Fear and Fascination
Sidebar: Snakes Alive!
- Snakes live on every continent except Antarctica.
- Australia is home to ten of the world’s most venomous snakes.
- The United States has only four venomous snakes: rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth, and coral snake. More Americans die from bee and wasp stings each year than from snakebites.
A snake monitors its surroundings by darting its tongue in and out, collecting particles from the air and transferring them to a sensory organ, called the vomeronasal organ, in the roof of its mouth. It uses these chemical cues to find a mate, recognize predators, and locate prey.
Green tree python eggs and hatchlings (Mehgan Murphy/NZP)
- The largest venomous snake is the king cobra, which can reach 18 feet in length. It is also the only snake known to build a nest to incubate its eggs.
- The emerald tree boa, a constrictor, can strike a bird or small mammal in complete darkness. Boas and many other kinds of snakes use small pit-like cavities on their heads as infrared heat receptors to sense the location of anything that differs even slightly in temperature from its surroundings.
- Snakes in captivity benefit from enrichment just like other animals. Keepers in the Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center encourage investigation by cobras, which are extremely scent-oriented, by leaving scent trails or another snake’s shed skin in their enclosures.
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Smithsonian Zoogoer 39(5) 2010. Copyright 2010 Friends of the National Zoo.
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