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Snake cart wheels to confuse predators

Snake cart wheels to confuse predators

The sedge snake performs special tricks when cornered. The strange behavior of a shy snake species has been documented for the first time in Malaysia.

Non-venomous snakes must be creative to avoid enemies. The sedge python, which is native to Southeast Asia, has adopted an escape mechanism that has been seldom noticed hitherto: the spinning of the wheel. “So far, there have been only scattered reports of this behavior,” says a study by the University of Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. This is the first time that it has been photographed and described in detail.”

In August 2019, biologist Ivan Singh Huat Kuah and his team stumbled across a sedge python (Pseudorabdion longiceps) while trying to cross a road in Kedah state, northwest Malaysia, according to the study published in the journal Biotropica. As the group approached, the snake became startled and wrapped its body in a ring of sorts. Then she started throwing herself into the air. In less than five seconds, it rolled about 1.5 meters down the street in wheel-like motions.

Unusual mode of movement of Sedge Snake.© Evan Kuah, University of Malaysia Sabah

The snake first filmed him rolling over

Then the scientists caught the animal and placed it on a flat surface next to the road. There, the snake whacked the cart’s wheels again—this time it was photographed and documented by the research group. The wheel’s sudden movements may have been intended to scare and confuse predators, giving them valuable time to flee. “Again, this is similar to the behavior of limbless reptiles, which jump when cornered.” An example of this is the Slender Glass Sneak, which is a legless lizard. She said that rolling movements are rare in nature.

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The spiny reed snake has a maximum length of only 23 cm and lives mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Filipino. It is a nocturnal animal that hides under leaves or tree trunks and stones during the day. “We think this behavior may be common in other small snake species, particularly members of the subfamily Calamarinae,” said Kuah. However, records are lacking because observing this shy species is quite challenging.

>> To the (paid) article in the specialized journal “Biotropica”