To some, the idea of a group of snakes slithering across the jungle is downright terrifying, but to reptile lovers, it’s an intriguing concept. But with all of the tall-tales and superstitions surrounding this misunderstood group of reptiles, it’s understandable to be doubtful. Is this just one of many snake-related myths, or is there some truth to the tale? Do snakes travel in packs?
Snakes are relatively solitary animals that hunt and travel on their own, and the myth of snakes traveling in groups, packs, or pairs is a common misconception. However, recent studies have revealed that snakes may be more social than was previously thought, with some species hibernating and basking together.
In this article, we’ll tackle the myth of snakes traveling in packs as well as go over related questions. Finally, we’ll discuss some fascinating studies that have shed some light on the surprisingly social nature of some snakes.
Do Snakes Travel In Packs?
There are a LOT of old wives’ tales about snakes, and very few of these cast snakes in a flattering light. Whether you’re curious about these creatures due to fascination or terrified that you might run across a swarm of serpents, there’s a pretty straightforward answer to the question– they don’t.
Snakes Are Solitary
Terrestrial snakes are known to bask and hibernate in groups due to the security this offers in vulnerable moments, but the snakes you regularly encounter by no means travel in packs. Snakes differ from wolves or horses in that they have no social need to be around others, instead focusing on their next meal or basking spot.
One of Many Myths
Ask the average person about snake behavior and they’ll tell you that snakes are vicious creatures that will hunt you down or try to swallow you whole. Snake owners regularly hear about how a snake will stretch themselves out by a sleeping person as they grow to see if they can eat them, or the time a distant family member was chased for miles by a rattler.
These myths– and they are just myths– are often paired with stories of snakes traveling in packs to hunt down unsuspecting humans. For reasons we’ll discuss below, there is no reason for snakes to travel in packs. In fact, despite being one of the most feared animals, scientists have demonstrated that snakes are actually important members of the environment that pose no threat to humans when they are left alone and only bite when cornered. Simply put, no scientist has ever witnessed a snake attempting to actively chase down humans, which they cannot eat and are instead terrified of.
Hunting Together Isn’t Advantageous… Usually
Many snakes are ambush predators that may remain motionless for days or weeks between feedings, and the vast majority are pretty slow when they aren’t fleeing from predators. And given the fact that only one species is known to chew or tear up food, there is no advantage for active-hunters to group up so that only one of them can swallow their prey whole… Usually, that is.
The strange environments found in the depths of the sea and in the darkness of tropical caves have bred some equally strange snake behaviors. Black banded kraits, a species of slow-moving sea snake, are known to hunt in groups to trap schools of fish. And when Cuban boas find themselves hunting in caves, they intentionally spread themselves out and hang upside-down to form a curtain to trap bats.
Of course, these species are considered bizarre anomalies, and at the end of the day, you won’t come across a band of rattlers or a group of ribbon snakes hunting together.
Do Snakes Travel In Pairs?
We’ve disproven the idea that snakes travel in packs, but what about pairs? Will a snake track you down to avenge their partner?
Most Snakes Don’t Travel Together
As with the above idea, this is almost entirely false. Most snakes pair up exclusively to breed and spend the rest of their time hunting or basking on their own. These pairings may happen up to twice a year, but some species only mate every two or three years.
So where does this myth come from? Aside from the usual “snakes-are-scary-and-bad” sentiment, males may closely follow a female’s scent on the search for a brief coupling, which is easily confused for traveling in pairs. Another common reason that people may have this misconception is that multiple snakes may be seen in a prime location, or they may see the same snake twice in a small setting.
One Species is Known to Forage in Pairs
There is, however, one known exception to the rule that snakes don’t pair up, which is found in a very specific circumstance. Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, are incredibly unusual snakes in a variety of ways. For one, these snakes are the only known semi-aquatic vipers.
But even more bizarre is that males and females in an atypical population of carrion-eating cottonmouths found on islands in the Cedar Keys have actually been known to forage in male-female pairs. It’s important to note that these pairings are not known to hunt down humans for vengeance like some may suggest.
Do Snakes Live In Groups?
Snakes may not normally travel in packs or pairs, and for the most part, are a solitary family of reptiles. Despite this, recent research has demonstrated surprising evidence that some snakes are social and even form friendships.
Snakes Are Typically Solitary
Other than to mate or hibernate, the average snake spends its time alone. There are some fascinating outliers that we’ll describe below, but the general scientific consensus is that snakes are not social as we know it. Although snakes are more intelligent than many might expect, they lack the advanced emotions that define other group-oriented animals, even toward their own young.
Some Snakes Have Bonds and Cliques
For decades, scientists have assumed that all creepy-crawlies, whether six-legged or no-legged, are entirely unsocial and unintelligent. But thanks to a few emerging studies, we now know the truth of the matter.
A study published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology demonstrated that when placed in an enclosure with hiding spots, the common garter snake actively sought out areas with specific groups. Even when these hides were scrambled around and the enclosure was cleaned, snakes returned to hide within the same groups. In fact, these groups would leave and return collectively as well, with shy snakes being encouraged to leave by their bolder friends.
While garter snakes are known to group up in the wild, it is unknown whether or not they show these same friendships outside of lab settings. Regardless, there is clearly a social side to snakes that has only just started to be explored.
Some Snakes Raise Their Young
In the vast majority of snakes and other reptiles, snakes aren’t very dedicated parents. Outside of king cobras, which are known to lay eggs in piles of leaves they gather, most snakes don’t even build nests or incubate their eggs. Even live-bearing snakes don’t stick around for their hatchlings’ first meals.
Contrary to this, studies have demonstrated that a few snake species have parental instincts. Pit vipers and rattlesnakes defend their young and provide them with a hiding place until their first shed. A South African study has shown that many African pythons keep their eggs and young babies warm by basking to raise their body temperature before returning to their clutch– an incredibly draining process that can drain them of 40 percent of their body mass.
With so many rumors and misconceptions, snakes arguably take the crown as the most misunderstood animals. One of the many myths is that snakes will travel in large groups or pairs. With certain exceptions, most snakes are solitary creatures that only gather together for the sake of breeding and hibernation.
Luckily, new studies and enthusiastic snake owners are slowly helping snakes shed their unearned reputation as wicked animals.