Spinning tales about snakes


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Apparently, snakes evolved from lizards. Cold-blooded, these reptiles are more evident in warm climates. Many reproduce by laying eggs that are soft and leathery. However, in colder climates, where incubation may be compromised, live births occur.

Allegedly, humans fear snakes because they are conditioned through evolution to fear threats. Actually, snakes avoid confrontation, but they will injure when disturbed. Though more species are non-venomous, they still bite. Venomous snakes use fangs to inject venom (saliva), often striking below the knee. Fortunately, defensive dry bites — no venom released — are common, since snakes intend to subdue prey, not humans.

In this country, annual estimates reveal 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites on humans, resulting in as few as five fatalities because exceptional treatment is available. 

Comparatively, car vs. deer accidents cause around 200 fatalities — habitat fragmentation forces deer into traffic.

Florida has about 44 snake species, and six are venomous: copperhead, cottonmouth, coral and three rattlesnakes — diamondback, canebrake and pigmy. In addition, watch out for released or escaped pythons — constrictors — invading the Everglades.

Rattlesnakes cause more deaths. They warn with a hiss, coil or rattle. However, if stepped on, they strike immediately. 

The harmless milk snake can be mistaken for the poisonous coral snake, so remember: red on yellow will kill a fellow. <i>Photo by Brett Pigon</i>Coral snakes are sometimes handled when mistaken for colorful non-venomous mimics; their display is red, yellow and black banding, but “red on yellow will kill a fellow.” Furthermore, coral snakes have round pupils, not elliptical — slit — pupils like most venomous snakes.

Prey for snakes includes rodents, especially around farms, insects and other snakes. Milk snakes seek rodents and not cows. Pythons may consume deer.

Snakes prey efficiently. Legless bodies quietly slither, though boas and pythons, primitive reptiles, display claw-like remnants of hind limbs. Because snakes have no outer ears, jawbones transmit vibration to inner ears. Forked tongues flick to pick up scent. A pit viper senses the heat of prey with a pit between the eyes and nostrils.

To subdue prey, these carnivores grip by their teeth, inject venom or squeeze. They do not chew food. Prey, often larger than predators, is swallowed whole, usually headfirst, and alive or dead. Expandable jaws allow snakes’ mouths to open wide to swallow. Throats, stomachs and intestines also stretch.

Periodically, snakes shed their skins, which have silky, not slimy, scales. Transparent scales which protect eyes are also shed. The eyes are seemingly hypnotic without eyelids. Molting involves rubbing heads against hard or rough objects until peeling occurs. Eventually, snakes crawl out of old skins, which turn inside out in the process.

Undeniably, these creatures are beneficial. They control pests and their venom helps blood-clotting disorders and may help stop cancer. So, prudently walk away from snakes. 

Or live in Antarctica where there are none.