Photo: alkir via Getty Images
Many are curious: is there a difference between a python and a snake? After all, when we imagine a python, we see a terrifyingly large and long predator. When we think of a snake, we tend to visualize a slender and silent stalker.
Is there a difference? Snakes and pythons are distinct because snakes are legless serpents with long, thin bodies and fork-shaped tongues, whereas pythons are huge constricting snakes.
Therefore, all pythons are snakes, but not all snakes are pythons. Let's explore both.
What Are Snakes?
Photo: RugliG via Getty Images
Snakes have over 3,000 different species and may be found worldwide, except in Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand.
Around 600 species are venomous, although only 200, or 7%, are capable of killing or seriously injuring humans. Nonvenomous snakes, ranging from the innocuous garter snake to the not-quite-harmless python, kill their prey by consuming them alive or by constriction. Nearly all snakes devour their prey whole, regardless of how they slay it.
Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles; thus, they have to control their body temperature externally using scales. Scales have several functions: In dry regions, they act as a moisture reservoir and minimize friction when the snake is in motion. Several kinds of snakes have been found that are mainly scaleless, although even these snakes contain scales on their undersides.
The First Snakes
Historically, the first snakes have been traced to the Paleocene Epoch (66–56 million years ago), when fossil evidence of their existence was discovered. In recent research, however, it has been shown that snakes have been around for much longer than 66 million years. One hundred sixty-seven million years ago, scientists discovered the earliest snakes, which they believe had legs at the time.
The Eophis underwoodi is considered by many scientists to be the oldest snake ever discovered. This four-legged snake evolved during the Bathonian era of the Middle Jurassic, about 167 million years ago. The bones of this creature were unearthed in southern England.
The 60-million-year-old Titanoboa, on the other hand, is the most well-known, most fearsome, and largest snake ever to exist. Its skeletons were unearthed in the South American jungles and are estimated to measure 50 feet long and 2,500 pounds heavy. It weighed twice the weight of a polar bear and may grow to be three feet wide, far broader than a person's arm. The Titanoboa destroyed its target through asphyxiation or constriction, given that it could squeeze as forcefully as 400 pounds per square inch, sufficient to kill prey in less than two seconds.
In the opinion of many experts, it is still one of the most terrible ancient beasts ever to have existed.
The First Of The Six Families Of The Snake Empire: The Python (Family Pythonidae)
Photo: chameleonseye via Getty Images
In terms of overall length, python is unrivaled. Instead of a deadly bite, they strangle their meal by coiling around it and gradually tightening their embrace until their victim can no longer breathe.
Scientists argue that because they are genetically unique from every other snake, pythons represent an earlier stage of evolutionary divergence.
According to what we can see in their anatomy, the vast majority of today's pythons have retained their small back limbs, which are a relic of the snakes' ancient lizard relatives. This shows that the snake hasn't altered much over millions of years since it originally emerged.
The legs poke out from the skin close to the base of the snake's tail by a few millimeters and are known as "pelvic spurs."
This family's two most prominent members are the Ball and the Reticulated Python.
The longest snake in the world currently is the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus). This vibrant constrictor can get as long as 30 feet and is the only snake documented to kill and eat people in the wild.
Even though pythons are known for being big, not all of them are. The ball python is a kin of the reticulated python, but it is much smaller, and only grows to be 5 or 6 feet long. The ball python is one of the more widely known reptiles to buy as a pet, given that it is small and has vibrant colors. The name "ball python" comes from the snake's way of protecting itself, which is to curl up into a ball.
The Five More Families Of The Snake Empire
Anacondas and Boas — The Family Boidae
Anacondas look like pythons because of how big they are, but they are only distantly related. Anacondas are shorter and bulkier than pythons, and their heads are not as pointed as those of pythons.
The boas, also constrictors, are nearer cousins of the anacondas. Pythons live in Asia and Africa, while boas and anacondas live in South and Central America. They have live babies instead of eggs like pythons and most other snakes.
A member of this family is the Green Anaconda. The green anaconda is unquestionably the heaviest snake in the world. The biggest snake ever found was a 28-foot-long green anaconda, slightly shorter than the lengthiest reticulated python. Due to her size, the record-setting anaconda weighed approximately around 500 pounds, which is over 100 pounds heavier than the python.
Viperids — The Family Viperidae
Vipers are iconic venomous snakes. They are a diverse group of snakes that live all over the world. Most of the time, you can tell a viper by its head, which is triangular.
Proteases, primarily digestive enzymes that destroy proteins and harm tissue, are the important bioactive components in viper venom. Vipers don't have neurotoxins like cobras and mambas in their venom, which means that the bite can be excruciating, but it doesn't usually kill.
Many vipers, like other venomous snakes, appear to hold venom that is significantly more potent than warranted. Some evolutionary biologists think venom was first used for hunting, but today its main function is safeguarding the snake from threats up the food chain. A successful viper bite might be excessive for a rodent, but it may be just what a hungry predator needs to steer clear of.
Elapids — The Family Elapidae
Elapids are small, but they are very dangerous creatures. They use potent neurotoxins to make their prey unable to move.
Elapid venom stops nerve cells from sending and receiving signals, which causes paralysis and death. These neurotoxins do not specifically speed up digestion as viper venom does. Instead, they incapacitate the prey, which makes it easier to ingest.
Some elapids, like black mambas and king cobras, are very fatal and can kill a human being in less than 60 minutes. The poor victim might feel fine for up to ten minutes, but the bite would hurt and swelled. Over time, though, he will get partial paralysis, droopy eyes, and a metallic taste that appears out of the blue.
If not treated, the venom will knock the victim out and gradually paralyze the muscle groups that operate the lungs, resulting in death from an absence of oxygen.
Colubrids — The Family Colubridae
The Colubridae family, which includes 1,750 snake species, accounts for over two-thirds of the planet's snakes.
Despite their variety, they receive less attention than other snake families due to their lack of size and potential threat. Colubrid snakes are the commonplace, non-venomous snakes you could see on a hiking trail or in a pet store.
Colubrids can vary greatly in size and coloration. They are usually slim, with a head barely broader than the rest of their body.
Leptotyphlopids — The Family Leptotyphlopidae
Threadsnakes, also known as leptotyphlopids, is a long-extinct family of snakes. Despite their small size and habit of living underground, these creatures may be found all over the planet.
Most of a thread snake's life is spent underground, where it specializes in hunting ants and termites.
The Barbados thread snake, the world's tiniest snake, belongs to the Leptotyphlopidae family. About the size of a spaghetti strand, this worm-like organism seldom exceeds four inches in length. Before 2006, when a team of scientists discovered two specimens under a boulder, this snake was unknown to biologists.