What is a Snake?

Snakes (also known as serpents) are a group of reptiles which have no limbs, no eyelids and no external ears. Internally they lack a urinary bladder. Their body like other reptiles is covered with scales.

Every snake has lost its front limbs and the girdles associated with this, something no lizard has done. In pythons the femur tipped with a small claw can still be seen providing evidence of the legs they formerly had.

The snake suborder includes 18 families and over 3,400 species.

All snakes are carnivores. They are unable to chew their food and instead have a loosely constructed jaw which can be opened allowing them to consume their food. They are able to go weeks or even months at a time without eating.

To find food they have a forked tongue which is flicked out to sense food particles which are then processed by a sensor on the roof of their mouth.

Around one in ten snakes are venomous and can use this to subdue their prey. Th rest grab and constrict their prey to kill it.

Snakes can be found on all continents except for Antarctica.

They grow for their entire life though as adults this is only in small amounts.

common adder
burmese python


Types of Snakes

Snakes are difficult to classify in to groups and debate still occurs over the exact number of families and the way to place them in groups. Below we have provided a look at some of the most commonly recognized groups and families.

Boas, Pythons and their Relatives

The boas, pythons and their relatives represent 12 of the snake families. These snakes are powerful constrictors which will squeeze their prey to kill it.

Often they are considered to be rather primitive snakes.

This group includes the largest of the snakes including the anacondas.

They can be found in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

green tree python


The colubrids are a single family of snakes which account for almost two thirds of all recorded snake species. There are over 2,100 species of colubrids.

They differ from other snakes through their lack of a functioning left lung, back limb pelvic bone and a small bone in the lower jaw known as the coronoid bone.

Their jaw is also more flexible allowing them to consume larger items of food.

Corn Snake


Elapids are another single snake family and they are notable as all of the species in this group are venomous.

This group includes the cobras, mambas, kraits and sea snakes.

Their closest relatives are the colubrids with the main difference being that elapids have their fangs near the front of their mouth.

common death adder


The vipers are considered to be the most highly evolved family within the snakes.

They are some of the most cold tolerant snakes.

Most of the viper species are venomous and they can inject venom using hinged fangs.

Another unique feature of many vipers is that give birth to live young instead of laying eggs.

Puff Adder

Blind and Thread Snakes

The final three snake families are the blind and thread snakes. These snakes primarily live underground and have barely functional eyes which are covered by scales.

Most of their diet is made up of insects such as ants. They will often live in ant and termite mounds to acquire this food.

There are more than 3,400 species of snake. The longest is the reticulated python which can grow up to 10.5m (33ft) long with the smallest being the thread snake at 11cm (4.5in) long. The heaviest snake is the green anaconda which reaches up to 227kg (500lbs).


Snake Fact Files


DK Find Out!. 2021. DK Find Out! | Fun Facts For Kids On Animals, Earth, History And More!. [online] Available at: <https://www.dkfindout.com/us/animals-and-nature/reptiles/snakes/> [Accessed 6 January 2021].

Qm.qld.gov.au. 2021. Snakes - Queensland Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Reptiles/Snakes> [Accessed 6 January 2021].

Peters, J., 2021. Snake | Description, Facts, & Types. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/animal/snake> [Accessed 6 January 2021].

Photo Credits

Blind Snake - By Dr. Raju Kasambe - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70663084


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