Types of Snakes: A Snake Family Guide

Types of Snakes

Snakes are reptilian creatures which have made a lasting impression on humans since the dawn of mankind with representations in art, mythology, and religion that has lasted through the ages. Snakes are still admired, loved and feared by Humans around the world and there is a good reason as to why; they’re powerful, stealthy and mysterious.

To get an understanding of these marvelous animals it’s of your interest to get an understanding of the different types of snakes. They all have characteristics in common such as being cold-blooded and having no limbs which classify them as snakes but it is the variables between snake families and species that make them a truly diverse group of animals.

Snakes at a Glance

At a glance, snakes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are absolutely huge and a force to be reckoned with whilst others are slender and make their homes hiding in the branches and vines of trees and other even have a paddle-shaped tail and make their home in the depths of the sea! But what is it exactly that all snakes have in common for them to be classified as such?

Snakes start taxonomically in the order Squamata also known as “scaled reptiles” that includes all lizards and snakes. They are further categorized into the suborder Serpentes as scaled reptiles which have elongated bodies, no legs and are all carnivorous. Snakes typically also have extra joints in their jawbones allowing them to expand their jaw over prey items in order to swallow them whole but this is not as a strict rule for snakes.

Most people think that universally all snakes lay eggs but this is not wholly true. Some species do give birth to live young, most of them are sea snakes but there are some terrestrial species that do this too. It’s also quite difficult to identify snake species by their eggs but it can be done depending on your location and how many species of snake are present in the area.

Snakes are usually separated firstly by their hunting tactics with most existing species preferring to use constriction; that is to wrap around their prey preventing them from breathing, rather than the other method which is with venom. However, taxonomically; snakes are classified into 19 separate families each containing many subfamilies. We will be looking at these families, presenting examples from each.

Snake Family Guide

Wart Snakes (Acrochordidae)

Arafura filesnakeThis is a family of aquatic snakes commonly known as “wart snakes” that all belong to the genus Acrochordus and are found in Australia, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. This genus contains three separate species all of which are ambush hunters which use constriction to subdue the fish on which they prey.

They share in common a physiology that shows their adaption to the aqueous environment by having rough scales to grip their prey easier, dorsally located eyes so they can see above them and they lack broad underbelly scales which are found in other snakes.

Species include:

  • Arafura filesnake (A. arafurae)
  • Little filesnake (A. granulatus)
  • Javan filensake (A. javanicus)

False Coral Snake (Aniliidae)

False coral snakeThe aniliidae family is also made up of a single genus of snake: Anilius and only contains the one species A. scytale which is otherwise known as the American pipe snake or the False coral snake. It’s named as such as it looks so much like the dangerous coral snake whose venom can cause a lot of harm to humans.

The false coral snake, on the other hand, is nonvenomous and hunts using constriction. It preys mostly on smaller reptiles, amphibians and insects like frogs, lizards, beetles and sometimes even caiman. This snake is only found in South America.

Species Include:

  • False coral snake (A. scytale)

Dwarf Pipe Snakes (Anomochilidae)

Anomochilidae is again another small family of snakes that has one genus and only three species. The snakes that belong to the genus Anomochilus are all small with short tails with reduced eyes.

Not much is known about the species of this genus except that due to their physiology they are probably fossorial which means they tend to burrow and dwell underground feeding on insects. It is said that their scales are red with white or yellow patterns on them.

Species Include:

  • Leonard’s pipe snake (A. leonardi)
  • Weber’s pipe snake (A. weberi)
  • Mountain pipe snake (A. monticola)

Boas (Boidae)

Emerald Tree BoaThe boas are a much larger and more famous family of snakes that is split up into 5 different subfamilies that share between them 49 species that belong to 12 genera. A high majority of species which belong to the Boa family give birth to live young in contrary to pythons which lay eggs instead.

They are constrictors by nature, and being medium to large in size usually have a lot of power behind their squeeze and depending on the species and the geographic location a particular species lives are known to take down fairly large prey such as the Green anaconda which has a taste for Tapirs.

Species Include

  • Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
  • Amazon Basin emerald tree boa (Corallus batesii)
  • Pacific ground boa (Candoia carinata)
  • Russell’s boa (Gongylophis conicus)
  • Dumeril’s boa (Acrantophis dumerili)

Splitjaw snakes (Bolyeriidae)

The Splitjaw snakes are native to Marcius and its surrounding islands, particularly Round Island. There are 2 genera in this family, each containing 1 species so it’s quite a small family overall and the species Bolyeria multocarinata is unfortunately believed to be extinct.

They are non-venomous and use constriction as a hunting strategy. Its jaw is split (hence the name), instead of having separate joints and so can completely detach to swallow prey which is usually geckos and other smaller reptiles.

Included Species:

  • Round Island boa (Casarea dussumieri)

Typical Snakes (Colubridae)

BoomslangThis snake family is by far the largest with a total of 258 genera and 1866 species found on all of Earths continents except, of course, Antarctica.  The family contains a mixture of venomous and non-venomous snakes, some of which are deadly to Humans such as the boomslang, a native of sub-Saharan Africa.

The reason this family is so large is that many of the genera and species within are yet to be classified elsewhere and is regarded as the to-do list of snake taxonomy. A seriously cute specimen of this family is the Blunthead tree snake which has a tiny body and head but bulging, oversized eyes found in South and Central America.

Species Include:

  • Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)
  • Blunthead tree snake (Imantodes cenchoa)
  • Redback coffee snake (Ninia sebae)
  • Texas night snake (Hypsiglena jani)
  • Mole snake (Pseudaspis cana)

Asian pipe snakes (Cylindrophiidae)

These pipe snakes have 14 species over just 1 genus and are solely found in the continent of Asia. They are snakes that burrow in the ground and every species has chequered black and white underbellies.

Species Include:

  • Red-tailed pipe snake (Cylindrophis ruffus)
  • Island pipe snake (Cylindrophis opisthorhodus)
  • Black pipe snake (Cylindrophis melanotus)
  • Ceylonese cylinder snake (Cylindrophis maculatus)
  • Blanford’s pipe snake (Cylindrophis lineatus)

Elapids (Elapidae)

King cobraThe Elapids are the second largest family of snakes and the largest that are properly categorized. All the snakes within this family are venomous and live in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world and normally employ neurotoxic venom that inhibits nerve impulses and muscle contraction.

These snakes all have in common their fangs which are located at the front end of their jaw which they use to inject venom from venom glands into the prey. This family includes the dreaded King cobra, the swift Mamba, the terrifying Taipans and the mysterious sea snakes which are all snakes that are famous the potential threat they pose to humans.

Species Include:

  • King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
  • Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)
  • Desert death adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)
  • Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
  • Shaw’s Sea Snake (Lapemis curtus)

Water snakes (Homalopsidae)

Rainbow water snakeThis family of snakes contains 50 species across 28 genera. They pack a mildly venomous punch and have stout bodies. An outlier of this species is the tentacled snake and is unique to all snakes as it has appendages which protrude from its face which provide some sensory function.

Around the subtropical mudflats and mangroves of Central Asia and Australia, you will find the New Guinea bockadam, an odd looking snake with dorsal eyes. It moves on land with a sidewinding motion and is known to hunt and eat fish and eels, using it’s venom to prevent the prey from struggling whilst it proceeds to swallow it whole.

Species Include:

  • Tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculatum)
  • New Guinea bockadam (Cerberus rynchops)
  • Dussumier’s water snake (Dieurostus dussumierii)
  • Rainbow water snake (Enhydris enhydris)
  • Siebold’s water snake (Ferania sieboldii)

Lamprophiids (Lamprophiidae)

Reticulated centipede-eaterThe Lamprophiidae family is another large family of snakes that contains 60 genera that hosts 314 species. They are found on the continents of Africa, America, Asia and Europe. There are many species of venomous snake in this family such as those that belong to the subfamily Atractaspidinae which have venom that can cause severe necrosis.

Species Include:

  • Reticulated centipede-eater (Aparallactus lunulatus)
  • (Ithycyphus miniatus)
  • Painted mock viper (Psammodynastes pictus)
  • Boettger’s two-headed snake (Micrelaps boettgeri)
  • Bocourt’s snake-eater (Polemon bocourti)

Mexican burrowing snake (Loxocemidae)

This family of snake contains only one lonely member, the Mexican burrowing snake which is a species that can grow up to 1.57m in length. It has a shovel-shaped snout which aids its burrowing activity and is nonvenomous. They are found mainly in Mexico but also around Central America.

Species Include:

  • Mexican burrowing snake (Loxocemus bicolor)

Snail-eating snakes (Pareidae)

Blunthead slug snakeAs the name suggests most of the 20 species of three genera in this family are small snakes that take to the activity of eating snails and slugs! For this, they have quite short snouts and strong jaws to crush through shells in order to get to the soft body of the prey for the juicy meal.

Species Include:

  • Blunthead slug snake (Aplopeltura boa)
  • Spotted slug snake (Pareas margaritophorus)
  • Common slug snake (Pareas monticola)
  • Keeled slug-eating snake (Pareas carinatus)
  • Formosa slug snake (Pareas formosensis)

Pythons (Pythonidae)

Burmese pythonThe python family contains some of the largest species of snakes in the world, they are truly the tanks of the snake world due to their size, muscle mass and ability to take down large prey. All species of python are constrictors and so are non-venomous and are found in Asia, Australia, and Africa.

They take to the art of ambush predation to capture their prey but do not normally attack humans unless provoked or protecting their eggs. Attacks on Humans in Southeast Asia were reported much more prominently in the past than now but this may be due to the snakes being hunted.

Species Include:

  • Bismarck ringed python (Bothrochilus boa)
  • Macklot’s python (Liasis mackloti)
  • D’Albert’s water python (Leiopython albertisii)
  • Burmese python (Python bivittatus)
  • Reticulated python (Python reticulatus)

Dwarf boas (Tropidophiidae)

Dwarf BoaThis is yet another family comprised of non-venomous snakes which are located in Central and South America with 2 genera and 34 species. The species within can vary by the way they live with some preferring to burrow underground or in vegetation to rise at night to hunt whilst others are completely arboreal.

Species Include:

  • Northern eyelash boa (Trachyboa boulengeri)
  • Ecuadorian eyelash boa (Trachyboa gularis)
  • Haitian dwarf boa (Tropidophis haetianus)
  • Spotted red dwarf boa (Tropidophis maculatus)
  • Leopard dwarf boa (Tropidophis pardalis)

Shield-tailed snakes (Uropeltidae)

Iridescent shieldtailShield-Tailed Snakes are burrowers native to India and Sri Lanka which have a keratinous, broad tail end that gives them their name. There’s not much else known about these snakes which seems to be a common theme with burrowing snakes whose lives are hidden under the Earth.

Species Include:

  • Iridescent shieldtail (Melanophidium bilineatum)
  • Indian black earth snake (Melanophidium wynaudense)
  • Karnataka shieldtail (Plectrurus canaricus)
  • Günther’s burrowing snake (Plectrurus guentheri)
  • Cardamom Hills earth snake (Rhinophis fergusonianus)

Vipers (Viperidae)

Cerastes cerastesEveryone has heard of the vipers, snakes which are venomous, often dangerous and are quick to strike at their enemies delivering a toxic cocktail. Their fangs are typically long, hollow and hinged; almost hooked, which allows for greater penetration.

The venom of the vipers tends to be in a high concentration of proteases: enzymes designed to break down proteins that cause swelling, blood clotting, blood loss, pain and cardiovascular damage as a result. This hemotoxic venom is slower acting than its neurotoxic variety which is why many vipers use scent and heat detection senses to track their prey.

Species Include:

  • Lansberg’s hognose pitviper (Porthidium lansbergii)
  • Painted saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus)
  • West African night adder (Causus maculatus)
  • Lined night adder (Causus bilineatus)
  • Fea’s viper (Azemiops feae)

Dragon & odd-scaled snakes (Xenodermatidae)

Taiwan burrowing snakeXenodermatidae is a relatively small family of snakes with 6 genera, all of which are found in South, Southeast, and East Asia. This is another family of snakes where little is known about them. There is a particularly beautiful species within this group called Taiwan burrowing snake which has an astonishing metallic sheen to its scales.

Species Include:

  • Taiwan burrowing snake (Achalinus formosanus)
  • Black burrowing snake (Achalinus niger)
  • Borneo red snake (Stoliczkia borneensis)
  • Javan tubercle snake (Xenodermus javanicus)

Sunbeam snakes (Xenopeltidae)

Sunbeam snakeSunbeam snakes are just one genus of snakes with two species which are known and celebrated for the iridescence of their scales which shine in the sunlight in the way that spilled oil has a rainbow color sheen to it. They make their home in Southeast Asia.

Species Include:

  • Sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis hainanensis)
  • Sunbeam snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

Spine-jawed snakes (Xenophidiidae)

The spine jawed snakes are a small family with only two species. Not much specific information is known about them except that they are found in Borneo and Malaysia.

Species Include:

  • (Xenophidion schaeferi)
  • (Xenophidion acanthognathus)

 

 

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