Related topics: lizards

When frogs die off, snake diversity plummets

Since 1998, scientists have documented the global loss of amphibians. More than 500 amphibian species have declined in numbers, including 90 that have gone extinct, due to the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium, commonly known ...

Snake stem cells used to create venom-producing organoids

Organoids have become an important tool for studying many disease processes and testing potential drugs. Now, they are being used in a surprising and unexpected way: for the production of snake venom. On January 23 in the ...

How rattlesnakes' scales help them sip rainwater from their bodies

During storms in the southwestern U.S., some rattlesnakes drink rain droplets from scales on their backs. This unusual behavior could help them survive in a desert environment with infrequent rain. Now, researchers have figured ...

Brazil milks deadly snakes for their life-saving venom

Gripping the deadly snake behind its jaws, Fabiola de Souza massages its venom glands to squeeze out drops that will save lives around Brazil where thousands of people are bitten every year.

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Snakes are elongate legless carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales. Like lizards, from which they evolved, they have loosely articulated skulls and most can swallow prey much larger than their own head. In order 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. Some species retain a pelvic girdle with a pair of vestigial claws on either side of the cloaca.

Living snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica. Fifteen families are currently recognized comprising 456 genera and over 2,900 species. They range in size from the tiny, 10 cm long thread snake to pythons and anacondas of up to 7.6 m (25 ft) in length. The recently discovered fossil Titanoboa was 13 m or 43 ft long. Snakes are thought to have evolved from either burrowing or aquatic lizards during the Cretaceous period (c 150 Ma). The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene period (c 66 to 56 Ma).

Most species 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.

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