What’s the Difference Between a Boa and a Python?


Picture this: you’re out hiking through a misty rainforest. After brushing aside some foliage, your heart leaps when a huge, powerful constrictor slithers by. Since the world’s most heavily-built snake species are all either boas or pythons, this reptile probably belongs to one of those groups. But how can you tell them apart? And from which family does “your” serpent hail?

Before breaking out the field guide, take geography into account. While pythons are Old World snakes, boas also dwell in the Americas. Note, however, that human globalization has helped many species artificially spread out and invade distant lands. For instance, just when everyone thought Florida couldn’t get any wilder, the enormous Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) began populating the Everglades during the 1980s, thanks largely to irresponsible pet owners.

Another decent rule of thumb is reproduction. Boas tend to bear live young, whilst all known pythons are egg-layers, with gravid mothers sometimes squeezing out over two dozen in a single clutch. Also, the two families sport slightly-different body plans. In pythons, but not boas, a pair of upper jaw bones called the “premaxillabear teeth.

At this point, you might be wondering where anacondas fit into all this. Well, these magnificent South American creatures belong squarely to the boa camp—in fact, they’re sometimes called “water boas.” Anacondas, like all king-sized constrictors, are great at snagging headlines. Yet, such giants are just the tip of the iceberg, for boas and pythons come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. True, the enormous reticulated python (Python reticulatus) can exceed twenty feet in length. The wee anthill python (Antaresia perthensis), meanwhile, usually attains a child-like twenty inches.


Despite all the differences we’ve laid out, several boas and pythons occupy identical roles in their respective habitats. That handsome critter pictured above is an Aussie native called the green tree python (Morelia verdis). Half a world away lives South America’s emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus), which you can check out in the photo below.


No, you’re not seeing double. Genetically, these aren’t close relatives: boas and pythons appear have been taking separate evolutionary paths for quite some time now. Nevertheless, their similarities are uncanny. Both dangle from tree branches while waiting for prey, both reach a maximum length of roughly six feet, and both start out as either red or yellow youngsters before turning into vibrant green adults.

This phenomenon’s called “convergent evolution,” a process whereby unrelated organisms independently evolve comparable traits as they struggle to adapt to similar niches or environments. Ain’t nature incredible?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dogs

Dogs: They’re cute, they’re cuddly … and they can smell fear!

Today on Scatterbrained, John Green and friends go beyond the floof to reveal some fascinating facts about our canine pals—including the story of one Bloodhound who helped track down 600 criminals during his lifetime. (Move over, McGruff.) They’re also looking at the name origins of some of your favorite dog breeds, going behind the scenes of the Puppy Bowl, and dishing the details on how a breed gets to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know

For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.


You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.


Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.


Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.


Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.


Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.


Dog outside barking.

According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.


Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”


Tiny kitten in grass.

Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.


Hands holding a puppy.

Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.


Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.

Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.


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