Snakes are ectotherms,
meaning that a snake regulates its body temperature by taking heat from or giving off heat to the environment. Because their
body temperature is affected by environmental temperatures and varies with surrounding conditions, snakes become inactive
during very hot seasons (aestivation) and very cold seasons (hibernation). Snakes may go for several weeks without eating
because of frequent periods of inactivity.
Because they are cold-blooded, snakes must
rely on behavior to regulate their body temperature. During the hot part of the day, snakes move to shaded areas, and on cool
days they sun themselves on rocks or in warm open areas. Snakes often seek out paved roads where they are attracted by the
heat from the road surface.
Because snakes have backbones, they are classified in the
same group (vertebrates) as fish, mammals, birds, and people. The snake's skeletal system is unique. Snake bones are very
light and highly movable. The lower jaws and skull are connected by a piece of stretchy material (ligament). This allows the
snake to open its mouth very wide and move each jaw independently. Thus, a snake can swallow prey much larger than its head
by “walking” its mouth around the food from side to side in a forward movement.
are very specialized animals. They do not have legs, ears, or eyelids. There are no “walking” snakes. Often the
sex organs of a snake may protrude from the anal plate area and are confused with legs.
use their forked tongues to smell. The tongue is constantly flicking to pick up airborne particles and odors. Once these aromas
are detected, the snake inserts its tongue into two holes in the top of its mouth (Jacobson's organ), where the smells are
interpreted by its brain. If the snake detects food and it is hungry, it will pursue the animal.
to popular belief, snakes are not slimy. In fact, they feel dry to the touch. The snake's scales and skin help keep it from
losing moisture from its body. Snakes shed their skin and eye covering together.
threatened, many snakes produce a unique scent from musk glands located near the anus. Copperbelly water snakes smell like
skunks, while rat snakes and copperheads smell like cucumbers.
Soon after the temperatures
rise during spring, snakes come out of hibernation and mate. Some snakes lay eggs in a damp, protected area where they will
hatch in about two months. Other snakes hatch eggs inside the body. Copperheads, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, garter snakes,
and water snakes give birth to live young. If you find snake eggs around your home or garden, there is no cause for concern
because they were laid by a harmless snake. Once the young have been hatched or born, the parents do not care for their offspring
because they are able to take care of themselves.
All snakes are predators, and many are
very fussy eaters. Ratsnakes eat rats, mice, and chipmunks. Water snakes feed primarily on dead, diseased, or injured fish.
King snakes feed on other snakes, mice, young birds, and bird eggs. Some small snakes, like the rough green snake, eat insects,
while others (earth snakes and worm snakes) eat earthworms, slugs, and salamanders. Toads are the favorite food of hognose
When people encounter a snake, they often corner it. Then the snake will hiss
loudly, open its mouth in a threatening manner, coil up, and strike at the individual-or bluff by advancing toward the intruder.
These behaviors, designed to scare off the intruder, lead to a common misconception that snakes charge or attack people. In
most cases, a snake reacts only if it feels threatened. Usually it crawls away if it can reach cover safely. One exception
is the male black racer, which may chase after larger animals, including humans, when it is defending its breeding territory.
There are no “hoop” snakes-a snake cannot reach around and grab its tail to
roll away from predators.