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Snakes Alive!

Cindy Scarr

Snakes live almost everywhere: deserts, forests, oceans, streams, lakes, and on the ground, in trees, and in water. The only places without snakes are the Arctic and Antarctica, high in the mountains where the ground is frozen year-round, and some islands, including Ireland and New Zealand. In this article, we’ll learn another thing or two about snakes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Big Are They?

Although most snakes are approximately three feet long, there are some seriously notable exceptions to this rule!

Largest: The reticulated python, found in Southeast Asia, can grow to about 30 feet long (that’s about as long a bus), and is the world’s longest snake and longest reptile. The average adult is “only” 10 to 20 feet. The anaconda, found in tropical South America, isn’t the world’s longest snake (at up to 25 feet it only takes second place!) but it’s the world’s heaviest, and can weigh over 300 pounds.

Smallest: The world’s smallest snake is the 4-inch thread snake, found on the Caribbean island of Barbados.


Snake Skin

A snake’s skeleton is basically a skull, spine, and ribs. There are usually more than 120 vertebrae (bones that make up the spine) in the body and tail, and as many as 400 in some species.

Snake bodies are covered with plates and scales, like old-fashioned armor. Without this, snakes couldn’t move over surfaces like tree bark, rocks, or hot sand. The rough scales on its belly lets a snake keep its grip on rough branches and push off surfaces when it needs to move.

Snakeskin scales are stacked layers of cells. The outer cells are dead and protect the living ones underneath. A few times every year the outer layer of dead skin is shed — called molting or sloughing — and the cells underneath take over.

When a snake is ready to molt, it stops eating, and goes to a safe place. The old skin breaks near the mouth and the snake wriggles out by rubbing against a rough surface. The old skin peels backward over the body in one piece, from head to tail, just like taking off a sock inside out.

You might think snakes are slimy, like worms, but actually snakeskin is dry and smooth. Snakeskin is used to make high-class ladies’ shoes and handbags.


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