The second new moon after the winter solstice has ushered in the Year of the Snake, which we’re marking with snake extremes -- from largest to most venomous.
While Chinese New Year is just underway, 2013 began with the discovery of a new venomous snake in January. The snake, Thelotornis usambaricus, was found in the northern Mozambique province of Nampula. It’s a type of back-fanged snake that belongs to the family Colubridae, illustrated here with the species Coluber caspius.
These snakes can be deadly. Their venom destroys red blood cells, disrupts clotting and can lead to tissue damage.
Jason Bourque, University of Florida
The largest snake on Earth was the Titanoboa, which lived among the dinosaurs and ate their young, among other things. It weighed 2,500 pounds and grew to 43 feet long.
“It was not necessarily a specialized constrictor, but it clearly grabbed dinosaur hatchlings and gobbled them down,” Jason Head, a paleontologist and assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, told Discovery News.
The reticulated python, found in Southeast Asia, is the world’s longest snake still in existence. Adults can grow to over 28 feet in length.
Blair Hedges, Penn State
The smallest living snake is Leptotyphlops carlae, which measures just 3.9 inches long. It was discovered four years ago under a rock on the western Atlantic island of Barbados.
Evolutionary biologist Blain Hedges of Penn State University told Discovery News that “almost anything could be a predator (of the tiny snake), including centipedes and spiders.”
The inland taipan, aka “fierce snake,” is regarded as the most venomous land snake in the world. This native of Australia can deliver a dose of 110 mg of venom in a single bite. The venom consists of dangerous neurotoxins, but luckily antivenom can treat human victims.
Several snakes sport a bright green hue, but many mix prominent white markings with the green. Our vote for the greenest snake goes to the green tree python, found in New Guinea, the Indonesian islands, the Cape York Peninsula in Australia.
This snake is found in rainforests, bushes, shrubs and trees. The green color provides good camouflage.
Some Texas rat snakes have a ghostly white appearance. They are “leucistic,” meaning they have a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation. Unlike individuals that are albino, leucistic individuals experience a reduction of all types of skin coloration, and not just in the compound melanin.
One of the darkest snakes is the eastern indigo, native to the Eastern United States. In addition to its striking blue-black color, it's also the longest native snake species in the States. The biggest recorded specimen measured 9.2 feet long.
Julie Bedford, NOAA PA
Several venomous snakes live in marine environments. The banded sea snake is one of the most common. It frequents shallow ocean waters off tropical coral reefs. While not usually aggressive, the banded sea snake will bite when disturbed.
The skin of some snakes looks to have been styled by a fashion designer, which sadly is one reason why snakes are often killed to make shoes and handbags.
One of the boldest patterns is found on the rainbow boa, found in Central and South America. The open circles and dots give it a graffiti appearance.
The iridescent shieldtail often winds up on lists of the most beautiful snakes. While not evident in this photo, the shimmering look of its skin shows luminous colors that seem to change when seen from different angles.
Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, NOAA/OER
Because many individuals fear snakes, other species cleverly mimic snake appearance to ward off intruders. This deep sea fan appears to benefit.
Deep sea fans are “the trees of the seas.” They are long lived and grow slowly. Here, a purple sea fan is captured with a “snake star.” This relative of sea stars and sea urchins is not a snake at all. It is instead a member of the crinoid family Phrynocrinidae, which includes only four other known species from parts of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.