Scientists Discover A New Way Snakes Use Their Bodies To Climb Trees

Ever wonder how it is that snakes can climb trees? Given that they don’t have legs or arms, one would think they’d be unable to get up off the ground. Over the years, scientists have studied the ways of these slithering reptiles and discovered they have four different snake locomotions known as rectilinear, lateral undulation, sidewinding, and concertina.

However, it would appear that there is a new, previously unknown method of snake locomotion. Researchers from Colorado State and the University of Cincinnati have discovered the new method and named it “lasso locomotion”. The researchers had come across this new form of locomotion while on the island of Guam, researching ways to help the nests of the endangered Micronesia starlings from the extremely invasive brown tree snake species.

Colorado State University’s Tom Seibert, is a co-author and emeritus faculty member who shared with Eurekalert about his team’s discovery. They had made some observations as to how these snakes stalk their prey in the trees. Using the knowledge that they had about the movement of snakes, they tried coming up with a solution to keep snakes from being able to climb the trees to get to the bird nests. They decided to go with metal baffles, which had been known to keep other predators, such as raccoons, from reaching the bird nesting boxes. However, their study soon proved that snakes can climb up the metal baffle using a unique technique.

Photo: YouTube /uofcincinnati

As Seibert explained, “We didn’t expect that the brown tree snake would be able to find a way around the baffle. Initially, the baffle did work, for the most part. We had watched about four hours of video and then all of a sudden, we saw this snake form what looked like a lasso around the cylinder and wiggle its body up.”

Seibert also shared that both he and CSU biologist, Martin Kastner, were stunned when they first observed the new locomotion form. They watched the video roughly fifteen times, unable to believe it at first. Seibert said, “Nothing I’d ever seen compares to it.”

In order to know for sure what they were observing was real, they got in touch with the University of Cincinnati’s Bruce Jayne. Jayne is an expert when it comes to locomotion and muscle function, particularly in snakes.

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Jayne, who is a study co-author and professor of biological sciences, gave further insight into the behaviors of brown tree snakes, referring to them as a species who are expert climbers. He said that brown tree snakes are capable of climbing in a vertical manner – even with the tiniest projections on a surface. Because of their skill, they can bridge enormous gaps within the tree canopy. They can also propel themselves upwards in a vertical sense, even as far as two-thirds of their known body length.

Jayne further shared how snakes normally climb up steep or smooth surfaces using the movement called concertina locomotion. This is where a snake will bend to the side in order to grip at least two regions. However, with lasso locomotion, a snake only grips one region by using its body like a lasso loop to cover one area. How fascinating.

Check out the video below:

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