There are a lot of things in the snake world that may be difficult to comprehend.
The fact that snakes have no limbs, but they still can move effortlessly at different speeds and in different environments is borderline magic!
But I’m not here to question whether snakes are supernatural beings or not. Instead, I’m curious to find out, do snakes slither or crawl, and is there a difference?
Snakes use different movements and most snakes will slither, but even though they have no limbs snakes can also crawl in a straight line by using the muscles and the skin on each side of their body to produce the rectilinear movement that caterpillars use.
There is a lot we still don’t know about snake movement, but if you want to learn whether snakes, slither, creep, or crawl then keep on reading!
Do Snakes Slither Or Crawl?
When it comes to snake movement using the right word to describe it can be quite confusing. There seems to be an etymological divide between the word crawl and slither.
The word slither implies that a creature is moving slowly and that they slide along the ground in a smooth and fluid motion.
The word crawl suggests that the creature is also moving slowly on the ground, basically dragging their whole body along in order to move forward. When we say dragging, we usually mean that they try to pull their body with their limbs, like hands and knees.
It’s true that we mostly use slither to describe a snake’s movement and it almost feels synonymous to snakes. Even in Harry Potter, we have the house of Slytherin, not Crawlerin.
Perhaps this has to do with the fact that scientists have only recently studied one specific snake locomotion that can be described with the word crawling instead of slithering.
It’s true that most snakes use serpentine and sidewinding locomotion to slither forward, but Bruce Jayne a biologist studied heavy-bodied snakes that also use a straightforward movement, in which they use the skin on their belly to create traction with the ground and their muscles to pull the snake’s internal skeleture in order to crawl forward.
Here you can clearly see how this viper snake crawls in a straight line like a caterpillar.
This type of locomotion gives the snake a predatory advantage as their food consists of rodents and animals that mostly reside underground.
According to Bruce Jayne, “you can fit in much narrower holes or tunnels by moving this way than if you had to bend your body and push against something.”
So, next time someone tells you that snakes only slither you can tell them they actually can do both!
Do Snakes Creep Or Crawl?
One definition of the word creeping is moving slowly, and this word also has a kind of negative connotation to it.
We usually use creep to describe a movement that a creature or even humans use to go unnoticed. So, it’s not surprising that creep can be used to describe a snake moving slowly in your backyard.
Since snakes are predators, they definitely can creep up on their prey as they also crawl in their direction.
It’s safe to say that whether you want to use creep, crawl or slither to describe a snake’s style of transportation you’ll be correct.
How Do Snakes Slither?
Snakes have quite the freedom of movement without relying on extra extremities.
Some snakes slither more than they crawl, while others crawl more than they slither, so how do they actually do it?
The serpentine locomotion is probably the most familiar movement a snake can use, and I think it’s what we imagine when we say a snake is slithering.
When the snake is observed from up above, one can see that this side-to-side motion creates an S-like silhouette.
If the environment is rocky, or it offers plenty of objects to create friction then this slithering technique is the one that is used mostly by snakes but also by many legless animals.
Sidewinding is another type of slithering motion, and it might even be faster than serpentine locomotion since it is used by the fastest snake in the world the horned rattlesnake.
Once again, the snake creates an S type of movement with its body only this time it moves sideways instead of forward, both vertically and laterally.
Desert inhabiting snakes like the horned rattlesnake are smart enough to use this movement so they can quickly slither on slippery surfaces and across loose scorching desert sands.
Caterpillar or Rectilinear Movement
Now if you want to talk about crawling snakes then you’ll be referring to the rectilinear movement, during which the snake moves in a straight line.
If you observe a snake using this technique it might seem that they are moving their ribs, but according to researchers, they remain immobile. Instead, the snake will use their belly muscles like a caterpillar and periodically shorten and lengthen their belly scales to crawl forward.
Crawling might also be suitable to describe the Concertina locomotion you might even call it “creeping” since it’s the slowest method.
During this technique, the snake anchors part of its body and pushes the other part in the direction they’re trying to move.
This is useful for snakes that try to crawl up trees and walls. If you’ve ever handled a snake you might have noticed them using the concertina locomotion to crawl all over you.
Can Snakes Swim?
Another type of snake locomotion that I didn’t mention above is the aquatic lateral undulation that snakes use to swim.
Most if not all snakes are capable of swimming and that might be because the swimming technique they use is basically serpentine locomotion.
I don’t know if you could say that a snake is slithering or crawling when they’re in the water, so I think in this case swimming is good enough.
I’m pretty sure most of you would agree that no other word in the English dictionary describes a moving snake better than the word “slither.” I mean it starts with an S, and it’s the only word that I could imagine a snake actually pronouncing.
When I think of crawling, other reptiles and critters come to mind, but as it turns out snakes can also claim this word.
Slither, crawl, or creep. Which word have you been using to describe a moving snake, and do you think the word crawl suits them?