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Based on comparative anatomy , there is consensus that snakes descended from lizards. Front limbs are nonexistent in all known snakes.
This is caused by the evolution of their Hox genes , controlling limb morphogenesis. Early in snake evolution, the Hox gene expression in the axial skeleton responsible for the development of the thorax became dominant.
As a result, the vertebrae anterior to the hindlimb buds when present all have the same thoracic-like identity except from the atlas , axis , and 1—3 neck vertebrae.
In other words, most of a snake's skeleton is an extremely extended thorax. Ribs are found exclusively on the thoracic vertebrae.
Neck, lumbar and pelvic vertebrae are very reduced in number only 2—10 lumbar and pelvic vertebrae are present , while only a short tail remains of the caudal vertebrae.
However, the tail is still long enough to be of important use in many species, and is modified in some aquatic and tree-dwelling species. Many modern snake groups originated during the Paleocene , alongside the adaptive radiation of mammals following the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.
The expansion of grasslands in North America also led to an explosive radiation among snakes. There is fossil evidence to suggest that snakes may have evolved from burrowing lizards, such as the varanids or a similar group during the Cretaceous Period.
These include fossil species like Haasiophis , Pachyrhachis and Eupodophis , which are slightly older than Najash. This hypothesis was strengthened in by the discovery of a m year-old fossil of a four-legged snake in Brazil that has been named Tetrapodophis amplectus.
It has many snake-like features, is adapted for burrowing and its stomach indicates that it was preying on other animals. Tetrapodophis does not have distinctive snake features in its spine and skull.
An alternative hypothesis, based on morphology , suggests the ancestors of snakes were related to mosasaurs —extinct aquatic reptiles from the Cretaceous —which in turn are thought to have derived from varanid lizards.
This ultimately led to an animal similar to today's sea snakes. In the Late Cretaceous , snakes recolonized land, and continued to diversify into today's snakes.
Fossilized snake remains are known from early Late Cretaceous marine sediments, which is consistent with this hypothesis; particularly so, as they are older than the terrestrial Najash rionegrina.
Similar skull structure, reduced or absent limbs, and other anatomical features found in both mosasaurs and snakes lead to a positive cladistical correlation, although some of these features are shared with varanids.
Eupodophis descouensi. Genetic studies in recent years have indicated snakes are not as closely related to monitor lizards as was once believed—and therefore not to mosasaurs, the proposed ancestor in the aquatic scenario of their evolution.
However, more evidence links mosasaurs to snakes than to varanids. Fragmented remains found from the Jurassic and Early Cretaceous indicate deeper fossil records for these groups, which may potentially refute either hypothesis.
In , two studies reported that limb loss in snakes is associated with DNA mutations in the Zone of Polarizing Activity Regulatory Sequence ZRS , a regulatory region of the sonic hedgehog gene which is critically required for limb development.
More advanced snakes have no remnants of limbs, but basal snakes such as pythons and boas do have traces of highly reduced, vestigial hind limbs.
Python embryos even have fully developed hind limb buds, but their later development is stopped by the DNA mutations in the ZRS.
There are over 2, species of snakes ranging as far northward as the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia and southward through Australia. All modern snakes are grouped within the suborder Serpentes in Linnean taxonomy , part of the order Squamata , though their precise placement within squamates remains controversial.
The two infraorders of Serpentes are: Alethinophidia and Scolecophidia. Alethinophidia is sometimes split into Henophidia and Caenophidia , with the latter consisting of "colubroid" snakes colubrids , vipers , elapids , hydrophiids , and atractaspids and acrochordids, while the other alethinophidian families comprise Henophidia.
There are numerous debates in the systematics within the group. For instance, many sources classify Boidae and Pythonidae as one family, while some keep the Elapidae and Hydrophiidae sea snakes separate for practical reasons despite their extremely close relation.
While snakes are limbless reptiles, which evolved from and are grouped with lizards, there are many other species of lizards which have lost their limbs independently and superficially look similar to snakes.
These include the slowworm and glass snake. Other serpentine tetrapods unrelated to snakes include caecilians amphibians , amphisbaenians near-lizard squamates , and the extinct aistopods amphibians.
The now extinct Titanoboa cerrejonensis snakes were At the other end of the scale, the smallest extant snake is Leptotyphlops carlae , with a length of about Pit vipers, pythons, and some boas have infrared-sensitive receptors in deep grooves on the snout, which allow them to "see" the radiated heat of warm-blooded prey.
In pit vipers, the grooves are located between the nostril and the eye in a large "pit" on each side of the head. Other infrared-sensitive snakes have multiple, smaller labial pits lining the upper lip, just below the nostrils.
Snakes use smell to track their prey. They smell by using their forked tongues to collect airborne particles, then passing them to the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson's organ in the mouth for examination.
In water-dwelling snakes, such as the anaconda , the tongue functions efficiently underwater. The underside is very sensitive to vibration.
This allows snakes to be able to sense approaching animals by detecting faint vibrations in the ground. Snake vision varies greatly, from only being able to distinguish light from dark to keen eyesight, but the main trend is that their vision is adequate although not sharp, and allows them to track movements.
Some snakes, such as the Asian vine snake genus Ahaetulla , have binocular vision , with both eyes capable of focusing on the same point.
Most snakes focus by moving the lens back and forth in relation to the retina , while in the other amniote groups, the lens is stretched.
Many nocturnal snakes have slit pupils while diurnal snakes have round pupils. Most species possess three visual pigments and are probably able to see two primary colors in daylight.
It's concluded that the last common ancestors of all snakes had UV-sensitive vision, but that most snakes that depends on their eyesight to hunt in daylight have evolved lenses that act as sunglasses which filters out UV-light, and probably also sharpens their vision by improving the contrasts.
The skin of a snake is covered in scales. Contrary to the popular notion of snakes being slimy because of possible confusion of snakes with worms , snakeskin has a smooth, dry texture.
Most snakes use specialized belly scales to travel, gripping surfaces. The body scales may be smooth, keeled , or granular. The eyelids of a snake are transparent "spectacle" scales, which remain permanently closed, also known as brille.
The shedding of scales is called ecdysis or in normal usage, molting or sloughing. In the case of snakes, the complete outer layer of skin is shed in one layer.
Snakes have a wide diversity of skin coloration patterns. These patterns are often related to behavior, such as a tendency to have to flee from predators.
Snakes that are plain or have longitudinal stripes often have to escape from predators, with the pattern or lack thereof not providing reference points to predators, thus allowing the snake to escape without being notice.
Plain snakes usually adopt active hunting strategies, as their pattern allows them to send little information to prey about motion. Blotched snakes, on the other hand, usually use ambush-based strategies, likely because it helps them blend into an environment with irregularly shaped objects, like sticks or rocks.
Spotted patterning can similarly help snakes to blend into their environment. The shape and number of scales on the head, back, and belly are often characteristic and used for taxonomic purposes.
Scales are named mainly according to their positions on the body. In "advanced" Caenophidian snakes, the broad belly scales and rows of dorsal scales correspond to the vertebrae , allowing scientists to count the vertebrae without dissection.
Molting , or ecdysis , serves a number of functions. Firstly, the old and worn skin is replaced; secondly, it helps get rid of parasites such as mites and ticks.
Renewal of the skin by molting is supposed to allow growth in some animals such as insects; however, this has been disputed in the case of snakes.
Molting occurs periodically throughout the snake's life. Before a molt, the snake stops eating and often hides or moves to a safe place.
Just before shedding, the skin becomes dull and dry looking and the eyes become cloudy or blue-colored.
The inner surface of the old skin liquefies. This causes the old skin to separate from the new skin beneath it. After a few days, the eyes clear and the snake "crawls" out of its old skin.
The old skin breaks near the mouth and the snake wriggles out, aided by rubbing against rough surfaces. In many cases, the cast skin peels backward over the body from head to tail in one piece, like pulling a sock off inside-out.
A new, larger, brighter layer of skin has formed underneath. An older snake may shed its skin only once or twice a year.
But a younger snake, still growing, may shed up to four times a year. Scale counts can sometimes be used to tell the sex of a snake when the species is not distinctly sexually dimorphic.
A probe is inserted into the cloaca until it can go no further. The probe is marked at the point where it stops, removed, and compared to the subcaudal depth by laying it alongside the scales.
The skeleton of most snakes consists solely of the skull, hyoid, vertebral column, and ribs, though henophidian snakes retain vestiges of the pelvis and rear limbs.
The skull of the snake consists of a solid and complete neurocranium , to which many of the other bones are only loosely attached, particularly the highly mobile jaw bones, which facilitate manipulation and ingestion of large prey items.
The left and right sides of the lower jaw are joined only by a flexible ligament at the anterior tips, allowing them to separate widely, while the posterior end of the lower jaw bones articulate with a quadrate bone, allowing further mobility.
The bones of the mandible and quadrate bones can also pick up ground borne vibrations. The jaw-quadrate-stapes pathway is capable of detecting vibrations on the angstrom scale, despite the absence of an outer ear and the ossicle mechanism of impedance matching used in other vertebrates to receive vibrations from the air.
The hyoid is a small bone located posterior and ventral to the skull, in the 'neck' region, which serves as an attachment for muscles of the snake's tongue, as it does in all other tetrapods.
The vertebral column consists of anywhere between and or more vertebrae. The vertebrae have projections that allow for strong muscle attachment enabling locomotion without limbs.
Autotomy of the tail, a feature found in some lizards is absent in most snakes. In some snakes, most notably boas and pythons , there are vestiges of the hindlimbs in the form of a pair of pelvic spurs.
These small, claw-like protrusions on each side of the cloaca are the external portion of the vestigial hindlimb skeleton, which includes the remains of an ilium and femur.
Snakes are polyphyodonts with teeth that are continuously replaced. Snake's and other reptiles have a three-chambered heart that controls the circulatory system via the left and right atrium, and one ventricle.
Located beneath the cavum venosum is the cavum pulmonale, which pumps blood to the pulmonary trunk. The snake's heart is encased in a sac, called the pericardium , located at the bifurcation of the bronchi.
The heart is able to move around, however, owing to the lack of a diaphragm. This adjustment protects the heart from potential damage when large ingested prey is passed through the esophagus.
The spleen is attached to the gall bladder and pancreas and filters the blood. The thymus is located in fatty tissue above the heart and is responsible for the generation of immune cells in the blood.
The cardiovascular system of snakes is also unique for the presence of a renal portal system in which the blood from the snake's tail passes through the kidneys before returning to the heart.
The vestigial left lung is often small or sometimes even absent, as snakes' tubular bodies require all of their organs to be long and thin.
This lung contains a vascularized anterior portion and a posterior portion that does not function in gas exchange. Snakes have no lymph nodes. Cobras, vipers, and closely related species use venom to immobilize, injure or kill their prey.
The venom is modified saliva , delivered through fangs. Snake venoms are often prey specific—their role in self-defense is secondary.
Venom, like all salivary secretions, is a predigestant that initiates the breakdown of food into soluble compounds, facilitating proper digestion.
Even nonvenomous snake bites like any animal bite will cause tissue damage. Certain birds, mammals, and other snakes such as kingsnakes that prey on venomous snakes have developed resistance and even immunity to certain venoms.
The colloquial term "poisonous snake" is generally an incorrect label for snakes. A poison is inhaled or ingested, whereas venom produced by snakes is injected into its victim via fangs.
Snake venoms are complex mixtures of proteins , and are stored in venom glands at the back of the head. Venomous snakes that use hemotoxins usually have fangs in the front of their mouths, making it easier for them to inject the venom into their victims.
They must actually bite the victim. It has recently been suggested that all snakes may be venomous to a certain degree, with harmless snakes having weak venom and no fangs.
This theory postulates that snakes may have evolved from a common lizard ancestor that was venomous—and that venomous lizards like the gila monster , beaded lizard , monitor lizards , and the now-extinct mosasaurs may also have derived from it.
They share this venom clade with various other saurian species. Venomous snakes are classified in two taxonomic families :.
There is a third family containing the opistoglyphous rear-fanged snakes as well as the majority of other snake species :.
Although a wide range of reproductive modes are used by snakes, all snakes employ internal fertilization. This is accomplished by means of paired, forked hemipenes , which are stored, inverted, in the male's tail.
Most species of snakes lay eggs which they abandon shortly after laying. However, a few species such as the king cobra actually construct nests and stay in the vicinity of the hatchlings after incubation.
She will even "shiver" to generate heat to incubate the eggs. Some species of snake are ovoviviparous and retain the eggs within their bodies until they are almost ready to hatch.
Sexual selection in snakes is demonstrated by the 3, species that each use different tactics in acquiring mates.
It is common for neck biting to occur while the snakes are entwined. Parthenogenesis is a natural form of reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization.
Agkistrodon contortrix copperhead and Agkistrodon piscivorus cotton mouth can reproduce by facultative parthenogenesis. That is, they are capable of switching from a sexual mode of reproduction to an asexual mode.
This process leads to genome wide homozygosity , expression of deleterious recessive alleles and often to developmental abnormalities. Both captive-born and wild-born A.
Reproduction in squamate reptiles is almost exclusively sexual. Males ordinarily have a ZZ pair of sex determining chromosomes, and females a ZW pair.
However, the Colombian Rainbow boa Epicrates maurus can also reproduce by facultative parthenogenesis resulting in production of WW female progeny.
In regions where winters are colder than snakes can tolerate while remaining active, local species will brumate. Unlike hibernation, in which mammals are actually asleep, brumating reptiles are awake but inactive.
Individual snakes may brumate in burrows, under rock piles, or inside fallen trees, or snakes may aggregate in large numbers at hibernacula. All snakes are strictly carnivorous , eating small animals including lizards, frogs, other snakes, small mammals, birds, eggs , fish, snails, worms or insects.
The body size of a snake has a major influence on its eating habits. Smaller snakes eat smaller prey. Juvenile pythons might start out feeding on lizards or mice and graduate to small deer or antelope as an adult, for example.
The snake's jaw is a complex structure. Contrary to the popular belief that snakes can dislocate their jaws, snakes have a very flexible lower jaw , the two halves of which are not rigidly attached, and numerous other joints in their skull see snake skull , allowing them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow their prey whole, even if it is larger in diameter than the snake itself.
While the majority of snakes eat a variety of prey animals, there is some specialization by some species.
King cobras and the Australian bandy-bandy consume other snakes. Snakes of the family Pareidae have more teeth on the right side of their mouths than on the left, as the shells of their prey usually spiral clockwise.
Some snakes have a venomous bite, which they use to kill their prey before eating it. After eating, snakes become dormant while the process of digestion takes place.
In species that feed only sporadically, the entire intestine enters a reduced state between meals to conserve energy.
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