It’s no secret that snakes have a questionable reputation: that one snake in the bible alone didn’t do the species any favours; there was also the snake in the jungle book who constantly wanted to eat Mowgli; and then there is the legend of Medusa, a female monster who turned people to stone that happened to have a full head of snakes instead of hair…in some ways, it’s no surprise that snakes rank 2nd in the list of the top 100 phobias.
Well, with World Snake Day in mind, we’re avoiding the notoriety and hoping to shed some light on the misrepresented and villainised species. We’d even go as far to argue that snakes are one of the most interesting species around - check out these 6 facts and decide for yourself!
1. Snakes are found in every continent of the world except Antarctica
Great news for those snake fanatics out there: snakes can be found in 6 out of the 7 continents! There are around 3000 different species of snake and they have managed to slither themselves across the globe: one species, the Common European Adder, has even set up camp in the Arctic circle. It is the most northern of the snake species. This cold-blooded creature should chat with Elsa because it looks like the cold never bothered them anyway…
For those of you who could really do without bumping into any snakes, and are not keen on moving to Antarctica, fear not as there are surprisingly no wild land snakes living in Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, or New Zealand!
2. More people are killed by bees and wasps than snakes
So, we’ve established that snakes get a bad rap whether that’s from religion, mythology, the media or the one quirky kid at school who “knew” someone whose snake was getting ready to eat them…! But several studies have found that there have been more deaths attributed to bee and wasp stings than snake bites.
The only venomous snake living in Britain is the Common Adder and bites resulting in death from these snakes are extremely rare. The last reported death in the UK from a Common Adder bite was back in 1975.
3. Some snakes can survive up to 2 years without food
Cold-blooded animals such as snakes have slow metabolisms and have low energy demands, allowing them to go for significant periods of time without food. The female Adder, for example, can go 18 months before finding its next meal, and other species of snake like the African Rock Python have been known to eat antelope, which will sustain them for up to 2 years.
One issue faced by snakes after a big meal is how long it takes for their digestive system to break down their prey. In fact, the process can take weeks, which also contributes to how long they go between meal times. It is common for snakes to regurgitate their meals if they feel threatened, allowing them to make a swift escape.
There is currently no study on whether snakes get hangry or not!
4. “King” snakes eat other snakes
It seems that other snakes have more reason to fear their own kind than people do! Snakes that are graced with King in their name are ‘kings’ for a reason. The royal title refers to the fact that they eat their fellow snake folk. King Cobras, Scarlet Kingsnakes, and Desert Kingsnakes are just a few examples of snake-eating snakes! These serpents are opportunistic and will kill their prey using constriction.
It’s safe to bet that two intertwined snakes are probably not ‘hugging’…
5. Snakes never stop growing
Yes, it’s true: snakes, like trees, never stop growing. Once they have reached adulthood, their growth rate slows but never stops. It’s actually their lifespan that cuts their growth. The world’s longest snake, the Reticulated Python, measures up to 30 feet long and its cousin, the Green Anaconda, is the world’s heaviest snake weighing up to 500lbs – that’s roughly 35st!
6. The smallest snake is 4 inches long and is as thin as spaghetti!
The smallest snake in the world is the Barbados Threadsnake. These burrowing snakes are noodle-thin and shorter than a biro, with the longest adult measuring 10.4cm long and their offspring half their size! They are so tiny that they only produce one egg at a time and feed on larvae and termites. It would be hard to fear these noodle snakes that look like worms, especially when they fit on the surface of a £2 coin!
BONUS FACT – the wannabe snake!
Slightly creepy? Maybe, but snakes are pretty cool! So much so, that there are other animals that want to be just like them. Our bonus fact today might not be about snakes, but it certainly involves them…: check out this video of a Sphinx Hawk Moth Larvae in Peru that mimics a snake to survive its ‘teenage’ years – evolution at its finest!
Save Our Species! Protect Our Snakes!
Snakes are not firm favourites: unlike pandas or elephants, it’s hard to engage people in their struggles, but they are an important core group of the middle-order predators. They help to keep our natural ecosystem ticking over by fulfilling the role of predator and prey, keeping their prey populations under control, and providing meals to other animals such as honey badgers, bobcats, eagles, and even hedgehogs!
Snakes such as the Roatan Coral Snake, the Leaf-Scaled Sea Snake and the Golden Lancehead Snake are all critically endangered, with their possible extinction threatening the food chain. IUCN Red List states that 12% of the snake species that were assessed are listed as threatened. The biggest threats to snakes include human-animal conflict and habitat destruction. With World Snake Day in mind, there are 3 things you can do to help protect them:
1. Share what you’ve learnt and educate yourself further. Knowledge is power and the more we know, the less we fear!
2. If you happen to cross paths with a snake, leave it be! We’ve all heard the age-old saying “they are more afraid of you than you are of them,” and it’s true: often snakebites are caused by human interference.
3. Sign petitions and/or volunteer to combat habitat destruction. Unfortunately, multiple species of animals are affected by this – not just snakes. You can personally combat habitat destruction by avoiding palm oil, eating less meat, or by joining a project featuring reforestation.
So, we might not have changed your minds and we highly doubt we've cured anyone's Ophidiophobia, but hopefully, you’ll agree that they are pretty fascinating and impressive creatures that play an important part in the animal kingdom!
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