Slithering Green on St. Paddy’s Day

By Sandy Masuo

According to legend, the reason there are no snakes in Ireland is because St. Patrick drove them all off the island and into the sea during the fifth century. In actuality, the absence of snakes on the emerald isle has more to do with geology than theology.

Being reptiles, snakes depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature; they cannot survive in places that are frozen year-round. After the last ice age, Ireland didn’t thaw out until roughly 15,000 years ago, and since then it has been separated from its nearest neighbor (Scotland) by 12 miles of water. As a result, the only snakes that make their home in Ireland are those that have been imported as pets or zoo residents.

At the Los Angeles Zoo, you’ll find many snakes alive and well. Some, such as the Southern Pacific rattlesnake and the San Diego gopher snake, are familiar inhabitants of the Southland. Others are less common Southwest natives, and some come from as far away as China and Equatorial Africa. Come visit the LAIR and see what Éire is missing!

Rowley’s palm pit viper(Bothriechis rowleyi)

This rare, venomous snake can be found in three fragmented areas in the highlands of northern Chiapas and extreme southeastern Oaxaca, Mexico, at elevations of 6,000 to 7,000 ft. The species is protected by Mexican law, and as of 2007, it has been considered Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, due mostly to deforestation and the transformation of landscape for agricultural expansion.

Rowley's Pit Viper

Rowley’s Pit Viper (Photo by Ian Recchio)

Mangshan pit viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis)

Discovered for the first time in October 1989 in the Mangshan Mountains of Hunan, China, this pit viper does not spit venom, as has been speculated. Recent surveys have shown this species to be almost extinct in the wild. In Mandarin, the word “mǎng” actually means python and “shan” is the word for mountain. The mountain range from which this species is endemic was given the name Mangshan due to its snake-like shape.

Mangshan Pit Viper

Mangshan Pit Viper (Photo by Ian Recchio)

Green tree python (Morelia viridis)

The green tree python’s amazing similarities to the emerald tree boa are an example of parallel evolution. Although these snakes look virtually the same and share similar habitats, they live in completely different parts of the world and are, in fact, from different snake families.

Green Tree Python (Photo by Charlie Morley)

Green Tree Python (Photo by Charlie Morley)

West African green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

Their venom is is a neurotoxin that, if not immediately treated, can be fatal, and is regarded as some of the most deadly snake venom in the world. The West African Green Mamba is part of the Elapidae family, which includes cobras, kraits, coral snakes, death adders, and allies.

Green Mamba (Photo by Charlie Morley)

Green Mamba (Photo by Charlie Morley)

Emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus)

The species name for these snakes, caninus, comes from the Emerald Tree Boa’s facial resemblance to dogs. When looked at from the side, the bulges on the back of the snake’s head, its angled snout, and its elongated teeth are similar to a dog’s head.

Emerald Tree Boa (Photo by Tad Motoyama)

Emerald Tree Boa (Photo by Tad Motoyama)