9 of the World's Most Bizarre Snakes

Scaly and scary

Photo: Andre Coetzer/Shutterstock

Snakes haunt our dreams and inhabit our mythology. They appear in the Bible, in shamanic visions, in linguistic metaphors (think: "snake in the grass") and in creation myths the world over. Our fascination is no doubt fueled by the danger snakes pose, but it may also stem from the legless reptiles' improbable form. Evolution has gifted snakes with a variety of odd but clever body designs and adaptations.

Langaha madagascariensis

Wikipedia.

This bizarre-looking snake, also known as the Malagasy leaf-nosed snake, is an arboreal species endemic to Madagascar. Their strange nasal appendage (pointy in the male, leaf-shaped in the female) may help them blend in with vines and branches or sight their prey, which they ambush. No one knows for sure. They are poisonous but not aggressive. Their bites are extremely painful but not life-threatening.

Flying snake

Gihan Jayaweera/Wikimedia Commons.

It sounds like something out of a B-grade creature feature: a flying snake! But these airborne serpents are real. (Don't believe it? Check out this video.) They glide for stunning distances through the air (without actually flying) by leaping from tree branches. While airborne, they flare their ribs and suck in their abdomens to make themselves wider and more concave for better aerodynamics.

Desert horned viper

Photo: reptiles4all/Shutterstock

These snakes, which hail from Northern Africa and the Middle East, could be the reason the devil is often depicted with horns. The serpents' horns, which are modified scales, are retractable, allowing the snakes to burrow easily. Scientists aren't sure of the purpose of the horns, but they may help prevent the buildup of sand around the eyes.

Tentacled snake

Ryan Soma/ Wikimedia Commons.

This aquatic snake, a native of Southeast Asia, is the only species in the world to possess twin "tentacles" on its snout. Scientists speculate that the snake uses the tentacles as lures to attract tiny fish, its favorite prey, but they may also function as sensory organs that help them detect movement.

Barbados threadsnake

Blair Hedges/ Wikimedia Commons.

Endemic to the Caribbean island of Barbados, this threadsnake is the smallest snake species in the world, only 4 inches long and about as wide as a spaghetti noodle. You'd be forgiven for mistaking it for a tiny worm or grub crawling through the grass or under a rock. The snake's diet consists of termites and ant larvae.

Iridescent shieldtail

Sandilya Theuerkauf/ Wikimedia Commons).

This species, found in the mountains of India, might be the world's most colorful serpent. It may also be one of the world's least known snakes, as only three specimens have been identified. Its iridescent back and belly are separated by a brilliant yellow stripe.

Iwasaki's snail-eater

Wikimedia Commons.

You can probably guess what this snake eats, but it is an even more specialized hunter than its name implies. Not only does it eat only snails, but due to its highly unusual asymmetric jaws, it is efficient only at feeding on snails with dextral (clockwise-coiled) shells. The extreme adaptation has its limits, though. Scientists believe that snails are beginning to evolve counter-clockwise-coiled shells to protect themselves.

Eastern hognose snake

Hunter Desportes/flickr.

Other than its upturned snout, which is used for digging in sandy soil, this snake doesn't appear too strange — until threatened. Then it becomes the world's biggest drama queen. Capable of flattening its neck to resemble a cobra, it will strike, but the strikes are pure bluffs; it doesn't bite, it merely "head butts." If this strategy doesn't work to fend off threats, the snake rolls on its back and plays dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk and letting its tongue hang out of its mouth.

Spider-tailed viper

Omid Mozaffari/ Wikimedia Commons.

This viper has one of the most unusual tail adaptations in the snake world. The tail appendage, which at first might look like a deformity, is designed to look like a spider. Its purpose isn't to make the snake seem extra terrifying (a spider and a snake, yikes!), but rather, to act as a lure. When the viper rattles it, arachnid-eating prey are attracted and drawn into striking range.