The limbless cousins to the lizards are some of the most maligned animals on Earth, though most species are entirely harmless to man and all are a valuable part of nature’s balance. Even without arms and legs, they can come in a remarkable assortment of forms adapted to a surprising variety of environments.
10. Erpeton tentaculatum
The “tentacled” snake is the only member of the genus Erpeton, and the two tiny “tentacles” of its namesake are a completely unique feature for detecting prey. It preys mostly on small fish, hunting in murky water with its hed bent backwards like a crowbar. When a fish swims by, it wiggles its tail to frighten the prey straight towards its mouth.
9. Rhabdophis tigrinus
While venom is a powerful natural weapon, it’s also quite costly to produce and important for a snake to conserve. The last thing it really wants to do is waste venom on something it can’t eat, so when the tiger keelback must defend itself from a larger predator, it often saves its venom by secreting a noxious toxic substance from glands in its neck – a substance produced not by the snake itself, but extracted from the poisonous toads it dines upon.
This amazing genus of “flying” snakes are capable of flattening out their bodies and gliding up to a hundred meters, surpasses many other gliding vertebrates.
7. Crotalus cerastes
The desert dwelling “sidewinder” has one of nature’s strangest modes of locomotion, moving sideways rather than forwards as it wriggles its body. This not only provides excellent traction in its environment, but reduces its contact with scorching hot sand and uses less energy than a traditional slither.
The beautiful but deadly sea snakes belong to the same family as the widely feared cobras, but are so adapted to a life beneath the waves that, like whales and dolphins, most species are completely unable to move on land and give live birth while underwater. Many species can even extract oxygen from the surrounding water through their skin, satisfying up to 20% of their oxygen requirements. The banded sea krait, shown here, is one of the more primitive species, still spending some of its time slithering on land. As it often forages for prey with its head buried, its tail resembles a second head to discourage sneak attacks from predators.
5. Pareas iwasakii
This tiny but rather large-headed Japanese has one of the most oddly specific diets in the animal kingdom; its asymmetrical jaws are adapted for preying entirely upon snails…so long as their shells spiral clockwise. A once rare mutation is known to produce snails with counter-clockwise shells, and since these provide a greater challenge to the snakes, the “mirrored” snails may be growing steadily more common.
The “stilleto” snake has also been called a “mole viper” and “burrowing asp.” Though highly venomous, it spends most of its time tunneling through soil with little or no room to open its jaws and strike. Instead, it possesses switchblade-like “pop out” fangs, which it hooks into subterranean prey by jerking its head backwards, hooking into their flesh.
“Blindsnakes” or “threadsnakes” are another group of burrowers, nonvenomous but quite a bit weirder than our last serpent. With eyes covered over by thin scales,tubular worm-like bodies and mouths tucked underneath their heads, these animals are completely adapted to a fossorial (burrowing) lifestyle, and feed primarily on soft subterranean insects such as termites and ant larvae. Some species even possess tiny, movable finger-like sensory growths on their snouts,much like a star-nosed mole.
2. Eunectes murinus
No list of snakes is complete without the green anaconda, the heaviest alive today and one of the world’s longest predators. While their typical recorded length is up to sixteen feet, reports of anacondas over thirty feet in length have circulated for centuries. Like all constrictors, they wrap their bodies around prey to restrict breathing and kill by asphyxiation, swallowing the prey whole when it finally stops struggling.
1. Naja ashei
With their deadly venom and famous “hooded” threat display, cobras are easily the world’s most iconic, most dramatized reptiles, and none are as fearsome as the various “spitting” cobras, who can spray venom several feet from their fangs with muscular contraction, often aiming deliberately for the eyes of attackers and capable of causing blindness. Naja ashei, a species from Kenya, is the largest and most venomous spitting cobra in the world, reaching lengths of up to nine feet from head to tail.