What are snakes?

A snake

Snakes belong to the order of animals called reptiles. This group also include crocodiles, lizards, and turtles. There are about 2,700 species of snakes in the world.

A reptile usually has scales, lays eggs, breathes air, and doesn't spend much time taking care of its babies. It is also cold-blooded, which means that its body doesn't stay the same temperature all the time.

As with the other reptiles, snakes maintain a fairly steady body temperature by their behavior. They raise their temperature by lying in the sun or lower it by crawling into the shade.

Snake venom

The venom of a snake

Some snakes (like cobras, vipers, and rattlesnakes) are venomous. Of the 2,700 known species of snake only 300 are venomous.

Venom is a poison the snake puts into its prey through its fangs (teeth). This either kills the prey animal or paralyzes it. Once venom gets into the prey, it is easy for the snake to eat it.

Some venomous snakes have bright colours or patterns which can warn us. Rattlesnakes have rattles to scare away animals or people that might hurt them.

What do snakes eat?

A snake eating a mouse

All snakes are carnivores or meat-eaters. Small snakes eat bugs and frogs. Larger ones eat fish, birds, mice, and rabbits.

They use sharp teeth and strong muscles to catch the prey. If the prey animal is bigger than the snake's mouth, the snake can dislocate (unhinge) its bottom jaw to fit the big animal in. They repeatedly flick out their narrow, forked tongue, using it to bring odours to a special sense organ in the mouth.

Some snakes (like boas and the anaconda) kill their prey by squeezing it to death. Snakes do not chew their food or even bite it into pieces, they swallow their food whole.

Where can they be found?

A ruby-eyed pit viper, which lives in forests near Ho Chi Minh City and across the low hills of Southern Vietnam and Eastern Cambodia's Langbian Plateau

They live almost everywhere, in deserts, forests, oceans, streams, and lakes. The most snakes and the largest snakes are found in tropical rainforests. Some are ground dwellers, others live in trees, and other snakes spend most of their lives in water.

Snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica. There are no snakes native to Hawaii, Iceland, Ireland, or New Zealand.