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Scaly Surprises - The Secrets of Snakes
By Sarah Jane Elliott
Hey kids, close your eyes for a moment and imagine that your arms
are stuck to your sides and your legs are stuck together. Imagine that you have no ears, and that you smell with your tongue. And
imagine that your entire body is covered with fingernails.
Seems strange, doesn't it? Now you know what it's like being a snake!
are a group of reptiles closely related to lizards. Most people think that the big difference between them is that lizards have legs
and snakes don't, but there are some legless lizards, and some snakes that have little "claws" near their tails which are actually
the remnants of hind legs!
Actually, the biggest differences between snakes and lizards are the ears, eyes, and scales.
don't have eyelids like lizards do. Instead, their eyes are covered by a clear, hard scale. If something gets in a snake's eye, the
snake licks its eyes clean using its tongue!
Snakes also don't have ear openings on their heads at all! Instead, snakes hear
though vibrations that travel though the air and the ground. So if you want to frighten away any snakes, all you need to to is stamp
very hard as you walk.
Snakes don't use legs to get around, either. They move by slithering with their bodies, and using their
scales to help hold them in place. Snake scales cover their entire bodies, and the widest scales are on their bellies. Their scales
sit in your skin just like fingernails do, and help to grip the ground as a snake moves.
Because they are also hard, like your
fingernails, scales don't stretch as a snake grows. That's why snakes have to shed their scales as they grow. They crawl out of the
old, too-small skin, and leave it behind like a long sock!
Fun fact #1: Biggest Snake: You can divide snakes up into two groups:
those who catch their prey by biting them with poisonous fangs, and those who catch their prey by squeezing. The biggest snakes are
the squeezers, or constrictors. The title for biggest snake is shared between two species: anacondas and pythons. Anacondas are the
heaviest snakes, and can weigh up to 550 pounds. Reticulated pythons are the longest; they can reach up to 10 metres (33 feet) long.
That's like laying eight 10-year-olds end-to-end!
Fun Fact #2: Most Poisonous Snake: The Taipan is a snake that lives in Australia, and its venom will clot your blood, turning it into
a thick soup, and destroy all your organs. It also doesn't need a lot of venom to do that. Terry Phillip, a curator at Reptile Gardens,
says: "1 milligram of the venom is equal to 1 M&M candy cut into 1,000 equal pieces and [one of those pieces] is how much it takes
to kill one adult human being." That is one deadly snake!
Fun Fact #3: Greatest Actor: The hognose snake is a burrowing snake
that is harmless to humans, but if anything threatens it, it will flatten out its head, rear up, and hiss, just like a cobra! Better
yet, if that doesn't work to scare off the threat, the hognose will roll over on its back and play dead with its tongue hanging out
of its mouth. Even if you flip it over onto its belly, it will just roll on to its back again!
Discover more kids science articles,
look up amazing fun facts, do animated science quizzes with talking characters, meet friends in virtual worlds, play games and do
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with Science Score and do well in Science.
Elliott is a contributing author of curious science articles for an online kids science portal (http://www.sciencescore.com). She
holds a honors bachelor of Science degree from University of Toronto, specializing in zoology and behavior. Sarah is an author of
speculative fiction, as well as a teacher and museum educator.