Snake, a limbless reptile. There are about 2,500 species of snakes. Some inhabit the sea and others live in freshwater, but the majority live on land. Land snakes may burrow in the ground or live in trees or in rocky crevices. In size, snakes range from the 4-inch (10-cm) blind snake to the reticulated python, which may be 30 feet (9 m) or longer. Snakes are often beneficial to humans by killing unwanted insects and rodents. Snake-skins are used to make shoes, handbags, and other articles. Almost all snakes bite to defend themselves or to obtain food, but only a few are venomous (poisonous). The bite of some of the venomous species can be fatal to humans.

SnakesSnakes are limbless reptiles that come in various forms.
Where in the World Do Snakes Live?

Snakes live almost everywhere. You might see one while crossing a desert, climbing a mountain, or hiking in a forest. You might even see one while swimming in a lake, a river, or an ocean.

Even if you don’t see snakes, they probably live near you. Snakes can live anyplace where the ground isn’t frozen all year. They live on every continent, except Antarctica. A few islands—such as Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand—are also snake-free.

Many snakes live on the ground. Others burrow under the ground. Some snakes like the high life and live in the trees. Still others like to stay wet and spend most of their lives in the water.

Are Snakes Deadly or Harmless?

There are more than 400 species of poisonous snakes. But most of the world’s snakes, almost 85 percent of the species, are harmless to people. Australia is the only continent where you will find more poisonous than nonpoisonous snakes.

Most poisonous snakes belong to either of two families of snakes: elapids (EHL uh pihdz) and vipers (VY puhrz). Elapids generally have short fangs. When elapids bite, they usually hang onto their prey. This gives their poisonous venom (VEHN uhm) more of a chance to enter the victim’s body. Vipers strike quickly. Their long fangs deliver their venom deeply and quickly into their prey. The rattlesnake is a viper.

What Good Are Snakes?

Snakes do plenty of good things, especially for farmers. Snakes eat mice, rats, gophers, and other small mammals that eat farm crops.

Snakes also help scientists and doctors. Snake venom is used in research and in making medicines. One medicine made from venom helps treat certain types of heart attacks. Another is antivenin (an tee VEHN uhn), a drug used to treat snakebites.

To collect snake venom, skilled workers must “milk” a poisonous snake. To milk a snake, a worker places a cup under the upper jaw of the snake’s open mouth. The worker then rubs the snake’s venom gland, and the snake shoots venom from its fangs into the cup.

Who’s Who in the Snake World?

The world is home to some pretty amazing snakes. There are blind snakes that burrow underground and may be mistaken for worms. There are sea snakes that gracefully swim through the water.

Snakes also come in an amazing range of sizes. There are tiny Brahminy (BRAH muh nee) blind snakes, which are only 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. And there are giant anacondas, which reach more than 30 feet (9 meters).

Some snakes even seem to fly. Flying snakes shoot out from tree limbs. They flatten their bodies to slow their fall.

What Does a Snake’s Coloring Mean?

Bright colors—like the red, black, and yellow or white bands of a coral snake—mean danger. They warn animals that may try to eat the coral snake that this snake’s bite is poisonous.

Some harmless snakes, such as scarlet kingsnakes and some milk snakes, mimic or copy the coloring of coral snakes. Their bright colors make them look dangerous to animals that prey on the snakes. A closer look, however, shows that the colored bands on these snakes appear in a different order.

Some snakes use their coloring as camouflage (KAM uh flahzh) to blend in with their surroundings. The green vine snake and other tree snakes loop themselves around tree branches. Hidden among the leaves, they look like vines. Their prey may not notice them—until it is too late.

Interesting facts about snakes
One of the smallest snakes is the Braminy blind snake, which lives in the tropics and grows only 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. It has tiny eyes that are covered by head scales.
An African Gaboon viper in a zoo once fasted for 2 1/2 years. Snakes in zoos sometimes do not eat for 6 months to 3 years.
The fastest snake is probably the black mamba of Africa. It was timed moving at the speed of 7 miles (11 kilometers) per hour over a short distance.
The African ball python protects itself from enemies by coiling into a ball with its head in the middle. Many other snakes also use this method of defense.
Green tree pythons may be yellow or brown when hatched. Snakes of both colors may hatch from the same batch of eggs. They turn green as they grow older. Green tree pythons live in New Guinea.
The spitting cobra of Africa can squirt venom 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters). The snake aims for the eyes of its enemy. The venom causes a painful, burning sensation and can produce blindness.