A baby snake is called a snakelet. A snake that comes from an egg can also be called a hatchling, while the young of snakes that give live birth can also be called neonates. There are more than 3,000 species of snake in the world, and snakes live on every continent except Antarctica.
Around 70 percent of snake species are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs with shells. Snake eggs are leathery rather than hard and are usually left in a dark, warm, and damp place. While many snake species immediately abandon their eggs, others guard them against predators and use their body heat for incubation.
Examples of oviparous snakes include kingsnakes, rat snakes, grass snakes, mambas, adders, and cobras. The king cobra is unique in that it builds a nest for its eggs and may stay to guard them even after they have hatched. Many kinds of boa protect their eggs until they hatch as well.
Other snakes are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. To give birth this way is very rare in reptiles. These snakes develop with a placenta (a soft membrane) and yolk sack to nourish them while they are young. The advantage to this approach is that the snakes stay inside the mother’s body until they can survive colder temperatures on their own.
Boa constrictors and green anacondas are examples of viviparous snakes.
A Third Kind of Snake
Some snakes are a cross between viviparous and oviparous. While they have eggs, the shells do not become tough and solid, and the mother doesn’t lay them anywhere. Instead, she keeps the eggs inside herself until they hatch, at which point the young leave her body. These snakes are ovoviviparous.
A common example of this kind of snake is the rattlesnake. As with snakes that give live birth, ovoviviparous snakes tend to abandon their young immediately. This is why even baby rattlesnakes are venomous — they need to protect themselves from day one.
You may have heard that venomous snakelets are more dangerous than the adults, either because they are unable to control how much venom they inject or because their venom is more potent. Luckily, this isn’t true. Because snakelets are so much smaller than adult snakes, their venom sacs contain much less venom. Even if a baby snake were to release all its venom at once, it would still be a much lower dose than an adult would use. Studies show that bigger snakes cause worse snakebites with more venom. There’s also no evidence that adult snakes are more likely to choose not to inject venom during a bite compared to snakelets.
Once they are outside their shell or mother’s body, all snakes adapt to the world quickly. Venomous snakes are born ready to use their venom, and baby rattlesnakes already have the first button on their rattle. They begin to hunt their own food immediately, and most species can have snakelets of their own two years after birth. Larger species may take as long as four or five years to reach sexual maturity. While snakes tend to grow more slowly once they reach that point, they continue to grow at a lesser rate for the rest of their lives.