Animal stories: snakes

Snakes are cold-blooded animals like all reptiles. They have a long, legless, flexible body covered with dry scales. Their eyes are covered by clear scales and have no eyelids. A snake’s tongue is used to sense the surroundings. They repeatedly flick out their forked tongue and use it to bring odours to a special sense organ in the mouth. The fork in the tongue gives the snake a sort of directional sense of smell.

Snakes maintain their body temperature by lying in the sun followed by crawling into the shade. There are over 3,000 kinds of snake in the world. The majority of snakes are either non-venomous or possess venom that is not harmful to humans. Snake venom is a combination of many different proteins and enzymes. Many of these proteins are harmless to humans, but some are toxins. Snake venom is used to make anti-venom and many other life saving drugs.

Hunting style

There are two types of snakes — poisonous snakes and constrictors. Constrictors wait patiently for their prey. When they get the opportunity, they grab their prey and quickly wrap themselves around it, and squeeze hard enough to keep their prey from breathing. When their prey stops breathing, they must swallow it whole as snake teeth are no good for chewing. Poisonous snakes simply use their fangs to inject venom and sit back to wait for the venom to take effect.

Favourite food

Snakes are carnivorous. They do not chew their food and have a very flexible lower jaw and numerous other joints in their skull, allowing them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow their prey whole, even if it is larger in diameter than the snake itself. King cobras eat almost all other snakes. Rats, mice, and other vermin are tasty treats to snakes. Some eat eggs, frogs or even insects. Many snakes can swallow animals that are almost as big as they are. After a large meal, snakes can survive without having another meal for several days due to their slow metabolic rate.

Their home

Snakes live almost everywhere. They are found in deserts, forests, streams, lakes and oceans. Some are ground dwellers and some live in trees and in water also. The tree-snake can glide through the air by flattening its body into an s-shaped ribbon. Snakes can survive in every place except for the places where the ground stays frozen the year around like polar region. Snakes rely on the heat of the sun to control their body temperature. That’s why the greatest variety of species is found in the warm, humid tropical regions of the world. Dull colours and geometric patterns help disguise desert snakes while they bury themselves in the sand. Bright colours can hide a snake in a lush tropical forest.

Young ones

Snakes lay eggs from which the young hatch. The snake eggs are tough and leathery to protect the babies inside them. The young snakes sometimes have a difficult time breaking out of them. Each baby snake has a sharp bump called an egg tooth, on top of its snout. This helps the young to cut through the shell. Some snakes give birth to live young. The unborn young are in thin sacs inside the mother. They hatch from these egg sacs just before or immediately after birth.

Snakes go through a process called moulting that is essential for their growth. Moulting is the process in which snakes shed their skin. This is usually achieved by the snake rubbing its head against a hard object, such as a rock or piece of wood, causing the already stretched skin to split.

Most snakes are harmless to people. Many snakes are killed for their skins, or simply out of fear. In fact, the fear of snakes may be greater now than ever before because so many people who live in cities never get to see many snakes or to learn about them. Our ancestors had the good sense to treat poisonous snakes with a healthy respect. The snake is a powerful symbol in Hinduism. The ‘Nag’ is worshipped by people. — Compiled by Merina Pradhan