Do Snakes Have Teeth?

By Snaketracks / July 27, 2020
Do snakes have teeth

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Do Snakes Have Teeth?

There are over 3000 species of snake; not all have the same anatomy and teeth is one example of this.

However, most snakes have teeth!

Even if most snakes do have teeth, not all snakes will have fangs. There’s a difference. Fangs are the long, pointed teeth. In mammals, fangs are also called “canine teeth.”

Snake teeth are hard to see which is because they are often concealed and covered by their thick gums.

In terms of evolution, venomous fangs appeared as a modification of maxillary teeth.

How many teeth can a snake have?

The exact number of teeth, their arrangement, and the number of rows depends on the species of snake. The number can vary from a few dozen to a couple of hundred.

It must be taken into consideration that snakes do not have a mouth structure like ours. One notorious difference is that snakes that have teeth have multiple rows of teeth, typically four rows on the top and two rows on the bottom.

What do snake teeth look like?

A snake’s teeth differ from human teeth. (pictures below)

Snakes do not have the right kind of teeth to chew their food (that’s why they swallow their prey whole). Their teeth function is to:

  1. Act as grips (their teeth face backwards) in order to prevent their prey from escaping and;
  2. They help pull their meal inwards and towards the stomach once it’s been swallowed.

This helps to explain why they have rows of small incisors that run the entire length of their jaw.

What type of teeth do snakes have?

There are at least 4 different types of teeth a snake can have. They all serve different purposes, but basically, the type of teeth a snake has is dependent upon how the species catches food.

Aglyphous teeth

Aglyphous teeth (Reticulated Python Skull)
Aglyphous teeth (Reticulated Python Skull)

These teeth are solid, without grooves or specialized venom-injecting fangs, and usually have the same size and morphology. They also point backward and are meant to lock prey in place.

This is the less specialized dentition(development of teeth) and is usually linked with non-venomous species.

Aglyphous Fangs are found in many snake families, from the great boas and pythons to the primitive blind snakes and even in some members of the great Colubridae family.

Opisthoglyphous teeth

Opisthoglyphous teeth
Opisthoglyphous teeth (Western Hognose snake skull)

These teeth are specialized venom-injecting fangs found at the posterior end of the maxilla and are backward-oriented and grooved so that toxins are canalized to the tip of the tooth.

Opisthoglyphous fangs are found in various species into the large Colubridae family, in which it has evolved twice independently.

Even if these fangs are found at the back of their mouths, some species that hold them are lethal to humans, like the “boomslang” (Dispholidus typus) and the bird snakes (Thelotornis sp.) which bite with the mouth wide open (up to 170 degrees to insert their venomous fangs firmly) and generate powerful hemotoxins against which no efficient antitoxin has been developed yet.

Hemotoxins are toxins that destroy red blood cells collapsing the circulatory system and provoking severe necrosis to the other tissues.

Proteroglyphous teeth

Proteroglyphous teeth (Monocled Cobra)
Proteroglyphous teeth (Monocled Cobra Skeleton)

Proteroglyphous teeth are venomous fangs found at the front of the snakes mouth. These are fixed into their position on the snakes jaw.

They are completely hollow and connect directly to the venom glands. Since the teeth aren’t very long, the snakes need to hold their prey long enough to deliver a lethal dose.

Some elapids of the Naja genre are known as spitting cobras because their anterior fangs are modified and present orifices which allow them to spray their venom with the contraction of muscles of their venomous gland.

Proteroglyphous fangs are a common tooth to find in the Elapidae family, which includes cobras and sea snakes. 

Members of this family have venom that most of which consist of neurotoxins (toxins that destroy the nervous system) and are amongst the most venomous of all vertebrates.

Solenoglyphous teeth

Solenoglyphous teeth (Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Fangs)
Solenoglyphous teeth (Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake)

This is the most evolved form of teeth: as Proteroglyphous they are also hollow to deliver venom, but in addition to being hollow, they are also retractable.

These teeth are usually folded against the roof of the mouth but can articulate with the rest of the cranium when the mouth is opened up to 180 degrees to bite. 

They are not directly fixed to the roof of the mouth and are instead connected through a hinge structure on the jaw.

Because the fangs can be stored away when not in use, fangs can be much longer than normal. This allows vipers to penetrate their fangs deeper into their prey and inject large quantities of venom, which is usually less powerful than one of the proteroglyphous snakes, in large quantities can be lethal.

These teeth are exclusively found in the members of the Viperidae family.

Interesting fact: common names for the various types of snake dentition originate from older literature, but still are encountered in informal publications.

Aglyphous snakes are commonly called fangless; opisthoglyphous snakes rear-fanged or back-fanged, and both Proteroglyphous and Solenoglyphous snakes are referred to as front-fanged.

What Are Snake Teeth Made Of?

Snake teeth are solid and made up of the same material as ours and other animals; enamel (a strong and durable material).

Fangs instead are hollow with an open deep hole that runs through the center. That is where the venom passes through, which enables snakes to inject it into their prey.

When Do Snakes Grow Teeth?

Unlike humans, snakes are born with teeth. This ensures that when they hatch they will be ready to eat by themselves (most snake moms do not take care of their baby snakes). Oviparous snakes do not even wait  for their eggs to hatch.

  • Their teeth will continue to grow long into their lives
  • New teeth will be formed throughout this time also

Do snakes bite?

Like many other animals, snakes bite and they do so for several reasons, namely, when they feel threatened, or when your hands smell like food.

What species have the most teeth?

Boa constrictors are one such species with more teeth (100+). However, as Boas are not venomous, they don’t have any fangs.

What species have the fewest teeth?

The King Cobra has two large fangs, but a smaller amount of overall teeth (~20).

Blind burrowing snakes typically have few teeth, often only in the upper jaw or lower jaw.

Interesting fact: There are about 35 species and subspecies of Garter snakes. Some of these have teeth, others do not.

For those that do have teeth, they are so small that are barely visible. Some even have a set of fangs near the back of their mouth that are also rather transparent.

Why do some snakes not have teeth?

There are some species of snake that do not have any teeth. The most notorious example is the egg-eating snake. Since they have a diet exclusively of eggs, teeth are not simply required.

On top of that, due to the nature of their food, they do not have any fangs either. Instead, they have small bone spurs that run along the inside of their spine and that are used to crack the shell of the eggs.

Also, for snakes that rely on constriction and suffocation (ex: ball pythons), teeth are not very useful.

Some other snakes have teeth which are used to hold their prey in place. If a snake needs to inject venom into their prey, then it makes sense that they would have their teeth fashioned in a way where they are easy to strike and bite.

Conclusion

Teeth are one example of things that even snake-owners wonder about. Even if most snakes have teeth they are often hard to see since they can be well concealed by the gums.

Mammals use fangs to bite and tear flesh while fangs in snakes are only there to support the process of eating. Venomous snakes also use their fangs to inject venom into their prey.

Based on their teeth, most snakes can be placed into one of four groups, which correlate strongly with venom and lineage.

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