Snakey Superlatives

Oh, you lucky duck, you! Here’s your one-stop shopping for all your mind-blowing, legless Squamate factoids for the day! (Except legless lizards…those kind of creep me out. Eep.) I wasn’t feeling a hard-science post, but there’s always fun to be had in the biology world! As a disclaimer, there isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to today’s spewing of info, I just had a lot of fun snake tidbits in mind that I wanted to share. So look at today’s thought-process grandeur as a snapshot of what it’s kind of like to be in my brain. Except my brain is more glittery.


Credit: National Geographic

General Overview: Snakes are a group of long-bodied, legless* reptiles. (*I say “leg-less” with the quick caveat that some snakes do have teeny-tiny vestigial “leg” nubs.) As reptiles, they’re ectothermic, or “cold-blooded,” which means they can’t regulate their body temperature they way we can and instead rely on their environment and behavioral modifications (e.g., basking on a rock in the sun on a warm day.) Hand-in-hand with the energy conservation involved in their thermal regulation, snakes also have some amazing metabolic adaptations. Snakes can lower their metabolic rates, delaying the need for food. In fact, some snakes can go months without eating, and sea snakes can go up to seven months without drinking! (But don’t use that as an excuse not to feed/water your pet snake, please and thank you 🙂  In other snakey fast-facts, our vertically-challenged, slithery friends don’t have eyelids, but they do have protective brilles–a clear scale over each eye. Snakes also regularly undergo ecdysis–the shedding of their skin (including the brilles). Also, snake diets depend on the species but range from ants and termites to small rodents and reptiles to larger mammals, birds, and other snakes. How’s that for a carnivore?

Now the title of this post is “Snakey Superlatives”…so naturally, I have included some snakey superlatives. Ready?


Your Worst Nightmare Snake

Titanoboa cerrejonensis may be long-extinct, but it’s still a wonder to hear about. This monster could be as much as 40 feet long, weigh over a ton, and at its widest point, its body could be 3-4 feet high. The largest known snake in history, the species could probably send shivers up the spine of even today’s bravest herpetologist. Simultaneously awesome and terrifying.



The Biggest Extant Species of Snake

Kind of depends on what we count as biggest. The green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) typically goes down on record with the reticulated python (Python reticulates) as being the largest snake in the world, but it depends on whether length or mass is considered. Green anacondas are the most massive, weighing in at up 550 lbs when 20-30 feet long, but reticulated pythons can be longest with a record length of 32 feet and weighing ~350 lbs.


Green Anaconda, credit Arkive


Smallest Snake in the World

Maybe the big boys aren’t quite your thing, so what about the smallest snake in the world? The Barbados threadsnake (Leptotyphlops carlae) grows to only about 10 cm long and it subsists on ants and termites. How cute is that?

Barbados threadsnake

Barbados Threadsnake, credit National Geographic

Prettiest Snake in the World

Perhaps a slightly subjective assessment, I’ll admit, but the emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus) is a gorgeous green to blend in its South American forest home.

emerald tree boa

Emerald Tree Boa, credit National Aquarium


World’s Largest Gathering of Snakes

Yeah, you’re just gonna have to watch this one.

While I have your attention, though, I think it would be best if I dispelled a few myths about snakes. Out of casual observation, I would say this group of animals gets the most undeserved fear of most taxa.

Myth: Snakes are highly aggressive and should always be “taken care of,” mob style

As a good rule of thumb, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. As predators, snakes are incredibly important members of their communities, and minimizing the disruption of food webs is a noteworthy goal on our part. That being said, if you do see a rattlesnake–please walk away and take your dog and small children with you. Big children, too, probably. (This safety page was directed at Florida residents, but it’s fairly reasonable for anyone–though I admit even I raised an eyebrow at the trash can method.)

Myth: Snakes unhinge their jaws to eat.

They’re not really unhinging their jaws. Snakes just have a much more kinetic skull than we do—they have a greater number of movable joints. If you feel your lower jaw, it’s one solid bone. When you were much younger, though, you used to have a “joint” down the midline of your jaw (think of an invisible line extending straight down from below your two middle front teeth). This was never a movable joint, though since we don’t particularly need a joint there, and the two halves of your jaw fused together as you progressed in development, forming the mandibular symphysis.

On the other hand, snakes have several kinetic points in their jaws that allow them to open their mouths multiple times as large as their head normally appears when resting. Since snakes don’t chew their food, they need to able to swallow their dinner whole.snake jaw

Myth: Snakes are poisonous.

Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope…wait for it…nope! (Ok, there is one genus of legitimately poisonous snakes in the world.) But copperheads, rattlesnakes, cobras, bushmasters, vipers, etc—not poisonous!

However, there are plenty of venomous snakes in the world.

What’s the difference you say? Well, poisons are secreted, generally somewhere on the surface of an animal’s body. Animals like toads and newts can be poisonous. If you try to eat them, you could get very sick, have a very “strange” evening, or both. A way to remember, poison is ingested, venom is injected.

So snakes are pretty awesome, are you convinced yet? If not, don’t worry, I can post lots more snakey things to change your mind.

Until next time,

Peace, love, and science!

The Best of Both Worlds

Hebrews 11:1
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV, 2001 ed.)

I spent my last blog post exploring the general public’s idea of science and the scientific method. If anything, I hope I was able to convey that science is the process of testing ideas and hypotheses to draw conclusions about the natural, physical world. As a quick refresher summary, science is quantifiable; it’s observable, measurable, reproducible, and concrete. Sure, sometimes the process can be darn murky (I’m actually cross-eyed with some of my own confusing data at the moment and procrastinating by writing this) and sometimes it becomes too complex for a simple mind like mine to visualize. On the whole, though, science tries to build up evidence and draw conclusions based on that evidence.

Now if we turn to the flip side…what is faith? The whole point of my blog is that I’m a person who loves science, but I’m also very faith-based and love my God as well. I opened up this post with Hebrews 11:1 because I think it captures a very important distinction between science and faith: faith is trusting something even when traditional “evidence” is absent. I can’t bottle God, design an experiment to test His power or even His existence, and I certainly can’t quantify anything about Him. There is no statistical test that will ever demonstrate His significance (nhaha, see what I did there?), and I can’t present the kind of reproducible data that would ever sway a non-believer or impress reviewers for a journal.

So why on earth would I enjoy having these two facets in my life? On the one hand, I selected a career path that has trained me to be skeptical and critical of how someone arrives at a conclusion (well, at least a good number of folks have tried to help me think this way…definitely a work in progress). On the other hand, I put the ultimate confidence of my life in Someone that I will probably never see with my own eyes while I’m alive on this Earth. In a way, these two different directions are almost opposing absolutes—sometimes complementary, sometimes in seeming opposition.

For me, though, there are two ways around this impasse. The first is that I don’t hold science or the scientific method itself as the be-all, end-all. It is an incredibly powerful way of answering questions, but it always will be limited by our knowledge, intellect, creativity, and technology. Heck, Louis Pasteur did away with thousands of years of ideas behind spontaneous generation by simply bending a tube. Giant Disclaimer: I’m not by any means saying I don’t trust modern science. (So please vaccinate your kids and reduce, reuse, recycle, dagnabbit.) I am saying that just because we can’t or don’t know how to test something, we don’t necessarily have to negate its value or authenticity. How on earth can you test spirituality? To my knowledge, you can’t. Does that mean spirituality has no value? Well, the ancient Egyptians thought the brain was a useless lump in our skulls, but they had no way to test that idea. That sure as crikey didn’t mean the brain actually was useless though.

Second, and probably the weightier factor for me, is that I’m willing to accept a very different kind of “proof” with my faith: my own story and experiences. Now don’t get me wrong; I will be the first to cry foul when someone tries to pawn off anecdotal evidence as data, especially if they’re trying to tell me how they cured cancer with cod liver oil and bean sprouts or something. And heck, out there on the interwebzz, you can find a shockingly scandalous conspiracy theory or goofy tale for just about anything. Beyond that, though, I mean our full personal stories, our own history and experiences. Our personal stories shape our emotions, influence what political beliefs we will adhere to, and help make decisions about novel situations (this version is easier for that one). Our stories are really what make us. As for my faith, my story and my life experiences all say that there is Something out there controlling random chance. There is a sense of deeper meaning and value than I have ever found in science, and there are life experiences that I can’t explain away with any reasonable answer.

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis:

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

It’s more on the philosophical side, and I’m sure there are plenty who would debate me on it. Indeed I have a number of friends who don’t even think there really is any ultimate meaning in life. Now be sure to note, I’m not here to judge that belief or the people who hold it. Rather, my point is that I personally don’t know how to ignore the idea that every person I’ve ever met is worth more than the simple generational act of passing on one’s genes. We’re worth more than just being polite or being a “good person,” whatever that really means. Maybe this is just me being too anthropocentric. Maybe I’m biased because I’m just lucky and have gotten to meet some really awesome folks in my life. Maybe I’m too full of myself to believe I’m worthless #rockstar #clearly

Or maybe…just maybe…each one of us really is loved and valued by Someone,  from somewhere outside our own little worlds.

Well, agree with me or call me crazy. Science will never tell me if I’m right on that last bit or not, but I’m cool with that. I’m going to keep on running the in-between ground—learning about God and teaching folks all the nerdy tidbits I can find! And now you know what to expect from me if you come back in the future.

Peace, love, and science!


P.S. Sorry about the lateness of this post…too much fun happening around the 4th of July. Stay tuned for my next post, though! You’ll learn more than you ever realized you needed to about reptiles!

*Oo! Like my C.S. Lewis quote, want to see some crazy animals that really do live in a world without light? Check out the blind salamander, Mexican blind cave fish, and virtually anything that lives below the photic zone in the ocean. Just watch out for these bad boys. And these.