Do Snakes Have Backbones?

do snakes have backbones

Snakes are pretty interesting animals!  Without any arms or legs, these reptiles still manage to climb and slither remarkably well.  The more you think about a snake’s anatomy, the more curious you become.  They’re so flexible that you might even start to wonder;

Do snakes have backbones?

It might surprise you to learn that snakes do have backbones!  Snakes are vertebrates which means that they have a spine, just like we do.  Although the structure, size, and shape of the spine look a little bit different from ours, the general idea is the same.  

So not that you know that snakes have backbones, let’s talk a little bit more about their skeletal anatomy and how that translates into their ability to move in mysterious ways!

What Is The Difference Between A Vertebrate And An Invertebrate?

Before we get into our snake spine discussion, let’s make sure we know the difference between a vertebrate and an invertebrate, as we’ll be using those words a lot today!

Invertebrates are animals that have no spine or backbone.  Did you know that about 97% of the animals on Earth are invertebrates?  That means that most of the animals around us actually don’t have a spine!  Animals like cats, dogs, and humans are the exception!

Vertebrates then are animals that do have a backbone or a spine.  Vertebrates have other qualities that make them different from invertebrates.  Because of their spinal cord, vertebrates feel pain whereas invertebrates are not believed to feel pain at all.

Do Snakes Have Spines?

As we mentioned above, snakes fall into the category of vertebrates!  Even though it might seem like they don’t have backbones because of how bendy they are, they do!

So, yes, snakes do have spines.  Snakes also have spinal cords.  A snake’s spine runs along the entire length of its body.  The backbone runs all the way from the base of a snake’s skull to the tip of the tail. A snake’s skeleton is actually pretty simple.  It lacks appendages, and is made up of bones that branch off of the spine!

Snake spines are surrounded by muscle from the start to the end.  The muscles around a snake’s spine are what make a snake move in such a unique way.  Snakes can contract these muscles and move along the ground in a few different patterns.  Or, they can use these muscles to climb up things like stairs and trees.

Do Snakes Have Vertebrae?

Snakes absolutely have vertebrae!  Snakes actually have the most vertebrae of any animal on earth.  Although this number varies among different species, there are anywhere from 100-600 vertebrae in one snake spine.  The record holder for the most vertebrae of any animal on earth is the Australian python, which usually has 600 vertebrae.

The number of vertebrae that snakes have is one of the reasons why they are so flexible!  They can twist each and every section of their bodies in ways we just can’t bend ours.  If you’ve held a snake before, you’ve probably felt them wrap around you.  Not only can you see how flexible they are when they do this, but you’ll also feel the incredible strength of all of their muscles working together!

Do Snakes Have Ribs?

If you’re wondering whether snakes have ribs, well of course they do!

For snakes, ribs serve the same purpose for us that they do for them.  Ribs serve as protection for vital organs.  They also act as mechanical support for a snake’s body and keep the torso erect.  Snakes have a pair of ribs for almost every vertebra that they have!

Except for the vertebrae right by the head and tail, you’ll find ribs along the entire length of a snake’s body.  That means that for a snake like the Australian python, you’ll find almost 1200 ribs on just one snake.

Snake ribs are super flexible.  Flexible ribs allow prey to pass more easily through a snake’s body.  Plus, these flexible ribs can be used for other functions, like flying!  Check out this video to see how this flying snake expands its ribs to get lift in the air.

Do Snakes Have Pelvises?

Snakes don’t really have pelvises or hip bones!

Actually, pelvises are primarily useful for animals that have legs.  Since snakes obviously don’t have any arms or legs, they don’t really have a need for a pelvis.  However, it is believed that the pelvic spurs found on some snakes are vestigial hip bones, left behind from a long time ago!

So what exactly are pelvic spurs?

Pelvic spurs are small floating spur-like structures that are present in both male and female snakes.  As I mentioned, it is believed that these pelvic spurs are vestigial pelvic and/or femoral bones.  Pelvic spurs are important anatomical parts because they can help with identifying a male snake from a female snake. Males usually have longer curved pelvic spurs that can actually be used to grip and hold onto a female snake while mating.

How Are Snake Skeletons Different From Human Skeletons?

One of the most pronounced differences between a snake and a human skeleton would be the lack of arms or legs.

It is believed that snakes evolved from lizards.  So, long ago, snakes did have arms and legs.  Over time, they lost these limbs and came to be the shape that we now know.  Now, snakes don’t have a shoulder girdle or pelvis at all and have a pretty simple skeletal anatomy.

We talked about the fact that snakes have more vertebrae than any other animal on earth.  This makes a big distinction between humans and snakes.  The number of vertebrae on a snake’s spine means that snakes are way more flexible and bendy than humans are.

One other interesting skeletal difference can be found in the skull.  Snakes eat their prey whole.  This means that they have to move and expand to fit larger prey items into their bodies.  Snake jaws can actually become completely unhinged to fit larger prey items.  this means that their jaws actually pop out of the socket completely!  Humans definitely can’t do that.

What Are Some Other Interesting Facts About Snake Anatomy?

Not only might it have been a surprise for you to learn all about snake back nones, but you might be interested to learn some other fun anatomy facts as well!

Let’s talk about snakeskin.  Snakeskin is made up of two distinct layers.  The bottom layer is a soft sensitive dermis.  Similar to our own skin, this layer is filled with nerves.  The top layer of the skin is made up of keratinous scales.  These scales are tough, hard, and sometimes very smooth!  Contrary to the belief of some people, these scales don’t make snakes feel slimy.

The scales actually make a snake feel tough and smooth at the same time. Every now and then snakes shed this skin and some captive snakes have even been known to eat their shed!

One other cool anatomy fact you won’t want to miss out on is the discussion on snake lungs!

Firstly, snakes do have lungs.  But, that’s where the similarities to humans end!  Because a snake’s body is so long, there isn’t always room for two full lungs.  Every snake has a fully developed right lung.  Not every snake has a second lung.  The left lung is either completely absent, vestigial, or developed and smaller than the right lung.

Final Thoughts

Snakes are fascinating animals that have some anatomical similarities to humans.  Snakes do have backbones.  Snakes also have ribs and vertebrae!  But, since snakes don’t have legs or arms, they lack all of those bones, plus the shoulder and hips to go along with them.  It might seem a little crazy, but snakes actually aren’t so different from us in the idea that all of their anatomies make sense and has a purpose.

Hopefully, we’ve sated your snake skeleton curiosity for the day!