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Snakes are sneaky. In their 150 million-odd years on this planet, they’ve managed to slither their way into most corners of the world. But Saint Patrick can’t take credit for eliminating our scaly friends from any of them. Ireland, like pretty much all places without native snakes, never had them to begin with. Some regions are simply too frigid for them. As cold-blooded ectotherms, they rely on their environment to control their body temperature, so few species can live too close to the poles—at least for now. The common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, can get as far as the southern border of the tundra in North America (though its bodily fluids start to freeze!), but both the Arctic and Antarctic are snake-free. Similarly, the northernmost bits of Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the United States have no native snakes, and the southernmost tip of South America is serpent-less as well. That makes Alaska one of two states to be snake-free, the other being Hawaii.As an island, Hawaii is more representative of why most countries without snakes have gotten so lucky: they’re geographically isolated.
Not all islands are devoid of snakes, of course. Polynesia is covered in them, Madagascar has plenty, and the Caribbean is home to many as well. Ilha da Queimada Grande, a tiny blip of land off the coast of Brazil, has roughly one snake per square meter by some estimates and is the exclusive home to one of the deadliest snakes in the world, the golden lancehead viper. It’s so dangerous there, the government mostly doesn’t allow humans to set foot there. But all of those islands were either once connected to larger land masses or are close enough to other parts of land to be colonized by swimming snakes. Ilha da Queimada Grande used to be a part of the mainland, for instance, until rising sea levels cut it off.
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