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How do snakes slither?

A juvenile timber rattlesnake peeks out from under a rock.
Jane Lindholm
/
Vermont Public
A juvenile timber rattlesnake peeks out from under a rock.

Field trip time! Today we’re learning all about snakes while out on a search for timber rattlesnakes in New York with state wildlife biologist Lisa Pipino. Some of the questions we tackle: How do some snakes make venom? Why are some snakes venomous and others are not? Why do rattlesnakes have a rattle? How do snakes slither on the ground without legs? Why don’t snakes have legs? Why don’t snakes have ears? How do they smell with their tongues? Why do some snakes use heat vision? Do snakes sleep? Why do snakes stick out their tongues so much?

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

lisa-pipino-vermont-public-lindholm-20220812.jpg
Jane Lindholm
/
Vermont Public
Wildlife biologist Lisa Pipino looks for a timber rattlesnake.

  • Snakes are ectothermic - meaning they are cold-blooded and rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Snakes like to bask on warm rocks to stay warm. 
  • A rattlesnake’s first rattle segment is called a button. They shed their skin once or twice per year and each time they do, they get a new rattle segment.
  • Rattle segments sit on top of each other, and when rattlesnakes shake their tail, the segments rattle. This noise is a warning to predators to stay away.
  • Some snakes lay eggs. Others develop eggs that grow and hatch inside their body, meaning the snakes give birth to live young. Rattlesnakes give birth to live young but only stay with their babies for about a week. Those babies follow their mother’s scent trail back to the den for winter. 
  • Some snakes are venomous, but not poisonous. What’s the difference?! Venom is delivered through a bite or a stinger, while poison is usually inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. Snake venom is a lot like saliva, except it’s toxic. Snakes create it using a special gland. They then use their venom to immobilize or kill their prey before they eat it. They sometimes use their venomous bite as a defense as well.
  • Snakes do have nostrils and can smell through their nose a little bit. But they mostly use their tongues to smell and sense their environment. They stick out their tongues to pick up scents. And then they rub their tongues on a special organ at the top of their mouths, which sends a message about the scent to their brains. 
  • Timber rattlesnakes live in the Eastern US and are different from some of the other well-known rattlesnakes in the Western US. In much of the northeastern states they’re considered threatened or endangered. People shouldn’t try to look for these snakes because of the possibility of disturbing the snakes or their habitats. 
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the senior producer for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.