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TSNAKES

ORDER SQUAMATA
SUBoRDER SEf,pENTEs

. c. 18 families. c. 450 genera


. c.2,700species
SMALLE5T6r LAn.GEST

(family
Manythreadsnakes
Leptotyphlopidae)
andblind
wormsnakes(family
Anomalepididae)
kngth: lessthan15 cm (6 in)
Weight:lessthan 2 g ('lo oz)

any repdlesshow evolutionaryrendenciestoward lengthening the body and


reducing the size of the limbs, but it is the snakesthat have developedmost
successfullyin this way. They have diversified dramaticalh during iecenr
geologicalhistory and now inhabir mosr parrs of the planet oursiderhe polar
regions-from alpine meadowsro rhe open ocean.They are all camivorousbur usea
wide variety of methods to find and overpowertheir prey. Their diets are equally
diverse:some speciesfeed on rhe tiny eggsand larvaeof ants,whereasothers cin eat
animalsas largeas antelopes,rapirs, and wallabies.

An co\da Eunectes
mul.nus
Length:up [o 10 m (33 ft)
Weight:250kg (550lb)
CoNsERvATroN
WATcH
t!! lne lz cn ca y endangerecl
speciesare:Antiguanracer
Alsophis
antiguae;
black racer
Alsophisate4SrVincenr
blacksnake
Chironius
vincenti;
Colubergorersk; Uophiscursor;
Kikuzato'sbrook snake
Opistho
tropishihuzatoi:golden
lancehead
Bothrops
insuiaris;
ArubaIslandrattlesnakeCrotolus
unicoior;
Cyclades
blunr-nosed
viperMaaro pero,schweizeri;
Vipera bulgardaghica;Vipera
dare\tshii;Vipero.pontiao.
!! 13specieiarelistedas
endangered.
! 25 species
arelisredas
l'r.rlnerable.

W}IAT IS A SNAKE?
Many people assumerhat a snake is simply a
repdle without legs.However,many kinds of
lizards have legs so small thar they are difficult or
impossiblero seewirhourcloseinspecrion,
making it hard ro tell whether the animal is a
snake or a lizard. Unforrunatelythere is no simple
diagnostic characterthat is easyro use in all
situations.Most lizards (although not all) have at
leasta vestigeof the hind limbs, even if it is.lusra
small bud or a flap of skin, whereassnakes
generallydo nor. Mosr lizards have exrernal
eardrums,which snakesdo nor. Most lizards have
relativelylong tails, whereassnakesusuallyhaVe
short ones. Mosr lizards have movableevelids.
whereassnakeshave a fixed rransparenrscale
over each eye.The differencesrhar are absolurely
consisrenrand reliablein distinguishing between
snakesand lizards are all fairly subde,mostly
involving the srructureof bones in rhe head. This
won't be of much use ifyou want to identify rhe
Iong, thin object thar you'vejusr seen
disappearingunder your house,but ir does
emphasizerhe great similarity berweensnakes
and lizards-which is why they are placed in the
sameorder, Squamara,within rhe classReprilia.
HOW SNAKES MOVE
The most obvious disdnguishing featureof snakes
is their shape.Lengtheningof the body and
reduction or loss of limbs has occurred many
times in the evolution of the venebrates-for
example,in eels,salamanders,caecilians,and
lizards. This evolutionarychange in body shape
has profound consequencesfor an animal's

174

SNAK
biology, most obviouslyin the way the animal
movesaround. Snakeshave severalfeaturesin
their vertebralcolumn that are relatedto limbless
locomorion. Firstly,the number ofvertebrae are
greadyincreased,providing a much more llexible
backbone.Humans have only 32 verrebrae,
whereassome snakeshave more than 400.
Secondly,snakeshave exra projections from each
vertebralelemenr,so rhat adjoining venebraeare
connecredmore rightly, helping ro provide
stabilityto this extremelylong backbone.
Even wirhout legs,severaldifferent merhodsof

locomorion are possible.The mosr familiar


technique used by snakesis lareralundularion.All
snakesseem ro be capableof using this method
when rhey are swimming or when they are
movingover solid surlalesrharhaveenough
irreguJariries
for Lhemro obrainsuflicienrgrip.
The snake movesforward by pushing ir body
againstrheseirregularitiesand can ofren rravel
quite rapidly. Speedso[ up to l0 kilometers
(6 miles) per hour have been reliably measured.
Much fasrerspeedshave been claimed, bur none
of these are anywherenear rhe kinds of speeds

f lhe brilliontcobrotion of theqreen


/reepyhon Chondroplhonvkidiso/
New Cuineo ond northernAustrclio
comaulloges
tl amongepiphyti.plont
in ilsroinlorcslhobilot

175

"g
.9

LThe moste(ficientmode of
locomohbnoctasslaase sond,
sidewindinghosdeve/oped
independenlly
in severolspeciesol
desert-dwe//ing
vipers.Hereo
Peringueytdesertodder Biiis
peringueyisidewindsils woy ocross
o dunein ihe Nomib Deserf.

176

often aftdbuted to snakesin comic books. No


snake in the world is capableof overtakinga
galloping horse,as in one common myth. lf rhe
surfaceof the ground is very smooth, snakescan
move by other rechniquessuch as rccrilinear
locomotion, concenina locomotion, slide-pushing,
and sidewinding. ln rectilinearlocomorion (the
"caterpillar
crawl".;rhe snakesrrerches
our in a
straighrline and depends on movementsof rhe
ventral skin (rhe underside) relativero rhe rsr of

the body. The snake pulls itself forwardby


muscularconrracrionwhile anchoring its bellyscalesusing friction on the ground. It rhen pulls
the venrralscalesforwardro a new frictionpoinr
and repeatsthe process.This ventral anchoring
and forward movement take place simuhaneously
at independenrsegmenrs
of rhe body.Large
pyrhons, boas,and vipers use rectilinear
locomotion[requently.
especially
when creeping
up to prcy acrossopen ground. The snake's

SNAKES
movementsare subtleand difficult to detect when
ir is moving in this way.
ln concertinalocomodon and sidewinding, the
snake usesa point of contact with the ground as
purchase,then lifts its trunk clear o[ the ground to
establishanother point of contact.Sidewinding is
particularlywell suited to soft substratessuch as
sand and soft mud, where it would be difficult to
find firm irregularitiesallowing lateral undulation
Smalldeserr-dwellingvipers and mudflatinhabiting colubrid snakesrely heavily on
sidewinding to move around.
A few colubrld snakesof the lndo-Pacific
"llying snakes"becauseof
jungles are known as
their unusualmethod of moving lrom tree to tree.
They launch themselvesfrom high treesand by
flauening their bodies can glide for considerable
distanceswirhoutbeing injuredwhen landing.
A NARROW ADVANTAGE
A snake is reallyjust a long tube. Unfonunately,
elongationmeans that the mouth is very small
relativero rhe size of the body, and rhereforeto
the amount of food required. Elongatelimbless
vertebrateshave adopred severalways ro
overcomthis problem. Someeat large numbers of
very small prey items, which can easilybe
ingestedevenby an animalwith a smallhead.
This is the most common solution used by lizards,
Other
and a few snakes,such as wormsnakes.
elongarevenebratescarch larger prey and tear of[
piecessmall enough to swallow.Amphisbaenians
use this approach. Most snakes,however,have a
third solurion:drastic modilications to the skull,
ro enablethe snake to ingest prey items that are
very largerelativeto its own size.
As a result the head of a snake is very different
from thar of other reptiles.There has been a
to permit Sreater
generallooseningoI attachments
{lexrbiliry.
so thar the snakes skullcontains
severalpoinrs at which adjacentbones can mov
relativeto each other. Most imponandy, the two
halvesof the lowerjaw are not rigidly fused
rogether,but instead arejoined at the ftont by an
elasricligament thar allows them to stretch far
apan.The opningto the windpipe can be
extruded to one side so that the snake can keep
breathing while it is engagedin subduing and
swallowinga large prey item, a Processthat may
take many hours. Most elementsof rhe snake skull
are reduced,permitting greaterflexibiliry,
although the floor of the braincaseis thickened
n
and provides protection for rhe brain against
a
injury from strugglingprey.
:
This complex reorganizationoI skul] strucrure F
allowssnakesto swallowruly prodigious meals. j
Many snakesroutinely feed on prey much larger 6
>
in diameter than their own heads,and some
specieshave been obsewed eating prey weiShing
considerablymore than themselves.Popular
attention has been focusedon large snakesand

A spideroccidenlollysfumb/esocrosso biunlheoded iree snokesuhduingon onole

t7

KINDS OF REPTILES

=
p
o

E
o

A ln o speclocu/ordemonstolionof
skullflexibilify,on Ahicon rock prthon
Pyihonseboe dislendsits moufhto
swollowon impolo.Althoughmony
snokeshobituollyswoiiowonimo/s
/orgerthontheirheods,prcy itemslhe
sizeof lhisonleiopeore uncommon.

178

large meals,such as pythons swallowing pigs,


antelopes,and wallabies,but lhe achievementsof
smallersnakesarejust as impressive.Studies
suggestthat vipers can swallow large prey more
quickly and efficiently than other snakescan.
Becausethey can eat such huge mealsrelativeto
thir own size,snakescan survive for long periods
wirhout feeding.This ability is increasedby the
low rate at which snakesuse energyfor their own
bodily processes.As ectothermic("cold-blooded")
animals,they don't need to expend large amounts
of energyjust to mainuin a high body temperature
(asdo birds and mammals).Many snakesprobably
eat very infrequently, perhapsonly a few times a
year.This meansthat they can shrink iheir digestive
systemduringtimeswhen it is not berngused.
which reducestheir energyexpenditurestill further.
Snakes(and other ectotherms,such as lizards) may
thereforebe able to survive in areaswhere food
supply is low or erratic,which is probably one of
the reasonsthat snakesand lizards have been
more successfulin many desertareasthan the
"advanced"
supposedly
birds and mammals.
Ectothermyconfersother advantagesas well.
Becausemammalsand birds must maintain high
stablebody temperaturcs,they faceenormous
problems in losing heat to the environment. To
reducethat heat loss,such animalsmust be

coveredin insulation (fur, feathers,or blubbeD


and have ro be fairly round in shape.Elongate
bodies have a much graterrelativesurfacearea,
and so a greaterareaover which heat can be lost
to the sunounding air. Ectothermsdon\ face
this problem, and in terms of energylossand
"afford"
gain they can
ro be any shapeat all. An
eiongateshapeis often an advantage-lor
example,it allows the animal to enter narrow
crevicesfor food or shelter-and this is probably
the reasonwhy elongateshapesare so common
in ectotherms(fishes,some amphibians,reptiles)
but not endorherms(birds, mammals).For
the same reason-that is, rhe ratio o[ surfacearea
to volume-warm-blooded animalsmust be
relativelylarge.Ecrothermsdon't haveto be, and
so they can opemte with much smallerbody sizes.
The elongateshapeof snakesalso has
advantagesin terms of hear gain and loss.Because
snakes,especiallysmall ones,have such a high
surfacearearelative to their body volume theyare
able to gain heat rapidly when they baskin the
sun or pressagainsta sun-warmedrock. Theyalso
have the ability to slow down the rate at whlch
they heat or cool, elther by changingshape(a
tightly coiled snakehas a much lower surfacearea
through which heat can be lost or gained)or by
physiologicalchanges(especially,redirection

SNAKES
of bloodflowbetweensurfacevessels
and deeper
ones).The overallresuhis thatan elongate
shipe
givessnakesa greatdegreeof controloverrheir
DOOy
temPeratures.
FOODAND FEEDING
Because
snakescannorbite or tearrheirpreyto
pieces
lunlikemosrIizards),
smallsnakes
simoly
cannotswallowverylargeprey.perhapsasa
consequence
of rhisgapeJimitation,
rhebodysize
of a snakehasa majorinfluenceon irs feedinq
habits.Smaller
snakesearsmallerprey.ln somle
casesthisjustmeansthatjuvenileand adult
snakes
eatthe samespeciesof preybut that rhe
youngsnakeseatsmaller(younger)prey
individuals.
Thisis true,for example,of many
snakespecies
with specialized
diers,Iike someof
thesmallerAustralian
venomoussnakes:thevear
scincidlizardsrhroughouttheir lives.sraningour
by eatingnewlyhatchedskinksand graduatingto
adultskinksasrheyrhemselves
growlarger.In
snakes
rharanainlargersizes.the increasein
bodysizeoftenmeansa changein the rypeas
wellassizeof prey;for example,manypyrhons
andvipersfeedon lizardswhenrheyareyoung,
graduating
ro largermammalsastheygrowlarger.
Althoughmanysnakesfallinto this partemof
havingrelatively
broaddiets,which changefrom
placeto placeand wirh the sizeof rhesnake,
othersnakesfeedexclusively
on a singleqpe of
preythroughouttheir lives.Someareveryhighly
specialized
indeed.TheAustralianbandy-bandv
Vermicella
annulata,
a brighrlyblack-and-whirebandedburrowingsnake,feedsonly on
blindsnakes
of the genusRamphotyphlops;
ir tracks
its preyby scenrand ofteneatsblindsnakes
as
Iargeasirsell Several
othersnakespecies
specialize
on lizardeggs:rhelizardnesrcare
presumably
locatedby scent,and the snakes,
reetharemodifiedso rhateacheggshellis slit as
it is swallowed.
Similartoorhmodificationshave
developed
in a varietyof unrelaredelapidand
colubridsnakesrharearrhe eggsof reprilesas
theirprimarysourceof food.
Othersnakestakerhe muchlargereggsof
birds,and rheAlricanegg-eadng
snakeso[ rhe
genusDaqrpeifis
arespecialized
colubridswirh
almostno reeth-only a fewtiny onesin rhevery
rearo[ rhelowerjaw.Whereorhersnakeshave
teeth,rheseegg-eaters
havea seriesof thick lolds
o[gumtissueanangedin accordion-like
folds.
Thesefoldsact assuctioncupson rhesmooth
surlaceof rheegg.Afterthe snakeswallowsthe
egg-a remarkable
leatin irself-ir bendsirs neck
sharplyso rharrheeggis pushedagainsra series
of sharp,downward-projecdng
spinesrhatpierce
theshell.Thesespinesareformedby elongated
prcjections
from rhesnake'sbackbone.
The egg's
contentsrhenflow down into rhe snake's
stornach,
owingto a serof specialmusclesthat
closerherhroarforwardo[ rhe egg.fu the egg

emptiesand travelsfurther down the snake's


throat, the blunt ends of some vertebraecrush the
egg, forming a compact bundle of empty shell
that can be easily regurgitatedwhen rhe forward
throat muscleshave relaxed.
Many seasnakesare highly specializedfeeders.
Someseakraits I-aticaudaspecies)feed primarily
on eels.Other seasnakes(someHydrophis
species)have slender forebodiesand tiny heads
that enablethem to reachdeepinto crevicesto
obtain their prey. The turtle-headedseasnakes
Gmydocephalus
species)have vestigialteeth and
feed on)y on rhe eggsof bottom-spawningmarine
gobies(a type of iish), using an enlarged,spadelike lip scalero scrapethe eggsof coral or rock.

Steodying o btrdt egg wifhin its coils,


on egg-eotingsnole Dosypehis
scobro beginsthe orduousfoskof
swollowingits food. Possessinq
few
teeth,thissnokeusesfo/dsolium
tissuelo gip the egg os it is sioilowed.

VA/mo si comp/ete/yengulfed, the egg


w// soon be piercedby proiecfionson
lhe snoke'sboclbone ond the shel/
regurgitoted.

179

KINDS OF REPTILES

L By flickingitstongueo Souk
SENSEORGANS
Ameriancolubridsnokeloenus
Snakesrelyon a varietyof senseorgansto find
TochimenisJ
detectsthesdn ol o tree
hogond slolkslo wikin stikingdistonce. their prey.Scenris probablythe mostgenerally

eustachian
tubes.However,theyarecapableof
derecdngevenfaint vibrarionsthroughthe
groundor water,and recentresearch
suggess
tha
somesnakesmayactuallybe ableto hearairbome
soundsaswell.The pit organsof boid snakes
(pythonsand boas)and pir vipersallowthemto
detectwarm-blooded
preybecause
of the slight
temperarure
differencebetweenthe preyandits
surroundings.
ln pracdce,snakesusea
combinationof all thesedifferentsenses
to ftnd
their prelerredfood.We still havemuchro leam
aboutthe wayin which informationfromthese
diversesensoryinpu6 is combinedand
interpretedin the brainsof snakes.

imponant,and the forkedtongueof snakeshas


beenbeautifullyfashionedto garherinformarion
aboutchemicalsin the environment.
The rwo
tongue-tipsarewidelyiseparated.
The tongueis in
constantmotion,regularlyextrudedfromthe
mouthto sampleparticlesin the air, rhewarer,or
on the ground,rhenwirhdrawinginto the mourh
to bring thesepaniclestoJacobson's
organin the
roof of the mouth.Therethe chemicalsare
analyzed,
givingthe snakeaccurateinformation
aboutthe presence
of predatorsor preyin its
localenvironmenr,
ln this way,Jacobson's
organ
hasa similarfuncrionro rhe tasreand smell
WORMSNAKES
Threeseparate
organsof humans.
familiesof snakes-Anomalepidida
Visionis alsoimportant,The eyesof snakes
Typhlopidae,and Leptotyphlopidae,areoften
differ considerably
fromthoseof othervertebrates called"wormsnakes"becausethey resemble
and evenfromthoseof otherreptilessuchas
wormsin sizeandgeneralappearance.
For
Iizards.For example,Iizardsfocustheir eyesby
example,their eyesare reducedto small,darkly
disroningthe lensto changeits radiusof
pigmentedspotswhich can tell the difference
cuwature,whereassnakeslocusby movingthe
betweenlight and dark, but probablyliule else,
Iensin relationto the retina.Therearealso
and their bodiesare smoothlycylindrical.The
severaldistinctive fearuresin the eyesof snakes
blunt headmergessmoothlywith the restof the
suggesdng
that their originalancestors
mayhave body, and the tail is short and tipped with a small
had greatlyreducedeyes-perhapsbecause
rhey spineusedto anchorthe snakeso that it can
wereburrowingcreatures.When snakeslarcr
move forward more easilyasit burrowsthrough
adoptedlife abovegound again,largereyesand
the soil. All are burrowers.In sizethey rangefrom
bettervision re-evolvedbut not in exactlythe
lessthan l0 centimeters(4 inches)long asadults,
sameway asbefore.The eyesof snakesare
up to heavy-bodiedsnakesalmost80 centimeters
(32 inches)in length. The threefamiliesare
coveredby nansparentcapsratherthan eyelids
(this alsooccursin somerypesof lizards),giving
anatomicallymore primitive (that is, morelike
them the "unblinking sare" so ofren inrerprered
ancestralsnakesknown from fossils)than other
asa signof malevolent
intentions.
living snakes.For example,mostof themretain
Snakeshavetraditionallybeen rhoughtto be
tracesof a pelvic girdle, suggestingthe presence
totallydeaf,becauserheyhaveno extemalear
of limbs at one time in their history.Theirsmall
openings,eardrums,
tympaniccavities,or
sizemeansthat they do not leavea goodfosil

SNAKES
record, and this group probably arosemuch
earlierthan the oldestwormsnake fossilsyet
found, which are from the Eocene,about
50 million yearsago. Somewormsnakesare very
"threadsnakes"
slender,like the 64 speciesof
(family Leptotyphlopidae)of the southem United
States,the West lndies, CentralAmerica,Africa,
"blind
Arabia, and Pakistan.The 20 speciesof
wormsnakes"(family Anomalepididae)are
found in continental Central and South America.
The third family (Typhlopidae),known as
"blindsnakes",is more diverseand contains about
150 species:most of theseare found in Africa,
Asia,and Australiabut some speciesalso occur in
CentralAmerica,and one species(discussedlater)
is found almost worldwide. Although they differ
considerablyin some anatomicalfeatures-for
example,threadsnakeshave teeth only on their
Iowerjaws, and blindsnakesonly on their upper
jaws-the generalsimilarity betweenmembersof
thesethree familiessuggeststhat they are closely
related.AII are non-venomous,feedingon softsuchas worms.or the eggs
bodiedinvertebrates
and larvaeof ants and termites.
Wormsnakesrely on scent, rather than their
rudimentaryeyes,to locatetheir food.They are
flickingrheir tonguesin and
adeprtrail-followers.
out to pick up any faint chemical traceslefi by
foragingants, and analyzingthese chemicalswith
rheJacobson'sorgan in the roof of the mouth.
They can then follow these trails back to their
sourceand find the ant brood. But how can a tiny
snakeenter an ant colony and defend itself
againstthe bites and stings of the worker anrc
rrying to prorect the brood? The Australian

,!
.9

&

Theheod ofthis gionf bi,ndsnoke


species)managethis
blindsnakes(Ramphoblphlops
Typhlopsschlegeii ofSouthAfrico
having
large
and
reasonably
by
being
simply
showsseverolodopfol,onsior
rhick. smooth scales,so that the ants can't get a
\urrowino. Enloroedscolesformshields
snoutond
to proieci ihe shJve/-shoped
The
Central
bite
them.
grip
to
good enough
lo caver lhe gteotlyreducedeyes,which
American threadsnakes(Leptoryhlopsspecies)are ore virluollyuselessunderground.
smaller,and they apparentlyrepel the attacking
ants by secretingrepellant chemicals,writhing
around to smearthis secretionall over their
bodies. li is such an eflectivetechnique that these
riny snakescan actuallyjoin hordes of marauding
"army
ants" as they travel through the forest,the
snakesleeding on eggsand larvae from ant nesls
raken over by the army ants.
Most wormsnakesreproduceby egg-laying,and

!
9

{
!

I With keir bluntheods,snoll


cylindricol bodies, ond rudinenlory
;yes il is eosy lo seehaw blindsnokes,
nigrescens,
sucl os Romphotyphlops
come lo be knawnos wormsnokes.

181

KINDS OF REPTILES

EGGSOR BABIES?
Mostsnakesreproduce
by lalng eggs,but some
specieshaveevolveda differentsysrem.
The
developing
eggsarereainedwithin rhemothels
bodyinsteadofbeinglaid in a nest,so rhatrhe
young sna\e doesnor\ave ro lace ihe woid unti)
it is fullyformedand readyfor an independent
life.This evolutionary
nansitionfromegg-laying
(oviparity)to live-bearing
(vivipariry)hasoccuned
at least30 timesin rheancesrors
ofliving snakes.
In somecasesan entiregoup is live-bearing
(like
the filesnakes,
familyAcrochordidae),
whereasin
othersa singlegroupconrainsboth egg-laying
and
live-bearing
members.
Forexample,wirhin the
fanily Boidaeall of rheboasarelive-bearers,
whereas
all of the plthons areegg-layers.
In a few
cases,
both rypesof reproductionoccurwirhin
closelyrelatedspecies.
The Europeansmooth
(familyC<ilubridae)
genusCoroneila
snakes,
offera
goodexample.The rwospeciesin this genusare
similarin mostrespects,
and theirgeographic
rangesoverlapconsiderably.
Nonetheless,
rhe
southernsmoothsnakeC.$rondicalayseggs,
whercasthe morenonhemspeciesC. 4ustridca
bearsliveyoung.
Why haslive-bearing
evolvedin so manyrypes
of snakes?
Thegeographic
dis[iburionsof livebearers
grveusa clue.Live-bearers
aremosdy
foundin climatescoolerrhantheireggJalng
relatives,
and theyarethe onlyspeciesto penerrate
into severely
coldareas.lr seemsthatsoilsin these
areasareloo coldto allowsr.rccessful
incubationof
eggslaid in theground,whereas
eggsrerained
within the mother'sbodycanbe keprmuch
warmerbecause
shecanbaskin the sunand select
warmershelters.
hegnantlemales
of manylivebearingspecies
spendmostof rheirtimebasking,
andthis seemsro accelerate
the development
of
the eggssothatbirth canoccurwhilerempemrures

f
I

3
5

ate still favorablefor activity and the youngsnakes


canfind safetyfor rhewinter.
lfvivipariryconferssuchadvantages,
why arent
all snakeslive-bearers?
The answeris rharlemale
snakestharreraindeveloping
youngsuffer
disadvantages
aswell: they are physicallyslowed
downby the volumeof thelitter rheycarryaround,
and theyusuallydo nor feedduringmostof their
pregnancy.
Females
of egg-laying
speciesdo nor
sufferlhese"costs"for aslong,and thereforemay
be lessr,ulnerable
to predarors
and be ableto
beginfeedingagain(and perhaps,layinganother
clutchofeggs)muchsoonerrhanthe live-bearers.

A Sp/ittingthe sheilmembroneg
boby sond rocersPsommophis
sibilons hofchfrom fheir
leotheryeggs.

B
.9

a
-

182

I Afemole hog-nosed lzper


Porthidiumnosuiusoivesbi4h. ils
oflsping olreody on'the olertos it
emergesfrom lhe birfh membrone.

SNAKES
females
of onesmallAmericanthreadsnake,
in rotting foliage and loose earth and digs shallow
Leptotyphlops
dulcis,may coil around rheir eggs
tumels in the ground, but is not exclusively
andsraywirh themuntil hatching.ft is difficultro bunowing. SevenCylindrophis speciesin Southeast
imaginewharbenefitsmatemalanendance
could Asia (family Cylindrophidae) may be closely
offerthesetiny snakes,but perhapsthe female
related to another group of Asian burrowing snakes,
discourages
smallinvenebrares
tharmighr
the shield-tailedsnakes(family Uropeltidae).
otherwise
preyon her eggs.Productionoflive
The genus Cylind.rophisincludes both egg-laying
young(vivipariry)hasbeenreporredin some
and live-bearing species,whereas all of the shield(genusllphlops).
Africanblindsnakes
tailed snakesare probably live-bearers.
Perhaps
rhe mostremarkable
aspectof rhe
Burrowing pipe snakesand shield+ailedsnakes
reproductive
biologyof blindsnakes
comesfrom
use their head to force their way through the soil,
the tiny flowerpotsnakeRamphoryphlops
braminus. and the bones of their skull are solidly united,
Thisspeciesis oneof the smallestof all snakes
unlike those of most other snakes.A second
(lessthan L5 cenrimerers,
or 6 inches,asan adult) unusual featurein pipe snakes,but one shared
andhasthe broadestgeographic
rangeo[ any
with boid snakes(describedlater), is the presence
snake,includingmanysmallisolatedislandsin
of rudimentary hind limbs, in the form of small
thePacilicOcean.This hugerangealmosr
spurs on either side of the vent. The shield-tailed
certainlyresultsfromthe snakebeingaccidenta\ snakesare burrowers and take their common
spreadaroundthe globeby humans,who
name from the greatly enlarged scale near the
unwittinglytransferit in smallcontainersof soil
tip of the tail, The scalemay be compressedfrom
suchasflowerpots(henceits commonname).
side to side (in a few speciesit resemblesa
Likeall wormsnakes.
the flowerDotsnakeis
completely
haniless,althoughii hasbeen
reponedto causesomeproblemsin India by
crawlinginro rheearsof peoplesleepingon rhe
ground.lts reproducrive
biologyis quirebizarre,
because
all llowerporsnakesare females.
Theyare
triploid(thatis, theyhavethreesersof each
chromosome
in eachcell,rarherthan rwoas in
mostanimals)and reproduceparrhenogenetically,
with females
givingbirth to daughters
who
producedaughrers
who producedaughters,
and
soon, withouranygenedccontributionftom a
male.Thesamephenomenonoccursin several
groupsof lizardsand somesalamanders.
Ultimatelythis reproductive
sysremis likelyro be
an evolurionary
deadend,because
a
pafthenogeneric
specieslacksthe generic
variationbroughtaboutby sexualreproduction.
ln
theshorterterm,however,it hasobviouslybeena
verysucesslul
srraregy
for rheseminiaturesnakes.

f Two prpe snokes:the blorchedpipe


snole Cylindrophus
moculotus
/be/ow,
fonily Cvlindrophidoelof Sri Lonko,hos
o defensedisplov which involveshtdino
i.tsheod, thenfloheningond roisingits"
brighllypohenedloil in nimicryol o
cobrc's heod ond had. fhe relotionship
of the Souk Anericon corol pipe snoke
Aniliussc/ole lbo#om,fonily Aniliidoe)
lo oker pipe snokesis ohendeboted.
lls bighl colot paheth is in oppotenl
mimicryol venonouscorol snokes.
However, ils moin defenselocllc is lo
hide its heod ond presehtke Aud 1rcil
os on ollernotive'heod'.

PIPESNAKESAND TIIEIR REIATIVES


Thisgroupis a confusingmixtureof mediumsizedfossorial(burrowing) and semlfossorial
whoseevolutionaryrelationships
species,
are
obscure.They havea number of primitive
features,
suchasa largeleft lung andtracesof a
pelvicgirdle,which arelostin theso-called
"advanced"
snakes.
Thepipesnakes,or aniliids(familyAniliidae),
includeonespecies
ofAniliusin northemSouth
America.but rhereis considerable
disagreement
on whatothersnakesshouldalsobe includedin
thefamily.Somescientists
would include
Anomochilus
webei from Sumatrain the familv.
whereas
othersbelievethatit belongsin u s.p"."t"
family,Anomochelidae.
Anotherunusualsnake,
lnxocemus
bicolorol southemMexicoand Central
America,is placedin the familyLoxocemidae
and
mayalsobe relatedto the pipesnakes;it burrows

183

KINDS OF REPTILES

l lhe greoiesfrodiotionot'python
specieshos occur.edin Austalioond
ihe mostwidespreodof theseis ihe
corpelpylhonMoreiiosp oio.
Numerousco/orvorieiiesexist,tncludinq
ottrocliveblockond yellowspecimens
tom tropicolnoth eosl Queens/ond.

184

diagonally-cut
end oI a salamisausage)
and bcars
severalsmallridgesor smallspines,which hold a
clump of soil.The soil blocksrhe runnelbehind
thc snake,prorecringit from predators(including
pipc snakes)which mighrorhrwisecaprureand
cat the shield-tail.The spectacular
iridescenr
colorsoI tire shield-rails(and many orhertypes
ol snakesthat burrowin wet soil) are not due to
n i g m c n r \r n r h c s k i n b u rr o r h c m r ,r o > l o p i c
structureof rhe scales.Thesebearsmallridges
that reducefrictionagainstthe surroundingsoil
while the snakeis burrowing,and incidenrally
dilfractlight,producingan arrracrive
iridescence
with all rhe colorsof the rainbow.

(24 inches),and feedsmosrly on geckosand


smallmice.Nonetheless.
ir is rhe largerspecies
that attmct the mosr public interesr.The record
for the "longestsnakein the world" goesro eirher
the reticulatedpython Pythonreticulatus
of Asia,
reJiablymeasuredup to l0 meters(almost
33 feet), or the semi-aquaticanaconda Eunectes
murinusoI South America, also measuredup to
at least 10 metersand much more heary-bodied
than the reticulatedpython. Orher gianrsinclude
the lndian python Pythonmolurus,ro 9 meters
(29% feet), the African python P. sebae,8 mete6
(2c,r,feetl.and the Ausrralianscrubpython
Moreliaamelhistina,more than 7 merers(23 feet).
Many authoririesbelieverhat the snakesusually
SUNBEAM SNAKE
grouped togetheras "boids" are actuallya combiThc sunbcamsnakeXcnopellis
unicolor,a medium- nation oI different rypesrhar are only distantly
sizedground dwellingsnakeof India and
relatedto eachorher.The wood snakes(usually
Southeasr
Asia,seemsto be only distanrlyrelarcd
considereda separatefamily, rhe Tropidophiidae)
to other living snakesand is usuallyplacedin a
are lound from Mexico ro norLhemSouth
f u m i l yb y i r s c l Ir h c X c n o p c l t i d a V
c .c s r i g cos[ . r
America, and on many offshoreislandsasweil.
pelvicgirdleand rudimentaryhind limbs are
These20 speciesof small ground-dwellingboaprimitive [eaturesir shareswirh rhe pipe snakes,
like snakesseemto be the living representatives
of
althoughrhis may nor indicarecloserelationship. a very ancient lineage,with fossilsknown from the
It growsto abour L merer(3% feet)in lengrhand
Paleocene,abour 60 million yearsago.Their
hasa round body and glossyscaleslike thoseof
closestrelativesmay be rhe two smailspeciesof
the shield tails,presumablylor the samereasons. snakesBoiyenamultocainata arrdCasarec
One very unusualleatureis rhat rhe reerho[ rhe
dusumien(family Bolyeriidae),found only on tiny
lowerjaw are seton a looselyhinged denrary
Round Island in the Indian Ocean,ahhoughfossils
bone.Surprisingly,
rhe sunbeamsnakedoesn'r
have also been found on nearbyMauritius.There
s e e mr o s h o wa n y c o r r e s p o n d i npge c u l i a r r t i ei ns
has been massiveenvironmentaldegradationon
its diet, becauseir feedson a wide varietyo[
RoundIsland.mostlybecau)eofgraztngby
vertebrates
includingorhersnakes,frogs,and
introduced pigs, which has destroyedmuch of the
rodenrs(mice and rats).
habitat availableto the boas on the island.Their
exlinction seemsalmost inevitable.
PYTHONS, BOAS, AND THEIR RELATIVES
The two other groups of boids borh contain
The 60 speciesof boid snakes(family Boidae)
speciesthat attain very largebody sizes.Pythons
include the largestof all living snakes,but also
(subfamily Pythoninae)are found mosrlyin the
many smallerspecies-for example,the pygmy
Old world and consisrenrrrelyof egg-lafng
pyLhonAntqrtsiTperfhensisof rhe westem
species.In contrast,boas (subfamilyBoinae)are
A u s t r a l i adne s e r l g- r o u st o o n l y o 0 c e n r i m e t e r s
mostlyin the Ner,rWorld and arer,rr.rparous

SNAKES
< Besiknownof the lorgesnokes,lhe
boo conslriclorBoo conslrictoris by no
meonslhe /orgesf,ond is dwoded by
severololherboids.Commonlytholrghf
of os o lung/esnoke,fhe numerous
subspeciesore foundin o voriefl al
hobitolsfromsemi-desedlo roinforesl.

n
I

a
!
6

species-rhatis, the [ernaleretainsrhe developing


eggswithin her oviducr,insteadof layingrhem,
and givesbirrh ro fully formedoffspring.
Many peoplehavea mentalpictureof a python
as a large,heary-bodiedsnakelying on a branch
in a tropicalforest,waitingto drop onto some
unluckyexplorer.The truth of the matteris quite

different.Many pyrhonsare quite smalland do


nor live in tropicalforestsat all. lndeed,someare
burrowersliving in desertsands.ln fact,although
in Africaand Asia,true
rhey haverepresentatives
pythonsare most diversein Australia.While it is
lheir
true that all pythonsare non-venomous,
feedinghabitsvary from speciesto species.Some

V Theb/ood pythonPyihoncuriusis o
sho4 sfoulpylhonof Soulheosl/sio,
whereii inhobilsswomps,morshes,ond
roinforesisteoms, lis commonnomei5
derivedfrom thedeep red coloringof

I'

185

KINDS OF REPTILES

V Looseningits coiisofer conslricfingo


tot, o Butmesep\4honPythonmo urus
bivittotusrepositions
the ptey lo begin
swol/owing.One of the /orgestsndkeg
lhe rcpid gtowlh rcte ond altractive
polleming of lhis pylhon hdve resuhed
in its populatity in both lhe ieother ond
five onimol trodes.

!
3
o

186

feed on frogs,some on lizards, some on


mammals,some on birds. They all rely on
constriction to subduetheir prey, throwing a
seriesof coils around the animal as soon as it is
seized.Thesecoils suffocatethe prey by
righreningeveryrime it exhalesand prevenringit
from drawing another breath-although stories of
prey animals being crushed to jelly, and of all
their bonesbeingbrokenby consrricrion,are
simply untrue. One desertspecies,the woma
python Aspiditesramsayiof cenrralAusrralia,uses
an interestingvariation to conventional
constriction. This speciescatchesmany of its
prey down bunows, where there isn't enough
room for it to throw coils around the prey.
Instead,the womajust pushesa loop of irs body
againstthe unlucky mammal so that it is squeez'ed
(and soon suffocated)benveenthe snake and the
side o[ the burrow. Unfortunately for rhe woma,
this technique doesn't immobilize the prey as
quickly as would "normal" constriction, so many
adult woma pythons are covered in scarsfrom
retaliatingrodents.
All pythons are egg-layers,like most other
reptiles,but pythons are unusualamong reptiles
in the care they afford their developing eggs.The
femalemay build a "nest" of vegetation,by coiling

under looseleaf-litter,for example,or simply


selectingan appropriatewell-insulatedburrow.
She coils around the clutch after laying and
remains with her eggs until they are ready to
hatch. She may leaveto bask in the sun or ro
drink but will not feed until after her matemal
duties are complete.Although plthons are
generallyectothermiclike other repriles-that is,
they rely on heat from the enyironment to keep
themselveswarm-brooding femalepythons
actua\ generateheat by shivering, and this keeps
the eggsat a high and stabletemperature
throughoutdevelopment.
lt is very expensivein
terms of the female'sown energyreserves:she
may lose up to half her own body weight berween
eggJayingand the end of incubation, and it may
take her two or three years to regain enough
energyreservesro breed again. However,it means
that the eggsdevelop rapidly to hatching, and are
safewhen the air temperatureis low. Perhapsfor
this reason,some pythons can reproduce
successfullyeven in relativelycold areas.Like all
orher snakes,pythons do not take care of their
offspring after hatching; rheir maternal
responsibiliriesfinish when the young snakes
emergerrom rne e88s.
Boasare similar in many ways to the pythons,

SNAK

excepr,rharrhey bear live young insreadof


laf ng
eggs.The besr-knownboas may be largespeiies]
Dutthere are also smallerrypes.They are mosrly
Iound in Centraland SourhAmerica,ahhough
two
generaoccur in Nonh America,the rubber
boa
channabottaeand the rosy boa lichanura
frivirgata,
both relativelysmall and secretive.Small
groupshave also made rheir way somehow
ro
Madagascar
(Sanziniaspecies)and ro New Guinea
and nearbyPaci[ic islands (Ccndoiaspecies);
rheir
ancestorsmay have rafted acrossfrom Cenrral
America,like the ancestorsof the pacilic iguana
lizards-or perhaps their descendantsrafted
the
otherway. The anacondaEunectesmuilnusis
a
gunt semi-aquaricsnake of SouthAmerican
riyers,where it spends much of ir time lying
in
wait ar the water'sedge for unwary mammals
and
carman,a rype ol crocodilian. probablyrhe besr_
known speciesis the Boaconstictor,a medium_
sizedboa at 4.5 merers(14% feet),distributed
trom nonhern Mexico ro paraguayand Argenrina.
ano olten kepras a pet.The dangerposedby
largebold snakes-isundoubtedlygrossly
exaggerared,
bur rhere are reliablereporrsof
predation.onhumans (usuallychildren) by
unusuallylarge
A[ricanpyrhons.Indian pyrhons.
rencutared
pyrhons,and anacondas.

'.il
,,!,

that describesrhem well is ,,elephant.strunk


snake",applied to a freshwaterAsian species,
Acrochordusjayanicus.The Arafura filesnake
A. arafurae lives in rivers and freshwater billa_
bongs in Ausrraliaand New Guinea,and rhe third
species,rhe litde filesnakeA. granulatas,inhabits
FILESNAKES
estuarineand coasralareasof the Indo-pacific.
In manyrespects.
rhe rhreetorallyaquaricspecies
When you seea filesnakeunderwater.irs
in rhis family(rheAcrochordidae)are amonp
rhe
srrangeskin beginsro makesense.The loose
skjn
mosrunusualo[ snakes.Their skin is loose
a-nd
fla"nensout ven-rrallyas rhe snake swlms.giving
baggliand looks as if ir is one or rwo sizes roo
" ir
a llarrenedprolilelike a seasnakeand rhus
largefor the snake.The skin is coveredwith
small enablingit ro swim more efficienrly.ks
roughskin
granularscaleslike the surfaceof a file, giving
rs,used.ro
caprureprey in a rarhersurprisingway.
thesesnakesrheir common name. they ha,re-losr
Filesnakes
feedon [ishes.and consrricrthem in
the enlargedventral scales,the belly_shields
rhar
the.sameway thar pyrhonsconsrricrtheir prey
on
cnaracterizemost terrestrialsnakes,and have
land.Squeezing
a slipperyfish would be
troublemoving around on land. Another name
impossiblewirhour small roughenedscalesthat

l Nomed for the iridescentsheenof


ils scoles,the Brczilionrcinbo\yboo
Eprcroles
cenchriocenchrioflopl
reeoson fhe groundond is ohenfound
neor villoge oufskils, whefe fhe,e is o
steody supply of rodents.Sond boos ore
unusvolbojdt in thof they ore exc/r,,sive/y
Utd worjd in disttibution
ond odopted
fot o bu(owing lifest/le.lllust@ted
is
the Kenyonsondboo Eryxcofi_rbrinus
loveridgei(obove),rhesouthern-most
rcpresentoli\e of thisgraup.

187

KINDS OF REPTILES

COLUBRID SNAKES
Mosr living snakesbelong ro a single family, rhr
Colubridae,often calledrhe ,,harmlesssnakes',
even though a few of them have very roxrc ven
Abour 1,600speciesare recognized,and rhey
occur on all conrinenrsexceprAnrarcrica(whic
has no snakesat all). This remarkableassembl
is exrraordinarilydiverse,bur apparently fairly
recent in geologicalterms.The earliestdefinire
colubrid fossilscome from rhe Oligocene,abou
30 million yearsago,and rhe colubrids are one
the mosr specmcularsuccessstories in rhe worl
evoiutionaryhistorysincerhat rime.They are tI
most common snakesalmost everywheresnake
occur,wirh the norableexceprionof Ausrralia.
They havelost all traceof the pelvicgirdle,and
mosrspeciesrhe skullis highly modilied so tha
is verl flexible.allowinglargeprey irem, ro
be swallowed
Venom has evolvedindependenrlyin severa
different groups of snakes.Colubrid venom is
reallyjust modified salivarysecrerionfrom
Duvernoy'sgland,in rhe upperjaws.Because
salivaconrainscomponenrsrhat breakdown
tissueand begin the processof digestion,iCsea
to imagine rhe evolurionaryparhway leading to
the
appearanceofvenom in snakes.All thar is
s
requrredin rhe earlysragesis rharsomeroxic
!
salivatricklesdown into rhe prey irem as it is
held in rhe snake'smourh.Snakeswrrh more
toxic saliva,or wirh largerreethso thar the saliv
{
could penetratethe prey more easily,had an
:
advantagebecauserheir prey were killed more
f
quickly.Over many generarions,
a
naturalselecri
favoredinakes thar had moreand more toxrc
venom,and largerand more elaborare
reethwith
which to deliverthe venom to rhe prey.
The earliesrvenomoussnakesmay havebeen
A An underwoterc/ose-up of on Aroluro can
penerrarerhe slimecoveringthe fish,sscales. "rear-fanged"
(opisrhogllphous)-tharis, their
iiiesnoke
Acrochordus
oroluroereveoh
Filesnakes
are unusualin behavior,ecology,and
lhe coorsetexiuredskinwith whichit
enlargedteerh(fangs)wereat the rearof their
holdsils s/ipperylishprey
physiology as well as body form and st.ucure.
mourh-and this is rhe type of systemsenln rh
They seemro be specialists
in copingwirh low
vnomouscolubridsnakesroday.In bio_
f Aoping in thrcot,o tood-eoter
ratesoI energyavailabiliry:
rheyearrarely,have
Xenodonrobdocepholus
mechanicalrerms,the rearof the mouth is wher
disp/oys
the enloeed reot teethwtthwhichi!
linle capacity[or sustainedexercise,and females
the
tooth can exert the greatesrforce on a prey
puncfuresioods ond frogs.
may reproduceonly once every few years.Still,
itemi many non-venomoussnakeshaveenlarge
lney are ablero acquireenergyfairlyrapidly rl
teerhar rhe rearof their mourhs,which rheyuse
tood doesbecomeavailable,
and Lan occur in
for slining relativelyhard objects(like eggsjor
remarkablyhigh numbersin suirableareas.In
puncruringprey animalsthat inflarethemselves
tropLcaJ
AusrraliaAboriginalpeopleharvesrmany
with air (like toads)and hencemay be difficuhto
o l t h e s es n a k e s J ubs e
r f o r er h e b e g r n n i nogf r h e
ingest.Mosr snakessubdueand swallowrheir
annualmonsoonalrains,when waterrevelsare at
prey without venom, but severalgroups have
their lowesr.Aboriginescarch rhe snakesby
evolved-roxicsecretionsro kill prey more rapidly
gropingaroundblindly in the muddy water,
and perhapsro begin the processof digesrion
recognizingthe snakesby the distinctivefeeloI
before the prey item reachesrhe sromacn.,,rmong
their roughskin.They are cookedby rhe simple
the colubrids,potentvenomshaveansenrn a
t e c h n i q u oe [ r h r o w r n g
r h e mo n h o r c a m p [ i r e
number of species,perhaps the besrknown being
I
coals,and rhen earenin their enrirery.
three arborealAfrican snakes;rh boomslang
p
Marine [i]esnakesare also harvesredar seaby
Dispholidustypusand rhe two speciesof vine
humans,but rhis is a commercialindustrybased
i
snakes,genus Thelotomis.Snakesofboth rhese
on the valueof rheir skins for clothingand
generahave causedhuman faralities,inciuding
[ashionapparel.
famousherperologisrswho underraredtheir da"nge

188

SNAKES
{A reor-fonged
ihe/ongcoir-rbnd,
nosedtreesnokeAhoetullonosutohos
groovesin frontof ifshorizonfoitpupi/edeyesto o/iowunobstructed
lorwordvisionfor hunting.

I
.E
E

HOW OFTEN DO SNAKESREPRODUCE?


In tropicalareaswhereconditionsaresuirablefor
females
of someeggrcproduclionyear-round,
layingspeciesmayproducemorethan oneclutch
of eggsin a singleyear.However,highlyseasonal
reproductive
cyclesarecommonevenin tropical
snakes.
This is probablybecause
most[opical
variation
areasactuallyshowsignificantseasonal
in characterisrics
suchasrainfall,which may
In
inlluencethe foodsupplyfor harchlings.
produce
lemperare-zone
habirars,
snakesgenerally
onlya singleclutchor litter per year,because
winterlempemtures
aretoo low for reproduction
(andoften,for anyacriviryat all).
don't
ln manykindsof snakes,adultfemales
reproduceeveryyear:instead,a femaleis likelyto
skip opponuniriesfor reproduction,
perhaps
producingoffspringonly everysecondor third
year.Theselow reproductive
frequencies
seemto
resuhfrom the female'sdifficulry in accumulating
the amountof energrneededro producea full
clutcheveryyear.Panicularly
in live-bearing
speciesliving in cold areas(whererhe activity
seasonmaybe only a fewmonthslong),a female
mayhavelitdedmeto feedbetweenrhe rimeshe
givesbinh and rhe time shemustenterher
winterreneat.Forthis reason,populadonsof
geographically
widespreadspeciesmayvaryin
the frequencyat which the femalesreproduce:
femalesin colder areasmay be ableto reproduce
only once everyfew years,whereasfemalesof the
samespeciesliving in warmerarcascanreproduceeveryyear.This pattemis seenin several
species,
includingborhthe Europeanviperidsand
theAustralianelapids.
Females
mayalsoskip a yearbetweensuccessive
reproducrions
if foodsupplyis limited.ln the
Saharan
desenvioerEchiscolorata.
somefemales

living nearoases(wherefood is plentiful)


reproduceeveryyear,whereasthosein drier areas
do nol ln the Europeanadderand the Australian
waterpythonLiasis/uscus,
reproduce
few females
duringyearswhenrodentpopularions
arelow and
foodis thereforehard to find. FemaleArafura
frequencies,
filesnakes
haveverylow reproducrive
with an average
ofonly 10 percentof females
reproducingeachyear.The only yearsof
significantreproductionin this speciescomeafter
prolongedflooding,whenthe snakes
exceptionally
cancapturemanyfishesin shallowlyflooded
areas.In all of thesespecies,
however,malestend
to mateeveryyear,because
rheydo nor needto
gatherenoughenergyto producea largeclutchof
eggsor young.

V lhe conslderobieenergeliccost
of producing relotively loee eggs,
suchos thosebeing /oid by
thisyeliow-focedwhip snoke
Demonsiopsommophis,
is o mojot facfot delermining
lhe frequencyof reproduclion
in snokes.

189

KINDS OF REPTILES
Someauthoritiesbelieverhat the famiiy
Colubridaeis such a huge group that it should be
divided inro many smallerlineages,bur there are
srill difficukies in idenrifying relationships.Recent
studiesusinga combinationoI biochemicaland
morphological(body structure)techniqueshave
identifiedsomegroupingswithin the Colubridae,
bur have lelt many uncerrainties;for example,the
"burrowing vipers" of the genusAtractaspisfound
in Alrica and the Middle Eastare very distinctive,
with no clearrelationshipsto orherkinds o[
snakes.So ler us beginwith the groupswithin the
Colubridaethat do seemto representnatural
lineages.
evolutlonary
Subfamily Homalopsinae
are an arrayo[ about40 rearThe homalopsines
fangedaquaticsnakesoI Asianand Australian
waters.One land dwelling genus,Brachyorrhos,
probably belongshere too. All are live-beaiers,and
many irrc mirnSrovcdwr-ller,.Somcspccrc<are
very distinctive,like the tntacledsnakeErpelon
kntaculum,so-calledbecauseof rhe strange
on its head.Most of the
protuberances
but the white-bellied
arc [ish-carcrs,
homalopsincs
is a specialist
mangrovesnakeFordonialeucobalis
cspeciallycrabs.It stalksthem at
on crustaceans,
night on mangrovemudflatslefi by thc receding
tidc. The hard shcllof a crabmakcsit diflicult to
seize,so the snakeusesa specialtechnique.
When rhc snakeis closeenough,it Iaunchcsa
strikc,not ot thc crab,but dboveit. By striking
abovcthe crab,thc snake'sforebodypushesthe
crab down into the soft mud, and the snakecan
then rurn and bitc it more carcfullyto introduce
venom.This secmsto stop thc crab'sstruggles
quickly.and thc snakcthcn procccdsto eat the
unlbrtunatecrustacean-or,if the crab is too bi8,
ro removeand car the legsonly.This is probably

the spoiied
> A puz2leto toxohamisis,
horleqr-rin
snokeHomoroseops acteus
of souihernAlricois venomousond hos
fied fronl fongslikeon elopid ond yel
hos beencloss;fiedwiih both lhe vipers
ond the coiubrids.Often foundin
iermiiemoundt ihisspec;esleedson
blindsnokesond legless|zords.

190

r h e o n l y : n a k et h a tc a na c t u a l l tl e a rp i e c e 'o f f a
prey item tbecausethe crab shedslts legsquile
': all orhercmust earthe prey entire
readiLy

Subfamily Xenodermatinae
The xenodermatinecolubridsof lndia and
Sourheast
Asiaare unusualin havingupturned
edgeson thc scalesborderingthe lip, and
expandedbony plateson the spinesof the
j.rv.rnicus
is a frog-eating
Xenodennus
vcrrebrae.
speciesfound in moist soft earthin wet cu]tivated
areas,sLlchas dykesberweenrice fields,in parts
ol Asra.

Sub[amily Calamariinae
"dwarf
snakes"oI EastAsia
Thc callmirriincsor
form anorhcrclcarlydiffercntiatedcolubridgroup,
Thereare
possiblyrelatedto thc xcnodermatines.
.rbor.rt
80 specics,all of them smallsnakesthat
sccn to licd mostlyon carthwormsirnd insects.
and
Thcscsmallsccrctivcsnakcsarc slow-moving
and hcncc arc olten caten
rclarivclyclclcnsclcss,
by othcr snakcs

Subfamily Pareatinae
Onc SourhcaA
> t' i J n 8 r o u p .t h c p ; r e a t i n c "a. r e
particularlyinterestingbecauseol their
diet. Like a distandyrelatedgenusoI
specialized.
colubridslrom tropicalCentraland South
America,Difsrrs,they feedon snailsand have
evolvedsomcrcmarkablemodificationsof their
body structureand behaviorto suit them to this
by the
unusualdict. The lowerjaw is strengthened
lusiono[ adjacentscalesand can be insertedinto
thc openingo[ a snail'sshell;the long frontteeth
thcn hook the snail'sbody and pull it out with
The snakedoesnot consume
rwistingmovements.
rhc snail'sshell,which it probablycouldnot
digcstanyway.

SNAKES
Subfamily Boodontinae
The boodonrine colubrids ofAfrica and
Madagascarare a very largegroup, including both
harmlessspeciesand rear-fangedspecies.Some
are aquaticfish-earers,some are terresrrialwith
broad diers,some feed mostly on mammals,some
on lizards, some specializeon eating other
snakes,and one genus(Duberria)specializeson
slugs.Both egg-layingand live-bearingoccur
within the group, and even within a singlegenus
(Aparallactus).
Severalof rhe specieswirhin rhis
largeand diversegroup are known as "house
snakes"becausethey often enter housesto feed.
The westernkeeledsnakerythonoaipsds
cainata is
an unusual-lookingspeciesthat closelyresembles
horned vipers found in the same area;this
mimicry may confusepredatorsand hence reduce
the keeledsnake'srulnerabiliry to them.
SubfarnilyNatricinae
One o[ the mosrsuccesslul
colubridgroupsin
North America,Asia,and Europe is the subfamily
Natricinae:gartersnakesand their relarives.This
group probablyhad its origin somewherein rhe
Old World, possiblyin Asia, but has spread
widely through the New World as well. The Old
World forms are mosdyegg-layers,like the

f,
I

z
I
z

common grasssnake NatrLxndlrix, which is


commonover much o[ Europe,evenat high
latitudes.EggJayingsnakesare usuallynor able to
survive severelycold climatic regions,because
they require high soil temperaturesfor their eggs
to develop. Femalegrasssnakesovercomethis
problemby migratinglong distancesro find

A Ihe mosl widespreodEuropeon


ihe grosssnokeNohix nohix
sno/<e,
is ossoc;oiedwiih woier thrcughout
muchof ils ronge.
V Likeifs c/osereloiivesin ihe genus
Dipsos,lhe snoi/-eoter
Sibononnuolo
of CentrolAmericohoso speciolized

.9

197

KINDS OF REPTILES

.a\-."f--'

A A sienderversionof fhe closeiy


re/oledgodersnokeglhe eostem
r/bbonsnokeThomnophissouritus
souritusis o fpicoiNew Wo/d
notricinesnokein thdt il is live-beaing
ohd semi-oquclic, rctely being lound
for from woler

192

suitableincubation sites,bur even so, such sires


are scarcein areaslike northem Sweden.How,
then, can grasssnakessurvive in these areas?
They do so by taking advantageof manure heaps
on farms.Thesehuge piles of cow manure are
heated by the action of microbes,and snakes
lrom a wide area may convergeonto a single farm
and lay thousandsof eggsin the sanremanure
pile. tn this way. rheir eggsare kepr ar highenough tempemures to completedevelopment
and to hatch before rhe first frosts of winter. ln
natural condirions, before manure piles were
available,rhe snakesprobably nested under large,
flat sun-warmedrocks on south-facingslopes
becausethesewould have offered the only nest
siteswarm enough to allow for successful
embryonic development.
Not all natricines are eggJayers,however.One
semiaquatic Asian species,Sinondtrixdnnularis,is
r,'lviparous,as are all of the New World natricines
such as gartersnakesand watersnakes.The North
Amedcan natricines are a spectacularlydiverse
group and remarkablycommon in many areas
throughouttheir range.ln some severelycold
areasin south-centml Canada,red-sided garter
snakes Thamnophissinalis pa'ietall6 gather together
in huge groups to spend winter in the few sites
where underground crevices are deep enough for
them to escaDethe winter fteeze.Thesesmall

snakesmay ravel many kilometers from their


hibernarion sires to their summer feeding
grounds,the frog-rich swampsand meadows.
When the first warm days of spring bring the
hibernating snakesout to bask at the entranceto
rhe den, rhe numbers of snakesto be seen are
norhing shoft of astounding.Malesemergefirst
and wait by the den entrancefor the females,
which are larger.Reproductivelyreceptivefemale
secrerea specialchemical substance,a
pheromone,which stimulatesmating activity by
the males.Becauseof the huge numbers of snake
present,a femalemay be surroundedby a
writhing ball of dozens of amoroussuirors.lt
"first
seemsto be a caseof
come, lirst served",but
some maleshave an advantagebecausethey also
produce rhe femalepheromone or somethingveq
like it. This confusesthe orher males,who don't
know who to try to mate with, and as a result
"she-males"are more successfulthan norma
these
malesat mating.
Becausegartersnakesand waternakes are so
common and so widely distributed in Nonh
America,they are among the best-known snakes
in many respects.For example,we know a great
deal abour rheir feeding habirs.Different species
o[ garrersnakesfound in the sameareatend to
ear different rhings, ahhough it is nor clear
wherher this is becauseof comperirionbetween

SNAKES
species.Scientistscan lind out the food
preferencesof a newborn gartersnakeby testing
its reaction to different prey odors presentedto
the snakeon cotton swabs.It tums out that prey
preferencesseemto be genetica\ programedand
that they differ beween specieso[ gafter snakes,
and even beueen different populations of the
samespecres.
Naturalselectionhas also modified the snakes'
roleranceto toxins in its prey. For example,garter
snakesliving in areaswhere toxic newts are
ro the Poisons
commonarevery resisranr
where the newts
newts.
ln
areas
produced by rhe
don't occur, or where they arc not as toxic, the
localgartersnakesdonl show this resistance.
Subhmilies Xenodontinae and
Pseudoxenodontinae
The xenodonrinecolubrids of the temperateand
tropical New World, including the West lndies
and the Galapagos,are lesswell known
ecologicallythan the other membersof the
colubrid family. Recentresearchindicates that the
West lndies xenodontines feed mostly on anoline
lizards ("falsechameleons")and to a lesser
extenron frogs,whereasboas and vipers living in
rhe sameareaeat mainly birds and mammals.The
North American hognosesnakes(genus

Heterodon)feed primarily on toads and use their


broadenednoseslor digging their prey out of
burrows.The unusualnose is also used in a
remarkabledefensivedisplay.Theseheavily-built
snakeslook nther like vipers, and the
resemblanceis strengthenedby the way they
flanen rheir head and neck when harassed,and
hiss and strike vigorously.If this formidable
display fails to deter the attacker,the snake
adopts a very different strategy:tuming over on
its back and feigning death.
The pseudoxenodontinecolubrids are an
Asian group of small to medium-sizedsnakes
that feed.mosdy on frogs and toads.When
"death-feigning"display
auacked,rhey show a
similar to that of the Nonh American hognose
snakes;the neck and forebodyare flattened,the
mouth is opened, the lips are drawn back, the
rail is vibrated, and rhe snake rolls over onto
its back.
Severaldifferent q?es of toad-eatingsnakes
seem to have independently evolved rhis kind
of dramaric display, and some researchershave
suggestedthat physiologicalmodifications for
road-eatingmay play some role in the behavior.
Toad-eatingsnakestend to have large adrenal
glands,and perhapsare more likely ro go into
some kind of shock when attacked.

V Theweslernhognosesnoke
Heterodon nosicosusesils shove/shopedsnoufio dig for foodg its moin
prey lhese ore then dispotchedwith
the snoket en/orgedreorfeeth.

.9
E

_s
.

793

KINDS OF REPTILES

l o c k D c f m , d / 8 r ! c cC o e m o n t i m t e d

A ThescorleikingsnokeLompropellis
iriongulum
elopsoides,
o hormless
co/ubrine,is one of severolsnokes
whosebondedpoiternsore be/ieved
to mimicthe co/orolionof the highly
venomor..rs
corolsnokes.Likeihe king
"king" refersto ils hobil
cobro,ihe
of eolingoihersnokes.

) TheMondorinrotsnokeElophe
mondorinois o briliiontiyco/ored
colubtineof high ohituderegionsin
Chino.Likeoiherrofsnokesil is o
conslriclorond feedson worm-blooded
prey,porticulorlyrodenfEgivingfhe
groupls cammonnome,

t94

Subfamily Colubrinae
The colubrine subfamilyis very diverse and wideranging, found over the entire range of the
Coiubridae family. The evolutionaryrelationships
among rhis subfamilyare pafticularly difficult to
unravel.For example,although all of the North
American natricines seemto resuk from a single
ancesrralgroup that came from Eurasia,this lsn\
rrue of the North American colubrines;several
dillerentmigrarionsseemto haveoccurred.so
rhat severaldifferent evolutionarylineagesoI
colubrinesmay be present in Nonh America.
These include the spectacularlycolorful king
snakesand milk snakes(genusLampropeltis),
which have enormous variation in coLoreven
among individuals within a single population.
Colubrines have adapted to a wide variery of
ecologicalniches, with the lndian wolf snake
Lycodonaulicusoften found in houses,where it
"kukri
preyson lizardsand mice.The Asian
snakes of rhe genusOlgodongot rheir common
name from th supposedresemblanceof their
en)argedrearteethto the (eremonialdagger
(kukri) used by local tribes. Kukri snakesfeed
mosdy on rhe eggsof reptiles,and their teeth are
modified to slit the shell as the egg is swallowed
Many colubrineshave enlargedrear teeth,with
or without the developmentoI significantvenom
O n e o [ t h e g r o u p sw i t h v e n o m - q u i t et o x i ci n
somespecies-is a genusof slender,tree-dwell
snakes,Boia, which includessomeof the most
spectacularcolubrids. They are nocturnal forage
remarkablyadept climbers,and prey on birds an
any other small vertebratethat they encounter.
One species,the brown tree snake B. irregulais,i
widely distribured rhrough Australasiaand was
accidentallyintroduced to the tiny Pacific island
o[ Guam after the SecondWorld War, probably i

SNAKES

Likeils dislontreiotivesin the genus


Boigo, lhe b/unf-heodedtreesnoke
lmontodescenchoo of Centrolond
SoulhAmerico,s o nocfumo/lreedwellingspecieswith o greolly
e/ongofedond compressedbody,
ond loge eyeswilh venicol pupils. lts
ectolhetmic,or "cold 6looded" prey
is subduedwith venomdeliveredby
reor longs.

military equipmentbrought back from the jungles deliver venom with a rapid strike. One group (rhe
of Guadalcanaland similar areas.Guam had no
proreroglyphs),which includes cobrasand their
endemicsnakes,but is (or was) home ro an
relatives,consistsoI specieswith "fixed" fangs;
interestingarray of bird speciesfound nowhere
the fangsare auachedLoLheupperjawbonelike
elsein the world. They had evolvedon rhis
normal teeth.This se$ an upper limir to rhe size
snake-[reeisland and so were easyprey ro the
o[ the fangs,which must be small enough for rhe
depredationsof the introduced ree snake.
snake to be able to close irs mourh wirhout rhe
Within the past 50 years the ree snakeshave
downward-projectingfangspiercing the lower jaw
increasedenormouslvin numbers.and the narive and draggingalong on the ground.
birds o[ Guam have been driven to rhe brink of
The other major group of highly venomous
extinction or beyond. Withour the birds ro control snakes,the vipers,haveevolvedan inSenious
their numbers,the insects have increased
solurion to this constraint.Their fangsare
unchecked.
and the entirejungleecosysrem
is
attachedto a small bone thar can rotate so rhat
under severethreat. This tragic example
the fangslie back along the length of the upper
jaw when the snake'smouth is closedbut can
highlightsnot only the dangersoI inrroducing
"foreign"
animals ro new areasbut also the
swing forward inro sriking posirion when the
imponant ecologicalrole played by snakes.
mouth is opened.Their dentition is known as
"pipe-tooth", in
Presumably
the evolution of various rypes of
solenoglyphous,meaning
snakesand their dispersalinro new areasover
referenceto the large hollow fangs of these
evolutionaryhisrory has profoundly influenced
snakes.Many vipers have enormouslylong fangs,
the natureof the ecosystemsaround us today.
whereasthe fixed-front-fanggroup have relarively
short fangs.For example,the fangsof rhe king
FI)CD-FRONT-FANGS: FAMILY EIAPIDAE
cobra Ophiophagushannah (the Iargesr
The dangerouslyvenomoussnakesbelong to two
proterogllph, which grows to more than 5 meters
differentgroups.Both lirst appear in the fossil
or 16h feet) are not much larger than those of the
recordquite recendy(abour 20 million years ago,
adder, one of the smallestviperid snakes.
in the Miocene)and have fangs at the fronr of rhe
Most fixed-fronr-fangsnakes,wherher rhey live
mourh,and hencein a much bener positionro
in the oceansor on Lheland, are long slender

195

KINDS OF REPTILES

THE BIGGER
THE BETTER

.E

't:

Flourishino
thetrodemorkof the
cobrqs,theiosi widely tecognized
elopids,on ogilotedbiock-necked
sprcods
cobroNoionigricollis
spitting
itshood/no dejensediso/ola

animals that gather rheir food by actively


searchingfor it. Many that live on land rely on
scent to locate prey rails and follow them to the
hiding-placesof their prey. For example,many
elapid snakesare small speciesthat catch
sleepinglizards in rheir noctumal retreats.
Although there are numerousexcepdons,most of
rhe fixed-front-fang snakesfeed on ecrothermic
("cold-blooded")prey such as fishes,frogs,
Iizards,and other snakes.
Traditiona\ fixed-front-fang snakeswere
assignedto two families-the tenestrial snakes
such as cobras,\raits, mambas,taipans,and coral
snakesin one family, and marine or seasnakes
which spend all or part of their lives in the seain
the other family. A number of recent studies have
shown this classiftcationto be much too
simplistic, and a number of new and conflicting
classificationshave been proposed. However,in
all theseclassificationsa number of distinct
groups are recognized,and these are treated
below (as subfamilies)under the umbrellaof a
singlefamily: the Elapidae.
Tenestrialelapids are diverseand abundant on
all nopical and subtropicallandmasses.So far,
180 species of terrestrial elapids are known. Many
elapids are famousfor the danger they represent
to humans. They include large and formidable
speciessuch as the black mamba Dendroaspis
polllepiJ, the $een mambas D. angusticepsand D.
viridis, and a variery of other mambas and cobras

Femalesgrow largerthan malesin most typesof


snakes.This is trueof almostall boids,so the
largestsnakealivetoday is almostcetainly a
female,probablyan anacondain someSouth
Americanriver.Sometimes
the dispadtybetween
the sexescanbe ext eme;for example,in one
Acrochordus
maringpair ofArafurafilesnakes
arafuraerlte maleweighedonly a tenth asmuch as
his mare.
k is the generalrulein the animalkingdomthat
the femaleis largerthan the male,and Cha es
Darwinin rhe nineteenthcenturysuggested
an
explanationfor this pt-renomenon.
The numberof
offspringthara femaleproducesdependsupon
her own bodysize,so largerfemales
havemore
eggsor babies.The rangein clutch sizescan
sometimes
be quitewide,evenwithin a single
species;for example,in the carpetpythonMorelia
spilotayoungfemalesproduceonlyaboutsix eggs
whereasolderlargerfemales
oftenhavemorethan
30. This meansrhargenesresultingin largebody
sizesfor females
arelikelyto increasethe number
of offspringa femaleproducesduing her lifetime
and thusbe favoredby naturalselection.
Overlong
periodsof !ime,genesfor largesizein fenales
shouldbecomemoreand morecommonin the
population,and femalesarelikelyto growlarger
rhanmalesunlessrhereis someopposingselectiv
forcefavoringeven-larger
sizein males.
lf we look ar rhe kinds of snakesin which males
do eoualor exceedfemalesin size.we find
evidencerharrhe relativesizeof the rwosexes
seemsto dependon the matingsystem.Males
tend to be largerthan their matesmostlyin
specieswhosemalesengagein physicalcombat
wirh eachorherduringrhe maringseason.
This
behaviordiffersfrom speciesto species,
but
generallyconsisrso[ two malesintenwininglheir

in Africa; cobras,king cobrasand kraits in Asia:


coral snakesin Central and SouthAmerical and
raipans,brown snakes,death adders,and the like
in Australia. However, even though it is the large
speciesthat attract popular atention, most
elapids are actually small snakes that pose no
threat to humans.
Australasian elapids
Australiais rhe only continent where most of the
snakesare venomous,and it also has the snakes
with the most toxic venom. Both of these
attributes are due to elapid snakes. Australia,
together with New Guinea and the island
archipelagoextending from its eastemedge,has
long been isolated from the rest of the world, and
during much of its geologicalhistory it was even

SNAKES

,I

s
z
6

s
9
3
i

bodieswhileeachanemptsto push the orhcr's


headdownward lt seemsto be a testof physical
slrengthand onc rharis almostalwayswon by thc
largero[ rhc two males.Derailedstudiesof the
adderVipsrdrerusconfirm rhat winning lighrslike
this rn(rc.rscs
J mJlcs mollngoppofiunt(ies.
\o
tha!-accordingIo Darwin'shypothcsisof sexual
selection-wewould expectmale malecombatto
favor16s6uo1u,iono[ largc body size in mates ln
snakesthat do nor engagein male-malecombat,
suchas gartcrsnakesfhamnophisor filcsnakcs
Acrochordus,
largcrsizedoesnot sccm(r cnhance
a males reproouc ve success.
Althoughthereare many exccprionsto thc rulc,
thc overallpatrerniirs rhis predicrion Malesdo
tendro be rt leastas largcas therr matesin snake
species
with male-malecombat.

more isolatedas it floated nonhward after rhe


breakupof the greatsoutherncontinent,
Gondwana.
This separarionmeanrthat relatively
few groupsof plants and animals found rheir way
to Australia.The successfulones faced lin]e
comperirionlrom othergroupsand rhus have
radiatedvery extensively.This is clearlytrue oI
eucalyptustreesand marsupials(kangaroos,
koalas.
erc.' bur al:o true ol variousgroupsof
I
o
amphibiansand reptiles.h seemsas rhough
elapid snakesreachedAusrraliajusr afier it
collidedwith Asia about 25 million yearsago.The
Australianelapids (subfamilyOxJuraninae)have
1
diversifiedto fill a wide variery of ecological
s
niches,wirh one genus(the dearh adders,
Acanthophis)
evolvingto look and act remarkably
like the vipers of other conrinents.The firsr

ln grosssnokesNoir x noirx,
os in mosi snokes,lhe mo/eis
smollerthon the femole fhe dork'
co/oredsnokein lhiscoudingpoir

< TwomoleMologor,y
grcnl
hognosesnolesLioheierodon
modogoscor ensisinle,lwineos
ihey combol over occessio

1A slocbl ombushpredotor,lhedeoth
odderAconihophisonlorcticus
hos
evolvedon oppeoroncemorelike thot
of unreloledvipersthonofib relofives
in lhe fomilyEopidoe. Likemony vipers,
lhe deoth odder con lurepreywith

t97

KINDS OF REPTILES

f Wilh ils necklhrown into o distinctive


"5"
cuNe ond ilsmoulhogope,lhe
defensepose ol ihe eosfen brcwn
snokePseudonoiolextiis is o worning
wse/y heeded.Ihis fosl-mov;ng
venomous
snokeis porl of o successfu/
speciesgroupfoundlhroughoLrl

scientiststo describeAustraliansnakesbelieved
that Acanthophiswas acua\ a viper. Other
Ausralian elapids have evolved to resemble
colubrid "whipsnakes"and small banded
burrowing snakesin other countries.This kind of
convergentevolution happens when animals oI
different evolutionarybackgroundsare exposed ro
similar environmentsand thereforesimilar evo]urionary pressures.[n rhe caseof dearh adders,rhe
important similaritieswith viperid snakesseem to
be that these heavily-builtelapids ambush their
prey rather than searchingactively for it like mosr
of the orherproteroglyphou<
snake<.
ln Ausrralia,elapids occur in a very wide variery
of habitats.Smallo[fshore islands often have
distinctive populations of brown snakesor tiger
snakes,and even on adjacentislands rhere may
be major dif[rencesberweensnakes.For
example,some island tiger snakes(genus
Notechis)reach more than 2 merers(6% feer) in
length, whereassnakeson orher islands do not
atain ven I merer(3% feet).Tenfold dilferences
in averagebody weights of tiger snakeshave been
recorded from islandsjust a few kilometersapart.
The reasonlor this sizevariationseemsto be the
food supply: riger snakesgrow large only on
islands where largeprey are available,and this

means only where there are largeaggregationso[


nesting seabirds,especia\ muttonbirds. For most
of the year food lor snakesis scarce,and they
suwive by catching occasionalsmall lizards; food
is abundant for only a few weekseach summer,
afier rhe muuonbird chicks hatch and before rhey
grow roo large for the snakesto swallow.On
islands withour nesring colonies of muttonbirds,
the rigersnakescan find only smallprey and
never grow very large.

Mambas
Africa has a variery of elapids ranging from small
secretivecreaturessuch as the shield-nosed
to cobrasand rhe
snakes(genusAspidelaps)
renowned mambas(subfamilyDendroasPinae).
The black mamba D endroaspkpolyleps, which can
grow to 4 meters(13 feet) in length, is the most
rerresfial of the four mamba species,and the
subjectof many horrifiing tales.The animal's
speed,and venom roxiciryare
aggressiveness,
highly exaggeratedin most accounts,but there is
no doubt rhat these slender olive-brown elapids
are among the most dangerousof all snakes.The
threat display of an angry mamba-head and
neck held high. mouth gaPingoPen-is a rruly

rerrifringsight.

6
!

(,

.-ff

198

Y.r

'tr
Cobrasand their allies: subfamily Elapinae
Althoughcobrasare disrribured widely in Asia,
they are most diversein Africa, where rhere are 10
species:in the arid nonheasr,rhe Egyptian cobra
Najahcje;in hor, humid wesrem and central
Africanjungles fhe forestcobn N. melonoleuca,
the
spiuing cobraN. nigricoilis;in rhe rocky fields and
mountainso[ SouthAfrica, rhe Cape cobra N.
nivec;in the great freshwaterlakes the warer cobra
Boulengeina
annulatcwhich leeds on fish,
emergingfrom among lakeshoreboulders ar dusk
to hunt lor prey:and in sourhernAfricaa
smallcobra,the rhinghals Hemachatus
haemachatus
only distantly relaredro rhe orhers.
The rhinghalsis distincrive in its reproducdve
habirs,being the only cobra speciesto bear live
younginsteadoflaying eggs.
Althoughvenom undoubtedly evolvedas a
rneansoI immobilizing prey, many qpes of
venomoussnakesalso use venom to derer
potentialanackers.Two groups ofAfrican cobras,
and oneAsianspecies.haveevolveda panicularly
effectivemeansof defensein this regard:spraying
venom toward the eyeso[ an attacker.In
"conventional"
cobrasthe venom flows from a
smallapenurenear the tip of the fang,bur in rhe
"spitters"
this apenure is closerto the base of the
fangand is rounded rarher rhan elongatein

lhe greenmombosore lhe mosl


orboreolmembersof the fomily
E/opidoe.Hereon EostAfticongreen
mombo Dendroospis
ongusliceps
g/idesthrougho co/onyof weovernesls
(Poceus species),possiblyin seorchof
nesnngs,

I By exholing forcefullyos venom dnps


from ifs fongs, o Mozombique spilting
cobro Noio mossombicocon sproy
venamol the eyesof on intruderupto
3 meters(9%feet)awoy

199

KINDS OF REPTILES
> lf fhe bdght worning coloratbn of the
Arizonocord/sndkeMicruroides
euryxonthuseuryronthusfoik lo deler
o predotoq h defends ilself by hiding ils
heod, foising its toi, ond evefting ils
doocol lining with o popping sound.

f WovingiE cu ed lcilto drow


oltenlion owoy frcm ils conceoled heod,
o CosloRiconcoro/snokeMicrurus
micrur!sexhibifso defensive
poslurcseenin monyunreloled
teneslnoisnokes.

:s
6

200

shape.Also.the venomcanalinside rhe fang


reachesthe outlet at a right angle to the rooth.
Muscularaction and vigorousexhalation cause
wo fine spraysthat can travel severalmeters,and
are aimed at reflectivesurfacessuch as eyes.
Venom delivered in this way will not kill a person,
but can causetemporaryblindness.
Asia contains many interestingspecieso[
elapids, including krairs and long-glandedcoral
snakes(in which rhe venom glands extend lor the
entire front third of the body), but the mosr
famoustuian elapid undoubredlyis rhe king
cobra.This magnificentanimalis rhe largest
venomoussnake in the world, reaching more than
5 meters(16rAfeet) in length. lt is found in lndia

and easrwardsto southem China and the


Philippines. The head of a king cobra can be as
large as a man's hand, and these snakesare rruly
formidable when aroused.There are reliable
reports of elephantsdying within a few hours
after being bitten by this species.Fortunatelythe
king cobrais nor an aggressive
animal.even
during the nesting seasonwhen the female
deposits her eggsin twigs and fijliage and remain
to guard them. The king cobra feedsprimarily on
orhersnakes,includingvenomousspecies.

Coral snakes
The coral snakesbelong to Ihe subfamily
Micrurinae. There are about 50 species(genera
Micrurusand Micruroides)in the American ftopics
mainly in SouthAmerica. Mosr are brightly
banded,and all are slender.Somespeciesare
aquatic,but most seem to be terresuialforage$of
the forest floor. Lizards and small snakesare
probably rheir main prey. akhough some species
also take mammals,birds, frogs,and invertebrate
The sanling bands of color wam potential
predators to stay away from these snakes,and
some predatory birds have an innate fear o[ their
color panem. On other continencsmany semifossorialsnakesare similarly marked with bright
bands, even when the snake itself is harmless,so
the bands may function to confusepredators
encounreringrhe snakesin dim light-as rhe
snake thrashesaround, the bands seemto flicker
and fuse togerherand make it difficult for rhe
predator to determine the exact position of rhe
snake as it tries to escape.ln the caseof coral
snakes,this colorarion has been developedfunher
as a warning syrnbol.Many unrelatedharmlessor
mildly venomoussnakesliving in the sameareas

SNAKES
asthe coralsnakeshaveevolvedcolor pattems
thatmatchthoseof thelocalcoralsnakesvery
closely,
perhapsconfusingpredatorsand giving
thesnakesmorechanceto escape.
Somecoral
snakesalsoemployan unusualpostureto deflect
the predator'sattention from their vulnerable
head:theyhide their headamongthe coilsof the
bodyand the tail is wavedaroundin the air in
thewaythatyou wouldexpectthe headto move.
Anypredatorseizingthe snake'stail by mistakeis
likelyto receivean unpleasant
surprisewhenthe
headsuddenlyappears.

Althoughthey haveflanenedpaddle-liketails that


help themto swimrapidly,theyreuin broad
be\ scalesand so arecapableof movingaround
proficiendyon land.Theymateandlay their eggs
ashoreand canbe foundin largenumbercon
somesmalltropicalislands.
The othergroupof fixed-fronr-fang
snakes
havebecomeevenmorefu\ aquaticthan the sea
kraits,because
theyno Iongerneedto retum to
land to breed.The 'true" seasnakesor
hydrophiines(subfamilyHydrophiinae),the larter
namemeaning"warer-lovers",
retaindeveloping
embrybswirhin the female's
bodyand produce
&rpents of the sea
live young,rather than laying eggslike the sea
Twomainevolutionary
linesof fixed-front-fang kraits.The tail is flanenedlarerallyto act asan
snakes
havetakenro the oceans.The seakraits,
oar,the bellyscalesarereducedin size,and rhe
or laticaudine
snakes(subfamilyLaticaudinae)
are nostrilsarelocatedon the top of the snoutso that
brightlybandedspeciesof the Indo-Pacific
the snakecanbreatheevenwhenmostof its head
region.Theircommonnamecomesfromtheir
is underwater.The nostrilsaresealedby valves
resemblance
to Iandkraits,a bandedrerrestrial
that excludewaterwhenthe snakedives.The
Asianspeciesof the genusBungcrus.
Like the land lung is muchlongerthan in rerrestrial
snakes,
krait,seakraitshavehighlyroxicvenombut are
extendingalmostthe entirelengthof the snake,
extremelv
reluctantto bite.evenin self-defense. fromjust behindthe headro rheposteriorend of
One"seakrait"Lcticaudauochei is ^cually
the bodycaviry.It mayplaya rolein adjusdngthe
rcs ictedto a landlockedlakein the Solomon
snake'sbuoyancydudngdiving,aswell asstoring
Islands,
but the otherfivespeciesareruly marine. oxygen-richair for respiration.Somespeciescan
Theyfeedon eelsfromthe coralreefsbur spend
alsotakeup oxygendirecdyfrom the surrounding
muchof their rimeashoreon smallcoralislands. warer,throughtheir skin.so that theycan remain

<V [o coudines,/ike the yellowlipped


seo k/oit LolicoLrdocolubrino (left),
oppeor lo hove evo/ved their morjne
hobits tndependentt of the true seo
snokes. Ihey f]ove retoined their
cylindricol shope ond enloroed bellv
scoies for crow/ing on / ondlwhich they
lrequentt do to seeksheiter;boskond
moie. Ihe pe/ogicseo snokePelomis
ploturus (be/ow),hos o ioterclly
compressedbody for swimminaond
norrowbelly scoles,mokingm6vement
on lond ertremely chJmsyond diflicult.
A live-beorer,it daes hotleove the
woler, even lo give bidh.

KINDS OF REPTILES

) Nomed foro beok-likescoleon the


snoufofmolure mo/es,the iudleheodedseo snokeEmydocephous
onnulotusis on Ausfro/ionseo snoke
with o highlyspeciolzeddiet of f'sh
eggs.

submergedfor long periods of time. Their


adaptarionto saltwaterlife includes specially
modified glandsar the baseo[ the tongue,which
lunction to concentrateand excreteexcesssalt
from rhe snake'sbloodstream.Most of the
hydrophiidsare so specializedfor movementin
water that they are almosthelplesson land.
Biochemicalevidenceindicares that the
hydrophiids might have evolved from rhe

202

terresrrialAusralian elapids, probably quite


recently in evolutionaryterms.They have been
very successful,and the 50 speciesare
widespread through the lndian and Pacific
oceans.Most speciesare restricted to relatively
shallow water and feed on fishes and their eggs
around coral reefs.However,one species,the
yellow-belliedseasnake Pelamisplaturus,has
adopred a pelagiclifesryle,drifring acrossthe

SNAKES
open oceansat the apparenrmercy of the winds
and curren$. Its brightly sportedblack and yellow
tail servesas a waming to predatory fish not to
attackthe snake,which has very toxic venom.
How can a snake drifting along on rhe surfaceof
the oceanfind and catch fish ro eat?The yellowbelliedseasnake relieson the tendency o[ small
fish to garherunder any floaringobject.so rhe
snakeis soon "adopted" by a school of fish rhat
swarmaround irs rail. But how can the snake
seizerhe [ish, when they are gatheredaround its
tail and not its head?The answeris simple and
elegant;the snakebegins ro swim backward,so
that the fish now gather around its head. One
rapid sidewaystrike, and the snake has its meal.
VIPERS
The highly venomousvipers tend to feed in a very
differentway from the fixed-fronr-lang snakes;
theylie and wait to ambush unwary prey,
especiallymammals.Most vipers (and their close
relatives,the pit vipers) are relativelyheavybodied snakes,ofien beautifullycamouflagedin
rheir naturalenvironments.They coil beside a
mammaltrail, or in the branchesof a fruiting tree
wherebirds are likely to garher,or beside a desert
shrubwhere lizards will come for shade.There
theywait for prey to wander within range.Wirh
their superbcamouflagemany of these snakesare
almostinvisible.Someactuallylure prey wirhin
striking rangeby wriggling the rip of their rail,
modified into an insectlike shape,ro imitate the
movemenrsof a small inverrebrate.Becausethey

do not have to move long distancesacrually


searchingfor prey but must strike rapidly and
accurate)ywhen a prey animal approaches.
ambush-hunter tend to be relativelymuscular
and thus heary-bodied. Becausethey eat large
prey items, rhey need largeheads.Becausemany
o[ their prey items are not only largebur also
covered in fur or feathers,they need long fangs to
penetratedeep into the vicrim's body and deliver
the venom effectively.Thesesnakeshave thus
evolveda very efficient means of killing large and
potentia\ dangerousprey items. Unlike
constricting snakes,which remain in conracrwirh
the prey while ir srruggles,vipers only need to
inject venom wirh a quick strike and then wair.
Even if the prey runs away to die, rhe snake can
follow its scent trail.
Athough rhe scientilicnameof the fami)y,
Viperidae, apparentlycomes from the lrtin words
vivus and,paro, meaning 'living birth ro live
young", in fact there are many egg-laying
(oviparous)vipers as well, both in rhe 'true"
vipers(subfamilyViperinae)and the pir vipers
(subfamilyCroralinae).
"True" vipers
The 60 speciesof "true" vipers are widely
distributed in Africa, Europe,and Asia. One
species,the adder Viperaberus,has a remarkable
geographicrange from Brirain, acrossEurope and
Asia, to Sakhalinlsland norrh ofJapan. This
specieseven lives in severelycold areas,
extendins into the Arctic Circle at 67'N and in

{ TherhinocerosvrperBitisnosicornis
is one ofthe mostcoloful vipe9 hut iE
distuplive pdltern rendersii olmosl
invisiblein /eof-lilterif is ofen
ossocioledwilh watet givingif itsother
commonnome ol vetJock

203

KINDS OF REPTILES

VApuffodd-"r Eilisorielonsreorsils
heod in o fhreolposture.Normo//y
undetectedbecouseof ils cryptic
colorotion,lhis widespreod Nricon
speciesputsor on impressive
disploy
when fhreotened,inlloting its body and
hissing/oudly.

s
I

3
i

204

pans of southem Siberia.ln such cold areas,the


adder can be active for only a few months each
year and must spend the resr of rhe year deep
within soil crevicesto avoid the lerhallylow
temperarurs.The malesemergefirsr in spring.
Afier a few weeksof basking to ready themselves
for reproduction, they shed their old skins and
becomelar morebrighdycoloredand acrive.
roaming around in searchof recentlyemerged
females.lf nvo malesencounrereach other near a
female,theyjudge each other's size.The smaller
male will usuallyflee,but if the two are evenly
matched a banle may ensue.Instead of biting
each other, they wrestle,with the rwo males
intertwined until one is overpoweredand gives
up the fight. The winner then has rhe chance to
court the female,and perhaps mate wirh her.
Pregnancytakesabout two monrhs, and females
spend most oI their time basking so thar the
embryosdevelop ar high remperaturesand
thereforemore rapidly.
Femalesdon\ feed while they are pregnanr,so
they are often emaciatedby the time they give
birth. Many die at rhis rime, and even rhosethat
survive are unable to gather enough energyin the
autumn for reproduction the following year.Thus,

a female may be able to reproduce only once every


two or three years,or even lessoften if food supplies are low or if the activiry seasonis too shon.
Vipers are found in tropical areasas wellfor example,the largeAfrican puff adder Bitis
dr,etdns,Gaboonviper B.gabonico,and,
rhinoceros viper B. nasicornis.
The saw-scaled
viper Echiscainatus and its relativesare abundanr
in desertso[ the Middle East.ln these hot areas
the reproductivecyclesarelikely ro be quite
different from those of the adder, bur we know
very little about tropical vipers in this regard.We
do know that malesof ar leasrsome speciesfight
with each orher, and rhar femalesof some species
are eggJayerswhereasothrs are live-bearers,but
their detailedbiologyand behaviorremainsa
mystery to researchers.

Pit vipers
The subfamilyCrotalinae is the second major
group of viperid snakes.Their common name,
"pir vipers",
comes from the deep pit beueen rhe
eye and rlie nosril on each side of rhe head. Here
there are sensoryorgansrhar derecrheat. They are
incredibly sensitive,detecting temperarure
differencesof as little as 0.003'C. The abiliry ro

SNAKES

$
z
!

recognizesuch tiny differencesmans rhar pir


viperscan accuratelylocateand strike warmbloodedprey evenon pirch-blacknighrs.Mosro[
the 140or so speciesare ground-dwellers.
bur

someare tree-dwellers
and a lew are semi-aquatic. L Beoutilullvcomoufloqedomono
folien/eoves,o WestAi'con qobJon
They are widely distributedthroughourthe
v,perBitisgobonico rh nocerosowoifs
Americas,Europe,Asia,and Alrica,but havenot
ils nexlmeo/.Ihis /orgespecies
reachedAustraliaor invadedthe oceans.
possessesthe /ongesifongsofony
snoke,with reparledlenoihsexceedino
5 cenlimeiers(2 inches]

,.!
p

a
:
6

1 Thisprey-eyeviewof on eyeloshviper
Bothriechissch ege i shows cleorlythe
heof-sensiiive
pils neorthe eyet ihe
chiefdiognosticfeotue of lhe pit vipers.

205

KINDS OF REPTILES

terlocking
segmenls

LTrodemorkof ke rottlesnokes,the
rott/eis developed from eniorged ond
thickenedsco/e cove6 thot ore reloined
ofter mo/ting. Theseform inlerbcking
segmentsthof hit dgoinsteoch otf]er
when lhey move, producing fhe
chotocleislic buzzing sound.A new
segmenlis odded oft'ereoch moit,
theoidestbelng the end segmenl
or bullon.

V TheurutuBolhropsolternotusis one
of o /orge group of closely reloled Soufh
Aneicon crctoline pit vipers, some of
which ore commonlyrefered fo os
fer-deJonce,o nomeoriginollygiven
trr the speciesfoundon the is/ondof
Motinique in lhe Coibbeon.

206

The most famousof the pit vipers are probably


the 30 speciesof rattlesnakes(genem Crotalusand,
Sisfrurus)of Nofth America,although three species
(all of them belongingto the genus Crotdlus)occur
in Central and SouthAmerica.Thesesnakeshave
the tip of the tail modified into a remarkable
waming device,the ratde.I[ is formed of specially
shaped dry scales,one o[ which is added every
time the snake sheds its skin (which doesnt
happen on a regularannual basis,so rhe number
of rattle segmentscannor be used to determine
rhe snakes age).When the tail is vibrated. rhe
mttle segmentsmove againsteach other to create
the characteristic"buzz" rhar can ofren be heard
from many metersaway.h seemslikely that the
rattle evolved as a waming ro largegrazing
mammals,such as bison, which share the prairie
habitats of many rartlesnakespecies.lnterestingly,
one island population of ratrlesnakesin the Gul[
of Califomia, living in an areawithout such
hazards,has lost the rattle du ng its evolurionary
hisrory.
The other main group of pit vipers in Norrh
America,extending to Central America and Asia,
is the genusAghisfrodonand its relatives.The
North American representativesare the
copperheadA. contortix and rhe cononmofth
A. piscivorus.
The cottonmouth (or water
moccasin) derivesits common name from the
white coloration inside its mouth, exposedwhen
the snakegapesin its dramaricdefensiveposrure.
Cottonmouths are swamp-dwellersand often

occur in large numbers in suitable habitars in the


southem United States.On offshoreislands they
may live under heron rookeries,surviving almost
entirely on {ish dropped by clumsy herons.
The pit vipers have radiated extensivelyin
Central and SouthAmerica.A single egglaing
species,presumablythe descendantof a separate
pit viper invasion of the Americas,is the
bushmasterLachesismufa o owland and lower
montane rainforest.This huge snake,almost
4 meters(13 feet) in length, is a classicambush
predator, selectinga suiuble ambush sirebesidea
mammal trail and waiting, sometimesfor weeks,
until prey wanders within range.The scienrific
name Lcchesiscomes from one of rhe rhree Fares
of Grecian myrhology-the one who determines
the length of the thread of life-because of the
great danger to human lile posed by a bite ftom
this species.
Living in rhe same habitarsas rhe bushmaster
are a wide variety of pit vipers that give birth to
Iive young, the most famous speciesbeing the
fer-delance Bothropsatrox.ln Cenral America
this sriake is also known by the Spanishname
barbaamailla ("yellow beard") in referenceto its
yellow chin. Like the bushmasterit is a tenestrial
emh, '<h h'p.l"r^'

Pit vipers are diverse in Asia and include a


range of terrestrialand arborealforms. Someof
the terresftialspecies,like the habu Timeresurus
Jlavoviidis,are large brown snakesthat srike
readily when alarmed and causemany human

SNAKES
< Disployingo potlernuniqueomong
rolllesno/(es,
lhe Jonce-heoded
rotllesnokeCrololus polystictusis o
smollpil vipet of lhe MexiconPlofeou.

f Adopting the chorocierisiic


delense
posfureof rot esnokes,o weslern
dromondbockrottlesnoke
Crotolus
olrcx vibroles ils rotlle la worn on
intrude/:Ro#Jesnokes
proboblyevolved
in Nodh Americowhen lorgegrozing
mommo/s/rl.elhe brsonmorecommonly
posed o fhreotof trompiing.

207

KINDS OF REPTILES
) Wogbr's paln viper TrimeEsurus
woqleri /ooDos;leJis o lreedwellino oit
viSr o( S6ikeost Asio.A ttoctobE'
species,il is olso kno\m os lhe lenpb
pil vipet os il is frequenllykepl in 'snoke
tenpbs' whete it is heely hondled by
ne pnests.

fatalitiesin Japaneveryye r. Others,like the palm


viper T. waglerifound in the SundaIslandsand
Malaysia,are spectacularlycolored(bright green)
tree-dwelling
speciesrhatareveryreluctantto bite
humans;theyareoftenkeprasgoodJuckcharms
in "snaketemples"and in treesnearhouses.
SNAKEBITE
Snakevenomis a complexmixure ofva ous
chemicalsubsunces,
mostlyenzymes.
It is a
somewhatcloudyliquid,manufactured
and srored
in venomglandsin the upperjawand delivered
to the preyeitherby injecrionthrougha hollow
fangor by seepinginro woundscausedby
enlargedteeth.Someanimalshaveveryhigh
resistance
to panicularsnakevenoms,whereas
othersareextremelysensitiveto evensmall
amountsof venom.The main constituents
of
snakevenomsareenz),rnes
suchasproteinases
which destroytissue,hyaluronidase
whlch
(so thatrhe venom
increases
tissuepermeability
canspreadthroughthe bodymorerapidly),
phospholipases
which attackcellmembranes,
and
phosphatases
which attackhigh-energy
chemical
compounds.
Thevenomsof manycolubridsnakes
alsocontainL-aminoacid oxidase,a substance
that causes
greattissuedestruction.
The venomof
fixed-front-fang
snakes(elapidsand seasnakes)
containsbasicpolypeprides
to blocknerve
transmission
and thu! causerapid dearhof rhe
preyanimal(or an unluckyhuman)by paralysing
the diaphragmso that rhevicrimsbps breathing.
In contrast,the venomof vipershasa high level
o[ proteinase,
which resultsin moresevererissue
damagearoundthe sireof the bite and thusmore
nrnfrr<p hlacrl;no

Which rypeof snakeis the mostdeadly?The


answerdependson severalfactors.The most
potentvenomis usualbtharof the fixed-fronrfangsnakes,the inlandtaipanOrywranus
miuolepidotus
of centralAustraliabeingrhe

record-holderin this regard;a singlebite from


this speciescan containenoughvenomto kill
almost250,000mice.However,fixed-front-fang
snakeshavereladvelyshon fangsand ofren do
not produceasmuchvenomassomeof the large
vipers.Also,somespeciesare much morelikely tc
bite than others,or are morelikely to be
encountered
by humans.
Venomoussnakeskill manythousandsof
peopleeveryyear,especially
in nopicalor
subtropicalareaswherepeoplelive in huge
numbersand areoftenbarefootand where
medicalfacilidesarelimited.Forexample,some
authodtiesesdmaterhatthe saw-scaled
vipers
Echiscainatusin the MiddleEastmaybe
responsible
for about20,000fatalitieseachyear.
ln Asiaand Afticavenomoussnakestakea
significanttoll of humanlives.ln conrrasr,
an
average
of fewerthan fivepeopleper yeardie of
snakebitein the wholeofAustralia,despitethe
factthat mostof rheAustraliansnakesare
venomous,
and somehavethe mosttoxic venom
in the world.Low populationdensities,adequat
footwar,and excellentmedicalfacilitiesare
responsible
for rhislow deathtoll.

CONSERVATION
Like mostotherliving organisms,
snakeshave
sufferedar the handsof humans.Thebiggest
threatto snakes,asto otheranimals,is the
conrinueddestructionof naural habitats.Rapid
increases
in humanpopuladons,
and exploiution
o[ the naturalenvironmenrfor logging,agriculru
and grazing,havedecimatedor eliminatedsnake
frommanyareas.The key to conserving
snakes
will be to conservethe placeswheretheylive.The
snakesmostat risk arethosewith a restricted
distribution(like rhe Roundtslandboas)and
thosethat dependon specifictypesof easily
damagedhabitats.For example,onesmall
Australianelapid.rhebroad-headed
snake

PITVIPER'S
VENOMAPPARATUS

heot-sensiiivepi

compressormuscle

venomduc

jow muscle

moxillo

fongsheoth
> ln mosfvenomous
snoke' yenomis
deliveredby o highlyevolvedinieclion
system,
oding muchlikeo syingeond
hypodermicneedle.Thepreyis firsf
stobbedwiththee/ongoiedfong+ then
lhevenomglondsorc compressed
by
musculotconlrcdion,fotcinqthevenom
thtoughthe,venom
dvctsond thehoiiow
ronQsrnlolnewound.

venomgtond

KINDS OF REPTILES

DEFENSIVESTRATEGIES
Snakesdefendrhemselves
wirh a remarkable
varietyof behaviors.One of the most common,
thoughleascspectacular,is crypsis;the snake
remainsabsolurelymotionlessdespitethe close
approacho[ a potentialpredaror.Viperid and boid
snakesrely heavilyon this behavior,and many of
thesesnakesarebeautifullymarkedwith complex
parremsthat blend almosrperfecdywith their
naturalbackgound.A largeAmericancopperhead
coiledin sun-dappled
foliage,or a puffadderin
the leaf-litter,
canbe impossible
to seeunlessir
moves.Othersnakes,especially
moreslenderbodiedspecies,
dependon speedfor escape.
"Whipsnakes"
from a variety-ofcolubrid and
elapid groups,althoughnot closelyrelated,sharea
commonsetof featuressuch aslargeeyes,slender
body,longtail,high selecred
body remperanrre,
and a diumal(day-active)
life,which enablerhem
to locateartd capturefasr-movingprey, usually
lizards.Thesesnakesmoveconsiderable
disrances
and thus(unlikethe "ambush"species)often
encounterpotentialpredatorswhen they are in the
open,far from cover.Camouflageis unlikely ro be
effective,and so they flee.Thesesnakesare ofren
unicoloredor striped,unlikethe "crypdc"species
which moreusual} havea blotchedpattem.
Intercstingly,this conelationberweencolor parrem
and modeof escapefrom predatorsevenoccurs
wirhina singlespecies,
and sometimes
within a
singleltter. Recentresearchon the gartersnake
Thamnophis
ordinoides
showsthat amongrhe
newbom,blorchedindividuals are more likely to
"[reeze"and
rely on camouflagewhen chased,
whereastheir srripedliner-matesare morelikely ro
relyon speedof escape.
lf neitherof thesemethodsareeflective,snakes
srill havemanysrategiesto protectrhem from
predators.
Somehide their headsand wavetheir
tails in the air, apparendyto arracr rhe predarois
bites awayfrom rhe headand neck to the lessrulnerabletail. The uil is ofrenbrightly coloredin
rhesespecies,
and in pipe snakesis gready
flarrened
sothatir resembles
the hoodofan angry
cobra.A fewAmericancolubrids(Gyclopion)and
coralsnakes(Mcruroides)rakerhis evenfunher by
"cloacalpopping",
forcing air out of the cloacato
makea disrincrpoppingnoise.Why this noise
shoulddetera predatoris unclear.Nor do we
know the signilicanceof the bizane defense
displayof the Ausnalianbandy-bandyVcmicellc
annuldtd,which slowlyraisesbody loops abovethe
groundwhen threatened.Speciessuch asthe
hognosesnake(genusHetaodon)feign deathby
rolling onto their back,openingthe mouth and
extruding the tongue,Presumably,
the predator
losesinrercstin such an obviously"dead"snake.
Other snakesdefendrhemselves
morevigorously,
striking at rhe attackerand often inflaring pan of
the forebodyro makethemselveslook largerand
more formidable.Cobras(Naja)and hognose

270

snakesflattentheir headsandlor necks


horizontally,whereasAusnaliantree snakes
(Dendrelcphis)
and boomslangsinllare rheir necla
dramatically.Somedmesbrighdy colored skin is
visibleberweenthe expandedscales.Mambasand
cottonmouthsgapero display rheir fangs,while
somelargeAustralianelapidssuch as the king
brown snakePseudechis
australisdisplay chewing
movements
of theirjaws.
The display can be auditory aswell as visual.
Most angrysnakeshiss loudly in defense,and
some,like the AmedcanbullsnakePituophij
mclanolcucus,
havea speciallymodified epiglonis
to enhancethe volumeof the hiss,The roughscaleddesenviper Echiscdri,rctuJcan prcduce a
similar hissingsound by rubbing its body coils
againsteachother Many typesof snakestwirch
their uil-tips rapidly when alarmed,and this can
prbduceconsiderablenoise if the snakeis lying in
dry grass.The ultimatedevelopmenrof rhe rail as a
sound-producingorgan,however,is undoubtedly
in the radesnakes.The 'buzz" of a large
diamondbackCrotalusctrox is clearlyaudiblefor
many merers,and is usuallyenough.toconvincea
prcdatorto look elsewherefor its meX.

Buriedto ifs eyesin sond,o


Peringuey3
desertodderBitis
peringueyi
o!idsdetectbnby
both pFJdalo5ond pey.

VA bondybondyVermicello
onnulqtos/o y roises/oopsotl.ts
bodywhenkrcotened,possiblyfo
conluseprcdolols.

o
'i!

SNAKES
Hoplocephalus
bungaroides,
has become
endangeredbecauseir relieson weathered
sandstonebouldersfor sheher,rhe r)?e of
bouldersthar are rapidly being removed from
naturalhabirarsbecauserhey are popular as
gardendecorations.There is little poinr in
"protecing"
such a specieswirh legislarion,even
intemationallegislation,unlessits habirarcan
somehowbe presewed.This is a difficuh task in
many countries,where the immediate need to
feedhungry people rakesprecedenceover the
needsoI otherspecies.
Sometlpes of snakesare also threatenedby
commercialexploitation.The ones most at
risk are large,brightly colored specieswhose
skinsare of yalue to the fashionindustry. For
exampJe.
pythonsand boasare killed in many
pans of their natural rangebecausethey are
relarivelyslow-moving (easyto kill) and large
enoughto provide a valuableskin as well as a
usefulmeal for Iocal people. ln som parts of Asia
the killing of snakesis so inrensivrhar the
numbersof theseanimalshave been considerably
reduced.
As a consequence.
ratsand mice
previously
kept rn.heck by predarorysnakes
may becomean agriculturalproblem. Somesea
snakes
areharvestedfor therrskrnsand me,rr

and huge numbers of seakraits are taken


everyyearfrom smallcoral islandswhererhey
come ashoreto rest and reproduce.The
ecologicalimpact of this harvesthas never been
thoroughly investigared.
Many snakesare killed becausehumans hate
and flearthem for the suppo'eddangerrhey
represent.
fhis learrsenrirelylegilimatein some
cases,but in most areassnakesdo far more good
(by controlling agricultural pesrs)rhan harm. A
high proportion of snakebitesoccur when people
try to kill snakes,often in remote areaswhere the
snakeposesno threat to human safety.Most
people cannor reliably disringuishbetween
harmlesssnakesand venomoussnakes-revenin
countrieslike the United States,where the two
types are very different in appearance-and kill
harmlessspeciessuch as American watersnakes
(genusNerodia)in mistake for venomoussnakes
such as the cottonmouth in areashundreds of
kilometersawayfrom wherethe venomou5species
actually lives. The infamous "rattlesnake
roundups" of the southem United Statesrepresent
one of the best publicized examplesof the absurd
enmity that many people leel for thesemagnificent
bur much maligned creatures.

f Sufferingtheplightafmost hormiess
snokegthe bonded wotersnole
Nerodio fosciolo loscioto is commonly
mislokenioro venomousspeciet in fhis
cose lhe co,tonmoulhAgkistrodon
R I C H A R DS H I N E piscivorugond killedon sighi.

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P

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,11