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If you’re scared of snakes, watch this - Andrew Whitworth


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As of 2021, there are 368 species of viper worldwide. The name comes from the term viviparity, which means giving birth to live young. Vipers are often highly venomous, with two hollow, extra long fangs that unfold into imposing weapons when the viper prepares to strike. So, which are the most dangerous? Andrew Whitworth travels around the world to visit some of nature’s most incredible snakes.

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Vipers are a group of snakes found throughout all continents of the world, except for Australia and Antarctica and account for approximately 9.5% of all snake species. They are characterized by having large hinged hollow fangs – a specialized venom delivery system – by having triangular shaped-heads that assist in deterring predators. They give birth to live neonate snakes, as opposed to laying eggs externally into the environment. Vipers are one of the most maligned groups of snakes in the world, feared so much, and depicted as evil by some religions, that this creates an ambivalence toward their slaughter and their wild trade; so much so that vipers are disproportionately threatened by extinction compared with other snake species.

Having excellent communication and education about how to deal with and identify different snake species is critical to reduce conflict and incidents that can be avoided. Also, key to reducing conflict and saving lives of both people and snakes is having effective treatments and remedies to snake bites readily available, especially in remote and tropical regions where there are lots of people and snakes living in close proximity.

However, the greatest threat to vipers, as with many wildlife species around the world, is the loss of, and fragmentation of their habitat. The increasing need for human space to live and grow food means that fewer wild and suitable landscapes are left for nature to thrive. Add to this habitat loss and persecution, the impact of a rapidly changing climate, then the threat to wild species, including vipers, is more severe.

And while you might question the importance of an animal such as a viper to people, many wild species have important roles within their ecosystems, even necessities to human wellbeing, that we often overlook.

The pit-vipers for example are usually specialized to feed on and control the populations of rodents, animals that if left uncontrolled, can devastate and ruin the seeds and crops of farmers, and in some cases be responsible for spreading serious diseases. Rattlesnakes, a special type of viper, have even been shown to be an important secondary disperser of seeds. The rodents that they eat often contain seeds, that can then germinate inside the gut of the snake, and then be ‘pooped’ out in a different location. This is called secondary dispersal – an important mechanism that keep natural landscapes healthy.

Fortunately, efforts to stem the loss of nature and halting climate change are underway. The 30x30 initiative for example is a global coalition to protect at least 30% of the planet's land and ocean by 2030. As of today (2021), only an estimated 15% of the world's land and 7% of the ocean have some degree of protection, and so there is a long way to go. Although many scientists question whether 30% will be enough, this is a strong benchmark to aim for.

Such efforts aim to provide enough quality habitat for species like vipers to have space to live and halt the rate of climate change in such a way that many species can survive and adapt to the rate of change. While much of the models and predictions have a degree of uncertainty, investing in and working with nature is our best strategy to give wild species, nature, and ourselves an opportunity to adapt and co-exist for future generations on Earth.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Andy Whitworth
  • Director Billie Baxter
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox

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