Slithering Snakes (JHARVNC)

Summary:

Participants will be part of a live snake show. They will touch native snakes and learn how to identify snakes of the Arkansas River Valley. They will also learn the differences between venomous and nonvenomous snakes.

Grade Level:

K-8

Recommended Setting:

Classroom or multi-purpose room

Outdoor Activity:

No

Location:

Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith

Contact:

Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993

Duration:

45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 30

Objectives:

  • Learn the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
  • Learn how to classify snakes according to their characteristics
  • Identify whether snakes are venomous or non-venomous according to their physical characteristics

Key Terms*:

Constrictor
Diurnal
Nocturnal
Pit Viper
Poison
Reptile
Venom

*See glossary for definations

Materials:

  • Examples of venomous and non-venomous snakes (corn, ribbon , rough green, scarlet, hognose)
  • Small containers of various parts of the snake such as a rattlesnake skull to show structure of jaws and fangs 

Background:

Discuss reptiles and their characteristics (snakes and turtles). Explain constrictor snakes and how they eat their prey. Show an example of a constrictor snake (Corn Snake) and let participants touch it. (Note: the corn snake is not native to Arkansas.) Explain venomous snakes, their physical characteristics and how they eat their prey.

  1. Definition of a Reptile?
    • Characteristics
    • Examples
  2. Nonvenomous Arkansas Snakes (constrictors)
    • Teeth and jaw hinge
    • Nostrils and tongue
    • Eyelids
    • Ears
    • Morphology - differences in sexes
      • Male
      • Female
    • Prey detection and consumption
      • Nocturnal vs. diurnal
      • Live or dead prey
      • Specialization of prey
    • Growth or molting
    • Examples of nonvenomous Arkansas snakes
      • Live, touchable snakes
      • Live exhibit snakes in classroom
      • Examples of field guides
         (Note: Show differences using classroom models)
  3. Venomous Arkansas Snakes (pit vipers)
    (Note:  Show differences using classroom models)
    • Fangs plus teeth (show model of rattlesnake)
    • Venom vs. poison
    • How venom affects prey
    • Nostrils, pits and tongue
    • Eyelids
    • Ears
    • Morphology differences in sexes
      • Male
      • Female
    • Prey detection and consumption
      • Nocturnal vs. diurnal
      • Live or dead prey
      • Specialization of prey
    • Growth or molting
    • Examples of venomous Arkansas snakes
      • Display copperhead in cage
      • Rattlesnake exhibits
  4. Conclusion

Procedure:

  1. Seat participants on the floor and introduce the speaker.
  2. Discuss the types of snakes found in Arkansas.
  3. Use live snakes to show different shapes, sizes, colors, and characteristics of venomous and constrictor snakes in Arkansas.
  4. Allow participants to look at exhibit snakes in the classroom to determine if they are venomous or non-venomous.
  5. Conclude with a review of how to determine which exhibit snakes are venomous or non-venomous and discuss the characteristics that differentiate between the two types of snakes in Arkansas.

Modifications:

Provide older participants with dichotomous keys for snakes and have them classify other snakes within the nature center.

Review:

  • What are the two types of snakes native to Arkansas?
  • What is an example of a nonvenomous snake and how do they consume their prey?
  • What is an example of a venomous snake and how do they eat?
  • List the physical characteristics that identify venomous and nonvenomous snakes.

Resources:

Sealander, John A. and Gary A Heidt. Arkansas Mammals:  Their Natural History, Classification, and Distribution, University of Arkansas Press.

Sutton, Keith, ed. Arkansas Wildlife:  A History, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. University of Arkansas Press.

Glossary:

Constrictor – a large nonvenomous snake, such as an anaconda, boa or python, that coils around its prey and crushes it to death

Diurnal – active by day (as opposed to nocturnal)

Nocturnal – active at night (as opposed to diurnal)

Pit Viper – any of various venomous snakes of the family Crotalidae, such as a copperhead, rattlesnake or fer-de-lance that has a small sensory pit below each eye

Poison – a substance that through its chemical action usually kills, injures or impairs an organism

Reptile – any cold-blooded, egg-laying, air-breathing vertebrate of the class Reptilia, including turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodilians, amphibians, tuatara and various extinct members including the dinosaurs

Venom – poison transmitted to prey or an enemy chiefly by biting and stinging