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Thursday, September 9, 2010

10 Most Beautiful Snakes on Earth

Green Tree Python

Photo: nasmac

Snakes. The word makes some shudder and others cringe while yet others think in wonder of the huge world of reptiles and their marvels. Whether you hate them or love them, one thing cannot be denied, which is their beauty. Count the top 10 down with me!

10. Honduran Milk Snake
Honduran Milksnake

Photo: Doug Mong

Lampropeltis triangulum hondurensis, is found in Honduras and Nicaragua. While at first glance not one of the most beautiful snakes, take a look at its scales above - they are bright (which is what the 'lampro' in the binomial name stands for) and a brilliant red and black. They are constrictors, but look a lot like coral snakes which herpetologists believe is an example of Batesian Mimicry - when a harmless animal takes on the appearance of a venomous one to protect themselves.

scales of Honduran milksnake(closeup)

Photo: Doug Mong

9. Leucistic Texas Rat Snake
leucistic Texas Ratsnake

Photo: Doug Mong

This Leucistic Texas Rat Snake is a lovely lady in white. She gets her coloring and the "leucistic" element of her name from a condition that results in a lack of all pigmentation, rather than just melanin which appears in albinism. This is why her eyes are of normal color. Texas Rat Snakes are (obviously) found in Texas as well as in Arizona and Louisiana. They are non venomous so a bite will give you little more than a sore leg.

8. Indigo Eastern Rat Snake
Eastern Indigo Snake

Photo: Ameng Wu

The Eastern Indigo snake is unofficially the longest in America, reaching lengths of 9.2ft. Carnivorous in habits, he has been known to beat his prey against other objects in a frenzied fashion to kill it. He will even eat other snakes such as the Texas Rattlesnake, and is immune to its venom. That aside, he deserves number 8 in our countdown for his brilliant black beauty that can look almost blue in the light.

7. The Emerald Tree Boa
Emerald Tree Boa

Photo: Derek Ramsey

One of the most vivid and unforgettable snakes is the Emerald Tree Boa, Corallus Caninus. These are found in South America and the Amazon. Even though it looks like it is closely related to the Green Tree Python and sleeps the same way, they are only distant relatives. One thing that the Emerald has, is very large front teeth. They way she catche her prey is to stay coiled on the branch, head down, ready to strike. She then catches small
mammals with her front teeth and pulls them in to their doom.

6. The Iridescent Shieldtail
Iridescent Shieldhead

Photo: Sandilya Theuerkauf

The only reason this lovely is not in the top 3 is that it is hard to see exactly how beautiful she is from this photograph, but she is actually even more gorgeous than she appears here. She has to be one of the most beautiful snakes in the world. The Iridescent Shieldtail, Melanophidium bilineatum , is not well known. Only three specimens are thought to have ever been caught and little is known of how it behaves in the wild. Recently some more have been seen but all that can be said for certain is that it's beautiful and rare.

5. Amelanistic Burmese Python
Burmese Pythons

Photo: Danleo

This head turner is an Amelanistic Burmese python - a species which retains their yellow, carotenoid-derived pigments. Mammals only produce pigments with melanins while birds and reptiles can also produce them by other means including carotenoids as we see here. Effectively though, she can be considered an albino snake in that amelanistic is classified under albinism

4. Brazilian Rainbow Boa
Brazilian Rainbow Boa

Photo: Doug Mong

This beauty is the Brazilian Rainbow Boa, Epicrates cenchria
named for the iridescent color of its scales. The underlying color is either brown, orange as we see here or a mix of the two. It is found in Central and South America and all the way through the Amazon basin. It is medium sized compared to other snakes and it likes the rivers and drainage areas, living for up to 20 years.

3. Eastern Coral Snake
Coral Snake

Photo: Norman Benton

Micrurus fulvius is one of the most beautiful of all snakes. Unfortunately it is also very venomous, as are all coral snakes. On the good side, there are only about 15 to 20 recorded bites a year but on the bad side they are deadly and soon there will be no more antivenin for it. Pfizer, has said that with such low demand, it is not worth the cost and research spent on it, and current stock is due to expire at the end of this year. The snakes are forest animals, living in leaf litter and brush. They flee before biting, but if you do get bitten it is imperative you go to a doctor. Respiratory failure occurs within hours.

2. Blue Racer Snake
Blue Racer

Photo: Jon Fife

This beauty is a pretty rare photograph of a Blue Racer snake. I say rare because its not often you get such a brilliant blue reflecting from the scales, as often they seem more gray in color. Its formal name is Coluber constrictor but despite this, they normally simply pin their prey to the ground and swallow them alive. They are known mostly east of the Rockies but have been seen as far south as Mexico.

Blue Racer

Photo: Jon Fife

1. Green Tree Python

Photo: Micha L. Rieser

Morelia viridis, the Green Tree Python is a stunner that is found in New Guinea, Indonesia and parts of Australia. It, along with the Emerald Tree Boa, have a unique way of sleeping. They loop one or two coils along a branch, saddle style and place their head in the middle. Remember if it is in Indonesia, it is a python, if it is in South America, a boa. They are often mixed up because they are the only two that sleep this way.

Green Tree Python

Photo: Silvain de Munck

Sadly it is threatened due to the destruction of its habitat by logging, as well as by the pet trade. For her grace, her beauty and her threatened status, she easily deserves the number one spot in our countdown.

As I said earlier, whether you shudder at snakes or you like them, their beauty cannot be denied. There are others some feel more beautiful but I think this gives a good cross section of their amazing diversity in appearance. Several are threatened by loss of habitat, thereby threatening other species. However, hopefully we can remember that they are needed in this world to keep the food chain balanced. If for no reason but their beauty I hope you will think twice when you hear of new logging in the Amazon or other areas.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5 , 6