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How Far Do Snakes Travel?

Some snakes can traverse a substantial distance, but most stay within a range of about 3-5km for most of their lives. Even these small travel distances are often referred to by scientists as ‘migrations’.

How far a given snake can travel depends on the species, climatic conditions, hunting techniques, and method of reproduction.

how far can snakes travel

Snakes will generally travel to find food, hibernate, or mate. If a snake has found a location that provides the food and shelter it needs, it may stay in that area indefinitely. However, it will also willingly move along if it feels disturbed by the presence of humans or predators.

How Far Can Snakes Travel?

A snake may travel in search of food, a mating partner, to give birth, or to shift territory. How far they can travel vary by species. According to this study, movements of 3-5km are considered “relatively lengthy” migrations for snakes.

Below are three studies of snake movements that we have identified.

1. A Burmese Python Travelling 35 Miles

The farthest travel distance we identified for the a terrestrial snake was 35 miles, clocked by a Burmese Python in Florida. This python was captured and translocated to a new habitat 35 miles away. However, the snake made the arduous journey back to its original habitat, where it remained for the rest of their study.

This is a unique situation that doesn’t prove how far they would normally travel, as the snake did not willingly relocate away from its home in the first place. However, it does show that snakes seem to have a great sense of direction!

2. Malaysian Pit Vipers Traveling Less than 1 Mile

This study found that Malaysian pit vipers only travel around 150 – 200 meters in a given night (they’re nocturnal). Thus, they stay in a relatively confined location for most of their lives. The study also found that males traveled more than females, potentially because they are actively seeking out females to mate.

3. Rattlesnakes Traveling 1.5 to 2.5 Kilometers

Another study of rattlesnakes looked at their migration in British Columbia after emerging from their hibernacula (where they brumate for the winter). The study found that the ‘migration’ was only about 1.5 to 2.5km and involved moving to habitats where they were likely to find more food sources.

Read More: What Types of Snake Brumate?

4. The 2.5 Mile ‘Snake Road’ Mass Migration Route

But perhaps the most famous example of snake travel is the annual migration down snake road in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. A 2.5 mile stretch of road is closed every September and October for snakes to cross the street from the forest to their hibernacula in limestone bluffs. Snakes will often hibernate in amongst limestone as it can keep them warm through the winter months.

From this data, we can deduce that snakes are not big travelers. Nevertheless, they will move about at will, depending on their needs.

You Might Also Like: Can Snakes Crawl Backward?

How Quick Can Snakes Travel?

Snakes generally don’t travel very fast. However, if they are stalking or ambushing prey, they will move quickly in short bursts. The fastest recorded snake is the sidewinder who can travel at up to 18 miles per hour.

Geo-tracking studies have found that most snakes don’t move far at all. The Malaysian study found that each movement for pit vipers was less than 5 meters. After this, the snake will usually pause and hide, scared of being identified by predators. Overall, they would only move an average of 129 meters per night.

Snakes usually travel only at night as most snakes are nocturnal. However, occasionally they will also travel during the day, depending on the actions of their predators. Generally, snakes will move around at times when they think they are most safe and hidden from potential attacks.

While most snakes move slowly, some may move extremely quickly in brief bursts. During brief spurts, the fastest snakes may achieve speeds of 12 to 18 miles per hour. While some of the quickest snakes can travel at speeds of up to eight miles per hour over extended distances, the majority are far slower. 

The sidewinder, black mamba, and southern black racer are the three quickest snake species. Here’s how they travel:

SnakeSpeedExplanation
Southern black racer10 Miles Per HourThe name itself implies speed! This snake can crawl at a speed of up to 10 miles per hour. The southern black racer, another native of the United States, can attain great speeds on both land and water. The black racer is a common species in the southeastern United States. They are often tiny and light, which contributes to their agility and speed.
Sidewinder18 Miles Per HourThe sidewinder is a type of rattlesnake named for its unique and uncommon manner of movement. It is the world’s quickest snake. Sidewinders may reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. Sidewinders are endemic to North and Central America’s arid areas. Aside from its speed, the sidewinder’s movement might astound spectators since it travels sideways, leaving a distinctive pattern in the sand.
Black mamba12 Miles Per HourThe black mamba is perhaps the most well-known of the fast snakes. With 20 miles per hour as the maximum speed, its combination of speed and extremely deadly venom earns it a position on Africa’s most hazardous snakes list. The black mamba, usually tan or brown, glides with the distinctive “s” curve lateral undulation.

Read More about the Snake Speeds in our article: Can you Outrun a Snake?

How far Do Snakes Travel in the Ocean?

While snakes move very slowly on land, sea snakes are incredibly active. They can dive up to 250 meters deep and can travel vast distances. They travel so far because they ride ocean currents.

Studies have tracked the yellow-bellied sea snake traveling 20,000 miles (32,190 kilometers) over a 10 year period. The snake doesn’t actually swim that distance, but cruises on ocean currents. This does, however, make it the most well-traveled of all snake species.

Thanks to its current-surfing abilities, the yellow-bellied sea snake is found throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans. It’s found on the west coast of Mexico, around Australia’s coasts, the Chinese coastline, and all the way across to Madagascar and the west coast of Africa.

How Snakes Slither

Most snakes move forward by pushing backward with their ribs and belly scales, first on one side and then the other. Larger snakes may press on both sides simultaneously. Climbing and burrowing snakes stretch out the front of their bodies and then drag the back half-forward.

The four modes of movement in snakes are as follows.

MovementDescription
Serpentine MethodWhen most people seem to think of snakes, they think of this movement. To begin moving, snakes will push off of any bump or other surfaces, such as rocks or trees. They move in a wavy pattern. They are unable to move across slippery surfaces such as glass. This motion is sometimes referred to as lateral undulation.
Concertina TechniqueThis method is used when there is not enough frictional resistance on the surface. The snake braces the back of its body while thrusting and expanding the front. The snake then descends the front half of their body and straightens and pulls the back half along. It’s almost as though they throw themselves forward.
SidewindingThis is a difficult action to describe, yet snakes utilize it frequently to travel over loose or slippery surfaces such as sand or mud. The snake appears to fling its head forward, followed by the remainder of its body, then throwing its head forward again.
Rectilinear MethodThis is a straight, gradual movement. The snake grips the ground with part of its broad scales on its belly while moving forward with the others.

Here is more on how snakes move:

Conclusion

How far snakes travel depends on the species and the season. For example, when most snakes breed, a male snake can travel up to 1.2 kilometers to seek females. Female snakes, on the other hand, travel far shorter distances.

A snake will generally travel as little as possible. It is unlikely to depart if it can locate all it requires in a 10 square meter region. In nature, however, they rarely discover such a location.

All local animals often share areas with abundant water supplies, implying that both predators and prey are close. Adequate shelter is generally located distant from water sources and good food, demanding travel.

And, because snakes are solitary creatures, other snakes are viewed as rivals, unless during the breeding season. They don’t have a range like a mammal but rather choose a spot that fits them and only move on when necessary.

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