Living snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica and on most islands. Fifteen families are currently recognized, comprising 456 genera and over 2,900 species. They range in size from the tiny, 10 cm-long thread snake to pythons and anacondas of up to 7.6 meters (25 ft) in length. The fossil species Titanoboa cerrejonensis was 15 meters (49 ft) long. Snakes are thought to have evolved from either burrowing or aquatic lizards during the mid-Cretaceous period, and the earliest known fossils date to around 112 Ma ago. The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene period (c 66 to 56 Ma ago).
Most species are nonvenomous and those that have venom use it primarily to kill and subdue prey rather than for self-defense. Some possess venom potent enough to cause painful injury or death to humans. Nonvenomous snakes either swallow prey alive or kill by constriction.
The English word snake comes from Old English snaca, itself from Proto-Germanic *snak-an- (cf. German Schnake "ring snake," Swedish snok "grass snake"), from Proto-Indo-European root *(s)nēg-o- "to crawl, creep," which also gave sneak as well as Sanskrit nāgá "snake." The word ousted adder, as adder went on to narrow in meaning, though in Old English næddre was the general word for snake. The other term, serpent, is from French, ultimately from Indo-European *serp- (to creep), which also gave Greek érpo (ερπω) "I crawl."