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The Snake Portal


Snakes Diversity.jpg

Snakes are elongated, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. Like all other squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales. Many species of snakes have skulls with several more joints than their lizard ancestors, enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads with their highly mobile jaws. To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes' paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other instead of side by side, and most have only one functional lung. Some species retain a pelvic girdle with a pair of vestigial claws on either side of the cloaca. Lizards have evolved elongate bodies without limbs or with greatly reduced limbs about twenty-five times independently via convergent evolution, leading to many lineages of legless lizards. Legless lizards resemble snakes, but several common groups of legless lizards have eyelids and external ears, which snakes lack, although this rule is not universal (see Amphisbaenia, Dibamidae, and Pygopodidae).

Living snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica, and on most smaller land masses; exceptions include some large islands, such as Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, the Hawaiian archipelago, and the islands of New Zealand, and many small islands of the Atlantic and central Pacific oceans. Additionally, sea snakes are widespread throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. More than 20 families are currently recognized, comprising about 520 genera and about 3,600 species. They range in size from the tiny, 10.4 cm (4.1 in)-long Barbados thread snake to the reticulated python of 6.95 meters (22.8 ft) in length. The fossil species Titanoboa cerrejonensis was 12.8 meters (42 ft) long. Snakes are thought to have evolved from either burrowing or aquatic lizards, perhaps during the Jurassic period, with the earliest known fossils dating to between 143 and 167 Ma ago. The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene epoch (c 66 to 56 Ma ago, after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event). The oldest preserved descriptions of snakes can be found in the Brooklyn Papyrus.

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Russell's viper (Daboia russelli)
The Russell's viper is a monotypic genus of venomous Old World viper. The single species, D. russelii, is found in Asia throughout the Indian subcontinent, much of Southeast Asia, southern China and Taiwan. The species was named in honor of Patrick Russell (1726–1805), a Scottish herpetologist who first described many of India's snakes; and the name of the genus is from the Hindi word meaning "that lies hid", or "the lurker." Apart from being a member of the big four snakes in India, Daboia is also one of the species responsible for causing the most snakebite incidents and deaths among all venomous snakes on account of many factors, such as their wide distribution and frequent occurrence in highly populated areas. Two subspecies are currently recognized, including the nominate subspecies described here.

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Christian snake handling, as popularized by Hensley
George Went Hensley (2 May 1881 – July 25, 1955) was an American Pentecostal minister best known for popularizing the practice of snake handling. A native of rural Appalachia, Hensley experienced a religious conversion around 1910: on the basis of a literal interpretation of scripture, he came to believe that the New Testament commanded all Christians to handle venomous snakes.

Hensley was part of a large family that had moved between Tennessee and Virginia, before settling in Tennessee shortly after his birth. Following his conversion, he traveled through the Southeastern United States, teaching a form of Pentecostalism that emphasized strict personal holiness and frequent contact with venomous snakes. Although illiterate, he became a licensed minister of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in 1915. After traveling through Tennessee for several years conducting Church of God-sanctioned services, he resigned from the denomination in 1922. Hensley was married four times and fathered thirteen children.

In 1955, while conducting a service in Florida, he was bitten by a snake and became violently ill. He refused to seek medical attention and died the following day. Despite his personal failings, he convinced many residents of rural Appalachia that snake handling was commanded by God, and his followers continued the practice after his death. Although snake handling developed independently in several Pentecostal ministries, Hensley is generally credited with spreading the custom in the Southeastern United States. (see more...)

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A portrait of the Asian vine snake Ahaetulla prasina. This snake has a wide distribution in Asia, where it occurs in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It feeds on small reptiles and amphibians, particularly lizards and tree frogs. Adults may attain 1.8 m (6 feet) in total length, with a tail 0.6 m (2 feet) long. Its appearance is very much like those of South American vine snakes. It is a rear-fanged species and is mildly venomous but is not considered a threat to humans.
Photo credit: Thai National Parks

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A Balkan whip snake

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