Are snakes reptiles?

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Snakes are unique animals with truly bizarre anatomy. In fact, they're so bizarre that it's hard to tell what they are and how we might classify them just by looking at them! Are snakes reptiles, mammals, amphibians or something else entirely?

Read on as we take a closer look at snakes and how we classify them. We'll also cover where they live, what they eat, and many more interesting facts you may not know about these amazing snakes.

Are snakes reptiles or amphibians?

Close-up of a corn snake
All snakes are classified as reptiles.

© Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

Snakes are reptiles! Taxonomically, all snakes belong to the class Reptiles . It's a huge group that includes animals like lizards, turtles, crocodiles and tuataras. Most reptiles are quadrupeds, meaning they have four limbs, but snakes are somewhat unique in that they are descended from lizards and evolved to not need limbs.

Other characteristics common to all reptiles include:

  • The scales (or scutes, for turtles) that cover the body
  • Rely on the environment to maintain body temperature, which means they are ectothermic or cold-blooded
  • the internal skeleton and backbone that make them vertebrates
  • Presence of at least one lung for respiration instead of gills
  • Reproduction occurs by laying eggs, although some reptiles can achieve live birth to some extent by allowing the eggs to hatch inside the body (a trait known as ovoviparity ).

Reptiles are an ancient group of animals that first evolved from amphibians about 300 million years ago! They gradually diverged from their amphibious ancestors, transitioning to living primarily on land. However, many of today's snakes are excellent swimmers and are highly aquatic.

We can classify snakes as members of the order Squamata, a group of reptiles consisting of lizards and snakes. In this group, snakes belong to the suborder Snakes . There are nearly 4,000 different species of snakes in this group!

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Snakes differ from lizards not only because they have no limbs, but also because they have no limbs; they also have more joints in their skulls and highly elastic jaws, allowing them to eat very large prey. Due to their elongated and slender bodies, they have a different arrangement of organs than lizards. Most snakes have only one working lung. Although they have no legs, many snakes have very small residues called pelvic or anal spurs on either side of their vents.

How many kinds of snakes are there?

best pet snakes
There are over 4,000 different species of snakes.

©Natalia Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com

The suborder Serpentes currently contains over 4,000 different species of snakes! There are more than 20 different snake families and more than 500 unique genera in this suborder. These smaller groups exist to help us further classify snakes based on the physical traits and behaviors they share.

Like most animals, all snakes have a common name and a Latin taxonomic name denoting their genus and species. For example, the taxonomic name for the common garter snake is Thamnophis sirtalis . This is because the genus it belongs to is Thamnophis , and its specific species within that genus is called sirtalis .

Snakes vary widely in size. The shortest and smallest snakes in the world are the tiny thread snakes, only 4 to 5 inches long. Meanwhile, the largest snakes, such as the green anaconda and the reticulated python, can grow to over 20 feet and often weigh over 150 pounds!

Extinct snakes were much bigger! For example, the gigantic Titanoboa cerrejonensis lived about 60 million years ago, typically 40 to 50 feet long and weighing more than 2,000 pounds. This is bigger than the average school bus!

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Where do snakes live?

where snakes live
Some snakes, such as the banded sea snake, can stay underwater for hours at a time.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

Today, snakes occupy every continent except Antarctica. Bad news for snake phobias, but exciting if you're a snake lover! While most species thrive best in hot, humid tropics due to their cold-blooded nature, snakes are highly adaptable. They have evolved to live comfortably in a variety of habitats, from forests and swamps to deserts and savannas.

Certain species can be terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on land, arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in trees, or burrowing, meaning they Mainly live underground. For example, flying snakes and vine snakes are arboreal. They have adapted well to living in tall trees in dense forests.

Some snakes, such as sea snakes, have even evolved to spend most of their lives in water. They have broad, paddle-like tails that enable them to swim very quickly and efficiently. What's more, they can hold their breath underwater for long periods of time, breathing through their skin!

Are snakes carnivorous?

Snakes like the Gaboon viper have super elastic jaws that allow them to eat very large prey with ease.

©frantic00/Shutterstock.com

All snakes are carnivores, meaning they must eat other animals to survive, and cannot digest plants. In general, they have long metabolisms and are slow to digest food, so most of them only need to eat every few weeks or so. However, what specific type of animal a snake eats depends on its size, species, and where it lives.

For example, smaller snakes such as garter snakes and corn snakes feed primarily on small rodents, birds and their eggs. Larger species, such as the Gaboon viper, can eat larger prey such as guinea fowl, rabbits, and frogs. The largest snakes in the world, like reticulated pythons and king cobras, are capable of hunting animals like goats, wild boars and even other snakes!

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A snake's habitat also determines much of its diet. Aquatic snakes like kraits and buckskins feed primarily on fish and amphibians. Meanwhile, terrestrial and crypt snakes may eat small, burrowing rodents such as mice, moles, and even other reptiles such as small lizards. Arboreal snakes, which spend most of their time in trees, are more likely to feed on birds and their eggs.

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about the author


Hailey Pruett is a non-binary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and owned and cared for a variety of animals, from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, and more!). When they're not busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they're usually playing arcane indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, salamanders and marine iguanas.

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