Animal Diaries Archive
All About Snakes
3 September 2004Hi again and welcome to another roving reptile rave. This week I wanted to introduce a beautiful animal which unfortunately remains greatly misunderstood by most people. SNAKES! Snakes have lots of myths and tall tales surrounding them, and the majority of these could not be further from the truth.
I have loved snakes all my life and they are probably one of my favourite animal groups in the entire animal kingdom. Here at Australia Zoo, the Wandering Wildlife team get the opportunity to work closely with these little beauties everyday. We work with Corn Snakes from Central and Northern America, Boa Constrictors from South America, Diamond Pythons from Southern parts of Australia and also Black-headed Pythons found throughout parts of Northern Australia.
These snakes are regularly handled from an early age so they do not feel threatened when they're with people. This way we can show them on snake shows, educational school talks and around the Zoo in general as we are roving. As the rovers have these snakes out and about in the Zoo for guests to mingle with it provides the opportunity for people to ask questions, learn more about them and to realize that these critters are really not so bad.
Human beings may be innately wary of serpent-like creatures, but it is usually a learned response from family members. These fears can be passed down from generation to generation without even seeing a snake in person!
There are a couple of questions people always ask:
1) Are snakes cold?
Reptiles are ectotherms, which means they are a cold-blooded animal and need to obtain heat from external sources such as sun, air, water or ground. A snake's body has a temperature dependent on their immediate surroundings (ecto, meaning outside). Warm-blooded animals such as birds and mammals are endothermic, meaning their body heat is produced from inside the animal (endo, meaning inside).
So snakes would only be cold to touch if they were in a cold environment, eg near a cold stream or an overcast or cool day, etc.
2) Are snakes slimy?
While a snake may be hot or cold to touch, it will NEVER be slimy. All reptiles have dry scaly skin, and snakes are no exception. Reptiles' scales are a protective layer formed from keratin, the same material as human fingernails, mammalian hair, and bird feathers, none of which are slimy.
The slimy myth may have come from a number of things; the movement a snake has when moving along the ground, the iridescent sheen when the sun is shining on their skin making them seem to be wet and slimy, or perhaps it even stemmed from a confusion between snakes and elongated, reduced-limbed amphibians and eels.
I believe that understanding snakes makes them less frightening and threatening. The more we can promote the appreciation and understanding of snakes as essential members of natural communities, the less likely they are to be killed out of fear.
No matter what, hate them or love them, snakes fascinate and excite us. They fascinate us because they are limbless, but can still do many things we would not expect them to do. They excite us because some are gigantic, others are venomous and rather dangerous, and overall they represent the mystery of the unknown.
So when you see the rovers around the Zoo with a lizard, skink or snake, be sure to come up and admire them for their real beauty. Ask questions, have a pat and walk away knowing that reptiles are just as beautiful to us as your pets are to you.