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Snakes are animals with a long body and without legs. They move around by sliding. They have eyes that are always open and a narrow tongue that they often move in and out.
Snakes can live almost anywhere—in deserts, forests, oceans, rivers and lakes. However, they cannot live in very cold places like high mountains or polar regions.Most snakes live in the tropics. The anaconda of South America and the python of Asia are the largest snakes we know of. Both can grow up to 9 metres long.
Some snakes are poisonous. They have fangs in their jaw. When they bite they inject poison through these fangs into the body of a victim. About 15% of all snakes have venom that is harmful to people. In some cases, bites can even be deadly.
A snake’s body is covered with dry, smooth scales. From time to time, they grow new scales and lose their outer ones. Most snakes have skin colours that match their environment . Some of them are brown, in order to hide in the leaves of a forest. Others may have very bright colours.
A snake can open its mouth very wide and swallow very large animals. Pythons can swallow animals that weigh up to 40 kg. A snake’s backbone consists of vertebrae. Strong joints connect the vertebrae and make their bodies very flexible.
These reptiles cannot see or hear very well. They depend on their tongue to smell and taste. When a snake sticks out its tongue it picks up a certain smell and in such a way can follow other animals on the ground.
An Indian cobra - Kamalnv
How snakes live
Snakes are difficult to observe because they hide a lot. Most snakes are active during the daytime, when they move around looking for food or a mate. Most snakes move by flexing their muscles, so that they produce waves from head to tail.
Like most reptiles, female snakes lay eggs that are fertilized by male snakes. They leave their eggs after laying them, but some snakes - like pythons- or king cobras protect their eggs by lying on top of them. After eight to ten weeks young snakes come out of the eggs.
Sometimes baby snakes grow in the body of their mother and are born alive, just like we humans are.
Snakes have body temperatures between 15° and 35° C. When it is too cold they cannot move at all and , on the other hand, most species die when their body temperature gets higher than 40° C. They adjust their temperature by moving from warmer to cooler places. When it gets too cold they lie in the sun.
Cold winters are spent in caves and underground holes. During hibernation, body temperature drops to 5° C.
Most snakes eat birds, fish, frogs, lizards and rats. They swallow other live animals. Some kinds of poisonous snakes bite their victims and paralyse them before they are eaten . Snakes can go on for a long time without food. They don’t need food to keep them warm. When they are inactive, they use up little energy, so they don't need to eat a lot.
Rattlesnakes are poisonous snakes that make sounds when they are angry
Interesting facts about snakes
- An African viper once fasted in a zoo for over 2 years .
- The fastest snake is the black mamba of Africa. It can move at a speed of 11 km an hour over a short distance.
- The African ball python protects itself by rolling up its body into a ball with its head in the middle.
- The spitting cobra of Africa can squirt venom two and a half metres . The snake aims for the eyes of its enemy and the poison produces blindness.
Downloadable PDF Text- and Worksheets
- adjust = to change to a new situation
- aim = to point at
- backbone = the row of bones that go down the middle of a person’s or an animal’s back
- blindness = not being able to see
- cave = a large hole in the side of a mountain or hill
- certain =special
- environment = the world around them
- fang = long sharp teeth
- fast = to eat very little
- fertilize =to make new animal or plant life grow
- flex =to tighten your muscles or bend a part of your body
- hibernation = to be asleep the whole winter
- joint = the part of your body where two bones meet
- match = they are the same as ...
- mate = the sexual partner of an animal
- observe = watch
- outer = on the outside surface
- paralyze = if you cannot move any more
- poison =a substance that can lead to death
- poisonous =with poison in it
- protect =defend, guard
- scales = small , flat pieces of skin that cover the bodies of reptiles
- slide =glide, to move smoothly over the ground
- species = a group of animals that look the same
- speed =how fast something moves
- spit =to make liquid come from your mouth
- squirt =to make liquid come out quickly
- swallow = to make something go down your throat
- tail = the part of an animal’s body that is at the back
- tongue = the soft part inside your mouth that you can move around
- use up = need
- venom = poison
- vertebrae = the small, hollow bones that go down your back
- victim =a person who has been bitten
- weigh =how heavy something is