Not all snake species have fangs. Out of the roughly 3500 known snake species in the world, only about 15% of them have fangs.
The snake species that do not have fangs are those that are of the non-venomous variant, which is to say that fangs are synonymous with venomous snakes.
Snake fangs are sharp-edged, hollow, extended, and grooved teeth that are found on the upper jaw of a venomous snake, either at the front or the back of the mouth. Elsewhere, non-venomous snakes have six rows of normal teeth with four rows at the top of the mouth and two rows at the bottom.
What is the Purpose of Fangs in Snakes?
Fangs are only found in venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cobras. Fangs provide the channel through which these snakes inject venom to their prey or victims.
The venom glands of a snake are located on the head, close to the salivary glands. A primary duct from the venom glands extends almost to the snake’s upper jaw, where it branches to two (or more channels). Each of these channels connects to a fang.
In this way, the duct creates a passageway of venom from the glands to the fang.
Naturally, fangs function like hypodermic needles. When biting a victim or prey, muscles inside the snake’s head contract to squeeze venom from the glands and push through the fangs to a victim’s flesh.
As such, fangs can be classified as some of the most advanced, most sophisticated bioweapons on animals.
Snakes use them to catch their prey and protect themselves against predators. In other words, fangs can be described as a snake’s best offense against prey and their best defense against predators.
Which Type of Snakes Does Not Have Fangs?
Non-venomous snakes do not have fangs. Instead, they have rows of normal, non-toxic teeth on both the upper and lower jaws. Non-venomous snakes are the likes of pythons, water snakes, milk snakes, and anaconda.
Since they lack venom in their system, the bite of non-venomous snakes does not inflict serious health issues on the victim. At the worst, the bit area will sting a little and maybe swell for a short while.
Therefore, non-venomous snakes have mechanisms to catch prey and keep away predators. As for the latter, some of them practice Batesian mimicry, where they pretend to be venomous snakes to scare away threats. Also, most of them are constrictors, meaning they squeeze their prey to paralysis or death before swallowing them whole.
How Do Fangs Develop in Venomous Snakes?
Researches suggest that fangs, both rear and front, develop from a separate teeth-forming tissue at the rear of a snake’s mouth. This tissue is not found in non-venomous snakes, and that is why only the venomous kind have fangs.
The fangs of the majority of venomous snakes are located in the rear of the mouth. Fewer species, including vipers and rattlesnakes, have fangs that are positioned at the front of the mouth, jutting down from the upper jaw.
While both front and rear fangs develop from the same tissue located at the rear of the mouth, front fangs get displaced during a snake’s embryo development. This displacement is because of the fast growth of the embryonic upper jaws. Rear fangs are those that were never affected during embryonic development, so they stayed put at the rear of the mouth.
On the other hand, teeth development for non-venomous snake species is similar to that of humans. During the embryo stage, teeth on the snake’s upper jaw sprout from one tooth-forming tissue on the upper jaw. In the same way, bottom teeth develop from a different tooth-forming tissue found on the snake’s lower jaw.
Which Snake Has the Longest Fangs?
Normally, vipers have the longest fangs among all poisonous snakes. The snake with the longest fangs is the Gaboon viper, whose fangs can measure up to 5 centimeters long. Scientific name Bitis gabonica, the Gaboon viper is one of the most venomous snakes in the wild.
It is mainly found in tropical forests of central and western Africa and is the heaviest venomous snake on the continent, weighing about 18 pounds. It is also pretty long, with a length of 7 feet. The Gaboon viper, while docile, is without a doubt one of the most dangerous among venomous serpents.
Snakes with long fangs are more successful at hunting prey. This is because, for one, longer fangs penetrate deeper into the prey’s body than average fangs. Long fangs are also sharper and are more capable of piercing through prey’s feathers, fur, or hair. Moreover, their venom acts more quickly at incapacitating the prey.
Why Do Snakes Shed Their Fangs?
Snakes shed their fangs for the same reason people sharpen their tools after several uses – they grow blunter and blunter with each use. Blunt fangs will get in the way of hunting and catching prey, which may lead to the serpent’s eventual starvation. Thus, venomous snakes tend to shed their fangs after every six to eight weeks.
Normally, venomous snakes have one or two reserve pairs sitting behind the pair in use. The reserve pairs replace the active fangs in case of breakage or shedding. The backup fangs grow bigger and bigger as they prepare to move up and replace the almost-shedding initial set of fangs.
Once the working fangs are shed, a pair of reserve fangs take their place immediately. This way, the snake will be able to cut through and penetrate a prey’s body without much of a struggle. Without a sharp pair of fangs, the survival rate of a venomous snake incredibly goes down.
Only venomous snakes, which make up for about 15% of all snake species, have fangs. The rest of the snakes, all non-venomous, have normal teeth. Venomous snakes use their fangs for hunting prey and defending themselves against predators. Typically, fangs are a channel through which serpents pass venom from the glands and into the victim’s body.
Vipers have the longest fangs among all venomous snakes, with the Gaboon viper having the longest of them all. Also, snakes shed their fangs after a month or so for a pair of fresh, sharp ones so that they can continue hunting with minimal struggle. Fangs are one of the most advanced and sophisticated bioweapons of all time.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.