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Snakes Found a New Way to Slither (nytimes.com)
119 points by mhb 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

The linked study has a video: https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(20)...

I definitely haven't seen snakes do that before... Funky.

If I was a snake, I would prefer the movement of the reticulated python. It seems to be the least energy consuming (from the first look).

I actually think the first motion, that's like a belt is probably the easiest. The Pythons wrapping seems to result in a point where it runs out of itself and has to regrip resulting it it lifting it's body the whole way up. But again. I'm not a snake Dr.


j/k that is really cool, though the following quote made me a little sad:

“We may not have observed the behavior in the wild because we’re barely observing the animals in the wild.”

That reminds me of Attenborough talking about how there aren't really many truly wild places left in the world.

That makes me wonder, how much of even, for example, Goodall's study of the chimpanzees just 60 years ago was really studying them in the "wild"?

Maybe this is why I am drawn to videos of extreme deep see creatures, because that does seem to be still wild (for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anDIlMVgNwk ).

Edit: I just wanted to point out that I realize that part of the motivation for the quote is just because of the difficulty of observing the secretive snakes in the wild and not because they don't exist in wild places anymore -- it just sent me down a little tangential rollercoaster of emotion. That's all.

As I understand it Goodall's studies were never in the wild, because she attracted the troop with piles of fruit to observe their behavior. So it's possible their behavior changes when they receive a windfall of fruit(happier?), or can keep going back to the same spot for fruit (as opposed to foraging over their range), or when they have caloric excess (more hunting, mating, or war?)

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Classic error on part of the report and the NY Times. Highly unlikely (1 in 1e9) that snakes just found a new way to slither when scientist setup that experiment. The article acknowledges that it is hard to observe snakes in the wild. They have most likely been slithering this way for a long long time. Scientist captured snakes slithering in a way they have never seen before.

Measurement (and lack thereof) is the biggest source of errors. Medicine and medical studies is rife with mis-measurement e.g. associational studies. The Boeing 737-Max disaster was because of mis-measurement from a sensor. I could go on and on about this.

I wonder if this is an instinctual mode of motion or if the snake just has a lot of degrees of freedom and is smart enough to figure out what to do on the fly. I guess crossing-over and tying itself into a knot wouldn't be trivial to figure out.

> or

I wonder if this dichotomy is correct. These two (instinct and smarts) conceivably overlap to a high degree: A snake must be able to figure out the best strategy among a multitude of different options in any given second, some of which could be highly hardwired, some of which surely are not. And figuring out how to tie itself round a pole might not need all that much computing.

I don't see a reason that a snake should be completely different than humans in this regard. We are at the same time both hardwired and make informed, smart choices, not one or the other.

I meant that it's difficult to come up with the idea of tying yourself into a knot. Not that it's hard to execute.

I don't think all snakes use sidewinding. If they don't, an interesting test of this would be to put them in a sidewinding environment (e.g., sand dunes) and see if they discover it.

Spatial intelligence.

I’m so fascinated by the way snakes move. They seem so efficient and elegant. Slithering is only one of their methods of locomotion. Another great method they use is Sidewinding: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidewinding

Those guys have at least five forms of locomotion, according to this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectilinear_locomotion

Add a sixth motion, to which I was witness when I was a small child: Almost flying up, after "standing" on its tail :-)

There are more types if the take in mind that some species can 'fly' and other swim and dive.

They would be almost perfect shape robots for certain applications.

I wonder if snakes will ever figure out they could live inside a shell, coiling up most of their body inside it and using what is outside to slither along, retracting fully inside when there’s danger.

I like whatever you're smoking. I suggest we secure some grant money and lab space to find out.

Why settle for lab space, I suggest a space lab.

space lab space

We would end with a (probably) very confused snake floating around

So, lab space in a space lab?

That would impact mobility. Perhaps they prefer static shells (rocks, caves) or invisible shells (camouflage).

First it was 'snakes in a plane', now 'snakes in a cylinder'...

That's some original thought there. Did you think of tortoise? Or snail? Or was it just a random thought?

A random thought.

Snakes could also carry around random objects by coiling their bodies around them and then slithering along, dragging the object with them. They could for instance do this with rocks, carrying them around and stacking them up in piles to form complex structures.


Octopuses do this - but I'm not sure the raw materials for that sort of adaptation exist in the same environments snakes live in.

How do they do when there's a branch on the trunk ?

they develop the feature and then merge back.

That is such a cool example of observable evolution!

I suppose there is no proof that they weren't always able to that to scale certain trees, but it's safe to say the advantage is really kicking in just now with scaffolding, lantern posts and birdhouses.

Back in school, I learned about the majority of the Biston betularia butterfly turning black at the oneset of large-scale coal industry and then turning white again after stricter emission regulations were implemented - but this is way cooler IMO.

This is not really evolution. Evolution specifically depends on the mechanism of selective pressures on a population as a whole - basically the culling or growth of populations depending on inherited characteristics.

This is a single individual learning a new trick. Technically this is adaptation.

Fair enough.

I mean, it could be both, no? Maybe it was gradually adopted and changed from another technique. But maybe it is just one smart guy.

The interesting thing is whether the species (or even other species) will adopt this over the next 50 years, I suppose.

The point is that if you’re seeing an individual do something novel, it’s not evolution. Evolution would be if it had a mutation that it passed on that made its survival more or less likely or in speciation - the diverging of one species into two or more.

To be pedantic, it is in no way observable evolution. Scientists have observed speciation before when populations of fish got trapped in separate environments and became mutually sexually incompatible - so different species. That’s observable evolution.

I blame the internet. They probably read a blog post on the fashionable and politically correct way to slither and if they don't they might get cancelled. Or they saw Google slither that way and thought they might look uncool if they slithered differently.

Snakes have to be the most sinister animal evolution has ever created. Venomous, and some of them can apply skull crushing pressure if they wrap around you.

I see no reason to allow these things to live in this world.

There are so many things wrong with this comment.

First, it's unbelievable human-centric.

Furthermore, out of ~3000 snake species, only ~600 are venomous and only ~200 are dangerous to humans. That's 7%!

"Sinister" implies intentionally evil-doing, which is something only advanced primates are capable of (maybe corvids and some other mammals, not sure).

It's not even the most creepy/disconcerting kill mechanism. Apart from competitors like the Komodowaran (bites you and then stalks you for days while you are slowly dying from the cocktail of bacteria in its mouth), what about stuff like viruses? They don't even live, yet they are highly effective in an evolutional sense and very good at killing lots of stuff in lots of disgusting ways.

If you have a phobia of snakes, ok, but please refrain from turning that into some pseudo-intellectual wisdom...

Sinister could mean left-handed. Even more sinister: snakes could all be left-handed, and we'd never know! O_O

They did evolve from aquatic lizards IIRC - so presumably, genes coding dominant "hands" could be still there!

Just a quick point, Komodowaran appears to be the German name for the Komodo Dragon.

Right you are, thanks.

I thought "this word is so absurd nad definetely not German, no need to translate it". And I was wrong. Leaving it up as a fun fact.

I particularly put the word sinister within the context of the process of evolution. To create such a monster through the process is frightening.

It eats its own tail and itself when it has no choice. At the very least Komodo dragons are relegated to one island more or less, they aren’t swimming up toilet pipes.

There is literally nothing monstrous about snakes beyond weird pseudo-religious bias.

Many more animals are more dangerous. Many more animals are more intimidating. Many more animals are more mischievous/malicious.

It's fine to have a phobia, but calling the evolutionary process that led to limbless, sleepy, reclusive dopes sinister is not rational by any measure.

> Snakes have to be the most sinister animal evolution has ever created.

Wait until you find out about H. sapiens sapiens.

They can keep pests, such as rats and mice, in check. And some species that are harmless to people prey on poisonous snakes, reducing the chance of a deadly encounter.


We put out traps for the pack rats that invade our house from time to time. This summer, one of the traps unfortunately caught a snake - nothing dangerous to humans but big enough to have been a useful predator for other pests.

I had to fight my since-childhood fear of snakes to go out and set it free. The snake wasn't exactly wild about my attempts to open the trap with a shovel, but eventually it got the idea, slowly slithered out of the trap and scuttled away. I don't love having them around, but I felt good about having (hopefully) saved the life of an animal that almost certainly does the humans who live around here more good than bad.

Woah. Where do you live? I literally cannot even contemplate a move to California or Austin (or Florida, anywhere warm) for fear of being in the vicinity of these things.

These things lay eggs and you’ll never know where.

No snake goes out of its way to attack humans. They are mostly nocturnal and chilled animals. As for laying eggs, think most of them lay them underground.

To be honest, I'm also very afraid of them, but like sharks, they are very essential to the ecosystem, and very useful for us.

If you want to pick an animal to hate, mosquitos are perfect candidates.

I know I should hate them because they spread malaria and kill people, but, as someone who grew up near a swamp, fuck mosquitos. I never got any sort of disease from them, but their bites can be annoyingly itchy.

I grew up in a village in India and snakes are no strangers. People do kill snakes (also worship them on a certain day of year) if they get into the house but usually they try to sho them away towards the fields.

The usual experience is that they leave you alone if you leave them alone. Unless the only place they can find the food is your house. There is always a probability of fatal biting if a venomous snake is in the vicinity. Catch it and leave it away from the city whenever you can.

Grew up a city kid in India, and even then rat snakes weren't unusual. An occasional cobra as well, but they never seemed to bother people and I never heard of anybody that got bitten. In university I had baby vipers crawl in through the window during rainstorms... they were more freaked out than I was.

The only dangerous snakes in California are sea snakes, which live in the waters off Southern California, and are rarely seen; and rattlesnakes, which tend to give you a warning before they do anything. Both kinds of snakes would rather leave you alone, as long as you leave them alone. Bites are rare for this reason. In all honesty, a rattlesnake is probably more dangerous to a curious dog than a human.

Snakes are the most amazing creatures animal evolution has ever created. They are the vertex, unchanged for million of years, of a branch of evolution. It's like nature said "ok, I'm done here". They are the result of a subtractive process, not an additive process (somebody said you are done once there's nothing left to remove!). They are able to survive in almost any biome despite being cold blooded. Symbolically, the snake is the creature that gave us the gift of consciousness, identity and self-reflection. Well, I'm biased, at a point of my life I had more than 30 pet snakes. I find them, especially the venomous one, the most fascinating creatures.

Prudent caution about snakes is good. I just today moved two small (<1m) but quite venomous snakes from my pool shed out into the bush, very carefully. But a reaction as extreme as yours may not serve you well in an encounter, it's best and safest to stay calm. Personally I was quite arachnophobic growing up, but have found that 20+ years living in Australia and the normalisation of removing the odd big huntsman from the house has made it so they don't bother me now. I believe this also helps me be more confident in other areas too. Like they say, beyond fear is freedom. Maybe have a look around for groups, hypno etc? All the best.

Thats a bit harsh so Im guessing you've not had a good experience with them. Most snakes are quite small and harmless. Even more are afraid of humans. I'm no fan of snakes either, I've crushed a few heads since our paths unfortunately crossed, but I'm not going to advocate killing snakes wholesale unless they pose a direct threat.

Sinister implies “evil”.

Evil implies a concept of good and bad.

I do not fuck around with snakes. If I find one near (or IN) the house, it’s going to meet a swift end.

But that doesn’t mean I’m on some kind of anti snake vendetta. I simply value the life of my family as greater than the life of a snake that’s in/around our home.

Depending on where you live (American here), there may not be very many venomous species around at all, and typically they're easy to identify. I'm in the high desert of southern Cali for instance, and in my area the only dangerous snake is the rattlesnake. All the other ones are harmless. I don't relocate rattlers tho, I have pets and a toddler, so they get the shovel =)

There are numerous venomous species here (Thailand).

We had what I think based on size (easily longer than our car) and colour (essentially black), must have been a King Cobra come along the side of the house several years ago (MIL and I watched it from above via window/balcony), but since then it's basically all Green Pit Vipers, which can be tiny (e.g. some have a head the size of the nail on my pinky finger) but are quite venomous.

I vehemently disagree with snake genocide.

They are intricate creatures, with amazing and beautiful features and abilities.

If anything should be wiped off the face of the planet it is ticks and mosquitos.

I agree with you, unless they pose a threat to your family/property. I've saved many a snake from my yard. Their behavior is so predictable that I've never really had a fear of them

But then frogs have less food, which means snakes can eat less frogs. Or something like that.

and Mt. Rushmore

hahaha... I have a pet snake, and I definitely think she should be allowed to live in this world. She's such a fascinating creature!

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