A team of scientists from Malaysia and the United States reports an observation of cartwheeling behavior to escape predators employed by the dwarf reed snake (Pseudorabdion longiceps). The snake’s rolling motion is a rare escape mechanism which has not been formally documented in detail for any other species of snake or reptile.
Cartwheeling behavior of the dwarf reed snake (Pseudorabdion longiceps). Image credit: Quah et al., doi: 10.1111/btp.13213.
The dwarf reed snake is a nocturnal snake species in the subfamily Calamariinae of the family Colubridae.
One of the smallest reed snakes, it inhabits mainly forested areas hiding under logs, rocks or leaf litter.
It ranges from southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore to the islands of Borneo, Sumatra and Sulawesi.
Its color varies from black, brown to reddish-brown and it is iridescent in strong sunlight or camera flash. Some specimens may have a pale yellow collar at the back of the head.
Individuals of this species have been observed a number of times to cartwheel in an attempt to evade capture, particularly if they are placed on a smooth substrate.
“Typical defense mechanisms that small snakes use against predators include fleeing, camouflage, coloration, odors, death-feigning, and intimidation,” said lead author Dr. Evan Seng Huat Quah, a researcher at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and colleagues.
“Some snakes also use passive rolling, but we observed that the dwarf reed snake performs active cartwheeling by repeatedly launching the coils of its body into the air and rolling down inclines.”
In addition to identifying a complex defense mechanism used by the dwarf reed snake, the authors also provide insights into the kinetic abilities of snakes.
“We were excited when we successfully captured images that documented cartwheeling behavior in this species,” Dr. Quah said.
“We believe that this behavior may be more widespread in other small snake species, especially members of the subfamily Calamariinae, but the lack of records is probably an artifact of the challenges in detecting and observing these secretive species.”
The team’s paper appears today in the journal Biotropica.
Evan Seng Huat Quah et al. Observations and description of a rare escape mechanism in a snake: Cartwheeling in Pseudorabdion longiceps (Cantor, 1847) (Squamata, Colubridea). Biotropica, published online April 5, 2023; doi: 10.1111/btp.13213