Do Snakes Have Bones? Snake Skeleton and Anatomy

Are snakes nothing more than bendy, twisty boneless gummy worms? Definitely not! Snakes have bones and lots of them!

Snakes utilize their bones to capture and swallow prey, to move and escape danger, and even to swim!

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Snakes Are Vertebrates

Vertebrates include all animals that possess a backbone or spinal column. A muscular system and a nervous system, partially enclosed by a backbone, are also characteristics of vertebrates.

Vertebrate bodies have distinct heads and bodies (trunk and tails) that contain a brain and three sense organs. (nose, eyes, ears)

There are approximately 45,000 vertebrate species! Examples include;

vertebrate dog

Animals that lack a backbone are called invertebrates. These include such examples as insects and spiders, squids and octopuses, and earthworms, jellyfish and corals.

Basic Snake Anatomy

Snakes have much of the same anatomy that we humans do! …except their anatomy is situated in their long slender bodies instead of the way it’s spread out in ours.

A snake’s head contains its brain, eyes, nostrils, mouth and their Jacobson’s organ; a special sensory structure. 

The Jacobson’s organ receives information from the snake’s tongue as it flicks in and out of the snake’s mouth.

Their tongues pick up very small scent particles in the air relaying this information to the Jacobson’s organ, sort of giving the snake its “sense of smell.”

Jacobson's Organ

Jacobson’s organ in a reptile” by Fred the Oyster is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Snakes, like humans, have organs such as heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and kidneys.

snake anatomy

A Snake’s Mouth and Jaw

The head and mouth of a snake is composed of many separate bones. The cranium (top where brain is located) is attached to the upper and lower jaws by ligaments.

Both the upper and lower jaws are split into two parts unlike most other animals. These two parts of the jaw (both upper and lower) are attached by flexible ligaments and do not lock in place. 

This flexibility allows snakes to stretch their jaws open wide in multiple directions and gives them the ability to swallow prey much larger than their heads!

Snakes even move these jaw parts independently! Snakes use a technique by moving one side of their jaw forward as the other side keeps its grip, allowing the snake to “walk” its prey into their stomachs.

This action can be seen here;

Snakes use the bones in their head and jaws to not only capture prey, but it open up wide and swallow it whole!

How Are Snakes So Flexible?

As mentioned previously snakes have vertebrae and each of these vertebrae, except those immediately behind the head and those in the tail, have a pair of ribs attached.

So how many vertebrae do snakes have? Well, they can have over 600 vertebrae!!

That means snakes can have over 1,200 ribs!

Each one of a snake’s ribs have free-floating ends, they aren’t connected together and this allows for great expansion and contraction of the entire body. 

Snakes not only need to stretch their jaws to swallow large prey but they need the ability to expand their bodies as well in order to digest their meals when swallowed whole.

How Does a Snake Constrict Its Prey?

Snakes use very strong muscles all along their body to hold onto and constrict their prey. Prey animals are constricted (squeezed) until blood is cut off to vital organs and the brain, resulting in death. 

Without bones (those hundreds of ribs attached along its spine) and their corresponding muscles, which give snakes incredible constricting power, they wouldn’t be able to loop and wrap their flexible bodies around their prey.

How Do Snakes Twist, Turn, and Move? Snake Locomotion

Unlike mammals snakes don’t have legs to walk around, instead they slither along on their bellies when going from place to place. Believe it or not, not all snakes “slither” in the same way.

What Are the 4 Types of Snake Locomotion?

  1. Serpentine -This is the way that most snakes move, it’s the obvious one seen in movies and at the zoo. A snake moves its body in “S-shaped” loops, pushing itself along against any resistance in the environment; rocks, stones, branches, leaves, etc. [Snakes that swim use lateral undulation which is nearly identical to serpentine locomotion] 
  2. Concertina -The snake moves along with an accordion-like motion. The snake will anchor its tail and back end of its body as it simultaneously extends its head and front half forward as far as it can. Once the head and front of the snake are secured firmly in place, the back half of the snake is pulled up close to meet the front, folded up somewhat like an accordion opening and closing. This cycle continues as the snakes moves along
  3. Rectilinear (caterpillar) -The snake will contract  its muscles in a “flowing” motion and move in a straight line which resembles the motion of a caterpillar. The muscles lift the body, anchor it, and push off all in a sequential motion, propelling it forward. 
  4. Sidewinding -This method of locomotion is the least dependent on friction and as such is used by many desert dwelling species given the sand substrate. Sidewinders move their bodies along in a loop heading in a horizontal direction. This method of locomotion also minimizes contact with the hot sand surfaces found in desert climates.

Do Snakes Have Bones? Conclusion

Snakes are absolutely amazing creatures! Creatures that Definitely Have Bones! Lots of Bones

Snakes utilize these bones to capture and swallow their prey, to move and escape danger, some even to swim! 

If you think snakes are interesting and would like to get more information about specific species or have even thought about keeping one as a pet please check out some of the great articles found here at Reptile Roommate!

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