Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Snakes are reptiles with elongated bodies, no legs, and unique skulls that allow them to swallow large prey whole.
- They are vertebrates, and their skeletons consist of a skull, hundreds of tiny vertebrae in their spine, and ribs that run almost the entire length of the body.
- Snakes can have over 300 bones, including vestigial leg bones in some species.
- The tail of a snake begins at the cloaca and is the most flexible part of its body.
- Snakes don’t have the mental capacity to feel love, but they can recognize their owners and show affection.
Snakes are some of the most flexible creatures on the planet. Because of this and their mostly soft body, many wonder whether they even have bones.
We’ll define exactly what a snake is, describe the anatomy of its skeletons, and learn a few fun facts about snakes along the way.
What Is a Snake?
A snake is a distinct type of reptile. A reptile is a cold-blooded vertebrate animal that has scaly skin and lays eggs.
Snakes all have long bodies with no legs. You can distinguish them from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids. They also don’t have an external ear opening, but they still have ears.
It’s believed that snakes evolved from terrestrial (land-dwelling) lizards millions of years ago.
Those lizards evolved over time, losing their legs and ending up with elongated bodies and organs. In addition, they gained a lot more vertebrae in their spines, making them much more flexible.
Not all snakes are venomous, but many developed powerful venoms to help them subdue prey. Other snakes coil their bodies around prey and crush them before swallowing them.
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Do Snakes Have Bones?
Snakes absolutely have bones. They might be incredibly flexible and seem more like a noodle than bony animals, but they still have bones.
As reptiles, they belong to the vertebrate group of species in the animal kingdom. But what exactly is a vertebrate animal?
Vertebrates vs Invertebrates
Life on Earth is divided into five different kingdoms. The animal, plant, fungi, protist, and monera kingdoms are how we divide and classify all living organisms.
The plant and animal kingdoms are the ones we are most familiar with. The animal kingdom is divided into two kinds of creatures: vertebrates and invertebrates.
A vertebrate is an animal that has a backbone. Invertebrates simply lack a backbone.
Animals in the vertebrate category have a spinal cord surrounded by bone that we call a backbone. This includes birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Invertebrates lack a spinal cord with a backbone, though they still have nerve endings. Animals in this group include corals, sponges, insects, shellfish, and jellyfish.
The vertebrate and invertebrate groups are very big and contain thousands of species each. The good news is that it’s very simple to figure out which group an animal belongs to.
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Snake Skeleton Anatomy
The skeleton of a snake is pretty simple, though they do have way more bones than people do.
Most of a snake’s skeleton consists of its skull, spine, and ribs. Snake backbones are made of hundreds of tiny vertebrae that give them flexibility and strength. Attached to their backbone are hundreds of ribs that run almost the entire length of the snake’s body.
The ribs protect their organs and give the snake’s body its signature structure.
Snake skulls are unique. Most animals have skulls with two main parts, the cranium, which contains the brain, and the mandible, which is the lower jaw. Technically, there is also the upper jaw, but in most animals, it is fused to the cranium.
That kind of structure makes the skull very strong and sturdy. It also provides the power needed to chew food. But, unfortunately, it also keeps animals (like us) from opening our mouths very wide.
Thanks to their unique skulls, snakes don’t have that problem. Their skull is split into many different parts that can separate (to an extent) and operate individually. The upper and lower jaw are each split into two parts. Unlike the stiff and strong ligaments in mammal skulls, flexible ligaments connect their skull regions.
Since they don’t lock into place, it allows the snake’s skulls and jaws to stretch in multiple directions. This unique skull is how snakes can swallow large prey whole, even if the prey is wider than they are.
In addition, their ribs are just as flexible, allowing them to pass large meals down their body without breaking bones or bursting.
The number of bones a snake has depends on the type of snake and how large it is. A typical adult human has 206 bones, but snakes can have well over 300 bones. Some snakes, like boas and constrictors, even have leg bones!
These bones are vestigial, meaning they’re rather useless and leftover from the animal’s ancestors. Some snake species have these leg bones hidden near the end of their tails, but they won’t grow legs any time soon.
Most snakes have around 100 teeth, but some can have as many as 300. The total number depends on the species of snake. They all have rows of teeth, just like sharks. When one tooth breaks, the tooth behind it moves up to take its place.
A few snakes don’t have any teeth at all. Most of these are snakes that eat eggs almost exclusively. Teeth would just get in the way of swallowing the egg, so they lost their teeth as they evolved.
Where Does a Snake’s Tail Start?
Snakes might seem like their tail is their whole body, but they actually have a defined tail portion. The tail starts at the cloaca. The cloaca is the small hole snake uses to defecate, lay eggs, and mate. From that point to the tip of their body is the tail region.
The tail is also where the ribs of the snake end. Small ribs may hang from the spine, but the larger ribs end at the cloaca. The tail of a snake is the most flexible part of its body because it’s just a spine wrapped in muscle.
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Do Snakes Fart?
Some think snakes fart because of the toxic smell that some give off when they feel threatened. But, despite the stench, snakes don’t pass gas as we can.
Many snakes have special glands that produce stinky fluids that help deter predators. The musk or scent glands are used when the snake feels threatened. Snakes might also defecate or urinate to ward off predators.
Let’s be honest; who wants to eat something that smells awful and is pooping and peeing all over the place?
This defense strategy doesn’t always work, but it has led to people wondering if a snake farting is what causes the gross smell around them.
It is possible for snakes to pass gas from their digestive system, though. The rot from their food can build up in their bodies if they eat too close to when they bed down for the winter. It’s also possible for a snake with intestinal issues to create gases in its stomach.
Healthy reptiles tend not to end up with gas in their bellies, so it isn’t a common problem for snakes. In reality, they can fart, kind of, but they don’t often and not the way we think of it.
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Can Snakes Feel Love?
Snakes, as well as most reptiles, don’t have the capacity to feel love. Sorry to any snake owners that believe their pet loves them just as much as they love it.
It’s widely accepted that snakes don’t have the mental capacity to feel love or many emotions. Pet snakes tolerate their owners more than anything else. They can recognize different people, meaning they can recognize their owner and know that the person usually handles and feeds them.
That doesn’t mean that snakes can’t show affection or feel pleasure. On the contrary, they feel content when they’re fed and comfortable. They might even show affection by rubbing their head against you if you have a species that enjoys being handled.
The capacity to love may not be in their repertoire, but some snakes can still be affectionate, and they will have a loose connection to their owners.
Do snakes have hearts?
Like all reptiles, snakes have a heart that helps circulate blood throughout their bodies. The heart of a snake is located about a quart or a third of the way down its body. It has a three-chambered heart that can actually move around the body!
Snakes lack a diaphragm to hold their heart in place. It’s a good thing that their hearts can move, though. Swallowing and passing large meals down their body could lead to heart damage. The heart’s ability to move inside the body means it can get out of the way and avoid being hurt.
How do snakes see humans?
Snakes use their eyes to see the world around them. The eyes absorb light and create a picture their brain can interpret and interact with. Snakes don’t have bad eyesight, but they combine another unique sense with their sight.
Many snakes have small organs on their nose that sense heat. That infrared sensor allows them to create a very different picture of the world around them that helps them “see” in the dark.
Can snakes scream?
Snakes don’t have vocal cords that would allow them to scream or make any sound.
The sound of a snake hissing is them sending air from their mouth and nose back and forth. Outside of this, snakes can’t make many noises with their mouths.
Some snakes can make warning noises, like rattlesnakes. This is because they have a specialized tail with multiple skin folds. When they shake it quickly, the skin folds bounce off each other and make a rattling sound.