What Makes A Snake A Snake
What makes a snake a snake? Snakes lack legs, unlike most other reptiles. However, boas have tiny spurs that are remnants of hind limbs, and a few other reptiles, such as worm and glass lizards, also lack limbs. Snakes move by pushing against objects with specialized scales on their bellies called scutes. The scutes act like tire treads, gripping the ground and giving the snake the traction necessary to push itself forward. Also, scutes are hard and protect the snake as it moves along rough surfaces. The scales covering the body prevent excessive dehydration by retaining body moisture and contain pigments that form the color patterns of snakes. Snakes have no moveable eyelids, and therefore can never blink or close their eyes. A single transparent scale covers the eye. They do not have external ears, but can hear by sensing vibrations through the bones in their head. In addition to being able to smell odors as we do, snakes can “taste” the air and ground using their forked tongue.
All snakes are carnivores, preying upon a variety of different animals including other snakes, fish, frogs, salamanders, rodents, insects, birds and slugs. Snakes have no claws or chewing teeth – they must eat their prey whole. They are able to eat prey larger than their head by allowing their jaws to disarticulate while swallowing and subsequently rearticulating the jaw when finished. Some snakes actively pursue their prey while others remain motionless and well camouflaged, waiting for unsuspecting prey to wander within striking distance. Snakes’ diets vary among species and depend upon their size and behavior. For example, small snakes typically prey upon small, slow-moving animals like slugs and earthworms. Larger snakes often prey upon larger, more active prey. Snakes lack chewing teeth, and therefore, must eat their prey whole.
When threatened, some snakes become immobile or “freeze” when they sense danger. Since many predators (hawks, owls, etc.) hunt by visual cues, they do not notice the motionless snake. Snakes also often employ a variety of bluffing behaviors. Several species vibrate their tail when threatened, making a rattling sound when it strikes dry leaves. Believing the snake to be a venomous rattlesnake, the predator may move on, unwilling to risk a potentially dangerous encounter.
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