Snakes are some of the most misunderstood animals around. Many people assume numerous snake facts that are simply not true. There are so many snake myths that an entire book could be created based on them. In this article we examine some of the misconceptions and state what is the fact.
1. Snakes are Apex Predators
Snakes are not the top predator in most environments. There are several predators of snakes across the world and only a couple of species can be considered top of the food chain. In the UK snakes can be preyed upon by birds, foxes, badgers, cats, otters and even hedgehogs.
In fact, hedgehogs are immune to the venom produced by adders, and will easy take on and eat an adder. There are also numerous snakes that will eat other snakes.
2. You can Tell if a Snake is Venomous by its Eye Shape
There are two problems with this myth. For one, most people don’t use venomous, but instead use poisonous. In fact, no snake is poisonous. Snakes can be venomous, like numerous other animals. The simple way to remember the difference is that if you bite it and die, then it’s poison, if you are bitten and would die, then its venomous.
Moving away from that, eye shape also has no part to play in snake identification. The common misconception is that rounded eyes on a snake makes it venomous, but the truth is that it depends on natural behaviours of the snake. A snake with larger pupils is more likely to be active in low levels of light, those with slits are more likely to be active during periods of lots of light.
In addition, head shape does not determine whether a snake is venomous either. Head shape is an evolutionary factor based on prey, predators, environment and more.
3. Snakes Love Milk
Snakes drinking milk direct from cows is a big myth and actually gave certain snakes their name: Milk Snakes. The theory is that farmers noticed that snakes were in their barns of cows and assumed that when a cow wouldn’t produce milk it was because the snake had drunk it all. Truth is snakes can’t drink milk, this is a mammal trick.
The snakes were in the barn because they were full of natural prey items like mice and rats. Farmers did realise this and snakes are a natural friend of farmers, protecting produce and livestock from rodents.
And this hasn’t just affected milk snakes either. One of the potential reasons for the corn snake to get its name is because some individuals found snakes in corn fields and assumed they were there to eat the corn. In fact, the snakes were there for the rodents again. There is also another theory that corn snakes are named because the scales on their belly that resemble corn.
4. Snakes are Deaf
Snakes do not have ears, as you would expect. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for many to assume that snakes are deaf. But snakes do have inner ears that are able to not only pick up vibrations, but also low-frequency sounds.
While snakes may struggle to pick up high-frequency. Sound is not one of the main ways that snakes hunt, they hunt mainly through smell, which they are exceptional at. They pick up smells by using their tongue that pick up scents from the air and then process them in special glands in the roof of the mouth.
5. Snakes are Aggressive
This is completely wrong. Most snakes, even wild snakes will not actively seek confrontation. In fact, most will seek the nearest escape route and get away. This is one of their survival tactics, as mentioned before, they’re not apex predators and humans are too big to eat for nearly every single species in the world.
The vast majority of bites from a snake is due to humans encroaching on their territory and the snake defending itself. In fact many bites from Adders and Rattlesnakes are often dry, i.e. lacking venom. This is because venom is a vital resource and the snake doesn’t want to waste it in defence when it needs it to kill prey.
If you leave a snake alone in the wild, generally speaking, it will not pose any kind of threat.
6. Constrictors Kills Through Asphyxiation
I am sure that many people think of this one as true and that is with snakes killing their prey by squeezing their prey so much that they can’t breath. This isn’t true. And it would be a bad way to kill prey. Most prey items can live several minutes without oxygen, which is enough time to cause injury to a snake through scratching or biting.
Research has shown that a snake will squeezes its prey to stop the blood flow and heart of the prey item, which can happen within seconds. This is a much more effective and safe way to kill the prey. It is also nicer for the prey item as it is a quicker and probably less painful death.
7. Snakes Dislocate their Jaws to Eat
This is another misconception that is very wrong. Snakes don’t have a jaw that is connected like those that you would expect to find in almost every other animal. In fact, there is a highly flexible ligament which joins the bones of the lower jaw. This ligament allows them to stretch their mouths wide open to allow for them to swallow large prey items.
However, there are still limits to this.
8. Snakes Measure their Prey
An urban myth goes that a woman slept with her pet boa snake and then took it to vet one day. The vet told her that the snake was happy in her bed every night because it was measuring her up to be eaten one night.
This is completely false. Snakes don’t measure their prey to see if they can eat it. No prey item in the world would just sit there while a snake measures it up to ensure it is a suitable size. In addition, snakes are more opportunistic hunters, they don’t plan much. They use smell to locate the best spots to ambush prey by locating trails which their prey are using or actively hunting their prey.
9. Snakes are Slimy
This is one of the reasons why people are often put off by snakes. However, snakes aren’t slimy at all, their skin is completely dry and it might be rough or smooth. Snakes do not have sweat glands, therefore, they don’t produce sweat.
In contrast, you can find that some amphibians will produce a mucus, but this is not all of them.
10. Snakes Travel in Groups
Snakes, for the most part, live a rather solitary life. There are lots of rumours that when you find a snake baby, its mother will be close by or that two snakes will travel together. However, most of the time, snakes will spend their life on their own and will only come together for set reasons: courting, mating, brumation, etc..
There is research, that we’ve covered before, that show that snakes do have familiars that will often seek the company of. But snakes in the wild are not often found in groups.
11. Snakes have no Bones
This is a weird one as there is the conception that snakes can dislocate their jaws, but at the same time that they have no bones. The truth is that snakes are vertebrates and they can have anywhere between 600 and 800 bones in their body.
12. Snakes have Poor Eyesight
Snakes might have poorer eyesight than other reptiles, like monitor lizards, but this is generally because they are active at night or they burrow in the soil (Kenyan Sand Boa for example). However, that doesn’t mean all snakes have poorer vision.
A study in 1999 found that people are less likely to encounter the eastern brown snake when they are wearing outfits with colours that are contrasting with the sky. For instance, wearing black on a clear bright day. This suggests that snakes see people well before people see them.
There is also another snake, the American coachwhip, that can improve their eyesight when they’re sense a threat.
Final Word: 12 Snake Facts and Truths
Above are some of the snake myths that you might have come across and there are the snake facts that you need to know. Snakes are wonderful creatures that can really become part of any family. They’re also an important part of ecosystem, keeping rodent populations down and protecting food stores and preventing the spread of disease.
What other snake facts do you know? Let us know in the comments below.