Get to know about a snake from head to tail!

Bringing home a pet is something. But bringing home a snake as a pet is something else. Are you someone who loves to try something out of the box every single time, then perhaps you are a snake person.

The food habits of these creatures might be unsavoury to some. However, these are not those cold creatures that you might picture.

Understanding snake anatomy might perhaps be an excellent place to start as a pet parent planning to bring home a pet snake. 

It’s all in that head! 

Have you ever wondered how a snake consumes a prey much larger than that tiny skull effortlessly? All that comes from the multiple bones and joints present in a snake’s head. All those moving parts in a snake’s skull help it swallow its prey as those teeth aren’t; therefore, the reptile to chew its food. 

Your snake might be having more bones than what you have. Some of them can have up to 400 bones! There is one main thing that your snake can do that you cannot- their jaws move independently while human beings only have a temporomandibular joint that moves. 

Venomous or not?

Perhaps the very first thing that sets the stage is to know whether a snake is poisonous or not. Should you fear that reptile or love it with all your heart? The answer to this question comes from knowing what type of snake it is. Most poisonous snakes have a characteristic triangular head shape. Research shows that some of the non-venomous snakes morph their head shape to make it look triangular when they have to escape imminent danger. 

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The other way to tell is to look at the presence of a fang. You cannot prod a snake’s mouth open before you know whether it would harm you or not. Therefore it is good to know about a snake’s head anatomy. Snake skull shape often comes from the jawline structure. The following are the 4 main classifications based on the jawline structure-

  • Aglyph- this is the structure present in non-poisonous snakes 
  • Opisthoglyph – the type where fangs are present in the rear portion 
  • Proteroglyph – large fangs facing downward inject the most potent venom 
  • Solenoglyph – known for the sophisticated venom delivery mechanism, these come with a hollow pipe groove in fangs to inject large amounts of venom instantly. 

Proteroglyphs are, therefore, the ones you should be the most cautious about. 

snake skeleton

Scales for Movement 

Small scales are present on the top and relatively larger ones at the bottom. These line the outer skin and sometimes expand when the snake swallows its prey. There is a transparent scale on the eyes called spectacle, for protection. 

Have you ever wondered how a snake moves so fast, even without a single limb? It all comes from the ventral scales. While the whole body is covered in scales, the ones lining the bottom are called ventral scales. These offer traction that tags the snake and then pushes it forward. There are 4 ways in which a snake can move-

  • When they wriggle like a caterpillar with distinct up and down movements, it is quite slow.
  • In clear grounds, snakes might move sideways using the sidewinding method where they contract their muscles to propel the body sideways.
  • Snakes climb vertically using concertina movements where the head goes first, and then the ventral scales grip on to a surface.
  • The most common type of movement is the serpentine movement. Muscle contraction takes place from the head to tail while the snake finds resistance points. It can be useful on land and in water as well. 
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Shedding 

Ask any snake owner, and you would hear about how each time the snake sheds its skin can be fascinating all over again. Good shedding means good growth in snakes. The biological term is Ecdysis. Snakes are known to grow all their life, and therefore ecdysis is prevalent all through the snake’s life. Knowing about shedding is essential as a pet parent as some intervention might be required at times, with pet snakes having trouble completing ecdysis. 

As it grows, the snake’s skin stretches and occasionally needs to come off to be replaced by healthy skin. This sometimes happens when the snake has an infection, and it sheds the skin to eliminate pathogens. The shedding starts when the skin cannot stretch further, and then the snake tears a portion close to its mouth area by abrasion.

Depending on the type of snake, ecdysis happens 2 to 4 times in a year. The whole of its skin, including the spectacle, comes off during shedding. In pet snakes, if spectacle doesn’t come off, a vet visit might be required to prevent vision problems. You can identify this by observing the color of the spectacle. If it appears blue and not fully translucent while the rest of the skin shedding is complete, then it means that the spectacle can damage the eye. 

In a snake, the underlying skeletal structure is like that in most vertebrates. There is a skull protecting the brain contained in the head portion. This lies on top of the vertebral column that runs up to the tail. 

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snake head anatomy

Vision

Snakes are color blind, but they possess excellent night vision. The vision and sense of depth perception in most snakes are accurate. They also possess isothermal sensing capacities to identify the position of prey. Infrared image sensing happens in some of the highly advanced snakes like pythons and boas. 

Hearing

Without ears to physically hear sounds snakes sense vibrations both tangibly and also through low-frequency vibrations that travel through the air. The internal ear in a snake can pick frequencies in the range of 100 to 700 hertz. 

Smell 

Snakes can smell with their tongues. As a pet parent, you might already have done some basic research about snakes. Therefore there is a high likelihood that you already know this fact. This happens as their tongues can pick particles that process odor in the Jacobson ‘s organ.

While your pet snake might not be able to hear and understand your commands like your other pets, it can smell you and see you very clearly. Do not let the difference stop you from cuddling with your slithery friend now and then. 

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