We all know that snakes have no legs, but how can they possibly move without them? We will reveal the secret of what moves snakes as we dive into the secret world of snake locomotion! Did you know that it took a team of mathematicians to figure out that the secret to how a snake moves is actually in it’s scales? Despite popular belief that snakes are slimy, they are not, in fact if they were they would not be able to move as well as they do. Not only can snakes move but they can even jump! Speaking of jumping without legs, lets dive in and learn more!
It’s pretty amazing that something without arms and legs can be so versatile. These amazing animals can get themselves into some pretty small places that those with arms and legs cannot.
There are 4 ways that snakes commonly move along different surfaces, lets have a look:
The famous s-shaped slither, the one we all think of when we picture a snake moving. Snakes will push off from any rock or other bumpy surface, moving in a wavy motion. Snakes also use this method of movement in water. This movement is also known as lateral undulation.
Reaching speeds of up to 18 mph this is one the fastest ways that a snake can move! Similar to the conventional s-shaped slither they do that same movement only sideways! This method is commonly used on surfaces with few resistance points, like sand.
A very slow method of movement but still very effective, is the caterpillar or rectilinear locomotion. This movement contracts the body into curves, but these waves are much smaller and curve up and down rather than side to side, much like a caterpillar.
Used for climbing, with this movement the snake extends its head forward along a vertical surface and then finds a place to grip with its ventral scales. To get a good hold, it bunches up the middle of its body into tight curves that grip the surface while it pulls its back end up toward it’s head; it then springs forward again to find a new place to grip with its scales.
Wait a minute here …let’s go back to that part where we said snakes can jump! OK, so they can’t jump like we do, but they can launch themselves up pretty high and fast with their lower body and tail. Snakes are all muscle and they have adapted over millions of years to be extremely versatile without limbs. In fact it is believed that sometime during the Jurassic area, snakes evolved from lizards with smaller arms and legs that no longer needed those extremities as they needed to burrow and fit in much smaller spaces. It was thought that those limbs simply got in the way. X-rays of modern snakes show where their limbs would have been.