How Do Snakes Move? Do They Sssslide Or Sssslither?

Ritwik Bhuyan
Feb 01, 2023 By Ritwik Bhuyan
Originally Published on Oct 26, 2021
Edited by Jade Scott
Fact-checked by Sakshi Raturi
Faint Banded Sea Snake
?
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.5 Min

The movement of snakes is different as they do not possess limbs like other animals.

A snake's flexible body is its best friend as it helps them move and climb around. The body consists of just one long spine which has around 400 ribs attached to it.

It is fascinating to see a snake move so fast and elegantly when it does not even have a single limb attached to the body. The muscles in the body attached to those 400 ribs help a snake swim, crawl, and climb. Snakes are able to grip surfaces with the help of wide belly scales. In most snakes, the ribs are used to glide forward while the belly scales are used to move backward, starting on one side and moving on to the other. However, larger snakes might push on both sides at the same time. Climbing snakes and burrowing snakes move like the musical instrument, the accordion. The motion is achieved by stretching out the front body and then pulling the rear part forward. There are four ways for a snake to create movement; the serpentine method, the concertina method, sidewinding, and the rectilinear method. These different movement methods are used to move along most of the surfaces a snake might come across. We will learn more about these methods further in the article.

Snakes are known to slither to achieve movement. They do this movement due to a lack of legs. A snake's scale is made up of a material called keratin and scales are made of the same material as our nails. This material helps a snake move on different surfaces (be it a forest or sand in a desert). When a snake moves forward, all of the scales do not touch the surface of the ground. Only the scales on the belly drag against the ground to help the snake's forward motion. A rough surface gives a snake a much better grip to move along such as the surfaces of trees and branches. Movement on a slippery surface is not that easy for a snake.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read answers on how to get rid of garter snakes and how big do corn snakes get here on Kidadl?

Can snakes move backward?

While all snakes can move forward using various methods like serpentine, sidewinder, concertina, and rectilinear, there are only a few that can move backward.

It is fairly difficult for the body to move backward as it takes up a lot of energy to do that. However, some sea snake species are able to do it, researchers believe. The scales on the belly of the body of a snake help create friction with the ground to move forward by propelling itself. While doing a movement backward, these scales create a lot of resistance as the scales are actually oriented in a way to help snakes move forward. It is not impossible for a snake to move backward, but it is just less efficient.

How do snakes move after death?

Snakes are different than other animals. Death may be viewed as the end of life, but snakes do not always seem to believe this! There have been many instances where a dead snake has been seen moving and even biting someone.

Snakes are known to show some kind of movement even after death as the bodies of the snakes still retain some reflexes. This can be seen in other cold-blooded reptiles too. Researchers have been finding reasons for this occurrence for quite some time now and substantial scientific data has been found. Snakes absorb heat from the outside world and this is the reason why a snake does not need much oxygen and energy to produce heat as it just borrows it from the environment.

When snakes are killed, the heat is still present even though the oxygen and energy have been cut off. The body cells of a snake do not die immediately which extends the body function of the snake even after death. The ions in the nerve endings also continue to work and respond to stimuli. Muscle movement will be observed if you touch a dead snake's body as it sends electrical impulses. The muscle and nerve endings being active will trigger a movement, which is usually a bite.

How do snakes move so fast?

Snakes have no legs as they use their muscles and scales for locomotion. You can study how easily a snake moves in tight spaces without many problems.

We can see in place of limbs, snakes have come across better ways of moving around the world. They use their strong muscles for locomotion and that's brilliant! Snakes are made of just ribs and attached to those ribs are muscles and scales. Except for the head and tail, the whole body is made up of ribs and scales to push straight ahead. The scales give friction and due to this, locomotion in a straight line becomes quite easy. The friction lets the snake push through, be it a species that lives in sand or water.

The black mamba is the fastest snake on the land, with a speed of 12 mph (19.3 kph).

Red naped Snake on rock

Do worms move like snakes?

Snakes and worms both are known for movement by slithering and wriggling as they have similar body structures.

Although the movement is similar, a person can easily distinguish between a snake and a worm. The habitats, skin, sensory organs, and behavior are all different in both species. Typically a snake is always bigger in size.

Do snakes slide or slither?

Snakes are known to slither without the presence of limbs.

Snakes move from side to side using the different movement methods we will study in the next section. Without the presence of legs, snakes have evolved quite well from the handicap and can slither loose without needing to think about it. Be it to swim in the water or move in the desert, snakes are quite fast at slithering.

How do snakes move without legs?

Snakes are well equipped to move without limbs and there are various methods snakes have adapted to move about.

The serpentine method is used by snakes both in land and water. The serpentine method employs a wavy S-shaped horizontal movement. This is also known as lateral undulation. The snake moves from side to side with the body by first contracting the muscles at the head. It creates a series of curves. The snake will next push on any rock or tree to move forward. This is not effective on slippery surfaces.

The rectilinear method is a slow and straight-line movement. The wide ventral scales on the belly are used to grab the ground while the other scales are used to move forward. You will notice small up and down curves instead of the side curves seen in serpentine movement. The rectilinear method is similar in caterpillars and is used by larger snakes.

Sidewinding is used when there is not much in the environment to grip onto. Sidewinding is used on loose and slippery substrates like sand or mud. It is similar to serpentine movement where the head muscles are contracted first and then the body moves sideways. It pushes off only two contact points. The snake leaves a distinct pattern on the sand after sidewinding.

The concertina method is used to climb and move in tight spaces and when all other motion fails. The front part of the body is extended along a vertical surface and the scales are used to grip. The snake bunches the body into many tight curves. It continuously springs forward to find something new to grab.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how do snakes move then why not take a look at how to identify a baby copperhead snake or Vine Snake Facts.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Ritwik Bhuyan

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

Ritwik Bhuyan picture

Ritwik BhuyanBachelor of Arts specializing in English

A skilled content writer, Ritwik holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Delhi University. He has refined his writing abilities through his past experience at PenVelope and his current role at Kidadl. In addition to his proficiency in writing, Ritwik has pursued his passion for flying by achieving CPL training and becoming a licensed commercial pilot. This diverse skill set highlights his commitment to exploring multiple fields. Ritwik's experience in the aviation industry has provided him with a unique perspective and attention to detail, which he brings to his writing.

Read full bio >
Read the DisclaimerFact Correction