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What Is a Stiletto Snake?

No, the stiletto snake is not a new kind of shoe. It is a snake whose natural habitat is Africa. It likes to stay underground, and in fact can burrow and create a small tunnel. Instinctively, it chooses to make its tunnel under rocks, where it will be undetected.

Lucky for humans, the stiletto snake rarely goes above ground—it travels underground, and is more interested in attacking small mammals or other burrowing reptiles.

The stiletto snake has a peculiar way of attack. Most snakes will rear their head and bare their fangs before lunging to bite at their prey. However, this is impossible in a tunnel. So, the creature has developed retractable fangs (very thin and slender, like the stiletto heel—hence the name of the snake). And, instead of retracting to gain momentum, it just quickly moves forward, its head directly above the prey, and its mouth muscles push forward the fangs so it they flip like the blades of a swiss knife. The stiletto snake does not have to open its mouth—useful in very small spaces. Once the prey is “in place” it then moves its head, trapping the poor creature until the venom begins to work.

The fangs of the stiletto snake lie horizontally when not in active use. That is one reason why the snake has less teeth than its other snake kin.

The stiletto snake poses little danger to humans, not only because it tends to avoid contact with them, but because the venom is not powerful enough to cause paralysis or death. However, care must still be taken when confronted with the stiletto snake. Its bite can still be very uncomfortable and can cause nausea and disorientation.

Featured in Science