An Overview of Central American Snakes and their Habitats

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Central America, with its humid tropical climate, is home to at least 135 species of snakes. The vast majority of these snakes are harmless and many are quite beautiful. Snakes are found in a variety of habitats, but most are in low to middle elevation wet forests. There are 5 basic types of snakes found in Central America: the colubrids, boas, vipers, cobras, and sea snakes. Only 17 species of snakes are venomous and they are classified as viper, cobra or sea snake.

The colubrids or common snake contain the largest number of species. The tropical chicken snake or rat snake is a beautiful, mid-size shiny black snake with yellow markings. It is found in wet forests, brushy woodlands or open areas. They live in trees or on the ground, usually around water. The harlequin snake is a small snake with black and white rings. It is also known as a false coral snake. It lives in Pacific wet forests either on the ground or in low vegetation. The Indigo snake is a large beige, brown or olive color snake. It is usually found on the ground or in water in swamps, marshes or rivers. It can climb low plants. The "blood viper" is a large, 8 foot, uniformly colored black, brown or grayish snake. It is found in all but the driest lowland areas. Another beautiful snake is the speckled racer. It is black or green and spotted all over with yellow, orange or bluish dots. It is a small, 4 foot, terrestrial snake found in thickets and near water. Another false coral snake is the tropical kingsnake. It is found at all elevations on the ground usually concealed in leaf litter.

The boa constrictor is a shiny, large, 8 foot snake with a long triangular head. It is known for wrapping around its prey to crush it to death. They are found in nearly all habitats throughout Central America.

The vipers are the largest group of venomous snakes. The two most dangerous are the fer-de lance and the Bushmaster. The fer-de-lance has 2 indentations or pits behind and above its nostrils that allow it to detect minute changes in temperature. This ability as well as its tongue "tasting" the air allows the fer-de-lance to strike its prey with great accuracy in total dark. When it's ready to strike, it rears up its head and upper body forming an "S" shape. The fer-de lance strikes so fast that it is almost impossible to see it move from the "S" position. The fer-de-lance can be found in lowland wet forest areas along stream edges and ditches. The Bushmaster is the largest pit viper in the world. It is huge, 9-12 feet in length, and is capable of injecting large amounts of venom. It has extremely long folded fangs that function like hypodermic needles designed to penetrate deeply, grab and hold its prey while injecting venom. The Bushmaster lives in remote heavily forested tropical jungles.

The final group of snakes found in Central America are the sea snakes. The Pelagic or yellow-bellied sea snake is only found in the Pacific Ocean. It is a quiet, non-aggressive snake, but has a highly toxic venom. There is usually little chance of being bitten by this snake, since it is so small and reclusive.

Snakes are vital to a healthy ecosystem and are very beneficial to humans. Nature has given snakes the assignment of rodent population control. They tend to live where there is an abundance of prey, especially mice and rats. Snakes help us maintain a healthy balance of life in the natural environment.

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