How a Snake Moves and 6 Other Frequently Asked Questions

Most snakes move by slithering on their bellies assuming an “s” position. They use rocks and branches to aid them in moving. Some snakes, like the Gaboon viper, use caterpillar-like locomotion while horned desert vipers and sidewinder rattlesnakes move in a sidewinding motion across the sand.

Snakes

When you think about it, snakes are amazing animals. Their ability to adapt and survive in such a volatile world is truly impressive. Still, humans continue to destroy the ecosystem and the snake’s habitats threatening many species. Certain areas have simply become too harsh for their survival.

Snakes evolved over time. They had arms and legs like lizards but over the course of a very long time, dropped their limbs. One theory is that an ice age forced snakes to live in a subterranean environment and they no longer needed limbs.

Whatever the case is, the way snakes live and their habits are fascinating.

Arizona mountain kingsnake looking to escape
This Arizona mountain kingsnake is on the move.

A snake’s way of moving

All snakes crawl on their bellies but some use different kinds of locomotion to move. Most snakes simply assume the “s” position and crawl along with the aid of their ventral scales. The ventral scales are those found on the belly. The ventral scales start from the bottom of the throat and continue to the vent just below the tail.

These snakes also use whatever objects are on the ground to push up against as they move along. Snakes may crawl along on their bellies, but still, they’re very fast! Yes, snakes can really move when they want to.

Not all snakes move the same way. An African Gaboon viper moves straight forward like a caterpillar. Horned vipers and sidewinder rattlesnakes move sideways and not forward. It’s an amazing act to witness. Then there are the arboreal species of snakes. Tree dwelling snakes like the Amazon tree boa. They simply move from one tree branch to the next.

No matter which method a snake uses to move, all forms are fluid and graceful.

How a snake eats

Snakes are carnivores meaning they only eat animal protein (meat). Most snakes eat rodents while others eat frogs, toads, fish, bugs, birds, worms, other snakes and more. Usually, snakes eat live animals that move but certain species are known to carrion feed. An example of this is if an Eastern Diamondback finds a squirrel roadkill, it’ll probably eat it even though it’s been dead for a while. Snakes aren’t always picky eaters although some are.

Snakes eat their prey whole without cutting it into pieces. They have no way of doing that anyway. Usually, a snake kills its prey before eating it. Such methods include constriction and envenomation. Other snakes swallow their prey alive. This is especially the case with water snakes, garter snakes, and black racers. In most cases, their prey (fish, frogs, and toads) are unable to hurt the snake while being swallowed.

Snake shedding hacks
A shed snake-skin nearly in one complete piece.
Before and after a retained snake skin
Before and after a snake shed its skin.

How a snake sheds its skin

A snake sheds its entire skin to grow. This even includes the eye caps which are actually modified scales which protects the eyes. Snakes may shed their entire skin in one piece while others may shed in many pieces. Snakes use objects around them to rub up against that help pull them out of their old skin.

Sometimes snakes retain their skin which isn’t a good thing. A retained shed could end up killing the snake. While poor shedding issues are fairly common in captive snakes, it’s usually an easy fix. I’ve also come across snakes in the wild with retained skins due to extended periods of drought. Hydration and humidity play an important role in how easily a snake sheds its skin.

How a snake poops 

This is a question that pops up on query searches regularly. Let’s use the word defecation and not poop. A snake defecates out of the area just above the tail called the vent. Snakes feces is a combination of urine and solid material. The solid material is usually black or brown while the urine, which is known as uric acid, is white or yellow.

Snakes usually defecate both types of waste at the same time. Nevertheless, I have Dumeril’s boas that sometimes release uric acid without solid waste. Sometimes the uric acid has small hard pieces in it.

One thing is for certain, snake feces isn’t pleasant and if you keep snakes as pets, it’s best to clean up your snake’s feces as soon as you’re aware of it. I find that most snakes don’t like being around their feces.

The Amazon tree boa.
The Amazon tree boas have large eyes designed for nocturnal hunting.

How a snake sees

A snake sees through their eyes. Most scientists feel that snakes have limited eyesight but some species can see better than others. I’m talking specifically about tree-dwelling arboreal snakes. Such snakes also have heat-seeking pits around their mouth and below their eyes. These pits are sensitive to thermal energy and aid a snake’s limited eyesight.

Can a snake hear?

No, snakes don’t have ears. They do, however, sense vibrations in one of their smaller lungs which is called the vestigial lung. So snakes can sense a human walking through the forest depending on how close the footsteps are.

How a snake tongue works

A snake’s forked tongue is a very important organ. It’s very sensitive and picks up on the chemical environment around them. It’s somewhat like smell. A snakes tongue also picks up temperatures. A snake’s tongue by itself is completely harmless. It does, however, send information to the snakes brain on whether they’re dealing with a potential prey item or a probable threat.

How a snake tongue works
This corn snake quickly flicks its tongue to sense the environment around it.

Snakes make different kinds of tongue movements depending on what they’re sensing around them. When a potential threat looms nearby, a snakes tongue moves distinctly up and down at a slower pace. This could be a warning sign that the snake is considering a strike.

How a snake gives birth

Snakes give birth out of their ventral area. Some species of snakes lay eggs while others give birth to live young. Snakes can give birth anywhere between two to eighty babies depending on the species.

On average, most snakes have about a dozen or so young. Some snakes also give birth twice a season while others only once a year. Certain female snakes are capable of storing a male’s sperm for a period of time leading to a secondary clutch.

Conclusion

These are some of the most commonly asked questions people have who know little to nothing about snakes. The important thing to keep in mind is that whether you like snakes or not, they have just as much of right living on earth as we do. As such, I recommend conservation and an effort taken to avoid killing snakes needlessly. Please don’t purposely run them over when driving your car. Snakes play a very important role in our ecosystem.

Let us know your thoughts or questions in the comment area below.

How a Snake Moves and 6 Other Frequently Asked Questions

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