By Don Boyer
There is an incredible diversity of snake species that occupy a wide range of environments in tropical and temperate areas, from deserts and mountain summits to oceans. With about 3,458 species known so far, snakes are a successful group of predatory vertebrates. Since 2008, 309 new species of snake have been described.
WCS Zoos maintain approximately 50 species of snakes. A brief profile of four interesting snakes is provided below.
Reticulated Python Malayopython reticulatus
Oviparous (egg laying), females lay between 15 and 80 eggs per clutch. The female coils around her clutch protecting it from predators. Remarkably the female coiled around the eggs also raising the incubation temperature several degrees above the air temperature through muscular contracting called “shivering”. It is one of the largest snake species known with record a maximum record of 28 feet. More typically large adults are in the 10-20 foot range.
Green Tree Python Morelia viridis
The green tree python is a beautiful tree dwelling species from the tropical forests of Indonesia and Northeastern Australia. It often sits with coiled draped on either side of a branch. Its prehensile tail helps it hang on to its tree top perch. This species is also oviparous and hatchling emerges in one of two color patterns, bright yellow or dark orange. They lose this coloration after about one year of age.
King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah
The king cobra is the largest venomous snake species in the world achieving a maximum length of 18 feet! Female kings build a nest mound by gathering forest floor leaf litter in their coils. The snake then excavates a several chambers and deposits eggs in one of them. The decomposing leaf litter generates heat and acts as a natural incubator. The female stays with the eggs and aggressively defends the nest site.King Cobra by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS
Timber Rattlesnake Crotalus horridus
The timber rattlesnake appeared the American revolutionary war Gadsden flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words “Don’t tread on me”. The timber rattlesnake is still found in a large range across the Eastern US however some populations of this majestic rattlesnake are in decline and many states have placed on their protected species list.
Don Boyer is the Curator of Herpetology at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo