It’s World Ssssssssssssssssssssssnake Day! Hisss! Today we’re going to talk all about thessse ssssssscaly sssserpentsss!
Most people know what snakes look like: they’re reptiles with long, slender bodies and no legs. However, snakes aren’t the only legless reptiles: slow worms and glass lizards are two other types that have evolved to no longer need legs. But those are true lizards, whereas snakes are thought to have branched off from lizards sometime during the age of dinosaurs, in the Late Jurassic or early Cretaceous Period, between 100 and 150 million years ago. Legless lizards developed their similar body types through a process called convergent evolution, in which similar traits develop separately in two different, unrelated animal groups.
Snakes are a diverse group of reptiles in the suborder Serpentes. There are over 3,000 species of snakes, found across more than 20 different families. Though the oldest snakes appeared nearly a hundred million years ago, the current diversity began to happen around 65 million years ago, right around the end of the age of dinosaurs. Today, snakes are found just about everywhere. The only large areas that lack snakes are Antarctica, Ireland, Greenland, Hawaii, and New Zealand. There are many different types of snakes, including cobras with their flattened neck hoods, sea snakes that live almost entirely in the ocean, coral snakes with their striking color patterns, boa constrictors who wrap prey in their coils in order to suffocate it, and sidewinders that move with a unique sideways manner as they slither over slippery sand dunes.
You may know that some snakes are venomous, meaning their bite contains a toxin that can cause harm to humans or animals if bitten. And while bites from these snakes can be dangerous to humans, they do not actively seek out humans to bite. Their venom is used in hunting other animals to eat, and they would much rather flee before resorting to biting, unless provoked. Rattlesnakes even use their modified tail scales to produce the sound that gives them their name: a rattle that warns those who get to close that they may get bitten if they don’t back off.
Most snakes pose no danger to humans at all, despite their reputations. Many people fear snakes, thinking they’re slimy and prone to biting people, both of which are untrue. In fact, many snakes are quite beneficial to humans in ways you may not consider. Snakes occupy an important role in the ecosystem, preying upon insects and rodents. These animals can spread diseases, destroy crops and gardens, and cause a nuisance in peoples’ homes. Snakes helps to keep these pest populations in check.
Snakes may not be cute and cuddly, but just like any wild animal, they deserve to be treated with respect, not disgust. They fill an essential ecological niche, and have no desire to bother you if you don’t bother them.
Bernie’s Bonus Fun Fact: While most snakes slither along the ground, the gliding snakes of Asia are known to launch themselves off of tree branches and sail through the air, flattening out their ribs to create a “wing” that lets them glide from branch to branch. Check them out in action!