Have you ever had a close encounter with a sleek and beautiful elongated creature that crawled right past you while leaving you in awe and terror at the same time? Snakes, we are talking about.
As exotic as they look, snakes can very well be fatal and an encounter gone wrong can also result in the death of the subject. While Snakes have been an integral part of humans since inception, there are still many important questions that revolve around the anatomy of a snake’s body.
It would be wrong to assume that one is not aware of Genesis. In the story of Genesis, the infamous snake plays the role of a trickster compelling Eve to break the commandment of God and eating the forbidden fruit.
In Genesis, the snake is introduced as “more cunning than any of the creatures of the field that the LORD God had made” (Genesis 3:1). Satan is called “the ancient serpent” (Revelation 12:9, 20:2) in the book of Revelation, which refers to the snake in Genesis. So in the New Testament, the snake is Satan.
Quite didn’t make it to the good books of the Lord after all.
Snakes play an important role in different mythologies around the globe and in many cultures this seemingly devil is also worshiped.
According to Indian mythology, the protector Vishnu slept on the coils of the world-serpent Shesha (or “Ananta the endless”;).
In another Greek myth, the gorgons were snake-women (a common hybrid) whose gaze would turn flesh into stone, the most famous of them being Medusa, a winged female with living venomous snakes in place of hair.
As deadly and lethal these wonderful creatures are portrayed as in many mythological tales around the world, there is still a certain ‘ je ne sais quoi ‘ about these majestic creatures that often strike out in the animal kingdom.
Of the many questions that revolve around these magnificent beings, one most important and commonly pondered upon the question is ‘if snakes have bones in their bodies?’
DO SNAKES HAVE BONES?
These nimble bodied, amazingly flexible creatures might give off the impression of possessing a body with no limbs but mind you, the fact is snakes actually belong to the vertebrate family. As strange as it sounds, a snake can actually have 400 or more bones depending on the species.
What distinguishes a snake’s skeleton from that of a mammal’s is unlike most mammals including humans, snakes only have a few types of bones, the skull, jawbones and the backbone with its vertebrae and ribs.
DO SNAKES HAVE BACKBONES?
As we have already discussed above, snakes belong to the vertebrate family. Vertebrates are organisms with backbones. The backbone of a snake is made up of vertebrae which are attached to ribs. This results in the flexibility of snakes and the swift movements of their body.
Each vertebra has two ribs attached to it, except the tail/end which has no ribs. There are a bony outcrop of the vertebrae in the facade and the rear of the backbone, the function of which is to lock the vertebrae in position while allowing for elasticity.
Snakes have a very complex skull structure, with many joints. This enables them to swallow prey far larger than their head. It is noted that a snake can swallow a prey up to 3 times its own circumference.
The jawbones are highly specialized and loosely attached to the skull with some very stretchy ligaments. Unlike humans, the jaws in snakes are separated into 4 elements and aren’t fused together in the front. Another striking fact about snakes is that a snake can open its mouth vertically wide but also sideways.
This is possible because the bones in the mouth can move individually. A snake’s mouth works like a machine when it eats a prey. Using alternately the jaws of each side, the snake pushes the prey further into its mouth. There is a little tube located at the bottom of the mouth that enables the snake to breathe while eating its prey.
The ribs of snakes are unlike humans, they have free ends; they do not join. This allows expansion for ingesting a large prey and in case of a little species, compression.
WHY DO SNAKES HAVE BONES?
If you have ever seen an accordion playing, you can definitely relate to what I am saying when I say a snake can extend and contract. There are a series of bones that make up the head area for the snake.
In addition to jaws, bones fuse together to form the cranial area that surrounds and protects the brain. Just like in any other animal, bones in the skull are intended for support and protection, especially for the brain.
The rest of the bones like the vertebrae and ribs are present to support the structure of the body, and more importantly, it is the area where the muscles connect so that the snake can move around.
HOW MANY BONES CAN A SNAKE HAVE?
The longer the snake is, the more bones it needs to support its frame. An average snake can have 400 and more bones. It really depends on the size.
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There are almost 3000 species of snakes in the world, out of which some 600 species of snakes are venomous and 200 are reckoned medically important. Fear of snakes among humans is understandable since they are responsible for a number of bites and numerous deaths as well as cases of permanent physical handicap.
However, these majestic creatures usually try to avoid any contact with humans. If not startled or threatened, snakes usually do not attack humans. However, the behavior of different species of snakes differs in different environments.
It would be wrong to assume that snakes are only aggressive or are non-aggressive. The behavior highly depends on the kind of encounter a snake has with a human.
Snakes co-exist with humans but their presence usually goes unnoticed. Snakes are an important part of our ecology, they need special attention and care for their survival. Humans must learn to co-exist peacefully with snakes.
So, next time you have a close encounter with a snake, stand still and grab the opportunity to appreciate nature’s awe-inspiring creation.