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Snakes of the Western Hemisphere

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Course Description

Snakes, also known as serpents, are the focus of this course, with heavy emphasis on snakes of the Americas. Topics include snake history, biology, lifestyle, and more along with detailed understanding of each major type of snake. Prevention and treatment of snake bites and attacks, along with snake-related activities and hobbies close out this course, leaving students empowered and equipped in both knowledge and practical application. 

Few members of the animal kingdom possess the power to captivate people of all ages, around the globe, with both fear and fascination. From their mysterious origins and unique physical characteristics, to their real and imagined dangers, snakes have achieved an important place in human culture and history.
Snakes are reptiles that descended from prehistoric lizards, although much of their evolution remains a mystery. Like all reptiles, they are cold-blooded vertebrates whose body temperature is regulated by their environment -- one reason that many human encounters find them basking in the sun for warmth. Like their cousin, the legless lizard, they have no appendages; but unlike legless lizards, they also have no ears or eyelids. Snakes share another common feature of reptiles, the overlapping scales that offer protection and camouflage. And they are carnivores, possessing a unique skull structure that allows them to swallow prey that is much larger than they are.

Snakes are part of the order squamates, which includes snakes and lizards, but also belong to the suborder serpentes -- the reason they are also called serpents.

There are almost 3,000 species of snakes that range widely in size, capability, and location. Antarctica is the only continent on which no snakes have been found due to its extremely cold temperatures and snakes' ectothermic nature. Snakes also live in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as these tend to have more mild temperatures than some other bodies of water. Although snakes do live on many smaller land masses, there are some sizable islands (such as New Zealand and Ireland) where snakes exist only in zoos.

Contrary to the feelings generated by ophidiophobia (abnormal or extreme fear of snakes), most snakes are non-venomous. Moreover, most snakes that do have venom use it primarily to kill their prey, rather than as a defense. Some non-venomous snakes are able to kill their prey through constriction, cutting off the air supply. Others simply swallow their prey whole.

No real assumptions can be made about the size of snakes, given that they range so widely. Thread snakes, generally understood to be the smallest snakes, are only about 10 to 20 cm long. On the other hand, the Asiatic reticulated pythons can grow up to 26 feet in length, though most are less than 20 feet, and some anacondas can grow to 30 feet long. Naturally, the size of a snake constitutes the type of food it eats; thread snakes, for example, usually live on ants and termites, while the reticulated pythons may feast on primates, pigs, or even cats and dogs near human habitation. Virtually every python that has eaten a human has been more than 20 feet in length and these are rare occurrences.

Historically speaking, the fossil record of snakes tends to be inadequate and largely unknown. Snake skeletons are usually fragile and small, making fossilization more difficult. Earliest fossils have been found in Algeria and Utah from the Cretaceous period. It is widely accepted that prior to these early recognizable snake fossils, snakes descended from lizards. During the Paleocene Era, however, modern snakes became tremendously diversified following the extinction of dinosaurs. Nonetheless, snake origins are somewhat unknown, although there are two primary hypotheses:

  • The Aquatic Mosasaur – This theory presents the idea that snakes evolved from mosasaurs -- aquatic reptiles from the Cretaceous period that are now extinct. Mososaurs, in turn, evolved from varanid lizards (carnivorous and generally intelligent reptiles). This hypothesis holds that the need to combat marine conditions, such as osmosis-related corneal water loss and disuse of ears, resulted in the fused, transparent eyelids and lack of external ears found in snakes. During the Cretaceous period, many of these reptiles became terrestrial.

  • The Burrowing Lizard – Some fossil evidence indicates that snakes may have evolved from burrowing lizards. There were both terrestrial and semi-aquatic burrowing lizards; the theory is that their bodies evolved to primarily burrow, which caused them to eventually lose their limbs. Due to the nature of burrowing in the ground, the corneas of the eyes would become continuously scratched and the ears would be filled with dirt, thus resulting in a loss of the external ears and the development of the fused eyelids.

Scientists are continually discovering new fossils and the debate over snakes' origin continues; either hypothesis could be accurate, but it is also very possible for both to be wrong or incomplete.

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  • Self-Paced
  • 6 Months to Complete
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  • Start Anytime
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  • Android & iOS Friendly
  • Accredited CEUs
Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider

Course Lessons

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Lesson 1: Introduction and History of Snakes

Snakes have long fascinated kids and adults alike, for a number of reasons: the way they move, their ability to kill human beings, and their important place in culture and history. 10 Total Points
  • Review Article: Giant South American Snake
  • Take Poll: Snakes
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 1: Introduction and History of Snakes

Lesson 2: Snake Myths in Religion and Culture

Contributing to the worldwide fascination with snakes, myths about them are pervasive. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Snakes and Mythology; How the Snakes Were Saved
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 2: Snake Myths in Religion and Culture

Lesson 3: Types of Snakes and Snake Myths Versus Fact

With more than 3000 species throughout the world, various types of snakes can be found almost anywhere that humans live with a few noted exceptions. 10 Total Points
  • Review 3 Articles: Myths and Truths; 10 Snake Myths; Types of Snakes
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 3: Types of Snakes and Snake Myths vs. Fact

Lesson 4: Biology of Snakes

The multi-cultural view of snakes as mysterious and symbolic rests largely within two main areas: snake biology and snake behavior. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Snake Anatomy; Natural History of Snakes
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 4: Biology of Snakes

Lesson 5: Snake Behavior

Snakes represent some of the best evidence for evolution; the vast range of snake behaviors and abilities demonstrates remarkable design for unique capabilities. 10 Total Points
  • Review Article: Reptile Shedding
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 5: Snake Behavior

Lesson 6: The Boidae Family (Boas and Pythons)

There are several taxonomical families located within the western hemisphere. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Green Anacondas; Stopping a Burmese Python Invasion
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 6: The Boidae Family (Boas and Pythons)

Lesson 7: Elapids (Cobras, Mambas, Kraits and Coral Snakes)

Cobras are thought to have evolved from colubrids and remain similar to that family in a number of ways. 9 Total Points
  • Review Article: Western Coral Snakes
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 7: Elapids (Cobras, Mambas, Kraits and Coral Snakes)

Lesson 8: Viperidae (Vipers and Rattlesnakes)

The most dangerous snakes in the Western Hemisphere belong to the viper family, technically called Viperidae. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Rattlesnakes; Timber Rattlesnakes
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 8: Viperidae (Vipers and Rattlesnakes)

Lesson 9: Blind Snakes and Colubrids

Blind snakes, of which there are three taxonomical families, are present within the Western Hemisphere. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Non-Poisonous Snakes of North America; Brahminy Blind Snake
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 9: Blind Snakes and Colubrids

Lesson 10: Snake Safety

The adage "The best defense is a good offense" is especially true when dealing with snakes. 10 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Venomous Snakes; Snake Safety
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 10: Snake Safety

Lesson 11: When Snakes Bite

Deaths from snake bites are uncommon, especially within the Western Hemisphere. 10 Total Points
  • Review Article: Snake Bite Treatment
  • Take Poll: Snake Bites
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 11: When Snakes Attack

Lesson 12: Snake Hobbies

There are many hobbies involving snakes for people to enjoy. From keeping snakes as pets, to hunting them or charming them, our worldwide fascination with the snakes has impacted many of our daily lives. 64 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: North American Field Herping Association; Choosing a Pet Snake
  • Take Poll: Snake Hobbies
  • Take Survey: Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course)
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 12: Snake Hobbies
  • Complete: The Final Exam
Total Course Points

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Know snake myths in religion and culture.
  • Describe types of snakes and snake myths versus fact.
  • Know biology of snakes.
  • Describe snake behavior.
  • Know the boidae family (boas and pythons).
  • Identify elapids (cobras, mambas, kraits and coral snakes).
  • Identify viperidae (vipers and rattlesnakes).
  • Describe blind snakes and colubrids.
  • Know snake safety, and
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

Additional Course Information

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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
Course Title: Snakes of the Western Hemisphere
Course Number: 8900129
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Course Type: General Education (Self-Paced, Online Class)
CEU Value: 0.4 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Instructor: Cathleen Chouinard
Syllabus: View Syllabus
Duration: Continuous: Enroll anytime!
Course Fee: $50.00 (no CEU Certification) || with Online CEU Certification: $75.00

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