A language full of information, an idolized animal and even a dancer:
Know Curiosities About Serpents
by Butantan Team
Published: November 19, 2021
A snake is able to know everything about its prey just by capturing particles from the air with its tongue. Some species dance to compete for the female at the time of mating. And there are certain human societies that worship these animals as sacred. Snakes have been with us for millions of years, they are full of mysteries… and curiosities.
Cold-blooded reptiles, they are popularly known as snakes.
“Scientifically, we only use snakes for cobras, for those snakes that open their hood (small cape that cobras have right below their heads) and stand up”, explains scientific researcher at Butantan, Sávio Stefanini Sant’Anna.
Symbolism and importance for different peoples
Some say that snakes have been around since the beginning of time. Just remember who led Eve to temptation in the Garden of Eden. In Christianity, this animal is associated with evil. In ancient Egypt, he was held responsible for the death of Queen Cleopatra.
In some cultures, however, snakes are seen as a symbol of fertility. The Hopi Indians of the United States danced with live serpents to celebrate the union of gods. In India, they are sacred, they even have temples in their honor. In Greek mythology, Medusa had snake hair and Hercules faced them in one of his works.
In Brazil, it’s not that different.
“Butantan has already donated snakeskin seedlings to some indigenous tribes. They use it for rites of passage, those when the boy becomes an adult. They decorate arrows and bows with these seedlings”, explained the scientific researcher
The more experienced, the more venomous
In some species, mainly in the jararacas group, the venom changes with age. And the cub is quite different from the adult snake in this regard.
“It’s what we call ontogenetic variation. As the snake develops, the change in venom occurs. From the moment she becomes an adult, the poison becomes more constant”, says the researcher.
Snakes know how to get along with others when necessary
During the breeding season, males often fight over females. The fight takes place like a dance. They lift their bodies and stand facing each other, swaying towards each other. The objective is to lower the opponent’s body. Whoever wins, gets the female. As in all combat, some snakes can end up bitten or injured, but they are generally immune to the poison of their own species. Savio reveals that snakes hardly attack each other.
“We release the snakes in our exhibition serpentarium and realize that, the next day, there are four, five together, one on top of the other, sharing the same environment. They come together when necessary.”
Super powerful ears
What we understand as an ear is just bones modified to sense vibrations. Through the ground, the snake can feel its prey’s footsteps. The ear is modified to have these sensations amplified, and the snake can sense the presence of potential predators or prey.
Language that does it all
“The snake feels everything through its tongue. She sticks out her tongue and shakes. Because the tongue is wet, it captures chemical particles from the environment and, when it goes back inside, passes through the roof of the mouth and leaves the particles there. The brain will process the whole scenario in front of her”, explains Sávio. This auxiliary olfactory apparatus is called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ.
The snake’s forked tongue has another important function and serves as an indicator of direction. If a predator is lurking on the right side, by waving its tongue out and passing it across the roof of its mouth, the snake will know which side it is on, as the right part of the tongue will transmit this information and the part left will not indicate anything.
Snakes don’t close their eyes and don’t blink. They don’t have an eyelid, just a scale that is located in the eye region and protects against dryness. When the snake changes its skin, this scale comes out and another appears to protect.
“Exchange of skin occurs because of growth. We also change the skin, but in small pieces. A healthy snake changes its skin all at once. Reptiles never stop growing, they can even decrease their growth rate, but they keep growing”, defined Sávio.
In the case of the rattlesnake, the change of skin forms the rattle, those rings that rattle on its tail. When this snake changes its skin, it uses the rest of the skin to form a ring, and from time to time it even replaces an older ring. Knowing the age of the rattlesnake by the number of rings is a myth, after all, snakes change their skin as they grow, and this happens because of their food and environment. They don’t grow because of age. An important function of the rattle is to make noise to warn the predator that the rattlesnake is already aware of its presence and is prepared for the fight.
Some snakes even see, even if very poorly. They can see the shadow of another animal and, through that information, know its size. Some species, such as the rattlesnake and jararaca, have the so-called loreal pit.
“It’s a hole between the eye and the nostril, a receptor organ that detects temperature. The snake can even know where the animal’s front is and where the animal’s back is just by its heat,” says Savio.