How Fast Is A Snake?

very fast snake about to move

I think snakes are one of the most majestic animals on this planet, but unfortunately, they also have a “bad reputation” and they are known for their fear-evoking qualities.

It’s not just their bite that triggers this shared phobia of snakes most people have, but I think it’s also their unpredictable movement, their elusive nature, and speed that can make them seem scary.

But how fast is a snake?

The speed of a snake varies greatly between species with slow snakes like the Rosy Boa slithering along at less than 1 mph to the super-fast sidewinder that can reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour! Unless they’re feeling threatened or are hunting down prey most snakes move slowly to converse energy.  

While most snakes will find it difficult to slither past a running person, there is still so much we can explore, so let’s find out more about snake movement, which snakes are the fastest, and how quickly they can strike!

Are Most Snakes Fast?

According to National Geographic, there are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the planet that can be found anywhere but Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand.

So, it’s not easy to know how fast snakes are since there are so many out there. There are also quite a few things that can affect their speed.

The speed of a snake depends on their breed, their size, and the environment. Overall snakes are slow animals, but they can slither quite fast when startled or hunting. For example adder snakes, a common species in Europe, are quite slow, but they make up for it with their incredibly fast strikes. 

The Rosy Boa is one of the slowest-moving snake breeds in the world that can barely reach a speed of 1.5 Km/h and most creatures can outrun them.

Nonetheless, snakes know how to hide from humans and predators even without great speed by looking for underground burrows, hollow logs, and anything that can help them become one with the environment. Even the fastest snakes in the world will use their incredible speed when they need it the most.

While the average snake speed is difficult to know, many researchers and animal experts have studied certain snake breeds to see how fast they slither and even how fast they can strike.

So let’s see which of them made it to the top!

What Is The Fastest Snake In The World?

I’m sure some of you, myself included, have seen a snake slither quickly away from you whether that was at the back of your yard, or during a hike in a remote area.

Despite their relatively small size, it’s clear that most snakes can be quite quick if they need to, but there are certain species that are just as quick as they are deadly and you wouldn’t want to meet them in the wild!

1. The Sidewinder

I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t easy to choose the sidewinder snake as the fastest snake in the world because the black mamba has had this title for so long. Nonetheless, it seems that the sidewinder, also known as the horned rattlesnake has out slithered the infamous black mamba so let’s see how that happened.

First of all, the horned rattlesnake belongs to the venomous pit viper species and they’re native to the desert regions of the Southwestern U.S and northwestern Mexico. According to certain sources, the sidewinder can slither at a speed that reaches up to 18 miles per hour that’s almost 29 Km/h.

As you can see in this video, this snake is using the sidewinding locomotion, described by the narrator as “the equivalent of the horse’s gallop in the snake world.”

This particular snake takes their name sidewinder from this exact type of movement because it’s the safest and quickest method of transportation on the scolding hot sand that doesn’t offer much friction.

Perhaps this never-ending debate between the speed of sidewinder snakes and black mambas has to do with their habitat and the different locomotion they use to slither.

According to Dr. Rieser, the sidewinder can travel at speeds of 18 miles per hour because their scales are “packed with tiny pits spikes found on the bottom of other snakes.” This helps with the necessary friction to make them this speedy.

Aside from the rattlesnakes’ great intelligence, and incredible speed, I think the fact that they can move this fast on an otherwise difficult terrain makes these snakes even more incredible. If I were to run from a horned rattlesnake walking on sand then I’m sure there wouldn’t be a happy ending to that encounter.

2. The Black Mamba

The second fastest snake in the world lives in the savannas, open woodlands, and rocky hills of southern and eastern Africa and goes by the name black mamba.

They are the longest venomous snakes, reaching up to 14 feet in length, and despite their name, the black mamba’s scales are olive to gray in color, and it’s the inside of their mouths that’s blue-black.

Now for most of us seeing the sidewinder winning the number one spot on this list might come as a surprise. I’m sure we’ve all believed that the number one fastest snake in the world is the black mamba.

Even the Guinness world records have given black mamba the number one title as the fastest land snake, stating that this snake “can reach speeds of 16-19 km/h (10-12 mph) in short bursts over level ground.”

According to National Geographic black mambas are also the fastest snake on earth and they will slither at speeds of up to 12.5 miles per hour. 

While the speed at which a black mamba can move is still impressive it’s definitely not as fast as the sidewinder, and that’s why it’s time we gave this gorgeous snake the second spot.

It’s important to note that black mambas like most snakes are shy and if they were in a dangerous situation they would most likely avoid confrontation and use their amazing speed to glide away from any kind of trouble. But if they feel like they’re being cornered they’ll strike injecting large amounts of poison each time.

So, even if the black mamba is the second-fastest snake I’d hope they’d only use their speed to run away from me and not towards me!

3. The Black Racer

Last but not least we have the black racer on our list. This is a non-venomous snake that resides in the north and Southeastern United States.

It’s quite common to see these snakes in suburban neighborhoods but if they feel in any way threatened, they will use their speed and agility to escape and hide.

It’s a long and slender snake reaching up to 20-56 inches (50-142 cm) in total length and while it’s not as long as a black mamba it’s definitely a quick creature reaching from 12Km/h to 16 Km/h.

According to the University of Florida, “most of us see it just before it darts away”

While their bite is not venomous it’s definitely not a good idea to test their patience. These snakes don’t make good pets and if you see the black racer slither hurriedly away from you let them go or you’re going to be faced with their bite.

What Snake Has The Fastest Strike?

When talking about speed, even the quickest snake might not impress you, but what I think is much more astonishing in snakes is how fast they can strike.

So what snakes as the

Just by looking at this slow-motion video of snakes striking at the camera, you can tell the actual speed and force behind this sudden movement.

 

 

1. Cottonmouth Viper

A mouth that you would want to stay far away from even if they’re just yawning belongs to the cottonmouth viper, which is also known as the water moccasin.

The Cottonmouth viper snakes live in the southeastern United States, and not only are they quite venomous, but they are the clear winner when it comes to the snake with the fastest strike and has strike speed of 2.98 m/s. Keep in mind, that’s per second which makes their strike shockingly fast. 

Not only is their bite this quick but the cottonmouth is a pit viper and according to Sara Viernum a herpetologist “these specialized pits are able to detect minute differences in temperature so that the snake can accurately strike the source of heat, which is often potential prey.”

Luckily for us, she also says that they rarely bite humans, unless we actually provoke them.

2. Texas Rat Snake

The Texas rat snake is found in southern America and instead of using venom, they are constrictors that use their body to suffocate their prey.

What’s so interesting about having the rat snake here on this list is precisely because this is a non-venomous snake, and these were always believed to be much slower than their venomous viper brothers.

Studies done by David Penning at the University of Louisiana showed that the cottonmouth, the diamondback rattlesnake, as well as the rat snake “could accelerate at more than 160 meters per second squared (ms−2) and reach speeds approaching 3 meters per second. This enables the animals to cover average distances of 13.6–16.7 centimeters in 66–74 milliseconds.”

For a while now the snake species with the fastest strike were vipers like the cottonmouth as we mentioned above. But Penning found that the rat snake had an average strike speed of 2.67 m/s and came second when competing with these two venomous vipers, the cottonmouth, and the western diamondback rattlesnake.

The reason why the Texas rat snake is almost equally fast probably had to do with the snake’s prey. Whether it’s a venomous snake or not they all mostly hunt rabbits and mice that can quickly jump and avoid predators.

3. Diamondback Rattlesnake

Just by a few seconds behind the cottonmouth and the rat snake, the diamondback rattlesnake takes third place as the fastest snake with an average strike speed of 2.95 m/s.

To be fair all three snakes seem to be closer to a tie, but what is more impressive about the diamondback rattlesnake is the fact that it’s not only this fast but it’s also the largest venomous snake in North America that can reach 8 feet in length.

What makes a snake strike this fast at its prey is their anatomy, more precisely their elaborate musculature, with 15,000 muscles which is 20 times as many muscles as in our human bodies.

So, this big boy surely has lots of muscle to back him up.

While you wouldn’t want to come across this snake, they do offer you an opportunity to escape if you listen closely enough. You see they use their tail to make a sound to warn predators of their presence!

What Makes Snakes Move So Fast?

Sometimes I think that snakes don’t make any sense. I mean they have no legs, no arms, yet they can move freely and quickly.

While my human brain may struggle to comprehend how they do it, their anatomy and movement mechanisms can explain how they achieve speed and agility.

Snake Anatomy

The three main things that help snakes slither so effortlessly and efficiently are the muscles, bones, and scales in and on their body.

Their bones give structure, strength, and flexibility to their bodies and the muscles that are attached to the bones enable them to move as the muscles contract.

Instead of skin, a snake’s body is covered in scales made from keratin, the same material that makes up our fingernails. Along with their muscles, the scales on their belly help them push their body forward.

The scales act like “treads on a tire providing traction with the ground as the muscles pull the snake’s internal skeleture forward in an undulating pattern that becomes fluid and seamless when they move quickly, ” explains a study that was done by the University of Cincinnati.

Snake Movements

A snake’s body movement is an extremely complex process that requires the collaboration between “the head, vertebrae, ribs, and skin,” as a 2018 study states.

So far there are 5 recognizable mechanisms of snake movement, and in each case, snakes use different muscle groups to propel themselves onward and move faster.

Serpentine Locomotion

This is a side-to-side motion during which the snake’s body turns into an S shape, which can be observed from above. This is probably the most recognizable and most likely the quickest movement in a snake’s toolbox.

In fact, most legless animals use serpentine locomotion, especially if their environment offers them this opportunity, like rocks, bushes, and the black racer is one of them.

Sidewinding

This type of motion is more common in desert-inhabiting snakes like the sidewinder rattlesnake we mentioned above. Similarly, to the serpentine locomotion, the snake body creates an S shape, but instead of moving forward, it moves laterally.

With this technique, snakes manage to move quickly on slippery or/and scorching surfaces without damaging their skin.

Concertina Locomotion

Serpentine locomotion requires some resistance in the environment to help propel the snake forward, however during the concertina locomotion the snake contracts and expands their body.

The motion, in this case, resembles an accordion and some snake species use it to climb on trees. The black mamba for example is adept at climbing trees and can travel through the tree canopy which helps them stay undetected.

Rectilinear Locomotion

This is the most unique snake movement, mostly common in heavy-bodied snakes, in which the snake moves in a straight line with its body stretched, similarly to a caterpillar.

With this type of locomotion, the snake uses their side muscles and belly scales to lift, anchor and inch forward its body.

Lateral Undulation

Sea snakes and snakes that can swim use this type of motion which is identical to serpentine locomotion.

While this type of movement isn’t terrestrial it’s still worth mentioning since it helps snakes, like the yellow-bellied sea snake that I’ll be talking about below, swim effortlessly.

How Fast Can Snakes Swim?

Swimming speed varies greatly between snake species and hasn’t been measured with as much precision as their speed on land. However, the yellow bellied seas snake is one of the fastest with the ability to swim up to 1m/sec for short bursts

Other snakes are unlikely to get in the water at all but it’s safe to say that any snake that is willing to swim is probably faster than a human.

Some snakes like water more than others, most of them can swim if they have to, while others like the Yellow-bellied Sea snake prefer to be in the water at all times.

But not all snakes are as adept at swimming and as we know ourselves moving through water reduces our own speed. But there’s a high chance that a snake could swim to us faster just through these small bursts of speed.

Are Snakes Faster Than Humans?

Since the snake species on our list are quite fast you might be wondering if they could catch up with you or even outrun you.

Of course, I’m not going to compete with a black mamba just to satisfy your curiosity, but I also want to point out that the answer to your question won’t be 100% straightforward because there are a lot of things to consider.

As I’ve already mentioned, the average snake moves reasonably slowly. Not only are they trying to reserve their energy for when they feel threatened or they’re hunting, but they also rely on staying unnoticed.

The fastest snake in the world, the black mamba can reach speeds of 12-19 Km/h, while the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt can run 38.1 Km/h.

It’s clear that Usain Bolt would outrun a snake, but even an average jogger that runs at the speed of 9 km/h can most likely outrun a snake, especially if it’s an average slithering snake.

That’s because a snake will use short bursts of speed to move forward and that’s if they feel threatened by your presence. But if you keep a good pace for longer you can definitely let that snake eat your dust.

However, testing out that theory is still not a good idea. If you’re unaware that a snake is nearby then with one fist strike, they can bite you, or with just enough bursts of speed they can catch up with you in time to attack.

What To Do If A Snake Is Chasing After You?

Snakes don’t slither around trying to find humans to attack and they usually prefer to be alone.

Overall most snakes enjoy a chill life and move about their day at a slow pace. This might come as a surprise since we’ve been seeing some unrealistic snake representation on TV whether that’s Anaconda from the 90s or Nagini from Harry Potter.

Nonetheless, snakes can become aggressive and can strike you at a high speed if they suddenly see a large human threatening them. Even in these situations, they will try to move past humans unless they see no other option than retaliation.

Most of us who live in cities and in countries where snakes aren’t that common don’t have to worry about snakes. But if you’re ever out in the countryside and you come across a snake the best option according to the U.S department of agriculture, is to leave the snake alone and keep at least six feet distance between you and the snake.

If the snake has noticed you then slowly and calmly back away without turning your back. When you’re at a safe distance you can increase your pace without startling the snake.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get bitten, especially if you live in a snake populated area. A snake that chooses to attack rather than escape might be too scared, and disoriented, so they’ll choose the best option for their survival.

If that’s the case make sure you try and remember what the snake looked like, the area you got been and please go to the hospital as soon as possible so a professional can treat the snake bite properly.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re a reptile lover or just curious about snakes, finding out how fast snakes can be, and which snakes would win snake Olympics (if that was a thing) is satisfying knowledge to have!

Personally, even though we can jog, and run faster than most snakes I’d still keep my distance!

But what do you think? Would you be fast enough to outrun the Black Mamba or would you freeze at the sight of their deadly beauty?