Scientists Discover Bizarre New Mode of Snake Locomotion – “Nothing I’d Ever Seen Compares to It”

Brown Tree Snake

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The brown tree snake, which is nighttime, was mistakenly presented to Guam in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Credit: Bjorn Lardner, United States Geological Survey

A group of scientists from Colorado State University and the University of Cincinnati have actually found a brand-new mode of snake mobility that permits the brown tree snake to rise much bigger smooth cylinders than any formerly understood habits.

This lasso mobility, called due to the fact that of a lasso-like body posture, might add to the success and effect of this extremely intrusive types. It permits these animals to gain access to possible victim that may otherwise be unobtainable and might likewise describe how this types might climb up power poles, resulting in electrical interruptions.

Researchers stated they hope the findings will assist individuals secure threatened birds from the snakes.

The research study, “Lasso locomotion expands the climbing repertoire of snakes,” is released today (January 11, 2021) in Current Biology.

This video reveals a brown tree snake lasso climbing. Credit: Thomas Seibert

‘Unexpected’ mobility found on U.S. island area of Guam

For almost 100 years, all snake mobility has actually been typically classified into 4 modes: rectilinear, lateral waviness, sidewinding and concertina.

This brand-new discovery of a 5th mode of mobility was the unforeseen outcome of a job led by CSU Emeritus Professor Julie Savidge focused on securing the nests of Micronesia starlings, among just 2 native forest types still staying on Guam.

“We watched that part of the video about 15 times. It was a shocker. Nothing I’d ever seen compares to it.” — Tom Seibert

Savidge, part of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at CSU, stated that the brown tree snake has actually annihilated forest bird populations on Guam, where the discovery occurred. The snake, which is nighttime, was mistakenly presented to Guam in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Shortly afterwards, bird populations began to decrease.

The researcher performed her doctoral argumentation research study on Guam in the 1980s and determined the snake as the perpetrator for the loss of birds. The animal has actually triggered comprehensive damage and is accountable for many power interruptions throughout the island each year. 

“Most of the native forest birds are gone on Guam,” stated Savidge. “There’s a relatively small population of Micronesian starlings and another cave-nesting bird that has survived in small numbers. The starling serves an important ecological function by dispersing fruit and seeds which can help maintain Guam’s forests.”

Micronesian Starling

Researchers have actually worked for years to secure the nests of Micronesia starlings, among just 2 native forest types still staying on Guam. Credit: Julie Savidge, Colorado State University

CSU’s Tom Seibert, co-author and emeritus professors, stated the group was trying to utilize a three-foot long metal baffle to keep the brown tree snakes from climbing to bird boxes. These exact same baffles have actually been utilized to keep other snakes and raccoons far from nest boxes in the lawns of bird-watchers. But this brand-new research study recommends these may position little barrier to brown tree snakes.

“We didn’t expect that the brown tree snake would be able to find a way around the baffle,” he stated. “Initially, the baffle did work, for the most part. We had watched about four hours of video and then all of a sudden, we saw this snake form what looked like a lasso around the cylinder and wiggle its body up.”

Seibert stated that he and CSU biologist Martin Kastner practically fell out of their chairs when they initially observed this brand-new type of mobility.

“We watched that part of the video about 15 times,” Seibert stated. “It was a shocker. Nothing I’d ever seen compares to it.”

Brown tree snake is a ‘champion climber’

To validate the discovery, the group consequently connected to University of Cincinnati’s Bruce Jayne, a professional on various elements of mobility and muscle function, particularly in snakes.

Brown tree snakes, in specific, are champion climbers, stated Jayne, research study co-author and teacher of life sciences.

Snake Lasso Locomotion

This lasso mobility might add to the success and effect of this extremely intrusive types. Credit: Tom Seibert, Colorado State University

“Brown tree snakes are especially good at getting almost anywhere,” Jayne stated. “It’s impressive. They can climb vertically using even the tiniest projections on a surface, and they can bridge enormous gaps in the tree canopy. They can push themselves up vertically more than two-thirds of their body length.”

Jayne stated snakes usually climb up high, smooth branches or pipelines utilizing a motion called concertina mobility in which the snake flexes sideways to grip a minimum of 2 areas.

But with lasso mobility, the snake utilizes the loop of the lasso to form a single gripping area.

Seibert went back to Guam to tape high-resolution video of this brand-new climbing technique so that Jayne might much better analyze the snakes’ motions.

“It wasn’t obvious how they were able to climb a cylinder,” Jayne stated. “The snake has these little bends within the loop of the lasso that allow it to advance upwards by shifting the location of each bend.”

Lasso mobility is more physically requiring than other climbing up approaches, Jayne stated.

“Even though they can climb using this mode, it is pushing them to the limits. The snakes pause for prolonged periods to rest,” he stated.

Savidge stated the discovery of a brand-new mode of snake mobility is “quite exciting.”

A self-described ecologist, the researcher stated she has actually dealt with brown tree snakes for over 30 years.

“Hopefully what we found will help to restore starlings and other endangered birds, since we can now potentially design baffles that the snakes can’t defeat,” she stated. “It’s still a pretty complex problem.”

Jayne stated what the group found demonstrates how incredible brown tree snakes are.

“I’ve been working on snake locomotion for 40 years and here, we’ve found a completely new way of moving,” he stated. “Odds are, there is more out there to discover.”

Reference: “A novel mode of locomotion expands the climbing abilities of snakes” 11 January 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.11.050