7 Weird Facts About Snakes

01
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Two-headed Royal Python
Two-headed Royal Python. Life On White/Photodisc/Getty Images

7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Snakes are among the most feared animals. These reptiles can be as small as the four inch long Barbados threadsnake or as large as the 40-foot long anaconda. With over 3,000 species globally, snakes are found in almost every biome. These legless, scaly vertebrates can slither, swim, and even fly. Did you know that some snakes have more than one head or that some female snakes can reproduce without males? Discover some unusual facts about snakes that may surprise you.

Two-headed Snakes

Did you know that snakes can have two heads? This instance is rare and two-headed snakes don't survive long in the wild. Each head has its own brain and each brain can control the shared body. As a result, these animals have unusual movements as both heads try to control the body and go in their own direction. One snake head will sometimes attack the other as they fight over food. Two-headed snakes result from the incomplete splitting of a snake embryo. A complete split would have resulted in twin snakes, but the process stops before completion. While these snakes don't fair well in the wild, some have lived for years in captivity. According to National Geographic, a two-headed corn snake named Thelma and Louise lived for several years at the San Diego Zoo and produced 15 normal offspring.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy
02
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Flying snake
Flying snake (Chrysopelea sp.). Jerry Young/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Flying Snakes

Did you know that some snakes fly? Well, more like glide. After studying five species of snake from Southeast and South Asia, scientists have determined just how these reptiles accomplish this feat. Video cameras were used to record the animals in flight and create 3-D reconstructions of the snakes' body positions. The studies showed that the snakes can travel up to 24 meters from a branch at the top of a 15-meter-tall tower with constant velocity and without simply dropping to the ground.

From the reconstructions of the snakes in flight, it was determined that the snakes never reach what is known as an equilibrium gliding state. This is a state in which the forces created by their body movements exactly counteract the forces pulling down on the snakes. According to Virginia Tech researcher Jake Socha, "The snake is pushed upward -- even though it is moving downward -- because the upward component of the aerodynamic force is greater than the snake's weight." This effect however is temporary, ending with the snake landing on another object, such as branch, or on the ground.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Source:

  • American Institute of Physics. "Flying snakes, caught on camera." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 November 2010. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101122200555.htm).
03
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Tiger keelback snake
Tiger keelback snakes (Rhabdophis tigrinus) obtain their poison from eating toxic toads. Yasunori Koide/CC BY-SA 3.0

Snake Steals Venom From Toxic Toads

A species of non-poisonous Asian snake, Rhabdophis tigrinus, becomes poisonous due to its diet. What do these snakes eat that allow them to become poisonous? They eat certain species of toxic toads. The snakes store the toxins obtained from the toads in glands in their neck. When facing danger, these snakes release the toxins from their neck glands. This type of defense mechanism is seen in animals lower on the food chain, including insects and frogs, but rarely in snakes. Pregnant Rhabdophis tigrinus can even pass the toxins on to their young. The toxins protects the young snakes from predators and lasts until the snakes are able to hunt on their own.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Source:

  • "Non-Venomous Asian Snakes 'Borrow' Defensive Poison from Toxic Toads." National Science Foundation. 30 January 2007. (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=108317&org=NSF&from=news).
04
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Boa constrictor
Boa constrictors can reproduce without sex by parthenogenesis. CORDIER Sylvain/hemis.fr/Getty Images

Boa Constrictor Reproduces Without Sex

Some boa constrictors don't need males to reproduce. Parthenogenesis has been observed in these large reptiles. Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction that involves the development of an egg into an individual without fertilization. The female boa constrictor studied by North Carolina State University researchers has had offspring through both asexual and sexual reproduction. The baby boas that were produced asexually however, are all female and bear the same color mutation as their mom. Their sex chromosome make up is also different from the sexually produced snakes. The asexually produced baby boas have (WW) chromosomes, while the sexually produced snakes have either (ZZ) chromosomes and are male or (ZW) chromosomes and are female.

Scientists don't believe that this type of rare birth is due to changes in the environment. According to researcher Dr. Warren Booth, "Reproducing both ways could be an evolutionary 'get-out-of-jail-free card' for snakes. If suitable males are absent, why waste those expensive eggs when you have the potential to put out some half-clones of yourself? Then, when a suitable mate is available, revert back to sexual reproduction." The female boa that produced her young asexually did so in spite of the fact that there were plenty of male suitors available.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Source:

  • North Carolina State University. "Boa constrictors can have babies without mating, new evidence shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2010. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103111210.htm).
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Dinosaur-Eating Snake
This is a life-sized reconstruction of a fossilized dinosaur nest discovered with Titanosaur eggs, a hatchling dinosaur, and a snake inside. Sculpture by Tyler Keillor and original photography by Ximena Erickson; image modified by Bonnie Miljour

Dinosaur-Eating Snake

Researchers from the Geological Survey of India have discovered fossil evidence that suggests that some snakes ate baby dinosaurs. The primitive snake known as Sanajeh indicus was about 11.5 feet long. Its fossilized skeletal remains were found inside the nest of a titanosaur. The snake was coiled around a crushed egg and near the remains of a titanosaur hatchling. Titanosaurs were plant-eating sauropods with long necks that grew to an enormous size very quickly.

The researchers believe that these dinosaur hatchlings were easy prey for Sanajeh indicus. Due to the shape of its jaw, this snake was unable to consume titanosaur eggs. It waited until the hatchlings emerged from their eggs before it devoured them. Although originally discovered in 1987, it wasn't until years later that the fossilized nest was recognized to include the remains of the snake. Paleontologist Jeff Wilson states, "Burial (of the nest) was rapid and deep, probably a pulse of slushy sand and mud released during a storm caught them in the act." The discovery of the fossilized nest gives us a glimpse of a moment in time during the Cretaceous period.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Sources:

  • Wilson JA, Mohabey DM, Peters SE, Head JJ (2010) Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India. PLoS Biol 8(3): e1000322. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000322
  • University of Michigan. "'Anaconda' meets 'Jurassic Park': Fossil snake from India fed on hatchling dinosaurs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 March 2010. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100301201941.htm).
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Snake venom
Snake venom could help treat diseases such as stroke, cancer, and heart disease. Brasil2/E+/Getty Images

Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke

Researchers are studying snake venom properties in the hopes of developing future treatments for stroke, heart disease and even cancer. Snake venom contains toxins that target a specific receptor protein on blood platelets. The toxins can either prevent blood from clotting or cause clots to develop. Researchers believe that irregular blood clot formation and the spread of cancer can be prevented by inhibiting a specific platelet protein.

Blood clotting occurs naturally in order to stop the bleeding when blood vessels become damaged. Improper platelet clotting however, can lead to heart attack and stroke. Researchers have identified a specific platelet protein, CLEC-2, that is not only needed for clot formation but also for the development for lymphatic vessels. Lymphatic vessels help to prevent swelling in tissues. They also contain a molecule, podoplanin, that binds to the CLEC-2 receptor protein on platelets similarly to the way snake venom does. Podoplanin promotes blood clot formation and is also secreted by cancer cells as a defense against immune cells. Interactions between CLEC-2 and podoplanin is thought to promote cancer growth and metastasis. Understanding how toxins in snake venom interact with blood may help to develop new therapies for those with irregular blood clot formation and cancer.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Source:

  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "Snake venom studies yield insights for development of therapies for heart disease and cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 July 2010. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100729172435.htm).
07
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7 Weird Facts About Snakes

Spitting Cobra
Spitting Cobra. Digital Vision/Getty Images

Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Researchers have discovered why spitting cobras are so accurate at spraying venom into the eyes of potential adversaries. The cobras first track the movements of their attacker, then aim their venom at a predicted location where the attacker's eyes will be in the future. The ability to spray venom is a defense mechanism employed by some cobras to debilitate an attacker. Spitting cobras can spray their blinding venom as far as six feet.

According to researchers, cobras spray their venom in complex patterns in order to maximize the chances of hitting their target. Using high-speed photography and electromyography (EMG), researchers were able to see muscle movements in the cobra's head and neck. These contractions cause the cobra's head to swing back and forth rapidly producing the complex spraying patterns. Cobras are deadly accurate, hitting their target nearly 100 percent of the time within 2 feet.

  1. Two-headed Snakes
  2. Flying Snakes
  3. Snake Steals Venom From Toads
  4. Boa Reproduces Without Sex
  5. Dinosaur-Eating Snake
  6. Snake Venom May Help Prevent Stroke
  7. Spitting Cobras Exhibit Deadly Accuracy

Source:

  • University of Chicago Press Journals. "Here's Venom In Your Eye: Spitting Cobras Hit Their Mark." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2009. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090122152709.htm).