ophidian skins: snake sculpture

My snake sculptures are an attempt to de-mystify a historically slandered and often misunderstood creature. Snakes are not malevolent but simply predators that sometimes revive deep, primal fears. In Eastern traditions, the snake is a symbol of wisdom and internal power. Ever capable of change (shedding the skin and thus “reborn”), the snake is a powerful totem for transformation.

We often loathe that which we don’t understand. I have chosen to represent many deadly venomous snakes and large constrictors because they are the ones we avoid in nature. However, I do include some smaller species that don’t hunt anything larger than a mouse, and ones that may be more familiar to us in North America.

My sculptures are as close to life size as I could make them, and I have included a brief natural history for each one so viewers have a better sense of them as unique and facinating creatures. It is my hope that by capturing their likeness with wood and paint, I will spark curiosity for, rather than fear of, these beautiful animals.

The twisted branches of wood that comprise these sculptures have all been collected from the forest around my home. I use limbs from dead trees, or from branches felled in a storm.

The following snakes are available for purchase. Please bear in mind that each sculpture is made from a unique piece of wood. The piece shown in the photograph may not be the exact work available. Sizes are approximate.

Speckled Racer (Drymobius margaritiferus)

A beautiful, fast moving snake of the Neotropics that is rarely seen north of the Rio Grande. This slender, non-venomous snake eats frogs and lizards and lives in dense thickets near water. (56in. acrylic paint and wood)

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

A viper found in the Southeastern U.S., and even as far north as Massachusetts, the copperhead can live in a broad range of habitats such as grassland swamps, rocky hillsides, woodlands and semi-deserts and at elevations from sea level up to 5000ft. The venom glands are located behind the eyes, giving A. contortrix its characteristic broad head. Gives birth to live young. Basks in the sun during the spring and fall, but becomes more nocturnal during the hot days of summer. (58in. acrylic paint and wood)

Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis pyromelana)

This snake is found in the Southwestern U.S. and Northwestern Mexico where it prefers scrub and conifer woods and scree slopes near water. The striking black, red and white markings of L. pyromelana seem to flicker as the snake moves, and may be enough of a distraction to allow the snake to escape predators. The snout of this species is always white, a characteristic that helps distinguish it from other similarly marked kingsnakes. L. pyromelana is thought to hibernate for long periods during the winter. (36in. acrylic paint and wood)

Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida)

While all cobras are dangerous and can give a lethal bite, the Red Spitting Cobra prefers to “spit” venom through a special opening in the front of its fangs in order to deter predators. When the potent venom gets in the eyes, it is extremely painful. N. pallida has a relatively narrow hood that it spreads only when alarmed. Found in the deserts of Northeast Africa, adults will often hide in vegetation or in burrows, while younger snakes may be seen basking. These cobras have a distinct coloration that indicates the age of an individual: juveniles are bright red with dark throat scales, and as the snake matures, the body darkens in color. (60in. acrylic paint and wood)

Beauty Snake (Elaphe taeniura)

Found in Asia, this large, beautifully marked and unusually docile snake has been known to linger for months at cave mouths in order to capture bats, but its favorite food is baby birds that it raids from nests.  E. taeniura has an unusually large distribution across temperate and tropical regions of Asia and up to 10,000ft. elevation. Average size is 6-7ft. in length. (78in. acrylic paint and wood)

Royal Python (Python regius)

This relatively small python (6.5ft. maximum) has a heavy, muscular body that it uses to constrict birds and small mammals. The handsome skin pattern make it a favorite in the snake-skin trade, resulting in large scale slaughter. Found in West Africa, P. regius is worshipped by an animist ethnic group in Benin who include it in religious ceremonies and rites. Also known as the Ball Python because it coils itself into a tight ball when threatened. Visible infrared heat-sensing pits along the mouth help it detect prey. (6ft. acrylic paint and wood)

Spotted Python (Antaresia maculosa)

Found in rocky outcrops and moist dry forests of  Northeastern Australia, this small python has blotchy, irregular markings because the dark pigmentation is restricted to individual scales. A. maculosa kills prey by wrapping several coils around its victim and squeezing until it is sure it is dead, and then pulls the body through the coils as it swallows. Rarely longer than 4ft. it eats small prey such as frogs, lizards and small mammals. (54in. acrylic paint and wood)

Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus)

An arboreal green boa of South America, C. caninus hunts lizards, birds and small mammals such as mouse opossums. This is one of a few species of snake that has bright orange or yellow coloration as a juvenile that then darkens to green as an adult. This large boa is sometimes eaten by the Guianan Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis). (76in. acrylic paint and wood)

Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus)

This short, stout snake of the Western U.S. feeds mostly on amphibians, small mammals and birds. All hognose snakes prefer toads as their main  diet, and they may be immune to the toxic secretions that toads produce in self-defense. Hognose snakes are able to stretch their mouths to huge proportions in order to swallow their prey. These snakes are also expert burrowers, nosing their way into the earth to find hidden prey. (24in. acrylic and wood)

West African Green Mamba (Dendroaspis viridis)

A large, extremely venomous snake of West Africa that is one of three species of green mambas. Dendroaspis spp. are cousins to the cobra family of snakes (Elapidae), and have a highly neurotoxic venom that is often fatal to humans if not treated immediately. D. viridis has large, blue-green to yellow scales and a long, thin tail. The average adult length is around 6 to 7 feet. It appears to flow through the trees where it lives and hunts for birds and small mammals. Will bite humans if cornered. (~7ft, acrylic and wood)

Scarlet Snake (Cemophora coccinea)

Small burrowing snake of Southeastern United States and Florida that is often mistaken for the venomous Coral Snake.  Prowls at night to feed on the eggs of other reptiles. 2ft.

Blue Long-glanded Coral Snake (Maticora bivirgata)

These vividly colored snakes of Southeast Asia have especially large venom sacs that extend down one third of the body. They primarily eat other snakes. A common name in Thai means “snake with two heads, “ and it is thought the bright coloration serves as a warning to would-be predators.

Cantil (Agkistrodon bilineatus)

A Mexican pitviper rarely longer than 3 ft. The venom of most pitvipers helps to digest prey before swallowing, much the same way your saliva helps a cracker to dissolve in your mouth. Scientists believe this adaptation assists in the ability of many pitvipers to live in cold environments where temperatures would slow effective digestion.

Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)

A member of the Elapidae family of snakes, A. pyrrhus is a highly venomous snake of Australia. It is a viper-like, short-bodied snake, usually less than 3ft in length and is found in sandy or muddy habitats. Death adders are remarkably cryptic (camouflaged) in coloration, and can flatten their bodies when threatened in order to appear much larger.

Death adders use ambush hunting tactics where the raise and wiggle their contrastingly colored tail to lure prey within striking distance. When they strike, venom sacs in the sides of the head release a potent neurotoxin that is pumped through canal-like mobile fangs that penetrate deeply, quickly subduing prey.

Death adders can also sidewind, a method of locomotion where two portions of the body remain in passing contact with the ground as the other portion speeds up. Sidewinding allows death adders to travel very quickly over shifting sand, and for long distances. In general, death adders lead a low-energy lifestyle.

Green Cat-eyed Snake (Boiga cyanea)

Found in lush forests of southeast Asia, this snake is a tree-dweller that eats frogs, reptiles, small birds and mammals. The vertical pupils indicate this species hunts at night. The venom it injects into prey is mild and harmless to humans.  It has large scales on the top of its head and a black lining in the mouth.

Yellow-lipped Seakrait (Laticauda colubrine)

Sometimes called “amphibious sea snakes,” these ocean-dwelling snakes return to land occasionally to bask, mate and lay eggs. L. colubrine is found in the warm, subtropical oceans of Australia and Indonesia. Like its relative the cobra, seakraits have a venomous bite. Seakraits also have the unique the ability to collect and expel excess salt from seawater using a special gland in its mouth for this purpose. It hunts by slowly swimming over reefs in search of eels.

Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla)

Slender snake of southern Europe and western Asia found on rocky hillsides, rock walls, sparse woods and farmland. Hunts during the day and feeds on small mammals. Average length: 24”.

Central Australian Carpet Python (Morelia bredli)

Large snake of the Australian deserts, averaging around 7ft in length. Hunts at night using infrared heat-sensing pits along the mouth to detect prey that it then constricts to death before consuming. Found in rocky outcrops and shrubs.

Fea’s Viper (Azemiops feae)

An extremely rare viper found in the remote cloud forests of central and southern China, Tibet and Vietnam. There are only a few known specimens of A. feae. This species is thought to be the most primitive of all vipers and superficially resembles cobras with large plate-like scales on the head. It is thought to be a ground dweller that eats shrews and rodents. Not much else is known about its reproduction or natural history.

Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

Slender snake of northeastern and northern midwestern U.S. that grows to 14-24”. Found in moist, grassy meadows and fields along forest edges, it is largely terrestrial but can climb trees. Feeds entirely on invertebrates such as slugs, spiders, insects and earthworms. Active during the day.

Striped Skaapsteker (Psammophylax tritaeniatus)

Its common name means “sheep-killer” in Afrikaans, but this rear-fanged snake is not considered dangerous to sheep or humans. Found in scrub and grasslands of southern Africa and feeds on small mammals, frogs and lizards.

Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus)

Primarily a terrestrial species, P. reticulates is also a great swimmer and climber. Thought to be the longest snake in the world and prized for its patterned skin., many of these beautiful snakes end up as leather. It is found in equatorial south east Asia in lowland forests and hunts at night.

The reticulated python is an opportunistic ambush predator that will sit and wait for warm-blooded prey to come close enough for it to seize with its long, curved teeth. Once held in the large mouth, it then constricts its prey and can swallow very large animals including deer, pigs, dogs and in a few cases, humans.

Eastern Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

A large, extremely dangerous snake of eastern Africa. D. angusticeps is a cousin to the cobra family of snakes (Elapidae), and has a highly neurotoxic venom that is often fatal to humans if not treated immediately. It has large bright green scales that help it blend in with the foliage of trees where it is often found hunting small rodents and birds during the day.

Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)

A massive boa of South America and the Amazon basin, this giant can grow to over 30 ft in length and some specimens have been recorded at over 3 ft in circumference and over 450 pounds. There are a few authenticated reports of E. murinus eating human beings, and it will eat almost anything including large reptiles such as caiman. It has high-set eyes allowing it to remain submerged in water while it waits for prey that it grabs with its huge mouth and then constricts to death. It is a viviparous species, giving birth to fully-formed live young.

Spotted Harlequin Snake (Homoroselaps lacteus)

Small venomous snake of southern Africa that feeds mostly on other snakes and legless skinks. This small elapid rarely grows longer than 18” and is not considered dangerous to humans. However, bites can be very painful and have mild neurotoxic effects.

Gray-Banded Kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna)

A nocturnal snake of southwest Texas and adjoining Mexico. Found in arid mesquite bush and desert flats, this snake lives primarily where there is underlying limestone bedrock with crevices in which to hide. It is highly variable in coloration and averages 3ft in length. Eats lizards, reptile eggs and frogs.

Asian Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)

This egg-laying snake of India, Southern China and Southeast Asia has microscopic structures in its skin that give it an iridescent sheen. Their cylindrical bodies are perfectly adapted to burrowing underground where they hunt slippery skinks. X. unicolor has evolved fangs that fold when swallowing prey, but lock into place if the skink struggles back out. (53in. acrylic paint and wood)

San Francisco Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)

One of North America’s rarest snakes, the critically endangered and protected San Francisco Garter snake is only found on the western edge of the San Francisco peninsula in California. This beautiful little snake is marked with a red, narrow head and bright red stripes edged in black that contrast with the greenish-gray to yellow dorsal stripe. Eats frogs, toads, small mammals and even fish and is most active in the afternoon when the cool mists of the coast have burned off.

Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)

A member of the viper family, the sidewinder has a broad range of color morphs, usually matching the terrain where it lives. Can be buff, yellow, gray or orange, with indistinct lighter and darker splotches along the back, and a dark line through the eye. Its mode of locomotion is its most distinguishing characteristic: “sidewinding” involves raising loops of the body to create downward pressure on loose substrates such as sliding sands. The trail left by a Sidewinder is a discontinuous series of marks at an angle to the direction of travel. Rarely longer than 2ft., C. cerastes is found in the southwestern U.S. and adjacent Mexico where it burrows into the sand during the heat of the day.

Striped Parrotsnake (Letophis nebulosus)

Parrotsnakes feed on tree frogs and lizards, and will often initiate hunting after a heavy rain when tree frogs come out to breed. Known to launch themselves out of trees onto prey, parrotsnakes also hunt by methodically checking bromeliad plants for the frogs that live there. Parrotsnakes have also been known to lay their eggs communally with other tree-dwelling snakes such as cat-snakes. L. nebulosus is a slender, semi-arboreal snake of the Neotropics that has a flattened head and wide-set eyes.

Ringed Slug-eater (Sibon annulata)

A semi-arboreal snake of the Neo-tropics thought to mimic venomous pit vipers. In a family of snakes called “goo-eaters” because they eat soft-bodied invertebrates such as snails and slugs.  Most goo-eaters are small with blunt heads and protruding eyes and they hunt by following the slime trail of their prey that they seize in their needle-like teeth. They then extract the snail from its shell by working its jaws up and down.

 

Photos of the following should be available soon...

 

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

A small, secretive snake of North America with a brightly colored underbelly that it exposes when startled. Neck ring and underbelly coloration are highly variable, and dependent on where this little snake is found in its geographic range. Eats earthworms, slugs, salamanders, lizards and newborn snakes.

 

Levant Viper (Vipera lebetina)

Large, irritable viper of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Found mostly in rocky outcroppings and at altitudes up to 6,500ft above sea level. Will hiss loudly before striking. Venom of this snake is a hemotoxin (blood poison) that can kill an adult human.

Bushmaster (Lachesis muta)

Largest of all venomous snakes in Western Hemisphere, this viper can grow to 11 ft in length. Extremely dangerous to humans due to its potent venom and cryptic (camouflaged)  coloration, it is hard to see on the tropical forest floor and recently cleared land where it hunts mammals of varying sizes. The bushmaster stalks prey by moving in a rectilinear fashion (caterpillar-like), making its movement very difficult to detect.

Boomslang (Disopholidus typus)

An extremely dangerous colubrid from southern Africa, this slender snake ranks among the top ten most venomous snakes of the world. It mostly hunts small lizards and birds of open scrublands, but will bite humans if cornered. Death by massive internal bleeding and respiratory failure occurs within hours. (46in. acrylic and wood).

 

Northern Pine Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus)

 A large snake of pine woods, grasslands and farms that constricts small mammals such as rodents, but will also eat domestic fowl eggs. Pine snakes have highly variable markings, but this subspecies has dark markings on a pale background, providing good camouflage against sandy soils. (50in. acrylic, spalted maple and tung oil)

 

Carpet Python (Morelia spilota)

A handsome member of the python family, this large (6-7ft long) snake has many color forms, but is usually marked with dark bands on a lighter background. Distinctive triangular head has conspicuous heat-sensing pits around the mouth for detecting warm-blooded prey at night. Eyes are large with vertical pupils. Often found around human habitations and watercourses in Australia and New Guinea. Eats reptiles, birds and rats.

All photos, artwork and text © 2006-2010 Heidi R. Albright. All rights reserved.