And God created every
living creature from water. Some of them walk on their bellies,
some walk on two legs, and some walk on four. God creates whatever
He wills. God is Omnipotent. (24:45)
This verse clearly refers to all of God’s creatures but
it specifically covers reptiles. Reptiles are a class of animals,
made up of snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodilians and tuatara. The
last is a rare, lizardlike reptile that lives only on a few islands
near New Zealand. They are called living fossils since all the rest
of their order is extinct, having died out millions of years ago.
Why they survive, no one knows and little is known about them.
Much, however, is known and written about the other reptiles because
we interact with them regularly, and like all of God’s creations
there is much that is fascinating. There are more than 2500 species
of snakes, about 2500 species of lizards, 250 different kinds of
turtles, and about 22 different crocodiles.
Snakes live in most of the warm places in the world, ranging from
harmless to deadly, from plain to colorful, from a tiny four inches
to over 30 feet in length. Snakes do not have a good reputation.
Biblical references to snakes are very negative since it’s
a snake which tempted Eve to eat the apple and thus caused the downfall
of mankind. And when Moses’ staff is turned into a serpent,
he harbors fear. Plus, we have some pretty negative expressions
in the English language taken from reptiles and reptile behavior.
We call a cheating, conniving person a “snake in the grass”;
a cowardly person “crawls on his belly”; a very
callous action is “in cold blood,”
even the dictionary definition of snake includes: “a treacherous
person.” A snake pit is a mental institution or any very dangerous
place. But interestingly, for some cultures, the snake represents
rebirth and renewal, perhaps because of its ability to shed its
skin and thus start over.
With all the amazing variety of other animals, why did God create
something that has to walk on its belly? It, of course, has a very
important place in the food chain—eating large numbers of
rodents, lizards and such, and being eaten by others. But more importantly,
like all the other variety, I think it’s for us to study and
marvel at. Part of the proof of God’s creation.
Snakes are fascinating in that, as God says, they walk on their
bellies, with amazing agility. There are actually four quite different
types of locomotion. The most frequently used method is the simple,
undulating crawl, which is called the serpentine method. The snake
pushes against the ground and flows smoothly forward, using muscles
specifically designed for this. Heavier-bodied snakes may use a
method called caterpillar where the skin is moved forward and backward
by strong muscles, and the broad belly scales grip the ground, moving
the snake forward in a straight line.
Several desert-dwelling species use sidewinding to move on loose
sand. In this method the snake rolls its body sidewise along the
ground in a looping motion. The fourth method is known as concertina,
because the body is alternately stretched out and pulled together
as the snake moves from one anchor point to another. The concertina
is used in crossing smooth surfaces and in climbing. So they don’t
actually walk, but they can move right along, some going as fast
as 8 miles per hour.
Also fascinating are the adaptations
God has provided which allow a snake to eat. You have to wonder
how something that long and narrow can eat at all, let alone eat
an animal that may be many times wider than the snake’s mouth.
Although they have teeth, snakes cannot tear apart an animal and
eat it in pieces. It must swallow its food whole, so the snake must
actually decide whether or not he can get it down. Snakes eat everything
from ants to rabbits, frogs, lizards, mice and eggs. Large snakes
like anacondas and pythons may take down deer, antelope, crocodiles
and even humans. Most normal sized meals are swallowed easily and
quickly, but a truly large meal may require several hours to consume
and weeks or months to digest. A python may eat only once a year.
God has provided several adaptations to make eating possible for
snakes. A special hinge in the jaw allows the mouth to open wide
enough and rows of teeth pointed back pull the food in. While swallowing
very large animals, the snake would not be able to breath so God
provided an additional organ, a tracheal lung, around the windpipe
which allows lung function to continue in spite of the pressure,
and the windpipe itself can be pushed outward past the animal being
swallowed to allow air in.
With over 2500 species there is great variation in color, size
and of course, how they interact with humans. One of the more deadly
is the black mamba of Africa which grows to 14 feet in length and
moves through trees as easily as through the tall grass. It can
hold its head up to 20 inches off the ground even as it moves. It’s
considered the fastest snake in the world and has a very deadly
bite, with 100 % mortality. The victim dies very quickly, within
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