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Snakes Alive – Part 1 – Classification and Biology


Oh no, it’s a snake!! Run away. Scream. This is usually the reaction of people when they see a snake. Picture the movies of pythons and rattle-snakes in jungles and deserts, that you have seen, and someone accidentally coming across the snake and recoiling in terror. However, you may be glad to know that here in Australia at least, only (on average) 2-3 people die from snakebite in Australia every year.

A snake will only bite an animal that is not a food item, in an act of self defence. This means that if a person accidentally steps on a snake they may be bitten as the snake will assume it is being attacked. Not surprisingly the majority of snake bites occur when people try to catch or kill snakes.

Snakes are shy animals – snakes will only bite as a last resort. This means it is your responsibility to have the habitat around where you live clear of long grass and possible spots for snakes to rest in. You should also tread carefully if you are treading (walking) in regions or places where there are possibly snakes around. Say, you are in the desert, well, make sure you use your eyes to scan around you, and if you are in the reeds, or a swamp, or a desert or other place frequented by snakes, you can use a stick to tap the ground as you go along or stamp your feet as you walk. This will alert snakes to your oncoming presence, and no, they will NOT know you are coming and hide and lash at out you as you pass. They have got eyes and consciousness, and will determine that a great lumbering human being is coming their way (and unless they are man-eating pythons in the Amazon) they will not consider you as a “prey” and will slither away.


Snakes are of of course, part of the Animal Kingdom, and can further be classified into the hierarchical system of animal taxonomy that biologists use, as follows.

Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Squamata

There are 3 suborders of Squamata. They are

Sub-order: Sauria ( lizards )
Sub-order: Serpentes ( snakes )
Sub-order: Amphisbaenia ( primitive snakes )

The Phylum Chordata comprises animals having a notochord, or a dorsal (top) stiffening rod as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development.

Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all Squamates, snakes are ectothermic (cold-blooded), amniote (egg-laying) vertebrates, covered in (non slimy) overlapping scales.

Many species of snakes have skulls with many more joints than their lizard ancestors, enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads with their highly mobile jaws. To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes’ paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other instead of side by side, and most have only one functional lung.  Snakes are cool.

Most species of snakes are non-venomous and those that have venom use it primarily to kill and subdue prey rather than for self-defense. Some possess venom potent enough to cause painful injury or death to humans. Non-venomous snakes either swallow mainly small prey alive or kill by constriction.

More biological information about Snakes can be read at the website below. Did you know that the vertebral column of a snake consists of anywhere between 200 to 400 (or more) individual vertebrae?


The heart of a snake is able to move around owing to the lack of a diaphragm. This adjustment protects the heart from potential damage when large ingested prey is passed through the esophagus.

The largest extant (living) snakes are the Reticulated Python, which measure about 9 meters (30 ft) long, and the Anaconda, which measures about 7.5 meters (25 ft) long and is considered the heaviest snake on Earth. At the other end of the scale, the smallest extant snake is Leptotyphlops carlae, with a length of about 10 centimeters. Most snakes are fairly small, approximately 1 meter (3 feet) in length.

The shedding of scales is called ecdysis (or in normal usage, molting or sloughing). In the case of snakes, the complete outer layer of skin is shed in one layer. Molting serves a number of functions. Firstly, the old and worn skin is replaced; secondly, it helps get rid of parasites such as mites and ticks.

Molting occurs periodically throughout a snake’s life. Before a molt, the snake stops eating and often hides or moves to a safe place. Just before shedding, the skin becomes dull and dry looking and the eyes become cloudy or blue-colored. The inner surface of the old skin liquefies. This causes the old skin to separate from the new skin beneath it. After a few days, the eyes clear and the snake “crawls” out of its old skin. The old skin breaks near the mouth and the snake wriggles out, aided by rubbing against rough surfaces. In many cases, the cast skin peels backward over the body from head to tail in one piece, like pulling a sock off inside-out. A new, larger, brighter layer of skin has formed underneath.

Did you know that someone whom studies Amphibians and Reptiles, including Snakes, is called a Herpetologist?



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3 thoughts on “Snakes Alive – Part 1 – Classification and Biology

  1. I did not know how the inside of a snake is arranged. It is especially interesting how the paired organs are arranged and that the heart can move about. Ecdysis is a new word for me. I love it when I find a whole shed skin. Ha ha, I like the crawling snake graphic. I look forward to part 2!

  2. Hi BD, thanks for your comment. I like the idea of the whole skin shedding off like a sock and leaving a sparkling new snake. I would be really interested in finding a whole shed skin too. Snakes are marvellous creatures. I’m glad you like the friendly green cartoon snake!

  3. Hi Celine. Snakes still scare the bejesus out of me, but it was nice to read about them none-the-less. Years ago a neighbor kept a python in our apartment building and used to feed it mice. I felt sorry for the mice (and my mom used to fear the snake would get loose and invade our space.) We were all happy to move.

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