Science - Nature
By: - at August 7, 2013

Top 15 Most Amazing Snakes From Around the World

Year of the SnakeWhen many people think of snakes, the first thing that comes to mind is Lucifer in the form of a serpent tempting Eve with an apple from the Tree of Knowledge and, therefore, original sin. While this may be part of why people associate snakes with fear and loathing, itís more likely that snakes got their evil reputation from their appearance first. Snakes strike fear into the primal parts of the human brain. No wonder the human brain is ingrained to fear snakes, many species of snakes are venomous and can easily kill a person.

Snakes have been around since the mid-Cretaceous period, smack in the middle of the time of the dinosaurs. Snakes first appeared as the basic legless reptiles we know today. Theyíve had more than 100 million years to adapt and differentiate. They kept their legless appearance mostly sliding on their bellies, and there are now more than 3,200 species of snakes. Some of these species have amazing adaptations. Below, weíll discuss our favorite 15.

15)  Titanoboa, the Worldís Largest Snake
The Titanoboa is the largest snake to ever live. It was about 49 feet long and weighed roughly 2,500 pounds. Thatís as much as about 20 humans, and no other snake has ever achieved such gigantic dimensions. The closest known for sure, Gigantophis, measured in at 23 feet and a paltry 403 pounds. The first known titanoboa fossils were discovered in Colombia in 2009 by a Smithsonian research team. Itís believed they hunted crocodiles and turtles that weighed 300 pounds or more. This sounds like a lot until you remember just how huge Titanaboas was. In all of history there aren't too many species that could mess with a snake that weighed more than one ton. Their closest living relatives are boa constrictors even though anacondas are bigger, but boa constrictors more closely match the body type of their giant ancestors.

Titanoboa Devouring a Crocodile
Titanoboa Devouring a Crocodile

Scientists believe the natural predators of Titanaboas probably preyed on their eggs and young, rather than taking on the gigantic adults. They also think Titanaboas proves that the upper end of the size scale couldnít be more than 50 feet or so because snakes are cold-blooded. Titanaboas lived at a time when the average temperature was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, and in tropical jungles at that. Itís not feasible for a larger snake to live at a cooler time. However, some other researchers dispute the temperature findings because of the snakeís probable body temperature from metabolic processes. A Titanaboas skull was found in 2012 by another team of researchers; it may yet yield information on the species.

14)  Thelotornis, the Twig Snakes
Thelotornis is a genus of snakes known as twig snakes. The most recently discovered snake species, Thelotornis usambaricus, was found in January 2013. Coincidentally the species was discovered just before the start of the Chinese Year of the Snake. Unlike most snakes, twig snakes have binocular vision thanks to horizontal pupils shaped like keyholes. What other animal do you know with keyhole-shaped pupils? For your information, cats also have keyhole-shaped pupils.

Twig Snake
Twig Snake
By Chipmunkdavis (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Twig snakes are venomous, and their bites are potentially fatal to humans. There is currently no known antivenom so a bite from a twig snake may very well be fatal. Their venom is a hemotoxic, which means it attacks blood cells and causes red blood cells to rupture while interfering with clotting. When twig snakes feel threatened, they puff up their throats and display bold black markings between their neck scales. Theyíre known as twig snakes because theyíre grey and brown, and when perfectly still on a tree (their preferred hunting grounds). Theyíre also easily mistaken for a twig and often looked over by humans.

13)  Leptotyphlops carlae, the Worldís Tiniest Snake
Leptotyphlops carlae, or the Barbados threadsnake, is the smallest snake known to man. The adults average less than four inches in length, and they can sit coiled on a quarter. It was found in Barbados in 2008 by a Penn State evolutionary biologist. The first specimens were found in a bit of forest on the eastern side of Barbados. It's habitat is so small, scientists believe itís a rare species. After studying the Barbados threadsnakeís color and genetic qualities, the discovering biologist further determined that some older museum specimens are also Barbados threadsnakes. Itís not uncommon for great size variations to occur on islands. In fact, itís more common for size extremes to be found in island habitats.

Threadsnake Coiled on a Quarter
Threadsnake Coiled on a Quarter

This is because of the fact that a species can evolve to fill a certain ecological niche thatís not filled by an existing larger or smaller animal. Like many other very small animals, Barbados threadsnakes produce only one offspring at a time. The mothers lay one egg that is half as long as her body. Itís possible that the young are so large so that they can survive at all, and scientists believe there may be a lower threshold for the sizes of some kinds of animals. In other words, if the young werenít so large compared to their mothers, they might not be able to survive at all.

12)  Elapha obsoleta lindheimeri, the Texas Rat Snake
Texas rat snakes, or Elapha obsoleta lindheimeri, are the most common nonvenomous snake found in North Texas. They can grow longer than 77 inches, or 2 meters, in length. At nearly 6 1/2 feet, thatís as tall as a basketball player. Kind of makes it fortunate that theyíre nonvenomous, doesnít it? Texas rat snakes specifically prey on, as their name suggests, rats and mice. If theyíre near your home, you donít need to worry about these snakes. You need to worry about the rats and mice they are hunting, because vermin can carry diseases like the plague and hantavirus.

Albino Texas Rat Snake
Albino Texas Rat Snake

They might also go after chicken eggs and chicks. If you have any farm fowl, then you may want to try and relocate any rat snakes you may encounter on your property. It wouldnít make any difference if you moved the chickens higher off of the ground. Rat snakes can climb even the side of brick buildings, so a slightly elevated chicken coup would be no problem for a rat snake. Rat snakes are unusual in that many specimens are not a typical dark grey color. Colors of rat snakes vary from yellow, tan, albinos (no melanin pigmentation), high orange (hypomelanistic, or low in melanin), and even leucism (reduced pigmentation). Leucistic Texas rat snakes have become valued in the pet trade due to their unusual coloring, and theyíre often pinkish perhaps with a little bit of grey.

11)  Langaha madagascariensis, the Leaf-nosed Snake
Langaha madagascariensis, also known as Langaha nasuta or the leaf-nosed snake, is native to Madagascar. The leaf-nosed snake appears to have a horn or leaf jutting from its snout. This is found in both genders, but unlike most snake species there is a high level of sexual dimorphism.

Female Madagascar Leaf-nosed Snake
Female Madagascar Leaf-nosed Snake
Alextelford at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is seen in the differentiation of their coloring, scales, and horn which are all very different depending on the sex of the animal. Females have a flat, leaf-shaped, serrated horn and rough brown scales. Males have smooth yellowish scales and a sharply-pointed horn. The leaf-nosed snake is venomous, but not as dangerous as most venomous snakes. Its bite is extremely painful, but bites from a leaf-nosed snake are rarely life-threatening.

10)  Oxyuranus microlepidotus, the Inland Taipan
Oxyuranus microlepidotus, or the inland taipan, is native to Australia. Australia is one country with more wildlife than any other country that collectively wants to kill you. It should be no surprise to find that the inland taipan is also known as the ďfierce snake.Ē

Inland Taipan
  Inland Taipan the most venomous snake in the world

It is the most venomous snake in the world. However, considering how venomous it is, there has remarkably never been a recorded human fatality. Inland taipan bites have always been successfully treated with antivenom. The inland taipan also exhibits huge color changes between summer and winter. In the summer itís a lighter straw color, while in the winter itís much darker in color. This is an adaptation to the harsh temperatures found in the Australian outback, and the dark winter coloring also blends in with its home rangeís black soil. The lighter summer coloring blends in with dead vegetation that is characteristic of Australian outback summers. In winter, its head might turn nearly black and look glossy; this may or may not help disguise it from its prey, native rats. Inland taipan populations heavily depend on native rat populations. When the rat population is high, the population of snakes rises rapidly. Likewise when the rat population is low, snakes die off and reproduce less because food is more scarce.

9)  Melanophidium bilineatum, the Iridescent Shieldtail
Melanophidium bilineatum, or the iridescent shieldtail, is mainly known for its visually appealing characteristics. While it is also called the two-lined black earth snake, their iridescence is a thing of beauty. Their black scales shine and reflect a rainbow of colors that is difficult to capture in photographs. On either side, the black is separated between its top and bottom halves by wide yellow stripes. Not a lot is known about these snakes, even though their habitat is well-traveled by tourists. Theyíre believed to be nocturnal and live on the ground.

Iridescent Shieldtail
Iridescent Shieldtail

The tourism industry in their native home of India may actually be reducing the population of shieldtails. As of 2011, no recent sightings were reported in the wild. Unfortunately that means that, between shrinking habitats (a subject of concern to the IUCN) and heavy tourism traffic, the snake may be driven closer towards extinction. It doesnít help that the shieldtails burrow beneath leaf litter making them difficult to see, and easy to step on. Only three specimens have ever been studied. It would be a shame to lose these beauties both for the space they fill in their local ecosystem, and just because their iridescent black scales are so gorgeous. Very few snakes have such beautiful colors and visually striking scale patterns.

8)  Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis, the Honduran Milk Snake
Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis, or the Honduran milk snake, is in the same family as the twig snakes that rank No. 8 on our list. Unlike the twig snakes, the Honduran milk snake is not venomous. Itís a subspecies of the scarlet kingsnake. Its coloring is particularly interesting containing a wide band of red, then a narrower band of black, a narrower still band of yellow, then black, and then back to red. This is a case of Batesian mimicry, in which a harmless species takes on characteristics of a dangerous species.

Albino Honduran Milk Snake
Albino Honduran Milk Snake

In this case, the milk snakeís coloring closely mimics that of the coral snake. Coral snakes are highly venomous and possess some of the same characteristics of milk snakes. The most similar traits are their color (though not necessarily in the same order) and burrowing habits. Naturally, not many predators ó or even people ó would risk a nasty venomous bite. Not only does the coral snake hold on rather than striking and pulling back, but it has a neurotoxin in its venom that causes paralysis and can cause a human being to stop breathing. Taking these factors into consideration, it makes much more sense for predators to avoid encounters with both milk snakes and coral snakes. This is where Batesian mimicry gives the milk snake an advantage because predators regard milk and coral snakes as one in the same.

7)  Drymarchon couperi, the Eastern Indigo Snake
The eastern indigo snake, scientifically known as Drymarchon couperi, is also related to twig snakes and milk snakes. Unlike either, not only is the eastern indigo snake heavy-bodied for its size, but itís also the longest snake in the United States. The longest recorded specimen was a little under 3 meters long, or more than 9 feet. They get their name from their glossy blue-black color in sunlight. Eastern indigo snakes are cold-sensitive. This means they have to find shelter when temperatures drop below about fifty degrees Fahrenheit, or ten degrees Celsius. Usually they seek out a gopher tortoise burrow to take refuge during colder months.

Eastern Indigo Snake
Eastern Indigo Snake

Because itís sensitive to cold theyíre mainly found in Florida, the Florida Keys, and southern Georgia. The eastern indigo snake is also a vicious hunter. Rather than constricting or using venom it doesnít possess, it flushes its prey out from under cover, then actually chases it down. Once itís caught its prey, the snake will crush it to death in its strong jaws. If it canít do so easily, it might even bash the prey on the ground or a nearby object repeatedly to kill it. Fortunately, itís not big enough to do the same with humans. Instead, its prey is usually fairly small, such as toads, frogs, small alligators, birds and turtle eggs. Interestingly, the eastern indigo snake will also hunt and eat venomous snakes. The eastern indigo snake has an advantage over other poisonous snakes: it is impervious to their venom.

6)  Coluber constrictor foxii , the Blue Racer
The blue racer, or Coluber constrictor foxii, is found across most of the United States ranging into parts of Canada and down to northeastern Mexico. While itís not as big as the eastern indigo snake, the blue racer has been known to reach 6 feet in length. Its coloring can range from dull grey to a brilliant blue, which gives the blue racer its name. Itís a constrictor so unlike the eastern indigo snake, there will be no cruel beating its prey to death. The blue racer has a much more civilized approach of wrapping around its prey, and squeezing it until it canít breathe and dies. When approached by a predator, it usually opts to flee. When thatís not an option, the blue racer turns to some interesting behavior.

Blue Racer Snake
Blue Racer Snake
By Jon Fife [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It starts out violently undulating, as though possessed, before gracefully and quickly slithering away for about thirty meters, or 98 feet. If that doesnít work and itís cornered, the blue racer will coil up, strike, and vibrate its tail, much as a rattlesnake would (though it doesnít have a rattle). Since it has curved teeth, the bite will hurt and cause bleeding. If a predator gets even closer, the blue racer will coil, hide its head, and writhe while smearing scent gland secretions from its head all over its body in between taking an S-shaped position. If a predator manages to grab it, the blue racer will dump its cloacal contents and flail to try to escape; its tail might even be ripped off from the violence of its struggles. This is one snake that really doesnít want to get eaten.

5)  Acrochordus javanicus, the Elephant Trunk Snake
The elephant trunk snake, or Acrochordus javanicus, is a primitive water snake. Itís found in the fresh and brackish waters of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Despite the fact that itís heavily hunted for leather, it appears to reproduce quickly enough to make up for this. It gets its name from its skin, which is grey and looks loose almost like itís too big. The knobby appearance also means theyíre called ďwarty snakesĒ. Elephant trunk snakes live nearly their entire lives in water. They have small, rough adjacent scales all over, and they lack the broad belly scales that would allow them to properly move on land. Fortunately for these snakes, theyíre born live.

Elephant Trunk Snake
Elephant Trunk Snake

This means the females donít have to go on land and find a safe place to lay their eggs. Instead, she can expel live young directly into the water. Itís also nocturnal, and during the day it finds places to hide in the water. It can stay under water for about forty minutes, much longer than a human or even other snakes. Because its scales are so rough and its skin so loose, the elephant trunk snake can fold its body around fish and amphibians, preventing them from escaping. The rough scales dig into the preyís flesh making their hunting rather easy.

4)  Rhabdophis tigrinus, the Tiger Keelback
The tiger keelback, Rhabdophis tigrinus, also known as the yamakagashi or Japanese water snake, looks just like any other snake. Itís usually a meter or less in length. Itís an olive-drab snake with black and orange spots or crossbars down the first third of the body. Itís venomous, but it was thought harmless until a death from a bite occurred in the 1980s. In short, itís very much what people think of when they think of snakes. However, the tiger keelback is definitely not your typical snake. It hunts poisonous toads and is immune to the toxin contained in the toad's flesh.

Tiger Keelback
Tiger Keelback
By Yasunori Koide (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This isnít too unusual among snakes, except that it stores the toxin in a pair of glands in the upper skin of the neck which are called nuchal glands. Female snakes that have high levels of the bufadienolide toxin in their glands can pass it on to their offspring. When the snake is threatened, it releases the toxin from the glands. Any predator that gets a mouthful will at least be in quite a bit of pain, and it will probably leave the tiger keelback alone. How many other animals do you know of that store its preyís toxins for later defensive purposes?

3)  Chrysopelea, the Flying Snakes
Chrysopelea is a genus of five species of snakes that are known as the flying snakes. Their range is in southern and southeast Asia, including India, southernmost China, Greater and Lesser Sundas Islands, the Philippines, Maluku, Ankara and Sri Lanka. They arenít considered dangerous to humans even though theyíre venomous. The concentration of venom is way too low to seriously injure a person. They range from about two feet to four feet long. And, oh yeah, theyíre known for flying.

Flying Snakes
Flying Snakes
By Alan Couch from Australia (Chrysopelea paradisi - Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

They of course donít actually fly. These arenít winged snakes with magical flying properties. Instead, they suck in their stomach and flatten their ribs to create a concave false wing profile. They slither up a tree onto a branch, then down to the end of the branch. It leans forward and apparently does some mental physics calculations to figure out the proper angle to use to get as far as it wants while choosing a landing area. When itís ready, it forms the false wing with its body and uses its tail to thrust its body away and up from the branch itís on. They can glide for up to 100 meters through the air. Physicists and the United States Department of Defense have studied the mechanics of the snakeís gliding recently, trying to work out the other factors at play in a search for more advanced fixed-wing and glider technology. A University of Chicago team discovered the fairly self-evident conclusion that smaller snakes could glide further horizontally. Science or no science, the world has flying (okay, gliding) snakes. Letís wait for the Snakenado movie. Maybe theyíll use flamethrowers this time.

2)  Cerastes cerastes, the Horned Viper
Cerastes cerastes, or the horned viper, gets its scientific name from the mythical Greek monster the cerastes. The cerastes was known as an extremely flexible serpent, to the point that it might not even have a spine. It had either two large or four small horns, and would hide in the sand with only its horns showing. When animals would come close believing the horns were food, the cerastes would lunge up out of the sand and kill the animal, immediately eating it. The horned viper may be what the cerastes was based on.

Horned Vipers
Horned Viper Cerastes cerastes
By H. Krisp (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The horned viper occupied a place of myth in the Egyptian religion. The Egyptians even went so far as mummifying the snakes. The mummies have been found in Thebes, an ancient city located on the banks of the Nile. The horned viper gets its name from the two horns it has on its face. Not all snake populations have these very indicative physical characteristics, making the horned viper easier to identify. Throughout its geographical range, the horned viper is the most distinctive and prevalent venomous snake. Its venom contains at least 13 toxins that cause localized swelling, acute pain, excessive bleeding or clotting (depending on where the snake is from), abdominal pain, kidney failure, sweating, nausea and heart irregularities. Bites from a horned viper are not typically fatal, but are extremely unpleasant to the point of wishing for death.

1)  Atractaspididae, the Burrowing Asps
Burrowing asps make up the family Astractaspididae. Theyíre also known as stiletto snakes or African burrowing snakes. They live most of their lives underground, where they freely hunt rodents and other burrowing mammals. What is particularly interesting is the small-scaled burrowing asp, or Atractaspis microlepidota. As the Latin route of the species designation suggests, micro, meaning very small. All Atractapis are found in the middle of Africa, mainly the tropical and southern regions. The small-scaled burrowing asp in particular is found in West Africa, including Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and into Sudan. Its head is covered in plates, rather than small scales, which sets it apart from the rest of the viper family. The most striking facts about the small-scaled burrowing asp involve its fangs and venom.

Burrowing Asp
Burrowing Asp

These small-scaled burrowing asps donít have to open their mouths to use their fangs, and in fact usually only use one fang for reasons unknown. They come up beside the prey and use one fang to stab and envenomate their prey. The fangs can be manipulated independently and used to move prey into a better position for eating. In one study, the asps envenomed all the offered mice before eating any of them. This is an extremely unusual behavior for snakes. One possible reason is to protect themselves from adult mice that might otherwise be a threat. The venom causes hyperactivity, scratching, and irritation in the small-scaled burrowing aspís prey before it succumbs. Fortunately, the venom is not usually lethal to humans, but young children have died from bites.

Snakes are a fascinating suborder of animals. They vary greatly around the world, from small, burrowing asps to tree-dwelling gliders, to aquatic swimmers. Throughout their existence over many years, snakes have ranged in size from under four inches to nearly 50 feet. Our 15 most fascinating are just a small subset of all the snakes in the world. Many were not listed on this list that are amazing in their own ways. We encourage you to do further reading and research to discover what your favorites truly are.





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