Fact Sheet
Snakes

Basic Facts About Snakes

Snakes (suborder Serpentes) are elongated, limbless, flexible reptiles. There are about 2,900 species of snakes. Of these, 375 are venomous.

Garter Snake, © Jeffrey Meyer

© Jeffrey Meyer

Diet

Snakes consume a variety of items including termites, rodents, birds, frogs, small deer and other reptiles. Snakes eat their prey whole and are able to consume prey three times larger than the diameter of their head because their lower jaw can separate from the upper jaw. To keep prey from escaping, snakes have rear-facing teeth that hold their prey in their mouths.

Venomous snakes inject their prey with venom, while constrictors squeeze their prey. They do not need to hunt everyday. Anacondas and pythons can survive for up to a year without food after feeding. Snakes hunt mostly at night.

Range

Did You Know?

A recently discovered fossil snake was 49 feet long, longer than a school bus!

Snakes are found throughout the world except Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland and New Zealand. Most snakes are found in tropical regions. Snakes are found in many habitats including in the water, forests, deserts and prairies.

Behavior

Often observed flicking its tongue, snakes use their forked tongue to smell the air. Snakes are ectotherms, meaning they must regulate their body temperature externally by sunning themselves or retreating to cool, shaded areas. Snakes hibernate during the winter. Snakes must shed their skin three to six times per year.

Reproduction

Most snake species lay eggs, but some species give birth to live young. Snakes lay their eggs in a warm location. With the exception of some python species, eggs and young are not cared for by the male or female.

More on Snakes: Threats to Snakes »