Photograph by Mattias Klum
King cobras avoid humans, but when cornered they can deliver enough venom in their bite to kill 20 people. They can also move forward while looking a 6-foot-tall (1.8-meter-tall) person in the eye, a third of their body raised up off the ground. Found in India, southern China, and Southeast Asia, king cobras are the only snakes in the world to build nests for their eggs.
Photograph by Claus Meyer/Minden Pictures
Awkward on land but agile in water, the anaconda lives in the swamps and tropical rain forests of South America. The yellow anaconda (pictured) is smaller than the green anaconda—the largest snake in the world by weight—but still reaches lengths of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters). With flexible jaws and muscular bodies, these nonvenomous constrictors squeeze their prey to death and swallow it whole—whether it’s a bird, turtle, or deer.
Desert Death Adder
Photograph by Jason Edwards
Often colored in rusts and yellows to match its sand and rock surroundings, the desert death adder of western Australia lures prey by wiggling its thin black tail tip. When a lizard approaches, the snake strikes, delivering powerful venom. Australia is home to 17 of the world's most venomous snakes, including the death adder. Even so, snakes only cause one or two deaths a year there.
Snake Emerging From Egg
Photograph by Mike Guzman
A green tree python, native to the rain forests of New Guinea and northeastern Australia, emerges from its shell. Most newborn snakes, which must free themselves from tough, leathery eggs, come armed with a single egg tooth, located on their head or snout. The egg tooth is used to tear through the shell and is discarded when the snake first sheds its skin. Thirty percent of snakes, however, give birth to live young. Egg-laying snakes usually live in warmer climates, which helps incubate their eggs.
Photograph by Tim Laman
While some snakes spend the winter gathered in dens, they disperse widely the rest of the year, making it difficult to find food or mates. To survive, snakes have evolved the forked tongue. They use it to collect scent molecules, which they process within special organs, to discern whether they are nearing a food item or a deadly foe. Male snakes can also judge whether a female snake is of the same species, how ready she is to mate, and—from the intensity of the scents on each fork—in which direction she is moving.
Photograph by Beverly Joubert
Named for the color of the inside of its mouth, the black mamba strikes repeatedly with venomous fangs. Widely considered the world’s deadliest snake, it continues to take human life in its native habitats in southern and eastern Africa, despite the development of antivenin. A resident of rocky hills and grasslands, the black mamba is also among the fastest snakes in the world, moving at up to 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) per hour.
Photograph by Jason Edwards
The spectacled cobra, named for the eyeglass design on its flared hood (seen here), shares with the Russell's viper the infamy of causing more human deaths than any other snakes. Both are highly venomous and are found in the midst of vast populations of people in Southeast Asia. The spectacled cobra eats rats, poultry, and frogs and is known to enter houses when hunting.
Mozambique Spitting Cobra
Photograph from Stockbyte/Getty Images
The Mozambique spitting cobra can eject venom up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) away. It spits from any position, raised or on the ground, and often goes for the eyes. Untreated, its venom can cause blindness. Considered the most dangerous snake after the mamba, the spitting cobra sometimes feigns death to avoid molestation.
Photograph by John Scofield
Although still performed in India, other parts of Asia, and North Africa, snake charming as a profession has declined in recent years because of wildlife protection laws and broader public knowledge about the reptiles. Snakes kept by charmers may have their teeth removed, venom ducts burst, and mouths sewn shut. During their "dances," the snakes respond to the shape and movement of a snake charmer’s flute rather than its music; snakes are virtually deaf.
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