Snakes have been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and today they number more than 3,000 species. Most of the snakes who live near humans are harmless, and snake encounters are rare, thanks to snakes’ keen ability to detect vibrations using their bellies and lower jaws. Their forked tongues also act like built-in radar to help them know what’s going on around them.
Most snakes live underground or under rocks; some live in trees and slide around eating insects and small animals. Many snakes lay eggs that are incubated by the sun, while others, such as garter snakes and rattlesnakes, carry their eggs in their bodies and give birth to fully developed young. Female pythons wrap their bodies around their eggs and shiver to heat themselves up to keep the eggs warm.
To kill snakes for their skins, hunters invade their homes and often nail them to trees and skin them alive before tossing them in a pile to die. The snakes can suffer for days before succumbing to shock or dehydration.
Lizards are fascinating animals who have many unique traits. Most lizards can shed their tails to evade predators and run on four legs, twisting their bodies from side to side. Some lizards run on their back legs, and some can even run on water! Chameleons, iguanas, and some other lizards can change color to match their surroundings.
Iguanas are social animals who enjoy basking in the sun and eating together in high tree branches. Green iguanas and some other lizards have a “third eye” on top of their heads; this organ doesn’t “see,” but it helps them regulate hormone production related to time spent basking. Some horned lizards can even squirt blood from their eyes by deliberately increasing the blood pressure in their heads!
Lizards are known to live up to 33 years in the wild, but lizards killed for their skins are usually clubbed on their heads or have their spines severed with chisels as soon as they reach “marketable” size.
Alligators and Crocodiles
The most noticeable difference between alligators and crocodiles is their teeth. Alligators have a large fourth tooth in their lower jaw that fits inside their upper jaw when they close their mouths; with crocodiles, these teeth are visible when their mouths are closed.
Alligators inhabit swamps, tidal marshes, creeks, rivers, canals, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. One of only a few species—including humans and beavers—who create wetland habitat, alligators use their snouts, forefeet, and tails to burrow “gator holes” that fill with water and can be the size of backyard swimming pools. To survive subfreezing temperatures, these crafty animals move to shallow water, stick their nostrils above the surface, and let their snouts become frozen into the ice.
Mother crocodiles and alligators are very protective of their babies, and hatchling alligators generally stay together in a “pod” for one to three years. Alligators communicate with a variety of sounds, including coughing, hissing, distress yelps, hatching calls, bellowing, and vocalizations that are not audible to humans and that can travel very long distances.
Alligators are often kept in filthy, crowded tanks on alligator “farms” before being clubbed and skinned alive.