Range:

All continents except Antarctica

Habitat:

From open oceans and vast deserts to mountain regions at altitudes of over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters).

SSSensational serpents!

Snakes, by and large, get a bum rap. Many people have a deep fear of these reptiles. Their long, slender bodies and lack of legs, eyelids, or ear flaps distinguish snakes from all other reptiles. They are covered with back-folded and pliable skin sections called scales. The skin between the scales is called interstitial skin. Like their reptile brethren, they use the heat of the surrounding air to regulate their body temperature. A flexible body allows snakes to stretch out to warm up quickly, to curl up to conserve body heat, or just to warm a particular part of the body.

Climate control

Snakes are found living on land and in water, as well as in every habitat imaginable. Those that live in places where it gets very cold in the winter may hibernate in deep, underground dens, remaining dormant until spring brings warm weather again. Snakes that live in desert habitats often spend the heat of the day in burrows dug by other animals.

Snakes grow their entire lives! As long as there is food available, they keep getting bigger, if only a little at a time.
The female leaf-nosed snake has a scaly projection that looks like a leaf. The snout of the male ends in a long, thin point, like a twig or a thorn.
The taipan is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. However, like other venomous snakes, it only strikes at humans to protect itself.
Of the nearly 3,000 different snake species, only about 15 percent are dangerous to humans.
More people are struck by lightning than are bitten by venomous snakes.

Our famous snakes

Snakes have been a part of the San Diego Zoo’s animal collection since its inception. By 1922, a fine reptile house, which doubled as the Zoo’s entrance, exhibited 46 snake species, including pythons, 11 rattlesnake species, vipers, and boa constrictors. An aisle ran from the front to the rear of the building. On each side of the aisle, a large, oblong, concrete pool was built, with one providing a home for the water snakes.

Our first snakes were gathered from the Zoo grounds itself. As construction of the fledgling zoo continued, workmen found so many snakes that the Zoo was able to trade them with other zoos! Our most famous snake resident in those early years was Diablo, a 200-pound (90 kilogram) python brought from India in 1924. This impressive animal refused any food item offered him, so large sausages were forced down his throat with a meat grinder while six men held him. Word of this feeding strategy drew so many onlookers that soon the Zoo posted feeding times for Diablo and used them as fund-raising events! Our Zoo’s founder, Harry Wegeforth, M.D., wrote “All during this snake’s life, it never once ate of its own volition, yet it lived longer and more healthily than snakes who ate normally.”

Reptile House

In 1936, a new Reptile House opened, and it continues to delight and awe visitors today. A stroll around its perimeter allows you to safely view an amazing collection of pythons, cobras, boas, rattlesnakes, king cobras, and rinkhals, which are true spitting cobras that also “play dead.” Because you’re on the outside looking in, you’re not bothered by the heat and humidity required to maintain some of our snakes. Each enclosure is designed to look like the resident’s natural home. Youngsters proudly point out to their parents which snakes are venomous–with the help of a red dot on the appropriate signs! Some corners of the House feature the giants of the snake world: anacondas and pythons.

There are other areas of the Zoo where snakes can be seen, too. Our Elephant Odyssey is home to a variety of rattlesnakes that are native to the San Diego County region, including the largest rattler in our area, the red diamond rattlesnake. Lost Forest features snakes native to rain forest areas. We have the beautiful and rarely seen Mang Mountain vipers, which can be seen in the Zoo’s Panda Trek as they share habitat with the popular bamboo bears. A few of our snakes make appearances in animal presentations, giving guests an opportunity to touch these unique creatures.

Reptile Walk

Our new Reptile Walk in Discovery Outpost, across from the Galápagos tortoise habitat, opened in July 2012. One building features native reptiles and include Baja California rat snakes, California kingsnakes, red-sided and San Francisco garter snakes, and rosy boas.

Hear from our experts! Read our Reptiles & Amphibians blog.

S.O.S. (Save Our Snakes)

With snakes so widely distributed around the world, habitat loss and hunting for food or trade in snakeskins can have an impact on their survival. Yet when you consider how quickly rodents and rabbits reproduce, we owe a big thanks to snakes for helping control these populations. Scientists have been researching ways snake venom can be used in human medicine.

Golden lancehead snake

It is estimated that 30 percent of South American snakes and lizards are endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. One of these species is the golden lancehead snake, which inhabits Brazil’s Queimada Grande Island, nicknamed Snake Island. The golden lancehead is at critical risk due to collection of snakes for the illegal animal trade and natural disasters such as wildfire.

In 2011, a studbook was created by a San Diego Zoo Global collaborator in Brazil to help manage the captive population of these snakes, and we hope to start another colony at the Animal Reproduction Laboratory at the University Cruzeiro do Sul in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In addition, six first-generation zoo-bred snakes may one day form the nucleus of a third assurance colony at the San Diego Zoo. We believe that increasing research and educational outreach among the island’s people will decrease illegal activities there. A better understanding of population dynamics and factors affecting this species will help us establish more direct actions for golden lancehead conservation.

Diverse in size and color, with an important role in the web of life, snakes should be appreciated for their beauty and respected as fellow dwellers on this planet. Please leave them be.