What do you think about when I mention the word snake? Most people answer with either they bite, they have slimy skin or they’re venomous. In fact, if you take some time to research snakes you will find that snakes are less like the stereotype that most people associate with them.
The skin of the snake is actually very dry and cool. The snake is completely covered in dry scales. These scales are individually attached to the skin which allows the skin to be extremely elastic. Like all reptiles the skin is cold to the touch. This is because unlike mammals, snakes are ‘ecothermic’, a big word which means that the environment controls the temperature of the snake. You’ve heard the term cold blooded, right? Their body temperature is directly related to their surroundings. This is why you often find reptiles basking in the sun. They can not regulate their own body temperature like mammals do.
In winter, reptiles will ‘hibernate’. They will find somewhere safe and cosy, curl up and go to sleep. They will usually find refuge under a rock, inside a log or a hole in the ground, like an unused rabbit hole. During this time of hibernation, body functions slow down almost completely to a stand still. They enter into an energy conservation mode where their heart rate and breathing slow down dramatically. They will remain in this state of hibernation for several months until the weather begins to warm up.
Another amazing fact about snakes is that they can devour prey many times larger than themselves. A snake has an amazing ability to change its body structure in order to eat something larger than itself.
Once the snake has captured its prey by either injecting venom or in the case of non venomous snakes like pythons, by constricting its prey, it will coil it’s body around it’s victim and will begin to evaluate the victim and search for the head. It can do this either by the feel of the fur or by scent. Snakes like to eat their prey head first. It’s easier to swallow this way. Once the snake opens its mouth and begins to eat its prey, the skin will start to stretch. Like a series of overlapping leaves, the scales move away from each other revealing the skin between them, allowing the snake to stretch wider and wider to accommodate the size of the prey.
As the snake makes its way along the body of its prey, the bottom jaw will unhinge from the top. The lower part of the snakes jaw will part at the chin and using it’s rearward facing back teeth, the snake will begin to move the prey into it’s body. Then a series of muscles contractions throughout the snakes’ body will move the food down until it reaches the snakes stomach. After feeding, snakes will find somewhere safe and warm to digest their meal. A snake may not need to eat again for many weeks or sometimes months.
There are a few important facts you should know to avoid being bitten. A snake will not bite you unless it feels that it has no other option. Some snakes can be aggressive however, but overall snakes would rather be left alone. A snake will bite when it feels threatened. To a snake a human being is both enormous & scary.
You are more likely to be bitten if you either stand on a snake or deliberately try to catch a snake. A snake will always opt for cover given the chance, and will be out of your way before you know it. The last thing that a snake wants it is to try an attack and run the risk of being hurt itself.