Snakes are highly interesting species on earth without a doubt. Unlike most creatures in the reptile family, snakes are without arms and legs.
This begs the question of how it is that they manage to move and glide so gracefully across various surfaces, including water.
All snakes can swim, and if, like me, you’re wondering how they manage to do so, read on to find out more.
How do snakes swim?
Under its scales, a snake’s entire body is lined with muscles that undulate their bodies in a wave-like (S-shape) motion, starting from their heads to the length of their bodies and tails. This muscle movement exerts force against the water, propelling them forward in a gliding motion.
How Snakes Move Both on Land and in Water
Snakes make slithering look so simple, but if one spends some time exploring the different ways they move, you’ll find that there is quite a lot to it.
Snakes have various ways of manipulating the muscles under their scales to propel themselves to where they need to be. The way they move in water is at times very similar to how they glide on the ground.
The most familiar snake movement is the S-shaped serpentine method, also known as lateral undulation. A snake will push off against something nearby to set itself in motion from a state of rest.
Using its muscles, it then starts to glide in a wave-like way, using momentum and return force to stay mobile.
A snake uses a combination of its muscles and is scales to keep up this rhythm both on the ground and in water. This is how snakes swim.
On land, you may encounter a snake moving in a rectilinear method. This is when a snake moves in a straight line, using its stomach scales to grip whatever surface it is on.
This type of movement is slow-going and definitely not ideal in water.
Similarly, the concertina method is used by snakes who find themselves in tricky or tight spaces.
They use the tips of their tails to push off against an object (or the ground) before propelling themselves forward in a manner usually reserved for inchworms.
In a situation like this, one will often see a snake drop its head to grip the ground, to help drag itself forward.
Sidewinding, in turn, is a method used by snakes when they are on slippery surfaces, like sand or mud, and cannot get a grip.
This motion entails lifting their heads and twisting their bodies to create a loop that travels in a repeating wave to their tails, effectively moving them sideways rather than forward.
This action is usually seen in desert snakes, as they cannot always brace themselves against the sand.
Do All Snakes Swim the Same Way: The Answer
Almost all snakes swim using lateral undulation. The only difference is that some snakes swim with their heads above water and their bodies below water, while some species glide across the surface of the water instead.
Internet myths have suggested that venomous snakes swim with their bodies above the water’s surface, while nonvenomous snakes prefer to keep their bodies submerged.
However, this has been proven to be a misconception and is definitely not a viable way to determine if a snake is poisonous or not.
In fact, studies suggest that snakes, venomous or not, may choose to submerge themselves at any time as a means to hunt or hide.
Why Snakes Swim
Some snakes are water snakes and swim because water is the environment that they are most comfortable in.
On the other hand, ground-dwelling snakes still require water to live and may tend to the water if they are dehydrated or entering a shedding cycle, which is a particularly thirsty time for them.
Furthermore, water is a great hunting ground for snakes and attracts the food they like to snack on, like frogs and insects.
Frequently Asked Questions about How Snakes Swim
Can snakes end up in toilets?
Theoretically, yes, they can. On rare occasions, a snake may enter a bathroom via an open window or vent in search of hydration and end up in the toilet bowl. Even more rarely, they might swim up through plumbing pipes. However, this hardly ever occurs in urban areas.
How can I keep serpents out of my swimming pool?
A snake in a swimming pool is understandingly disconcerting. To avoid this, you can treat the perimeter of your pool with vinegar, which will help to deter them. A more drastic approach is to leave ammonia-soaked cloths in unsealed bags close to the water source in question.
Can snakes drown?
Snakes can drown. In the wild, they are “street smart” enough not to drown themselves, but when caring for a pet snake, you need to practice precautions when bathing or soaking your snake. Only ever place a snake in water halfway up its body. If a snake is trapped underwater for too long, it can drown.
The Last Swim
Snakes are fascinating creatures that often get a bad rap and have a reputation for being dangerous. A lot of the time, however, they just mind their own business.
Needless to say, if you notice a snake in a body of water, assume it is dangerous and get out of its way. While it may be perfectly harmless, it is always good to err on the side of caution.