Whats that Snake?

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Crocodile Wrangler. Chicken Sexer. Zoo Endocrinologist. Highest Paying Jobs With Animals. Highest Paying Science Jobs. Of the counties in Texas not one of them is snake free. Twenty-three percent are basically western or southwestern in origin, like the long-nose snake, ground snake and prairie rattlesnake. Fourteen percent are central US Great Plains species, like the Texas blind snake and the central lined snake; while nine percent hail from the Chihuahuan desert region, including the Trans-Pecos rat snake and the rock rattlesnake.

Another nine percent are transcontinental species and occur throughout the US, like the speckled king snake and several species of garter snakes. Finally, a few snakes, like the beautiful indigo snake, cat-eyed snake and black-striped snake are essentially tropical species reaching the northern limits of their range in the Tamaulipan region of south Texas. There is a single endemic species snake, the Harter's water snake, which consists of two subspecies, found only within the state of Texas. The Central Texas region has the largest number of species. As for parts of Texas where there are many individuals, West Texas, Central Texas and South Texas are great places to go to find snakes.

Snakes are a natural and integral component of the ecosystem. As predators, they are invaluable for their role in maintaining the balance of nature by helping to keep populations of their prey in check. Their prey consists of everything from earthworms to rabbits, and this includes other snakes. Snakes are especially important in the control of rodents. Bull snakes can be a farmer's best friend. Snakes are distinctive in possessing an elongated, scaly body without limbs, external ear openings or eyelids, and like all other reptiles, they are cold-blooded or, more properly, ectothermic.

Snakes cannot tolerate extreme cold and will normally hibernate in the winter, emerging from their dens late February or early March in Texas. They also avoid extremely torrid conditions, confining their activity in hot climates to early morning, evenings, and night-time. Limblessness has in no way been a handicap to evolutionary success. Snakes successfully occupy many terrestrial, arboreal, underground, and aquatic environments around the world. As a group, snakes are cosmopolitan, occurring on all major land masses except Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Newfoundland and New Zealand.

While there may be more species of lizards in the world, snakes are less limited in distribution, so that in most areas there are more snakes than lizards. Among the reptiles, snakes are the most successful group. All snakes have long, flexible, scaly bodies. But underneath their scaly skin, they possess muscles, bones, lungs, intestines, a heart and a liver, just like other vertebrates.

To accommodate the long slender body, most snakes have many more vertebrae and ribs than do other vertebrates of comparable size. Additionally, most or their paired internal organs have been reduced , removed, or drastically repositioned to get a better fit. A snake's jaws are truly unique, allowing the animal to swallow prey much larger than the narrow mouth opening would deem possible.

A snake can do this because the two halves of the lower jaw are joined by a stretchable ligament. The expandable gape enables the snake to engulf a large prey item rather like a stretchable stocking. Other structural features facilitate the process including the loose articulation and reduced number of the bones supporting the jaws, a protrusible glottis that permits breathing while the mouth is blocked by prey; and sharp, back-pointing teeth which help manipulate and drive the victim irrevocably backward towards the stomach.

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Snakes possess a few other typical traits. The forelimbs and pectoral girdle are totally absent in snakes, though vestiges of the hind limbs and pelvic girdle do still occur in primitive snakes. Eyelids don't move giving snakes that riveting, stony-eyed stare, while the cornea is protected by a fixed transparent scale called the brille.

This transparent scale is shed along with the rest of a completely molted skin. And while snakes have no external ear and thus cannot hear air-borne sounds, they are very sensitive to vibrations emanating from the ground. The tongue is long, retractile and fork-tipped.

Though it appears menacing, it is not a stinger, inflicts no wound, and contains no poison. This sensitive mouth part tells the snake much about its surroundings. It can be flicked in and out vigorously then inserted into two depressions on the roof of the snake's mouth called the "vomeronasal" or "Jacobson's" organ. These function together as a highly sensitive chemoreceptor system enabling the snake to "taste" and "smell" the particles of the air.

Some snakes, like the pit vipers, can even sense heat and target the position of a warm-blooded animal in the vicinity by means of heat sensor pits. These may be located along the lips or between the eye and the nose of the snake depending on the species. Snakes are the most successful of all living reptiles.

Year of the Snake

They are amazingly adapted for their life close to the surface of the ground. And while many people assume that snakes have always looked the way they do, scientists believe that this most recently evolved of all the reptile groups achieved their current form as slender, tubular animals devoid of legs, quite late in geological history, some 65 million years ago. They are believed to have evolved from a Mesozoic monitor-lizard-type ancestor. In order to escape increasingly heavy predation from the many agile, voracious, warm-blooded little dinosaurs which combed the late Cretaceous plains in search of easy, slow-moving prey, ancestral snakes took to the underground.

Over time, in the safety of subterranean burrows, their lifestyle changed radically as they gradually abandoned their limbs, free breathing, good eyesight and hearing - a big sacrifice for any animal - to better suit their new way of life. Foregoing life on the surface, they came to rely more on taste and smell than on sight or a keen sense of hearing for their survival and legs were more a hindrance down under than a help.

Bit by bit, they were no longer lizards at all. Other herpetologists contend that the evolutionary history of snakes is shrouded in mystery. And while they concede that snakes are morphologically distinct and easily distinguished from lizards, they believe that snakes are still basically highly modified lizards. While it's true that snakes are all basically shaped like a rope, there are several discernible differences within this basic format. Despite being superficially similar, upon closer inspection, snakes display an incredible diversity of color, scale pattern, and subtly of form.

For instance, some snakes are small and slender, more like large eyeless earthworms than snakes. Take the Texas blind snake, for example. Others, much larger, seem long and whip-like. The western coachwhip and the buttermilk racer fall nicely into this category. Still others can be thick and stocky. Western cottonmouths are definitely chunky. It's always instructive to notice the relative width of the head in relation to the body as well as the relative length of the tail.

The length and shape of the snout anterior to the eyes can also be a give away. The hognose, patchnose and longnose snake are good examples. While tails are usually somewhat longer in males than in females of the same species, relative length and thickness of the tail can also help to identify one species form another. Scale patterns are also extremely good aids to identification. Their number and distribution on various parts of the body are relied upon heavily in dichotomous keys to identify a specimen to species.

And the scales themselves can be distinctive. Some are smooth while others are keeled. The keel is a horizontal line-like ridge on the scale. Smooth scaled snakes appear polished or satiny when the snake is seen up close, while roughly keeled snakes seem dull or sometimes, just after shedding, kind of velvety. Colors and color patterns are probably the first thin a person notices. Patterns can be roughly classified as striped or banded lengthwise, as in lined or garter snakes; or transversely banded, as in broad-banded water snakes.

Some bands go all the way around the snake as in the coral snake, while others seem to only partially encircle the animal as in the gray-banded kingsnake. Some snakes have blotched patterns or have a row of large saddles along the back as in some rat snakes or copperheads. Other snakes possess small, elegant spots arranged in a checkerboard fashion as in the Buttermilk racer. Spots can also be uniformly distributed as in the Central American speckled racer and speckled kingsnake or they can be irregularly scattered as in the beautiful desert kingsnakes.

A few snakes like the diamondback rattlers have a symmetric series of rhombs or diamonds along the back. Indigo snakes, on the other hand, are a uniform dark color. Snakes can be all green, brown, blue, black, peachy coral, or gold. Some snakes even have melanistic or dark morphs, while all grades of albinos also exist. It's always good to check the color of the belly which is sometimes a lighter or different color or has a distinctive pattern compared to the rest of the body.

Remember the young of some snakes are sometimes quite different in color and pattern from adults, which can be confusing. Let your portable field guide to the snakes be your constant companion in the field.

Year of the Snake: Fortune and Personality – Chinese Zodiac

There are a number of good ones available at your local library or at bookstores. Some of the best titles for Texas are listed at the end of this document. The more species of snakes you observe and identify, the more you will come to appreciate the beauty and complexity of coloration and pattern design.

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For many herpetologists people who study reptiles , snakes embody incomparable works of art. Many snakes give their identity away by their characteristic and sometimes bizarre behavior. An excellent example of this is that of the super thespian, the Texas hognose snake, who can really put on a show. This amazing critter has evolved an elaborate pattern of behavior designed to make it as unappealing as possible to any potential predator. If molested, according to Alan Tennant, it may coil or raise its head, and flatten its forebody to make you think it's bigger than it really is.

If you are still unimpressed, the snake will next launch several pseudo strikes in your direction, violently jerking its head backward each time. This should immediately suggest to you the aggressive style of pit vipers and frighten you off. If not, next the intrepid snake will emit a sharp, hair-raising hiss with each breath it takes.

If the observer continues to be unmoved by all this, the snake will proceed to act two of the performance. It now resolutely conceals its head under its tightly spiraled tail and begins to writhe convulsively, regurgitating and at the same time discharging a foul-smelling musk form its anal glands.

Still not convinced? The final ploy - the piece de theatre so to speak - the snake turns belly up with its tongue hanging loosely and pathetically from its open jaw - to all appearances dead as a door nail. Should you take a stick and try to turn it upright - bingo it will flop back over again.


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Just to let you know in no uncertain terms, there is no such thing as a dead snake in an upright position. In evolutionary terms, this amazing repertoire of behavior must have worked more times than not, or these snakes wouldn't still be around doing this. Not all snakes exhibit such amazing antics, but many of them do have characteristic behaviors that will give you immediate clues to their proper identity.

Generally snakes are shy and retiring. And when you think about it, they really live rather sedentary lives. Most are non-migratory and if they do migrate, they don't go long distances. Much of their behavior is a function of survival within the limits and opportunities of ectothermy or "cold-bloodedness. Like all living reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded or, more appropriately, ectothermic. This does not mean that their blood is always cold, but that their body temperature varies with that of the external environment. Unlike war-blooded birds and mammals, snakes are unable to regulate the temperature of the body internally.

Snakes can, however, absorb heat form the ground, form the surrounding air, and from objects next to them. They can also create certain amounts of heat by flexing their muscles. This makes their life style different, but not necessarily inferior to that of birds and mammals. In fact, snakes have been able to colonize and adapt to many environments which have proved hostile to warm-blooded animals.

Being ectothermic demands less energy. High levels of metabolism don't need to be maintained. So snakes aren't forced to eat all the time. Growth does not have to be constant, rather it can be discontinuous with long pauses between spurts. There can be long periods of fast between meal-times, sometimes as long as three years. Cold-bloodedness is the original or ancestral state of life all invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles are ectothermic , it is not an inferior state, just different, with different limitations and possibilities.

Being ectothermic makes snakes sensitive to both very cold and very hot temperatures. They have a narrower range of temperatures, only about 30 degrees, within which they can survive. Snakes need to hibernate when the ground freezes and air temperatures descend below 32 degrees for extended periods of time. Likewise, they need to take shelter during times of excessive heat. Temperatures over degrees for prolonged periods can be lethal. Snakes protect themselves from temperature extremes by means of behavioral modifications rather than by internal thermoregulatory devices.

To warm itself, a snake can bask in the sun, or lie on a paved road at night. To protect itself from cold temperatures, it can burrow deep below the ground where the soils are warmer and unfrozen. Snakes are absolutely dependent on external heating for their muscular activity and the important life processes of digestion and gestation. They cannot derive their body heat chemically from their own metabolism. So they can live only in parts of the world where the daily and seasonal temperatures are fairly equable.

Snakes are just as sensitive to overly hot weather as they are to excessively cold temperatures.


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Survival time under extreme conditions can be as short as ten to twelve minutes. Even sidewinder rattlesnakes may succumb to the heat at about degrees depending on the duration of exposure. Under cold temperatures, a snake becomes increasingly lethargic. Instinctively it will seek some refuge. It must do this before it becomes immobilized by the cold. In paralyzing cold, snakes can no longer procure food or defend themselves against enemies. In short they can no longer move.

The can endure temperatures of 37 degrees for a few days, but not extremes in the teens. Temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees are probably the best and most comfortable for them. Snakes will behaviorally adapt to the temperature ranges of an area. In habitats where daytime temperatures are lethally hot, they will confine their activities to the night. In an area with excessively cold winter temperatures, a sudden drop in temperature will induce long periods of wintertime hibernation with activities resumed in the spring with the return of warm temperatures. Many snakes mate and resume foraging activities in the spring.

Snakes can cool themselves by seeking shade, lying in shallow pools of water or crawling down a rock crevice out of the sun. We use cookies and similar technologies to improve your browsing experience, personalize content and offers, show targeted ads, analyze traffic, and better understand you. We may share your information with third-party partners for marketing purposes.

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We do not store details you enter into this form. Please see our privacy policy for more information. Click here to return to the Medical News Today home page. The injuries that snake bites can cause range from mild to severe, but the chance of dying from one in the U. People can usually survive venomous snake bites if they seek immediate medical attention.

All snake bites require medical attention, even if the snake is nonvenomous. Proper wound care can help prevent infection and limit how severe the injury becomes. It is vital never to assume that a snake is nonvenomous without first consulting an expert. The misclassification of snake species could be fatal. In this article, we discuss snake bite symptoms and explain how to identify venomous and nonvenomous snakes in the U. We also cover treatment and first aid for snake bites.

Herefordshire Amphibian & Reptile Team

Usually, people know right away if a snake has bitten them. However, these animals can strike quickly and disappear before people have time to react. Most snake bites can cause pain and swelling around the bite. Those that are venomous may also cause fever , a headache , convulsions, and numbness.

Snakes and Lizards

However, these symptoms can also occur due to intense fear following the bite. Bites can cause an allergic reaction in some people, which may include anaphylaxis. All venomous snakes can deliver dry bites, which are bites that do not inject venom. They do this because they have limited venom stores, so they save venom where possible. According to estimates , 20—25 percent of pit viper bites and 50 percent of coral snake bites are dry bites. Venomous snakes have two fangs that deliver venom when they bite. A venomous snake bite will usually leave two clear puncture marks.

In contrast, a nonvenomous bite tends to leave two rows of teeth marks. It can be difficult to tell the difference between puncture wounds from venomous and nonvenomous snakes. People should seek medical attention for all snake bites. Nonvenomous snakes do not produce toxins.

Unlike venomous snakes, they do not have fangs. Instead, they have rows of teeth. Without treatment, nonvenomous bites can lead to skin infections and necrosis, or tissue death, so it is essential to look after the wound. Bites can also cause allergic reactions in some people. Although most snakes in the U. People should treat all snake bites as though the snake were venomous and seek immediate medical attention. Within the groups, venomous snakes often have similar features, such as a triangular head pit vipers , bright colors coral snakes , or a rattle rattlesnakes.

People can identify pit vipers by looking for a small depression , or pit, sitting between the eye and nostril on both sides of the head. This pit contains a heat-sensing organ that many nonvenomous snakes do not have. It is easy to identify rattlesnakes by the segmented rattle on the end of their tails. Rattlesnakes use their rattles to scare off predators. There are many different species of rattlesnake in the U.

However, they all have relatively heavy bodies and diamond-shaped heads. Species of rattlesnake that live in North America include :. Rattlesnakes live in a diverse range of habitats, including prairies, deserts, and forests, and they prefer warmer climates. People may see rattlesnakes sunbathing on rocks or burrowed in the shade of bushes. Cottonmouth snakes, or water moccasins, get their name from the white, cotton-like appearance of the inside of their mouths.

They are around 50—55 inches long and either dark brown or black. Sometimes, these snakes have very faint crossbands on their bodies. Young cottonmouth snakes have very distinctive orange and yellow crossband patterns. Cottonmouth snakes are mainly present in southeastern states, such as Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.


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