Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description of Serpentes

A snake is an elongate reptile. Snakes are covered in scales. All snakes are carnivorous and can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids, limbs, external ears, and vestiges of forelimbs. The 2,700+ species of snakes spread across every continent except Antarctica ranging in size from the tiny, 10 cm long thread snake to pythons and anacondas at 9 m (30 ft) long. Paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other instead of side by side. Many species of snake can be dangerous to humans if mistreated. While venomous snakes comprise a minority of the species, some possess potent venom capable of causing painful injury or death to humans. However, venom in snakes is primarily for killing and subduing prey rather than for self-defense.   Snakes may have evolved from a lizard which adapted to burrowing during the Cretaceous period (c 150 Ma), though some scientists have postulated an aquatic origin. The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene period (c 66 to 56 Ma).   Description derived from one accessed from WikiPedia, 3rd August 2008.
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David Patterson

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Ecology

Associations

Known predators

Serpentes is prey of:
Procyon
Didelphidae
Alligator mississippiensis
Falconiformes
Aves
Phasianidae
Timaliidae
Felis silvestris libyca
Canis lupus
Canis lupus familiaris
Athene cunicularia
Buteo swainsoni
Aquila chrysaetos

Based on studies in:
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
Namibia, Namib Desert (Desert or dune)
USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune)
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • E. Holm and C. H. Scholtz, Structure and pattern of the Namib Desert dune ecosystem at Gobabeb, Madoqua 12(1):3-39, from p. 21 (1980).
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
  • Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123–155
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Known prey organisms

Serpentes preys on:
Cyprinodontidae
Gambusia
Actinopterygii
Anura
Aporosaura
Typhlosaurus
Isoptera
Coleoptera
Hymenoptera
Auchenorrhyncha
Pteroclididae
Columbidae
Alaudidae
Araneae
Cicindelidae
Camponotus pennsylvanicus
Rodentia
Phasianidae
Timaliidae
Pavo
Arthropoda
spider parasitoids
hyperparisitoids
Aves
Mammalia
Ambystoma annulatum
Sarcoramphus papa
Tyto alba
Chordeiles minor
Picoides scalaris
Mimus polyglottos
Wilsonia citrina
Carpodacus mexicanus
Amphispiza bilineata
Passerella iliaca
Catharus guttatus
Sorex dispar
Blarina carolinensis
Blarina hylophaga
Neurotrichus gibbsii
Myotis grisescens
Lasiurus seminolus
Nycticeius humeralis
Spermophilus lateralis
Ammospermophilus leucurus
Thomomys talpoides
Dipodomys californicus
Dipodomys microps
Peromyscus gossypinus
Peromyscus polionotus
Microtus californicus
Microtus ochrogaster
Reithrodontomys megalotis
Onychomys arenicola
Conepatus leuconotus
Alligator mississippiensis
Lemmiscus curtatus
Chaetodipus baileyi
Didelphis marsupialis
Ictinia mississippiensis
Leontopithecus chrysopygus
Saguinus nigricollis
Cebus olivaceus
Miopithecus talapoin
Hylobates klossii
Elephantulus myurus
Elephantulus rufescens
Hydromys chrysogaster
Notomys alexis
Conepatus chinga
Neotragus moschatus
Ratufa indica
Orthogeomys heterodus
Tatera indica
Akodon cursor
Solenodon cubanus
Plecotus rafinesquii
Nyctinomops laticaudatus
Hipposideros diadema
Eidolon helvum
Epomophorus gambianus
Megaderma lyra
Diaemus youngi
Natalus lepidus

Based on studies in:
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
Malaysia (Swamp)
Namibia, Namib Desert (Desert or dune)
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
USA: California, Coachella Valley (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • E. Holm and C. H. Scholtz, Structure and pattern of the Namib Desert dune ecosystem at Gobabeb, Madoqua 12(1):3-39, from p. 21 (1980).
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
  • Polis GA (1991) Complex desert food webs: an empirical critique of food web theory. Am Nat 138:123–155
  • T. Mizuno and J. I. Furtado, Food chain. In: Tasek Bera, J. I. Furtado and S. Mori, Eds. (Junk, The Hague, Netherlands, 1982), pp. 357-359, from p. 358.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Efficient movement across land: snakes
 

Most snakes move across land efficiently using lateral undulation and pushing against surface irregularities.

     
  "The more common scheme in snakes uses one or another form of serpentine (the name of obvious origin) body curvature--sometimes called 'lateral undulation' to distinguish it from the 'rectilinear' motion just described. As shown in figure 24.7b, the entire body moves all the time; what are fixed to the substratum are its curves. So each point along the snake's body alternately bends one way and then the other. The directional motion originates in the way each curve of the snake pushes against irregularities on the substratum and slides forward because those irregularities resist sideways forces and thus lateral motion much more effectively than they resist shearing forces and thus forward motion. The process doesn't differ greatly from what a flagellum does (chapter 11)--it depends on a similarly greater resistance to lateral motion than to axial motion. In one sense, the snake has it better than the flagellum, since points on the substratum may remain completely fixed rather than perpetually slipping. While not anywhere near as fast as it looks to a startled observer, this characteristic kind of serpentine locomotion does manage reasonable efficiency compared to moving on legs, mainly because no part of the body need [sic] to exert force to support itself against gravity." (Vogel 2003:489)

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  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Steven Vogel. 2003. Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 580 p.
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Functional adaptation

Underground dens protect from cold: snakes
 

Snakes survive cold winters in part by using underground dens, the depth of which are linked to the prevailing winter temperatures.

     
  "Snakes, meanwhile, choose to conceal themselves during the winter months in underground dens (hibernacula). The depth of these dens is directly linked to the level to which the environmental temperature usually falls at this time of year - as is the length of the snakes' period of torpor. Snakes will often congregate in great numbers at this time to help to conserve as much of their body heat as they can. They will even share their hibernacula with other poikilotherms, such as lizards, tortoises, and toads." (Shuker 2001:109)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Shuker, KPN. 2001. The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.
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Functional adaptation

Just-in-time manufacturing conserves resources: snakes
 

Snakes conserve resources by just-in-time manufacturing.

   
  "Just-in-time manufacturing: Producing as needed and at the time of the need is widely used in biology and such examples include the making of the web by spiders or the production of the toxic chemicals by snakes. Such a capability is increasingly adapted by industry as a method of lowering the cost of operation. Many industries are now manufacturing their products in small quantities as needed to meet consumers demand right at the assembly line. Thus, industry is able to cope with the changing demand and decline or rise in orders for its products." (Bar-Cohen 2006:498)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Yoseph Bar-Cohen. 2006. Biomimetics: biologically inspired technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis. 527 p.
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