9 of the World's Most Bizarre Snakes

Evolution has given snakes some odd but clever adaptations.

Flying snake with white underside and green grey strips on top

Jerry Young / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

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.

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Malagasy Leaf-Nosed Snake

Female Madagascar Leaf-nosed Snake

Alextelford / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

The Malagasy leaf-nosed snake (Langaha Madagascariensis) has a strange nasal appendage that is pointy in males and leaf-like in females. These venomous arboreal snakes from Madagascar rest in trees with their snouts hanging down from branches, resembling vines. The snake actively sways with the wind and is still during periods of calm, promoting the camouflage. When they sight their tree lizard meal from this position, they ambush it. Researchers are not entirely sure if the snout serves to camouflage it from predators or the snake's prey, or if the snout shape has another purpose.

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Flying Snake

Sri Lankan Flying snake with alternating dark and lighter crossbands and flat head

Gihan Jayaweera / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Flying snakes of Southeast Asia don't rely on looks for their membership in the bizarre snakes' category; instead, they use the power of flight. These snakes glide through the air for stunning distances—as much as 300 feet (100 meters). To take off, they leap from tree branches. While airborne, they flare their ribs and suck in their abdomens to make themselves broader and more concave for better aerodynamics. During flight, the snake undulates from side to side and slightly up and down. This motion helps the snake stay airborne, turn, and navigate the glide.

It is unknown why these snakes fly, but scientists think it is to escape predators and move from tree to tree without descending to ground level. They are the only limbless vertebrates known to have this skill.

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Desert Horned Viper

beige and tan snake with devil horn like protrusions over eyes

reptiles4all / Shutterstock

Desert horned vipers, which hail from northern Africa and the Middle East, could be why 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 horns' purpose, but they may help prevent sand buildup around the eyes. The snakes tend to be small, never measuring more than two feet in length. These abundant snakes may have even played a role in the death of Cleopatra. The snake is depicted in hieroglyphs for the sound of the letter F.

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Tentacled Snake

dark colored snake with with two antenna like tentacles

Ryan Somma / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

This aquatic snake, a native of Southeast Asia, is the only species in the world to possess twin "tentacles" on its snout. These tentacles are sensory organs that help them "see" in the murk of the rice paddies, rivers, and lakes it calls home. They also use the tentacles as a lure to unsuspecting fish. In addition to the unusual snout, their tail is prehensile. The snake uses it to anchor itself to aquatic plants, much like a seahorse. It can also go completely rigid when being investigated by a predator, appearing to be a water-soaked branch.

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Barbados Threadsnake

brown threadsnake on U.S. quarter for size comparison

Blair Hedges, Penn State / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 

Endemic to Barbados' Caribbean island, this threadsnake, Leptotyphlops carlae, is the smallest snake species in the world. At only 4 inches long and about as wide as a spaghetti noodle, it may look more like a worm or grub crawling through the grass or under a rock. These snakes are so small that their eggs are huge relative to the mother's body size. The hatchlings are half the size of an adult's body. If the young were much smaller, there wouldn't be food for them to consume. The snake's diet consists of termites and ant larvae. The Barbados Threadsnake is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. Deforestation is the primary threat to the species.

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Iridescent Shieldtail

Iridescent blue snake coiled in some moist leaf litter

Sandilya Theuerkauf, Wynaad / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

The iridescent shieldtail, found in India's mountains, might be the world's most colorful serpent. Sometimes known as the two-lined black earth snake (presumably because it likes to burrow), it is one of the world's least-known snakes, as only three specimens have been identified. A brilliant yellow stripe separates its iridescent back and belly. The shape of the scales causes the iridescence on the snake, and also helps keep the snake clean and reduces friction while providing the sheen. This snake is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and very little is known about the species.

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Iwasaki's Snail-Eater

brown snake with black freckles and dark stripes eating a snail

Masaki Hoso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

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 found that snails in areas with snail-eating snakes are more likely to have counter-clockwise-coiled shells to protect themselves.

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Eastern Hognose Snake

solid black Eastern hognose snake with head flattened to resemble a cobra and distinctive upturned snout in dry leaves and pine needles

Hunter Desportes / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Other than its upturned pig-like snout, which is used for digging in sandy soil, this snake doesn't appear too strange—until it's threatened. Capable of flattening its neck to resemble a cobra, it will strike, but the strikes are pure bluffs; it doesn't bite, but merely "head butts." When that strategy doesn't work to fend off threats, the snake rolls on its back and plays dead, emits a foul musk, and hangs its tongue out of its mouth.

Despite the "all bluff and no bite" defense, the Eastern hognose has a superior offense. They use their very long rear fangs for popping holes in toads and deflating them. This allows the snake to eat them easily.

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Spider-Tailed Viper

Close up of spider tailed viper, a tan snake with dark irregular markings on scaly skin and a tail that resembles a spider

Omid Mozaffari / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 

This viper, found in western Iran, has one of the most unusual tail adaptations in the snake world: it looks like a spider. Its purpose isn't to make the snake seem extra terrifying, but rather, to act as a lure. The viper coloration allows it to blend in with the rocky desert it inhabits. It then wags the tail appendage to resemble the motion of a spider to attract birds. When a bird appears, the snake quickly strikes.