March 11, 2015
- as seen by -Avishai Shuter
Venomous snakes are found on every continent excluding Antarctica, and range in size from just a few inches to almost 20 feet long. All of these snakes have one of three fang structures: proteroglyphous, solenoglyphous, or opisthoglyphous. And each type is unique to a different family of snake.
Solenoglyphous snakes belong to the viper family, which includes pit vipers like rattlesnakes (above, skull of eastern diamondback rattlesnake) and ‘true vipers’ like Gaboon vipers. This type of fang is attached to the jaw by a hinge, so they can be folded up against the roof of the mouth when not in use. This folding action allows vipers to have the longest fangs of all venomous snakes, with some reaching over two inches long.
Proteroglyphous snakes all belong to the elapid family, which includes cobras, mambas, sea snakes, and coral snakes. This type of fang is fixed to the jaw and cannot fold up. Because of this, elapid fangs must be shorter than those of vipers.
Opisthoglyphous snakes are found only in the colubrid family, which includes many venomous and non-venomous species. This type of fang is located at the back of the mouth rather than the front, making envenomation a more complex task. Most rear-fanged snakes are harmless to humans, but a few, like the boomslang, can be deadly.