Living snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica, and on most smaller land masses; exceptions include some large islands, such as Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, the Hawaiian archipelago, and the islands of New Zealand, as well as many small islands of the Atlantic and central Pacific oceans. Additionally, sea snakes are widespread throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans. Around thirty families are currently recognized, comprising about 520 genera and about 3,900 species. They range in size from the tiny, 10.4 cm-long (4.1 in) Barbados threadsnake to the reticulated python of 6.95 meters (22.8 ft) in length. The fossil species Titanoboa cerrejonensis was 12.8 meters (42 ft) long. Snakes are thought to have evolved from either burrowing or aquatic lizards, perhaps during the Jurassic period, with the earliest known fossils dating to between 143 and 167 Ma ago. The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene epoch (c. 66 to 56 Ma ago, after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event). The oldest preserved descriptions of snakes can be found in the Brooklyn Papyrus. (Full article...)
A python (top) and rattlesnake illustrating the positions of the pit organs. Arrows pointing to the pit organs are red; a black arrow points to the nostril.
The ability to sense infraredthermal radiation evolved independently in two different groups of snakes, one consisting of the families Boidae (boas) and Pythonidae (pythons), the other of the family Crotalinae (pit vipers). What is commonly called a pit organ allows these animals to essentially "see" radiant heat at wavelengths between 5 and 30 μm. The more advanced infrared sense of pit vipers allows these animals to strike prey accurately even in the absence of light, and detect warm objects from several meters away. It was previously thought that the organs evolved primarily as prey detectors, but recent evidence suggests that it may also be used in thermoregulation and predator detection, making it a more general-purpose sensory organ than was supposed. (Full article...)
Image 16The skeletons of snakes are radically different from those of most other reptiles (as compared with the turtle here, for example), consisting almost entirely of an extended ribcage. (from Snake)