Do Snakes Have Bones? (Here’s What You Should Know)

Snakes can seem almost alien-like to people at first glance. They have long, limbless bodies that seem like an evolutionary contradiction. That being said, snakes actually do have some things in common with other animals and even humans. In this article we’re covering the question “do snakes have bones?”

If you have wondered if snakes have bones, you’re not alone. It’s a fairly common question for people unfamiliar with snakes, and many assume they’re not too different from other legless creatures like worms.

Do snakes have bones?

Yes, in fact snakes have many bones! Like humans, snakes have bones that help to give their body structure and support.

How many bones do snakes have?

The number of bones that a snake has really depends on the size and species of the snake, with larger species having more bones.

Snakes may have anywhere from 300-1,000 bones. This is a lot in comparison to humans, which only have 206!

What are snake bones made of?

Snake bones really aren’t different in their structure or composition from other vertebrates.

Like other bones, snake bones are made up of several different tissues that together make the lightweight and durable structure of bones.

Bones consist mostly of the protein collagen, which give bones their flexibility and help to prevent breakages. Bones are hardened by mineral salts like calcium phosphate.

Can snakes break their bones?

Yes. Snakes are incredibly resilient, but they can suffer from broken bones. Snakes have up to hundreds of ribs, which can commonly be broken or damaged throughout their life.

Unluckily for snakes, they can’t go to the hospital and get a cast to fix their broken bones. However, snakes heal very quickly and truly are quite tough! They have to be if they want to survive in the wild.

Snake skeleton

Image: Ludo-Photos / pixabay.com

If you have ever seen an articulated skeleton from a snake, you probably have seen that snake skeletons essentially consist of one very long vertebral column, or spine, and then up to hundreds of ribs!

Snakes need all of these vertebrae to help their body slither along and keep their movements fluid. All of their ribs are essential for supporting the body and keeping their internal organs safe, which run down almost the entire length of the body.

Similar to humans and other animals, at the start of the spine is the skull. Snake skulls have around 10 different bones that fit together to make up the skull and jaws.

What type of skeleton does a snake have?

Like all vertebrates, snakes have an endoskeleton.

Endo means “inner” or “inside” and we know that the skeleton is our bone structure. So an endoskeleton is a skeleton that is inside the body.

Do snakes have legs?

No, snakes do not have legs. Being legless is one of the defining characteristics of being a snake!

Do snakes have leg bones?

Snakes do not have leg bones. However, some snakes that are more basal- which essentially means more primitive and “less evolved”, like pythons and boas, have remnants of a pelvic girdle.

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In legged animals, the pelvic girdle is where the hips are and where the bones connect with the pelvis.

In snakes that have remnants of a pelvic girdle, there are typically spurs- which kind of look like small horns. These pelvic spurs are located near the snakes anal plate or cloaca- which is where the snake passes waste, mates, and lays eggs if it is a female.

In snakes with pelvic spurs, males typically have more prominent or visible spurs. Some snakes will use their pelvic spurs to help stimulate copulation by rubbing them on the female.

Did snakes used to have legs?

Yes! About 150 million years ago, the first snakes did have four limbs. Scientists believe that snakes first lost their legs due to a genetic mutation, which over time led to snakes evolving out of their legs.

Snake body parts and functions

Image: DenisDoukhan / Pixabay.com

Integument (skin):

Snake skin is made up of scales, which are important for more than just looking pretty! These scales are made up of keratin, which is the protein that is used to make our hair and nails.

Scales are neatly placed in a way that helps to retain moisture and heat to keep the snake’s skin from drying out or the snake from getting too cold. Snakes also shed their skin- which is a painful process that occurs over time as the snake grows.

Sensory organs:

Snakes rely heavily on their senses, especially their sense of smell. Snakes have forked tongues that are used to pick up scent particles that are then interpreted by their Jacobson’s organ, which helps the snake to learn about their environment through smell.

Fangs

Venomous snakes have specialized teeth called fangs that act as hypodermic needles to inject venom into their prey or victim. These fangs are connected to a venom duct, which generates and stores venom.

Snake skeleton facts

Do snakes have hips?

Not anymore! Snakes evolved out of their legs, which also includes their hips. However, some Boas and Pythons have vestigial or leftover pelvic bones which are called pelvic spurs.

Can you eat snake bones?

Snake bones are technically edible, but only in the sense that snake bones are not toxic or poisonous. But as you can imagine, like any other type of animal bone, snake bones probably do not taste very good!

Not to mention that, but snake bones are very small and thin, meaning that they could splinter easily. This could cause problems for you if they cause any tearing or damage in your digestive tract.

How many ribs does a snake have?

This depends on the species of snake. Snakes are essentially made up of one very long vertebral column. For each vertebrae, there are two ribs- one attached to either side.

Snakes may have anywhere between 100-450 vertebrae which means anywhere between 200 and 900 ribs!

Why are snakes so flexible?

Snakes have very many small vertebrae, which greatly help the snake move, twist and wind and therefore make them very flexible, just the same way that our spine allows us to do the same.

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With more vertebrae comes more movement and flexibility.

Does a snake have cartilage?

Yes. While the skeletal system of a snake is mostly made up of bone, snakes do have cartilage too. Snakes have cartilage in between their joints and tendons and in their skull as well.

Do all snakes have bones?

Yes! All snakes are vertebrates- meaning that all snakes have a vertebral column and therefore have bones.

Very small snakes may have bones so tiny that you wouldn’t think that they would have any! Some snakes are no larger than an earthworm.

Are snake bones hollow?

No. Snake bones are incredibly lightweight but they are not hollow. But venomous snakes do have hollow fangs that are used to administer venom.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, the skeleton of a snake isn’t too complicated. It is made up of almost entirely vertebrae and ribs and of course the skull. That being said, snakes have far more bones than humans and other animals. But the number of bones is highly dependent on the species and size of the snake, unlike humans.


Samantha S.

Samantha is an outdoor enthusiast and studying to get her masters degree in Environmental Biology. Her research focuses on snakes, sharks, and rays but she is knowledgeable about wildlife of all types.