Snakes on a wall | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 25.01.2018
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Snakes on a wall

For most it would be a shock to spot a meter-long snake creeping up the outside of your house like spiderman. That they can do it is one thing, but the question is why do they do it? Our phenomenon of the week.

When it comes to ostensibly scary animals, Germany is, luckily, not one of the hotspots. For instance, the country has just six kinds of snakes — four colubrid and two viper species. But these shy creatures are rarely spotted because they prefer to hide out in the long grass of meadows and undergrowth. So, we at the Global Ideas headquarters in Berlin are — thankfully — unlikely to witness a sight similar to the one filmed here:

Floridian Steve Crumbaker was so surprised when he saw the snake in action in 2009, he uploaded the video to YouTube.The snake maneuvering between the mortar joints of Crumbaker's brick house is a rat snake, he writes. These snakes don't just eat rats as their name suggests, although they do particularly enjoy the rodents. The species also isn't venomous but is pretty agile.

Snakes with spiderman-like moves aren't exactly rare, Still, it appears many are blown away by this particular rat snake's abilities. Here's a reaction to the video from another YouTube user called stomedy.

Under pressure

Another species of non-venomous rat snake, the corn snake, is also a deft climber. The 150-centimeter (4.9 foot) animals are also popular pets and have, therefore, been the subject of a lot of research.

One such snake researcher is Bruce C. Jayne from the University of Cincinnati. He's been studying how snakes move for some time. One thing Jayne has figured out is that the reptiles can't rely on their usual means of propulsion when scaling a wall. Instead, they use a kind of "concertina" technique. The snake in the video presses part of their body against the joint, pushing the rest of the animal forward.

In doing so, the snakes exert huge pressure. To avoid falling off, the animals use three to five times more pressure than is required (better safe than sorry), according to Jayne's study.

Do the snake locomotion

In general, snake locomotion is a natural wonder in itself. Jayne has researched three patterns of movement in the animals.

Snakes most commonly propel themselves forward in a wave pattern that starts in the head and moves down through the body. This is called lateral undulation. Others, like the sidewinder rattlesnake, move using a (you guessed it) sideways motion. This kind of movement is best for smooth or slippery surfaces.

Why do they do it?

Whether it's a matter of choosing the best way to get around or scaling the cracks in a wall, the snakes certainly aren't concerned with what we think. They're likely putting all that effort in to find a delicious reward to feast upon.

According to US wildlife removal business Animal Pros, that's the case whenever they're called to remove an offending snake from the presence of humans. So if you ever spot a snake meandering up a wall, there's likely a tasty squirrel or bird sitting on the roof, unaware that they might be the reptile's next meal. 

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