Can Snakes Climb Stairs?

Last Updated: 22.09.19

 

Snakes are definitely not among the living things that people enjoy having around. While some of us are fascinated by these reptiles and keep them as pets, others go looking for a good snake repellent as soon as they think one might be in their home or backyard.

Many people have the wrong impression that if they live on the second or third floor of a building, snakes cannot make their way there. The truth is that these agile reptiles can quickly adapt to many types of environments and that their bodies are well-developed and can climb not only stairs but a wide range of other objects and surfaces as well.

Before going into details on how snakes can climb stairs, it’s a good idea to look at how their bodies are built and understand the main types of movements they can perform. It’s true that any type of climbing these reptiles might do depends on various other factors, such as the surface we’re talking about and the type of snake concerned.

Since there are over three thousand species of snakes living around the world, you can only imagine that they do come with certain differences and each one with its particularities. This principle applies in the case of being able to climb surfaces as well. The key to a snake’s agility consists of its ventral scales, which are these specialized rectangular parts that line its underside.

Since they correspond directly to the number of ribs, they work in order to propel the reptile further with impressive strength. Moreover, given their structure, these scales act as the tread of a tire that grips on a surface to create traction.

 

Types of movements

There are four main types of movements that snakes can perform. The first one is known as the serpentine movements, which is an S-shaped one. Sometimes also called an undulatory motion, this is mostly used by snakes that live on either land or water.

Starting from their necks, snakes are able to contract their muscles and thrust their bodies from side to side, thus creating what looks like a series of curves, to propel themselves. This type of motion is easier to do when they are in water since each contraction meets less resistance there.

When it comes to land, various types of objects, such as rocks, dents or branches, can create resistance points, therefore making the entire motion a more challenging one.

The next type of movement is the sidewinding, and it’s most of the times used by snakes that live in environments and areas with fewer resistance points. This motion consists of muscle contractions during which only two parts of the snake make contact with the ground simultaneously.

It still looks like an S-shaped movement, but as they push off, sidewinders move laterally and this is one of the fastest ways in which a snake can travel. Throughout this process, a large part of the body is actually off the ground, which makes the motion easier for them.

The third movement is a much slower one, also known as a caterpillar or rectilinear motion. While this type uses muscle contractions as curves as well, these are much smaller and go up and down (resembling waves) rather than side to side.

As a snake uses the rectilinear movement, the top part of each curve is lifted above the ground, while the bottom ventral scales push against the surface, creating an effect similar to a caterpillar’s walk.

 

 

Concertina movement

The fourth and final type of movement snakes usually use is known as the concertina technique. While the first three alternatives discussed above work for horizontal surfaces, this one is used to climb vertical surfaces. If you have questions on how snakes can climb stairs, then here lies a part of the answer.

A snake can extend its head and front part of the body along a vertical area or surface, searching for a place to grip onto with its highly-useful ventral scales. In order to create traction, it can bunch up the middle of the body and use tight curves to adhere to the surface. Then, it can pull along its back end as well.

Once this is done, the snake springs up and forward again, looking for the next spot onto which it can grab with its scales. This is the type of movement that allows snakes to climb a wide range of surfaces, from rocks and trees to stairs and even house facades.

As you can probably tell, their effectiveness in climbing also depends on the surface, since the scales need to be able to create traction onto something. The rule of thumbs says that a snake can lift one third of its body (the front one) above stairs, using the lower two-thirds as a base. This process is repeated as much as needed until it reaches its objective.

 

Are stairs easy to climb for snakes?

The answer to this question depends on the snake’s length as well. Longer ones, such as king cobras or pythons, can actually go over several steps at once. Since their bodies are longer, they can stretch the front part for a wider distance. For many people, this might not even look like climbing, as much as simply crawling right over the stairs.

In fact, given that in the wild there are many obstacles that are much harder to overcome, climbing stairs is actually an easy task for snakes. However, snakes do need bodies that are long enough in order to get from one stair to the next.

For example, if this distance is of 10 inches and the entire snake’s body measures 12 inches, then this is not enough to push the upper part and climb the stairs. A general rule says that a snake’s body should be at least twice as long as the height it needs to overcome.

For those of you who are not very excited about these reptiles and who would be very happy to never cross paths with them, the good news is that snakes are not lizards, which means that they are not able to climb lean surfaces. However, a stone or brick wall will most probably not pose a problem.

 

 

Why do snakes climb onto things?

If you’re asking yourself why a snake would ever want to go upstairs, either by using the stairs or a wall, the answer is quite an easy one, namely for food. There reptiles might try to reach your attic because they can smell rats or other rodents that could live there. Sometimes, they even use the same holes as rats do, in order to reach their destination.

Therefore, if you want to avoid their presence around your home, one of the first things you can do is to keep the population of rodents under control. If you’ve already done this, but snakes keep making their way around the house and garden, then you should check out some effective products to repel them.

In case you are dealing with what can be considered a more serious infestation, you can always talk to a specialist and see what measures you need to take, considering all particularities.

 

 

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