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Snakes: Top 10 Questions

February 2017

Thanks to Thanks to Frank Lundburg, natural resources consultant and wildlife educator; and Charles R. Peterson, professor of zoology in the Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, for their for the answers.

1: How long can a snake get?

Snakes never stop growing, but as they get older, they grow more slowly. The longest snake ever found was a reticulated python from Southeast Asia. It was found in the 1930s or so, and was approximately 32 feet in length. Chances of finding a snake that long now are fairly slim because of the disruption of habitat and human interference. (From Nica at Trail Wind Elementary School in Boise)

2: When do snakes sleep?

There have been relatively few studies done on snakes sleeping. Part of this depends on how you define sleep. We don't see the same type of brain wave patterns in snakes that we see in sleeping mammals. Snakes do have behavioral changes in their alertness that most people would consider to be sleep. It's hard to judge, because snakes don't have eyelids, so their eyes are always open. (From Ashley at Russell Elementary School in Moscow)

3: Can you tame a snake?

Snakes are wild animals. You can't tame a snake, or train a snake, like you can train a dog. Snakes can be conditioned when they are in captivity. They get used to certain types of behavior around them, and they adjust to that behavior. (From Tristin at Horizon Elementary School in Boise)

4: Why don't snakes have legs?

Snakes evolved from lizards. This happened with families of lizards and took place over millions and millions of years, and continues to take place. If lizards become fossorial, or live in habitats that have very densely packed structures, their legs can actually impede movement. It's believed that the reduction in limbs makes it easier for them to crawl and to survive in small, dark and compact places. (From Mason at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

5: How do snakes shed their skin?

There is a cycle they go through that takes several days. First, they will look sick, and their skin will grow dark, and their eyes will color over. This is called, "going opaque." Fluid forms in the scales that covers their eyes. This will go on for a period of days. The old, dead skin separates from the new skin underneath. At a certain point, the eyes will clear up, and the snake will rub its nose on something sharp that will break that brittle, outer layer of skin. Then the snake will simply crawl out of its skin in the same way we would pull off a sock. If you see a shed skin, you will notice that it is turned inside out. (From Tavin at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

6: What kind of snakes live in Idaho?

There are twelve species of snakes that are native to Idaho. One is the rubber boa. This is a small snake that is a true boa constrictor. It's found throughout the state. There are two species of rattlesnakes, the prairie rattlesnake and the western rattlesnake. Those are the only snakes that are dangerous to humans that are found in Idaho. Then there are nine species of harmless, or colubrid, snakes. The garter and gopher snakes fall into this category. (From Allegra at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

7: What do snakes eat?

Snakes are exclusively carnivores. That means that they only eat other animals. There are some species of snakes, like our terrestrial garter snakes, that will eat all kinds of things. They'll eat earthworms, slugs, leeches, snails, fish, salamanders, birds and mammals. Then there are other snakes that only eat certain things. A good example of this is the queen snake. It is found in the Eastern United States and feeds, almost exclusively, on crawfish. Again, snakes eat a wide variety of things. Some are specialists, and others are generalists, but they all eat exclusively animals. (From Madeline at Trail Wind Elementary School in Boise)

8: How do snakes move?

The locomotion of snakes involves three different movements where they use a combination of their muscles and bones. One is called sidewinding. This is when the snake moves side to side. If a snake is moving in a straight line, it is called rectilinear creeping. The third movement is called serpentine or concertina. We commonly think of this as a snake crawling. (From Rachel at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

9: How many different colors of snakes are there?

There are as many different colors of snakes as there are many different kinds of snakes. Snakes' colors evolved as snakes adapted to their environments. If you look at the color of a snake, you can learn a lot about where it lives because it's trying to camouflage itself. Snakes hide to protect themselves, and they hide so that animals they want to eat don't see them. (From Brooklyn at Trail Wind Elementary School in Boise)

10: Can snakes swim?

Yes. All snakes can swim, and all snakes can climb. Some do it better than others. It depends on the particular species. There are even some snakes in Southeast Asia that can fly by spreading out their bodies and gliding from tree to tree! (From Sedonia at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

May 2011

Thanks to Frank Lundberg, Reptile Conservation Resource President and Adjunct Professor, Boise State University; and Scott Smith, Reptile Expert for the answers.

1: How do snakes shoot venom or inflict venom?

Most snakes do not shoot venom except one that does from its fangs. It's called the spitting cobra. What snakes do instead is inject it like a hypodermic needle. The venom comes from glands in the snake's mouth and when they bite their prey, the venom comes in through either a groove in the teeth or a hole in the fang. (From Danny in Mrs. Schweitzer's class at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

2: What habitats are the most popular with snakes?

It depends on the type of snake. We find snakes everywhere, from the driest deserts in the world to rain forests and forested lands. Snakes are found all over the world on all of the continents, except for Antarctica. (From Ellie in Mrs. McCoy's class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)

3: Why do snakes hiss?

Snakes do not have vocal chords so they cannot talk. They do, however, exhale rapidly, and when the air comes out of their lungs, it creates a "rushing of air" sound. Some snakes have enlarged openings, like the gopher and bull snakes, and when they hiss, they hiss really loudly. (From Shelby in Mrs. McCoy's class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)

4: How do snakes hold their poison?

The poison is contained in venom glands in the head. When the snake wants to inject the venom, there are muscles that surround these glands and the snake squeezes these muscles, which forces the venom through the specialized teeth that they have. (From Ryan at Joplin Elementary School in Meridian)

5: Why do snakes shed their skin?

Everyone sheds their skin but for people, you can't always see it. The outer layer of the skin dies and when it comes off of the snake, it comes off all at once versus in little tiny pieces. A fluid forms that pushes the old skin off. (From Victor in Mrs. Hunt's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

6: What do snakes eat?

In this area, most snakes eat rodents. Some snakes that are here, like the garter snake, will eat fish or frogs. In other parts of the world, some very large snakes may eat large animals, like deer. Overall, snakes are carnivores, as they eat meat and swallow their prey whole. (From Ethan in Mrs. Hunt's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

7: What is the most poisonous snake?

There are two. The most venomous snake that lives in the water is the sea snake, which is part of the cobra family. The most venomous land snake is the Inland Taipan. It lives in the outback of Australia. (From Maritsa in Mr. Harvey's class at the Coeur d'Alene Tribal School in DeSmet)

8: Can snakes swim?

All snakes can swim. All snakes can climb. Some of them do these things better than others, depending on the type of snake. (From Jasmine in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

9: Do snakes have ears?

Snakes do not have external ears. They do, however, have internal ears that are very sensitive to vibrations. In fact, for hundreds of years in Japan, they have used snakes to help predict earthquakes. The snakes would come out of their dens as they sensed an impending vibration well before a human would be able to. (From Carl at the Idaho Virtual Academy)

10: Why do snakes' eyes not move in their head?

Snakes eyes are covered with a scale so they do not blink, but their pupils do move. You cannot see it but they do contract and open. (From Ely in Mrs. Schultz's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

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