Do Snakes Have Bones? An Illustrated (Simple) Guide

Snakes continue to fascinate us with their mesmerizing movements and unique biology. Among the many questions surrounding these limbless creatures, a common inquiry is whether they possess bones like other vertebrates.

So, do snakes have bones? And how many bones do they have?

Snakes do have bones. They can have around 200 to 400 bones, depending on the species and individual size. Their skeletal system consists mostly of vertebrae (spine bones) and ribs that are loosely connected to allow greater flexibility to the snake’s body

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of bones snakes have and how strong they are.

Do Snakes Have Bones?

a photo of a snake skeleton to show do snakes have bones

Snakes do have bones, just like most other vertebrates. However, their skeletal system exhibits some remarkable adaptations that make them unique in the animal kingdom.

While the overall skeleton of snakes may differ significantly from other vertebrates due to their limbless and elongated body form, the presence of bones is a universal characteristic shared by all snake species. 

These bones contribute to the snake’s remarkable adaptability, allowing them to thrive in various environments and fulfill their ecological roles as predators or scavengers.

How Many Bones Do Snakes Have?

The number of bones in snakes can vary depending on the species and individual snake’s size. However, on average, snakes typically have between 200 to 400 bones in their bodies.

The variation in bone count is due to the wide diversity of snake species, ranging from small, slender species with fewer bones to larger, more robust species with more bones. Additionally, some snake species may have extra bones in certain regions, such as the skull or tail, which contributes to the overall variation in bone count.

Despite the relatively high number of bones, the elongated and flexible nature of the snake’s body allows them to move with incredible agility and maneuverability.

It’s important to note that the bone count can vary not only between species but also within species, depending on factors such as age, developmental stage, and overall size of the individual snake. 

What Type of Bones Do Snakes Have?

A Snake’s Skeleton: simple but brilliant

Snakes have a unique and specialized skeletal structure that suits their limbless and elongated body form. Their bones are adapted to provide both support and flexibility, allowing them to move with agility and perform essential functions for survival. 

Let’s take a closer look at the types of bones that snakes possess:

Vertebrae 

The backbone or vertebral column of a snake is composed of numerous vertebrae. Unlike most vertebrates, snakes have a remarkably high number of vertebrae, which can range from as few as 50 to over 400, depending on the species. 

Each vertebra has a unique design with ball-and-socket joints, allowing for exceptional flexibility and enabling snakes to slither and twist their bodies in a variety of directions. The vertebrae are relatively small and lightweight, contributing to the overall efficiency of their locomotion.

Skull 

The skull of a snake is highly adapted to accommodate its unique feeding habits. 

Snake skulls are characterized by their elongated shape and a specialized joint called the quadrate bone. This joint allows the upper and lower jaws to move independently, enabling snakes to open their mouths extremely wide. 

Some snake species can extend their jaw up to 150 degrees, allowing them to swallow prey much larger than their head’s size.

Ribs 

Snakes have ribs, but their arrangement is distinct from most other vertebrates. 

Instead of being attached to each vertebra, each rib is loosely connected to a single vertebra, offering greater flexibility to the snake’s body. This flexibility is vital for accommodating large prey during feeding and for the lateral undulation used during movement.

Sternum 

Credit

Unlike most vertebrates, snakes lack a sternum, which is the breastbone.

The absence of a sternum contributes to the extraordinary flexibility of their body, making it possible for them to navigate through tight spaces and contort their shape during various activities.

Vestigial Pelvic Girdle

Some snake species retain vestigial pelvic girdles, remnants of their evolutionary ancestors’ hind limbs. These pelvic girdles are no longer functional, as snakes have completely lost their limbs over time. 

The presence of these vestiges serves as a fascinating link to the snake’s evolutionary history.

Rattle (in rattlesnakes)

In certain venomous rattlesnakes, the “rattle” is a unique structure composed of interlocking segments called keratin rattles. These rattles are located at the end of the snake’s tail and are used to create a warning sound when the snake feels threatened. 

The rattlesnake gains a new rattle segment each time it sheds its skin, resulting in a distinct and recognizable rattling sound.

How Strong Are Snake Bones?

Snake bones are relatively strong and resilient, considering the unique challenges and demands placed on their skeletal structure. However, compared to the bones of larger and more robust vertebrates, such as mammals or birds, snake bones are generally lighter and more delicate.

The strength of snake bones is well-suited to their needs as highly agile and flexible creatures. They are designed to provide sufficient support for the snake’s body while enabling them to move with incredible dexterity, which is essential for navigating its environments, capturing prey, and avoiding potential predators.

How to Tell If Your Snake Has A Broken Bone?

Detecting a broken bone in a snake can be challenging, as it may not exhibit obvious signs of injury. However, there are certain indications to watch for that could suggest a potential bone fracture. 

Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. Abnormal Body Posture: A snake with a broken bone may have an unusual or asymmetrical body posture. You may notice a kink or bend in the spine, indicating a possible vertebral fracture.
  2. Limping or Lameness: If your snake is moving with difficulty, dragging a part of its body, or unable to use a limb properly, it could be a sign of a broken bone.
  3. Swelling or Bruising: Observe for any localized swelling, bruising, or discoloration on the snake’s body, particularly around a specific area. Swelling may indicate an injury to the bone or surrounding tissues.
  4. Reluctance to Move: A snake with a broken bone may be hesitant to move or may avoid using the affected area altogether due to pain and discomfort.
  5. Loss of Appetite: Pain from a broken bone could cause a snake to lose interest in eating or become less active than usual.
  6. Respiratory Distress: A snake with a fractured rib may exhibit difficulty breathing or show signs of respiratory distress.

If you suspect that your snake has a broken bone or any other health issue, it is crucial to consult a qualified reptile veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not attempt to diagnose or treat the injury yourself, as improper handling or treatment could worsen the situation.

What to Do If Your Snake Breaks A Bone?

Dealing with a broken bone in a snake requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Here’s what you should do if you believe your snake has suffered a bone fracture:

  1. Isolate the Snake: Move the snake to a quiet and safe location in its enclosure, away from any potential stressors or other animals.
  2. Avoid Handling: Do not attempt to manipulate or set the bone yourself. Improper handling could cause further injury or pain to your snake.
  3. Contact a Reptile Veterinarian: Reach out to a qualified reptile veterinarian as soon as possible. Look for a vet with experience in treating snakes or exotic animals, as they will have the expertise to assess and handle the situation properly.
  4. Provide Temporary Comfort: While waiting for the veterinary appointment, you can help keep your snake comfortable by maintaining appropriate temperature and humidity levels in its enclosure. Avoid offering food, as it may not be able to eat comfortably in its injured state.
  5. Transportation: If you need to transport your snake to the veterinarian, do so carefully. Place the snake in a secure, well-ventilated container, ensuring that it cannot escape or injure itself further during the journey.
  6. Follow the Vet’s Instructions: Once you reach the veterinarian, follow their instructions carefully. They will perform a thorough examination, possibly including X-rays, to assess the extent of the injury. Based on the diagnosis, the vet will recommend the appropriate course of treatment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, snakes have bones that are specifically adapted to suit their limbless and elongated body structure. 

Their highly flexible vertebral column, specialized skull design, loosely connected ribs, and other unique skeletal features enable snakes to move with extraordinary agility, capture and consume prey, and thrive in diverse environments. 

The diverse and remarkable adaptations in snake bones illustrate the fascinating complexity of evolution and the incredible diversity found within the animal kingdom.

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