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INTRODUCTION

Snakes are members of the Toxicofera branch of Squamata. More simply put, they are members of an important group that includes iguanas, monitors, and Gila monsters – and are venomous. The most conspicuous uniting feature of the Toxicofera is the presence of venom, and some snakes have evolved a sophisticated delivery apparatus for it, making the best use of their refined, diverse, and lethal biochemistry arsenal. Of course, not all snakes are effectively venomous. Most still resort to incapacitating prey within their coils or finishing it off with their jaws. Spec has retained most ramifications of the snake family, but has also preserved some of the ancient lineages, and even brought forth unique divisions that do not seem to fit any group we know from our home world. In addition, those snakes in Spec that make a living off being venomous tend to have unusually powerful or potent venom for their size. Whether or not this is a direct result of the existence of giant reptiles, or more simply a vagary of nature, is still debatable.

MADTSOIIDAE (Paddlesnakes)

The madtsoiids are a strange group of archaic snakes, distinguished by a relatively inflexible skull (for a snake, that is!) and other skeletal differences, that managed to eke out a niche on Spec. They are represented in the fossil record of both timelines from the mid-Cretaceous, 100 million years ago. On Home-Earth, madtsoiids seem to have died out between the end of the Cretaceous and the end of the Eocene (when the aptly named †Gigantophis, estimated to have reached the length of 30-33 feet, lived in North Africa), except in Australia, where they survived into the present day with Wonambi. Likewise, the madtsoiids still exist in modern-day Spec, filling a worldwide aquatic-snakes niche. Commonly known as paddlesnakes, Spec’s madtsoiids resemble nothing more than oversized freshwater sea snakes with large, leaf-shaped tail-tips to aid in swimming. Paddlesnakes hunt down fishes in the water and can stage ambushes on the riverbank, but they are limited to small (or at least narrow) prey by the size of their mouths.

Greater Paddlesnake (Regalecophis major)

Madtsoiid

Greater paddlesnake, Regalecophis major (northern and eastern Australia)

The greater paddlesnake (Regalecophis major) is one of the larger and more typical paddlesnakes. Greater paddlesnakes ply the Australian rivers in search of prey. Eggs are laid in holes on the riverbank, and the female, despite her reluctance to leave the water, coils up around them for protection.

Meermad (Marinophis maritimus)

The largest madtsoiid, freshwater or otherwise, is the meermad (Marinophis maritimus). A true sea serpent in every sense of the word, and found throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, the meermad specializes in tackling large fish and small turtles. At 9 meters in length, it will, however, not simply subdue its prey with tearing bites as a crocodile so crudely does. It clamps onto its prey with sharp, barb-like teeth, and wraps its mighty, muscular coils around the prey, then, with movements of its relatively stiff madtsoiid jaws, it engulfs the victim. It particularly relishes large belt morays, and other serpentine sea-creatures, namely smaller paddlesnakes and draconet-monitor. It swims with mighty sweeps of its giant, laterally flattened tail, and will cruise towards prey slowly, attacking from ambush.

GEOMORTIDAE (Coquecigrues and sandflashes)

Lizard-Eating Golden Sandflash (Dunimors exuperyi)

The geomortids are most closely related to the elapids, according to a recent molecular study. These snakes, mostly small burrowing snakes, have the dubious honour of being among the most venomous snakes in existence, but lacking the capability to actually envenomate large prey. Thus, their diet consists mostly of soft-skinned worms and insects, which are struck dead before they can make their escape. The exception is the lizard-eating golden sandflash (Dunimors exuperyi), which grows up to the size of a garter snake and has been known to kill humans in its native habitat in the Sahara.

Coquecigrue (Delicatophis ecarlatus)

The smaller and more representative coquecigrue (Delicatophis ecarlatus) is common in the Mediterranean regions of Europe.

SKORPIONOPHIIDAE (Serpions)

These bizarre offshoots of the colubrid branch have no Home-Earth equivalents. Many species exist in the Old World, throughout tropical and arid areas. They posess immensely poisonous fangs, mainly for dealing with other small vertebrates, including other snakes. They have a conventional colubrid/elapid-type fang design, but their method of defense from birds and dinosaurs is astounding. At the termination of the tail, they posses a very sharp spike, with which they can hit an aggressor, inducing a painful piercing wound. Interestingly, the very short tail has a parallel to a venomous sting, the termination of the spike being, in fact, also the termination of the cloaca. As a result, the snake's excreta being extremely infectious, an attacker would feel the effects of such an encounter, and soon learn that serpions would not make a good meal. In order to show readiness to attack a prey item, serpions coil and strike, but when defensively stinging, they curl the vulnerable head and neck under the body and rear with the tail. As a precursory warning the snake will often squirt jets of vile urea at the offending predator, aiming for sensitive spots like the eyes.

AZTECOPHIIDAE (Featherboas and the quetzalcoatl)

An unusual family of snakes, the aztecophids have venom fangs and have apparently occupied the position taken in our timeline by the elapids. Their most unique feature is the presence of “scale-feathers”, long scales that resemble nothing more than bird feathers, covering their bodies. Of course, the scales remain scales, with nothing of the complexity of maniraptoran plumage; and the aztecophids themselves are ectothermic as are all lepidosaurs.

Liana-Feather (Phyllolianophis viridis)

The featherboas (Boaplumia sp.) have the most extravagant and colorful scalefeathers of the group. They are widespread across the Americas. Other representative genera include HirsutophisMirificoserpens, and Tarboboiga. One of the most bizarre is the liana-feather (Phyllolianophis viridis), whose scalefeathers, keeled, leaf-like, and hanging loosely in tassels, look like leaves on a vine. The snake does impersonate a dangling liana, swaying in the breeze and waiting for a bird or bat to fly by, snagging them on the wing.

Quetzalcoatl (Aztecophis quetzalcoatl)

Quetzalcoatl by sphenacodon

Quetzalcoatl, Aztecophis quetzalcoatl) Amazon Rainforest. All credit for this artwork goes to Sphenacodon on DeviantArt.

Hidden deep in Spec’s Amazon is the largest, deadliest, and most elusive aztecophid: the quetzalcoatl (Aztecophis quetzalcoatl). Reports rapidly reached Home-Earth of a mighty feathered serpent that struck dead all who dared approach it. Some groups claimed that the snake was none other than the physical manifestation of the ancient god Quetzalcoatl, who, failing to return to his people on Home-Earth, had gone to Spec instead. Finally, after a few expeditions, the truth came out in the form of a type specimen frantically shot at one Dr. Prune’s base camp. The quetzalcoatl was an aztecophid, reaching over 4 meters in length and sporting an impressive set of scalefeathers. Studies carried out on the venom proved it to contain some of the most powerful toxins known to man; however, the quetzalcoatl, with the characteristic elapid/aztecophid short fangs, relies as much on its strength and size as on its venom to snatch prey. Primarily an arboreal creature, the Quetzalcoatl is only rarely glimpsed in the jungle.

Couatl (Ophidiotrogon monteverdensis)

A northern relative of the spectacular Quetzalcoatl, has a short range for an Aztecophid, being found only at the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and adjacent areas. Up to 4 feet long, it preys on spec-rodents, bird chicks, etc.

VIPERIDAE (Vipers and ultravipers)

The snakes of Spec have followed an unusual evolutionary pattern. Colubroids are present (among them many p-species), and have spawned several lineages, among them the aztecophids, which fulfill the position of elapids, and the vipers, which occupy the remainder of venomous roles, and are far more diversified and common than their pseudofeathered relatives. A minor guild of venomous snakes comprises the small, burrowing geomortids.

When these snakes were first noticed by spexplorers, they were written off as vipers, which, in a sense, they were. Their fangs were long, hinged (that is, the maxilla – the upper jaw bone – bears only this single tooth, and can be moved independently of the rest of the skull), and situated at the front of the mouth, many of them had heat receptors, and their heads were triangular and loaded with large venom glands. A bite from any of these animals caused rapid death. A number of subtle differences may be observed: a longer tail than most Home-Earth vipers, and livebearing in all species. These adaptations, partly worked upon by Home-Earth vipers, conferring upon Spec-vipers great flexibility in adapting to their environment. Even the venom is more advanced than in the vipers of our timeline, including some unique venom components and comprising a far more lethal and efficient killing system. Hemotoxins, which dissolve flesh, destroy red blood cells, and break down proteins in tissues, are still essential components; paralyzing neurotoxins are also well-expressed. Necrotoxins, however, are a unique component for snakes (spiders are already documented with necrotoxin); they cause indiscriminate cell death.

While the question of why snakes would evolve such a deadly venom has been brought up, it would seem that, in a world of giants it helps to have as powerful a defense (and attack) as possible. As a result of their toxicity, the vipers are highly respected little killers, and given a wide berth by most animals. Nonetheless, there are always skreets, kronks, rocs, channelbills, and many other snake-slayers that can dodge their prey’s strikes and finish it off fast, often tearing off the head before tucking into their snake prey.

Asmodeus (Paravipera parasmodeus)

The most common of these snakes are in the wide-ranging genus Paravipera, which is almost indistinguishable from the Vipera snakes of our home timeline – except, of course, in otherwise unnoticeable toxicity and physiology. A few examples are the asmodeus (Paravipera parasmodeus), the death’s head viper (p-V. paratrox), and the phoenician viper (p-V. paralevantina). Other typically viperine niches filled are those of the tree vipers, occupied most notably by the Asian Dendrovipera and the South America Coatlovipera.

The niches that the p-vipers have filled are, however, far greater than those of Home-Earth vipers. For instance, they occupy the function of seasnakes, a role which has in our timeline gone to the elapids. The seafangs (Piscivipera sp.), which lack heat pits and instead have a broad madtsoiid-like paddle tail, use their deadly venom to strike fish down before they can swim away. Travelling in large schools, they are probably the most wide-ranging and abundant of all reptiles on Spec.

Sangle (Chromecharpophis seignollei)

Rattlesnakes do not exist in Spec, but terrestrial p-vipers have other means of alerting predators to their presence. Many are brightly colored; for instance, the sangle (Chromecharpophis seignollei) looks like a banded, gaudy scarf. The ferretters (Fuinophis sp.), on the other hand, are burrowers that regularly raid underground nests.

SKOTOVIPERINAE (Ultravipers)

However, the best-known paravipers are those that evolved to prey on the largest possible game: dinosaurs. This is not as dramatic as it sounds: snakes, as swallowers, will never eat anything the size of a grassbag or ceratopsian. Nevertheless, the ultravipers are impressive predators. Growing up to the size of a python, they use their physical bulk and muscle to assist them in catching smaller prey. An ultraviper, however, will not disdain a young jackalope or a hatchling titanosaur, if given the chance; one prodigiously bloated tapestry viper regurgitated a whole juvenile drak, which it had apparently found difficult to digest.

Nidhogg (Skotovipera nidhogg)

The nidhogg (Skotovipera nidhogg), in an all-black coat of scales, can and does live as far north as it is possible for a reptile; as the smallest of the ultravipers, it can overwinter in underground strongholds.

Forest Monarch (Eulachesis grandis)

The colossal forest monarch (Eulachesis grandis) is a bushmaster-type serpent of the Amazon which regularly feeds on young aquatitans and nodopotamids that stray from their parents.

Windshield Viper (Metacerastes triangulum)

The windshield viper (Metacerastes triangulum) of the Middle East has an unusual, triangular-cross-section body that bears a retractable, colorful sail down the middle; it is presumed this morphology is meant to aid heat regulation. The sail itself is used to startle potential enemies by being suddenly flashed; hence the nickname of “flashback viper”.

Jörmungand (Joermungandophis midgardsormr)

The semiamphibious jörmungand (Joermungandophis midgardsormr) slithers along tropical beaches in search of prey.

Tapestry Viper (Parabitis bayeuxi)

The tapestry viper (Parabitis bayeuxi) is an African jungle behemoth, with a massive body splotched with ornate markings.

Megavipers

(fig. 7) Ultravipers. Clockwise from top: nidhogg, Skotovipera nidhogg (northern Eurasia); forest monarch, Eulachesis grandis (Amazon rainforest); windshield viper, Metacerastes triangulum (Middle East); jörmungand, Joermungandophis midgardsormr; tapestry viper, Parabitis bayeuxi (African rainforests).

Again, ultravipers are themselves prey to other animals. Draks in particular seem to enjoy tormenting a dozing ultraviper, the entire scene resembling nothing more than a mongoose-and-cobra fight writ large. Sabretyrants in warmer climes and tropical abelisaurs also relish the anaconda-sized sausages. As a result, these deadly predators tend to rest underground between meals, and are surprisingly common for predators of their size thanks to fast reproductive rates. The nidhogg in particular gives birth to scores of snakelings every other year. Moreover some of these snakes have venom is so powerful that it even can kill giant dinosaurs, including some of the largest alive in one injection.

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