These Snakes Discovered a New Option to Slither

The brown tree snake’s movements seemed strange, but the time-lapse footage didn’t make it entirely obvious whether the movements marked a new way of moving. In 2019, Dr. Seibert returned to Guam to repeat the experiment, this time with a camera with 4K resolution and two baffles stacked on top of each other.

The new video showed that a brown tree snake can climb the baffle by looping its body, crossing over at least once, and making small bends in its body to move upwards. The movement seemed to exhaust the snakes, which often stopped, breathed heavily, and sometimes slipped down the bar. After Dr. Jayne had watched the video, he was trying to get the brown tree snakes in his laboratory to lasso up a pole. “Maybe they got fat, old, and lazy,” he said.

Dr. Jayne believes lassoing is a whole new way to slide. “Lasso locomotion is in space,” he said. “It’s so different that it doesn’t fit into any of the four categories.” When a snake climbs a tree with an accordion, the space between its head and tail shrinks and swells as it alternates between climbing uphill and downhill on the tree, sometimes at the same time. In contrast, during lasso locomotion, the loop area of ​​the body that the snake uses to grasp does not change, and the animal moves upward around the circumference of its cylinder with small lateral bends.

“In the right circumstances, it’s clear that snakes can find a way, and this new form of locomotion is an example of that,” said Gregory Byrnes, an uninitiated biologist at Siena College.

It is possible that other snakes of the same genus as the brown tree snake are also capable of lassoing, said Dr. Jayne. But one cannot just go into the forest and expect to see a nocturnal snake with a strenuous and specific mode of locomotion. “One of the problems with studying snakes is their secrecy,” he said. “We may not have observed the behavior in the wild because we hardly ever observe the animals in the wild.”

Although Dr. Savidge and Dr. Seibert were also enthusiastic about the lasso movement, their awe was tempered by the realization that they would have to dismantle all the nesting boxes that they had installed on narrow metal bars. Fruit-eating Micronesian starlings are one of two remaining native forest birds on Guam. “This bird is all there is,” said Dr. Savidge. “There is nothing left to disperse this native fruit in the forest.”

The researchers also tested a new baffle design in the shape of an ice cream cone that is wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. “Snakes can’t climb that,” said Dr. Seibert, and so far he was right.

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