I remember visiting ZooTampa late in 2021 and running into a mother and her kids while checking out the snakes.
One of the kids asked his mother “Do snakes have bones?” and at first I thought that was an odd question.
But then I thought about it.
Considering they’re the same basic shape and snakes are so darned flexible, it’s easy to think they’re invertebrates.
It turns out snake anatomy is more fascinating than you would think, and their skeletons hide some incredible secrets.
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Do Snakes Have Bones?
As you might have already guessed, snakes do indeed have bones.
These nimble bodied vertebrates have 400 or more bones, most of which are vertebrae and ribs.
The spine protects its spinal cord, and their entire bone structure is connected with very flexible ligaments.
Since these critters lack limbs, their skeletons are designed differently.
If you’ve seen a pet snake eating, you’ll know it can unhinge its jaws and the ribcage can expand to accommodate mice and other food animals.
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WHY Do Snakes Have Bones?
Even though they only have a few types of bones, they function much like ours.
Snake skulls protect the brain while the jaws keep their teeth in place.
Meanwhile, the spine and ribcage protect their internal organs and serve as a connection point for muscle tissue.
How Many Bones Can a Snake Have?
This depends on the length and species of snake.
The average snake (such as garter snakes) can have around 400 bones.
Meanwhile, boas and larger pythons may have a lot more.
Some snakes also have special bones that we’ll discuss later.
Do Snakes Have a Backbone?
That depends on context.
All vertebrates have a backbone, the name itself referring to the vertebrae that make up this backbone.
These protect the spinal cord and also make it easier for the snake’s skin and muscles to flex.
Without this flexibility, snakes wouldn’t be able to move around.
But if you mean are they brave when asking if they have a backbone, this is a different matter.
Most snakes are actually scaredy cats and lack a backbone when it comes to danger.
How Does a Snake’s Skull Work?
Snakes have a very complex skull structure, with many joints.
This enables them to swallow prey far larger than their head (as much as three times, in fact).
The jaw bones are highly specialized and loosely attached to the skull with some very stretchy ligaments.
Unlike humans, the jaws in snakes are separated into 4 elements and aren’t fused together in the front.
It can expand both horizontally and vertically to fit prey.
Venomous snakes also have hollow fangs which inject venom but aren’t used for chewing.
The mouth design allows them to “walk” the fangs along their prey as they swallow it hole.
There’s also a little tube located at the bottom of the mouth that enables the snake to breathe while eating its prey.
What Do the Other Parts of Snake Skeletons Do?
The ribs of snakes don’t join together like most animals.
This allows expansion for ingesting a large prey and, in the case of a little species, compression.
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Some Surprising Snake Bones
Do you remember the story about the Garden of Eden?
In the story, a serpent tricks Eve into biting the forbidden fruit.
As punishment, God cursed the serpent to forever crawl on its belly.
This origin story for snakes may sound strange, but it’s not as farfetched as it sounds.
It turns out that primitive snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors still have vestigial limbs.
These include the remains of legs and feet, as well as bits of a pelvic girdle known as pelvic spurs..
None of these bones have any use, but they do prove that snakes evolved from lizards.
On a side note, these snakes also have vestigial organs, such as the remains of a second lung.
This is Only the Beginning
A phobia of snakes isn’t limited to Indiana Jones, and sometimes revolves around a snake’s shape and flexibility.
Unfortunately, this phobia (and more grounded fears of snakes) mean we know far less about these amazing critters than we should.
In 1999, the first of three books was released in an attempt to catalogue all living species of snakes.
Considering how much we’ve learned in recent years about just snake skeletons, these books will hopefully encourage people to study these fascinating critters more.