Do snakes climb trees?

Riverside snake

Snakes don’t exactly climb trees, but they are pretty good at getting up them. They can't climb in the conventional sense of the word, because they have no limbs. They have no paws to help grab on, and no claws to make that process easier. That doesn't mean they can't get up to high places, however, and there are actually snake species that spend most of, if not all of their time high up in the branches of trees.

Snakes find it easier to propel themselves across a flat surface, such as along the ground, than they find it to try and move in a vertical motion, such as up a tree. They are perfectly capable of the upwards movement, but it uses a lot more energy and is a lot more work.

The movement that snakes use to climb a tree is referred to as concertina locomotion, and the actual motion reflects the musical instrument it is named after. Some parts of the snake’s body will grip onto the tree, and other parts will work to propel the snake in an upwards motion. The powerful muscles of the reptile ripple and work hard to make the movement happen, often seeing the snake wrap itself around the tree or surface.

Snakes with the kind of scales that are needed for this kind of movement will find this easier. “Ridged” or “keeled” scales — slightly textured or ridged to grip on and give the snake something to form a gripping action with. Snakes with much smoother scales will have a harder time. The snake species that live in trees, or spend the majority of their time up there, will have ridged or keeled scales. The snake species that spend the majority of their time down low, on the ground, will have smooth scales. The latter will reflect light really well, usually making the snake appear iridescent. Go back to the home page: Snakes of Riverside