How do Snakes Move?
In a further look at snake's anatomy, we find that a snake’s skeleton is formed mostly by ribs, except for the head and tail.
Each rib attaches to a muscle giving them powerful and flexible bodies, but without it’s scales, snakes would have a difficult time moving forward instead they would simply slide around!
We all can relate to a slithering snake, when we think of snake movement. But that image is rather simplistic, since much like horses which have 4 ‘gaits’ (walk, trot, canter and gallop) snakes also move in 4 different ways.
These are the 4 different types of snake movement:
Caterpillar or rectilinear movement
The serpentine movement is motion used by most snake species, both in land or in water. When thinking snake movement most of us instinctively remember this type of motion.
The serpentine movement basically consists of a wavy, S-shaped movement, for that reason is also known as lateral undulation.
The snake will contract it's muscles starting at the head, moving it's body from side to side, creating a series of curves. On land it will push of any rock, tree, root, branch or any other bump or resistance point to move forward.
This type of motion is not very efficient on slick or slippery surfaces like glass, because of the resistance points needed for the snake to move forward. However in water, serpentine movement easily propels snakes forward with each contraction of the body pushing against the water.
The snake caterpillar movement also known as rectilinear movement consists of a slow, straight movement.
Snakes use their wide ventral scales located on their belly to grip the ground, while using other scales to push forward. It's still a wavy movement but instead of side to side like in serpentine movement, the snake body forms small, up and down curves.
The rippling effect observed in the snake body when using this type of movement resembles that of a caterpillar, hence the name, caterpillar movement. The caterpillar movement is also the most used by larger snake species to move around, like the massive green anaconda.
Sidewinding movement is used primarily on environments with few resistance points available for snakes to use other types of motion like serpentine or caterpillar movements.
In loose and slippery terrains, like sandy or muddy environments snakes will resort to the sidewinding movement, which is basically a variation of the serpentine movement.
By contracting their muscles and pushing off only 2 contact points, they launch their body throwing the head forward and the rest of body follows moving side ways. Hence the name sidewinding movement.
This snake movement creates a very distinct and easily identifiable pattern of parallel tracks on the soil. The sidewinder rattlesnake like its name implies uses this movement very often.
Even tough all other snake movement types serpentine, caterpillar and Sidewinding work very well on most types of horizontal surfaces, snakes can climb, but how do they climb or move in tight spaces?
When snakes need to climb or move in tight spaces, they will use a motion type called the concertina movement.
In this type of locomotion snakes extend the front part of their body along the vertical surface, and use their belly scales also known as ventral scales to grip the surface.
The snake ensures a tight grip by bunching its body into several tight curves. The snake achieves the movement by continually springing forward again and again to find a new place to grip the anterior part of its body.
Well this wraps up all the usual movements used by most snake species most of the time, but if i told we should consider one more.
Yes, snakes can move on land in almost any surface from the roughest to the spliperst. They can even swim in the ocean or rivers and streams and can even climb trees and other structures.
But can they go a step further?
Can snakes really fly?
Maybe you're thinking of Snakes on a Plane the movie, but there are real flying snakes in the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. There are 5 types of flying snakes that move mostly by flying or gliding from one tree to another.
Yes technically, these snakes aren't really flying, they are gliding, since they are always falling to the ground. To do this the snake flattens out its body and launches itself from a higher spots gliding or parachuting to a lower spot, much like flying squirrels do.
The snake flattens its ribs, and to stay airborne it whips the body in a fast and rhythmic S-shape. These snakes can actually make turns in the air and go as far as 330 feet (100 meters) in one "jump".
If these snakes can slither like all other why would they “fly”, well probably because jumping from tree to tree is much faster than slithering and climbing.
Sometimes they will land on people, but their bite isn't very dangerous since they’re only mildly venomous and not deadly to humans. Oh, and just in case you were considering it you can’t teach other snakes how to fly, so please don’t try it!
Did You Know?
The australian inland taipan bite contains venom enough to kill up to 100 full grown men.