live? This is what I will cover in this section.
Snakes have a long, narrow body. Their internal organs are made to match their long and narrow body type. Snakes only have one functioning lung, so it is vital that their environment be clean and unpolluted.
Interesting fact to know; to find out how many “vertebrates” the snake has, you can count the number of belly scales. There will usually be a new scale for each vertebra. Its jaw is developed so that the snake can swallow prey many times its size. The lower part of the jaw is not locked together, as it is in most other animals, but it can be separated into two parts. This way its mouth can open, swallow the prey, and then contract its jaw again. When the snake does this, it appears to yawn, open its mouth wide, and close it again.
Their vision is just amazing, they don’t see like we do; rather they see heat and movements. They also can’t hear anything but very low frequencies, so talking to a snake won’t work. You can scream your lungs out, the snake can’t hear you. It does sense the vibration though, so stomping your feet on the ground will definitely get its attention. If you’ve ever seen a cobra mesmerized by someone playing a flute, you can be sure that the person is stomping on the ground or something, because the snake wouldn’t hear the flute.
The males have two reproductive organs, the hemipenes. During mating only one will actually carry sperm. With young snakes you can sex the snakes by “popping” them. This means that to control a male, the hemipenes are released by pressing on the bottom of the tail. If done poorly, this can injure the snake and make it infertile, so you should always have someone show you how to do it before trying. This cannot be done with other then very young snakes. The males are usually a little wider around the ventral area before the tail tapers off quickly (due to the hemipenes inside), while in the females the tail tapers more evenly. But this can be very difficult to see with the naked eye, so the best way to sex a snake is by “probing”. Proping is where you put a probe into the snake’s snake and see how far it goes before you meet resistance. In males the hemipenes cause the probe to enter further than in the female.
When it comes to birth, snakes are not good parents. The fathers are completely absent, he dunks the female and leaves. The female then either lays her eggs, or has live babies. Pythons and corn snakes lay eggs, while boas have live babies. Some snakes lie on the eggs until they hatch, actually regulating the temperature for them, while others such as the corn snake just lay them down and walk away. A pregnant snake is said to be “pregnant”. Once the babies are born or hatch they are on their own. This could be a natural way to regulate the snake population, because a snake can have very many babies! However, without any help from the parents, most do not succeed. For these it really is survival of the fittest, but also a lot of luck!
Skin and Shedding
Snake skin is scaly, but not slimy, which is a very common misconception. Snakes are NOT worms!
Their skin is built with scales that help the snake’s movement by holding the surface. As new cells grow under the snake’s skin, the new cells push the old cells up, creating transparent skin. As the snake grows and the top layer of skin is pushed even further, the snake goes through a process of shedding.
The pouring has several phases; first the skin becomes rough and the belly of the snake usually turns pink. Then its eyes reach the “opaque” stage, its eyes turn blue and the snake is essentially blind for a few days. This is because the snake sheds the layer over its eyes. Then the snake begins to look normal again, and it is very difficult to see that it is shedding. The next thing is to rub its skin against the surface, rocks, etc., to push the skin off from head to tail. It looks like a sock that is taken off, ending inside out. The snake’s skin is supposed to come off in one piece. Young snakes often molt; every month or two. As they age, their growth rate slows, and they shed less often. Although they do most of their growing in the first two years, snakes never stop growing. Adult snakes shed a few times a year. Shedding is also very important to get rid of parasites.
Snakes can now be found all over the world, the only place where there are no snakes is in the arctic region. They are such adaptable creatures, there is just no comparison to their success. They live in deserts, cities, oceans, lakes, forests, mountains, savannas, rainforests, etc. The list could go on and on. Snakes are everywhere.
Snakes in cooler areas usually go into a type of hibernation during the winter, called brumation. Unlike hibernation, where almost everything shuts down and wakes up again in the spring, brumation is what you might call “doing nothing.” All body functions are intact and the snake even moves a little. However, it mostly lies there and waits for spring. Usually the snake chooses a place underground, so that it can stay as warm as possible during winter. Almost any snake that lives in an area with cool temperatures during winter molts, otherwise it would not survive.
There are many places where snakes that are not native to the area have been introduced, and now they are thriving. In many cases this proves a real challenge to the natural ecosystem, because the new snakes push out other species, or the simple fact that people don’t want them there. This is why people who have snakes can’t just go to the park and put them down! I can’t stress this enough, just look at what happened in the Everglades in Florida. Anacondas and reticulated pythons are now breeding in an area where they don’t belong, because careless owners who faced snakes they couldn’t handle or didn’t want to let loose. Such actions can have fatal consequences.
All snakes are carnivorous, but the diet varies greatly depending on habitat and size. Most eat rodents; mice, rats, rabbits, gerbils, etc. Others eat fish, eggs, lizards and even other snakes. The very large species can eat almost anything, from hippos to crocs.
Snakes are amazing in terms of patience, they can lie in one place for days, just waiting for prey to pass by. If prey comes, the snake will use its attack method, be it constriction or poison, to kill it.
Snakes cannot taste anything, and do not chew. There is more about how snakes are able to swallow prey many times its size in the anatomy section, but basically its lower jaw is separated in two when eating, and muscle movements help the snake swallow. The teeth are directed towards the back of its mouth, so when prey is bitten, it is almost impossible for it to escape. The more the prey tries to push itself out, the better the snake grips. It’s so clever, and so simple. Anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake knows that trying to pull your finger out of its mouth rarely works. To loosen your finger, you actually have to push it further into the mouth to release the grip, and then open the mouth and your free.
If the prey poses no threat, such as a pink mouse, the snake usually won’t bother to waste energy killing it, but rather swallows it alive.
After the snake has eaten, it is time for it to digest its food. This is very important and the snake cannot be disturbed during this process. This process usually takes about 48 hours, and if the snake feels threatened, the prey is too big, or the weather is not warm enough, it will regurgitate (vote). Regurgitation is a big deal for all snakes, their systems basically turn upside down. The best thing to do after regurgitation is to wait at least ten days before trying to eat again. How often a snake eats varies from species to species. Very often the males (sometimes females) fast around breeding season regardless of whether they are actually breeding or not. Snakes may also not eat if they shed.
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