Cartwheeling is the latest form of escape for a colubrid snake native to Southeast Asia called the dwarf reed snake.
Snakes have a variety of defenses mechanisms, from rattling and bluffing, to camoflage, mimicry, death flinging, and odors to a form of locomotion called rectilinear locomotion, in which the snake’s ribs do not move, but rather, just the muscles and skin move to produce the forward motion. But cartwheeling to escape predators? That is the latest form of escape for a colubrid snake native to Southeast Asia called the dwarf reed snake (Pseudorabdion longiceps).
Researchers Evan Peng Huat Quah, Larry Lee Grimmer, and M.S. Shall Anuar of the University of Malaysia, Sahbah, National University of Singapore, La Sierra University in Riverside, CA, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and University Sains Malaysia, write in a paper how they observed the dwarf reed snake used cartwheeling behavior to escape predation. This behavior has not been recorded in any other species of snake or reptile, the researchers noted in their paper, “Observation and description of a rare escape mechanism in a snake: Cartwheeling in Pseudorabdion longiceps (Cantor, 1847) (Squamata, Colubridea).
The semi-fossorial dwarf reed snake is a small and generally nocturnal species that is found in leaf litter, under logs and rocks during the day. Is is found in Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines and adjacent islands. It is a prey item to other snake species, including striped coral snakes (Calliophis intestinalis), and the Slaty-backed fork tail (Enicurus schistaceus) bird.
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The researchers observed Pseudorabdion longiceps crossing a road, and when it was approached, the snake displayed the cartwheeling behavior, able to traverse an area of approximately 1.5 meters in less that 5 seconds by cartwheeling. The researchers captured the snake and placed it on a flat surface of the road and were able to observe the snake cartwheeling again.
The snake was able to achieve this by throwing the coils of its body and rolling down the hill. The researchers believe that the sudden cartwheeling movements of the dwarf reed snake may be designed to confuse potential predators, which gives the reptile time to escape.