There are about 3,000 snake species around the world, so it's no surprise they come in a vast array of sizes, colors and patterns. We humans tend to spend so much time fearing them that we don't always appreciate their beauty. We've gathered examples of some of the most extraordinary snake species found around the world, each of which highlight the diversity of beauty among these reptiles.
Sri Lankan pit viper
If you’re ever visiting Sri Lanka, look up into the trees to find the beautiful species pictured above. It's the only place to which the small, roughly two-foot long species is endemic. However, admire this creature's beauty from afar. The venomous Sri Lankan pit viper packs a painful bite, which can cause blisters and tissue necrosis. One of these snakes escaped from the London Zoo in 2012, but thankfully was recaptured before it could get very far.
Asian vine snake
This snake has an extraordinary geometric pattern to it scales. This pattern is highlighted when the snake feels threatened and expands its body, revealing the black and white between the green scales. When relaxed, the snake has what looks like a very slender, nearly all green body. This isn’t its only defense.
According to Reptiles Magazine, “When vine snakes sense danger, they will remain motionless, but if there is a breeze, they will sway back and forth with the foliage to add to their camouflage. At other times, for reasons yet unclear, if there is a threat, they will remain motionless with their tongue extended for minutes at a time.”
Green tree python in yellow phase
The green tree python is known for being green, hence the name. But that isn’t the only color that this species might be. Juvenile green tree pythons may be bright yellow, vibrant red or even a very dark brown. While gorgeous in its adult coloration, the species is also stunning when it's young and going through color changes.
The individual shown here is in the yellow phase, with brown spots that make it look a bit like a ripening banana. As they mature, the pythons will usually change color to a variation of green or blue — however, some green tree pythons will keep that yellow coloration for their lives.
San Francisco garter snake
Some people consider the San Francisco garter snake to be the most beautiful species in the world. That is, of course, subjective, but it's a stunningly beautiful snake. Known for the bright turquoise stripes that run alongside deep coral and black, the snake is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, it's also an exceedingly rare sight. This snake is on the Endangered Species List, with perhaps as few as 1,000-2,000 adults remaining on Earth. It's difficult to do the snake's coloration justice in a photo, so here's a video to give extra perspective for how particularly beautiful it is:
Named for the scales that stand out above the eyes, this species is both a highly venomous and highly beautiful snake. Luckily it avoids interactions with people when it can, striking only if threatened. Because their scales are keeled, they are particularly rough to the touch, but the adaptation may help protect them against the branches they climb while looking for a meal.
According to Encyclopedia of Life, the bright yellow morph, shown here, is “commonly called ‘oropel’ after the Spanish expression for ‘skin of gold’.” Beyond yellow, eyelash vipers may be green, gray, a pale blue, brown, rust and variation of these colors. The golden yellow, however, is a real standout.
Banded sea krait
Beautiful snake species aren’t just found in land; they’re in the oceans, too. The banded sea krait — also called the colubrine sea krait or yellow-lipped sea krait — is a species found in the Indo-Pacific ocean. Though the banded sea krait is an amphibious species that needs to come to land to drink fresh water and to breed, it has several adaptations for life among the fishes. Its tail has flattened to a paddle, it has valved nostrils to keep salt water out while swimming, and perhaps most impressive of all, it has venom that is far more powerful than that of rattlesnakes. It needs such fast-acting, potent venom to hunt speedy fish.
Yet surprisingly, people swimming with the banded sea krait don’t need to worry as long as they keep a respectful distance. According to Aquarium of the Pacific, “While the venom of banded sea kraits ranks among the most toxic in the world, they are so docile and non-aggressive that humans are rarely bitten, even in situations where the animal feels threatened.”
Brazilian rainbow boa
This young rainbow boa shows off its iridescent scales. (Photo: Sipa/Pixabay)
The trait that stands out the most in this boa species is the iridescent shimmer of its scales. Glistening over the brown-and-black patterns is a sheen of rainbow colors, which show up under light. According to the National Zoo, “the iridescent sheen imparted by microscopic ridges on their scales ... act like prisms to refract light into rainbows."
Found throughout Central and South America, there are nine subspecies of rainbow boa, including the Brazilian rainbow boa pictured here. Considering their unusual beauty, it's no wonder that these large snakes — which can sometimes reach up to seven feet in length — are popular in the pet trade. "In the 1980s, hundreds of Brazilian rainbow boas were removed from the wild and exported for sale. Many of the individuals did not survive the process, spurring conservation-friendly captive breeding programs available today," according to the Sacramento Zoo.
Formosan odd-scaled snake
The odd-scaled snake shimmers iridescent under light. (Photo: Sin Syue Li [CC BY 2.0]/Wikipedia)
Another snake species the shimmers with rainbow iridescence is the Formosan odd-scaled snake. This is one of several species of odd-scaled snake, all of which have this same iridescent effect in their scales. The Formosan odd-scaled snake is found in Taiwan and the southern islands of Japan. It is harmless to humans and spends its time hunting worms, frogs and other small prey. The species is nocturnal, but put it under light and its whole body dances with color!
Scaleless corn snake
Corn snakes have a docile, gentle nature and this feature combined with their beautiful patterns have made them popular as pets. But you’ll notice something particularly interesting about the corn snake pictured here: It's scaleless!
Scaleless snakes have few or no scales on their bodies, though they typically always have the ventral scales on their bellies which help them to move across various terrain. Scalelessness is a natural genetic mutation and has been witnessed in the wild.
“The first scaleless snake was discovered in 1942 in the wild. It was a western garter snake. A scaleless gopher snake was found and captured in 1971… Scaleless snakes are starting to become popular options as pets, but it's a trend that generates a lot of debate. Many consider it unnatural while others are just fascinated,” we noted in our article about scaleless snakes.
Whether scaleless or not, corn snakes are much appreciated for their beautiful coloration, and as they’ve become more popular in the pet trade, an impressive variety of colors and patterns have emerged through selective breeding.