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Fast Can a Snake Slither | VenomousSnake

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Whether you’ve seen them in your backyard or in a zoo, you’ve probably looked at a snake at one time or another and wondered… how fast can a snake slither? The answer may surprise you.

While some rumors persist that snakes can match the speed of horses and others expect snakes to move little more than a crawl, the truth lies somewhere between the two.

Here we’ll answer the question: “how fast can a snake crawl”, how they move, why they move the way they do, and look at three of the fastest snakes in the world.

So, if you’re ready, buckle up and let’s find out how fast snakes can move.

how fast can a snake slither
How fast can a snake crawl? Check out the top speed of this Black Racer below

Check out more great snake facts:

How fast can snakes move?

There is some debate about how fast snakes can slither due to copious amounts of misinformation. Many sources state that snakes can move up to 20 mph, but this is an overstatement.

Much of the confusion about snake speed seems to stem from the distinction between slithering and striking.

The question is, how fast does a snake crawl?

An average snake slithers at about 5 mph, with the slowest snake, the Rosy Boa, never reaching even 1 mph.

There are also over 3,000 snake species in the world, so finding an average speed among them doesn’t paint an accurate picture.

While snakes can move quite fast, their speed depends on their size, musculature, scales, and environment.

How do snakes move?

There are many different ways snakes contort their bodies to move, often employing a crunch and release technique like a worm.

One of the most common ways snakes move is by slithering. This is the move they make by swimming from side to side. Each curve of their body acts as a kind of push point to gain forward momentum. Snakes have four main movement styles: serpentine, accordion, straight and sidewinding.

Serpentine is the movement you might see from a snake in your garden. They move back and forth but stay mostly in line. Straight is similar, but instead of constantly wriggling, the snake makes a smaller crunch and lets the motion roll up its entire body before doing another. This forms a very straight and linear forward motion.

The accordion is similar to the serpentine but uses more pronounced coiling motions in which the snake bends like an accordion before stretching again.

Finally, sidewinding is the most distinct way a snake moves. Sidewinding is all about keeping the head and tail on the ground while lifting and swinging the body to the side in one big loop. This style of motion pulls the snake at a diagonal angle and is most effective on loose sand and hot surfaces.

Factors affecting the speed of snakes

Several factors affect how fast a snake can move, but the truth is, we don’t have many exact statistics as to why some snakes are faster than others. A few factors influence why some snakes are so fast, but it could also be a simple matter of differences between species.

With that in mind, here are some factors that affect snake speed. Some of these factors have a greater influence than others, but they may offer some explanation as to why snakes move and evolve the way they do.

To measure

While size doesn’t greatly affect a snake’s attack speed, it certainly does affect its movement speed.

Giant snakes are generally slower to maneuver. They have a larger turning radius and cannot adjust as quickly. That said, they can also cover a lot more ground with little effort. It’s a bit like how a short person would have to walk faster to keep up with a taller person’s footsteps.

In short, a larger snake has to move more mass than a smaller snake. What speed of movement most likely comes down to is muscle to size ratio. If a snake has lots of strong muscles but weighs very little, it will move faster than a larger, less muscular snake.


Scales perform the same function as tire treads. They provide friction against whatever surface the snake is traveling on and help it drag along.

Some snakes have smooth, rounded scales, while others have protruding, tapered scales. While there still a lot of debate on the subject, it is generally accepted that a snake’s environment is the most significant influence on scale type.

how fast can snakes move
Keeled scales on a southern water snake

For example, keeled scales — the pointed, protruding type as pictured above — are most often seen on snakes that burrow for cover when hunting, live in desert environments, and want to attach themselves to surfaces such as vegetation for protection from predators. Snakes with smooth scales tend to live in wetter environments, wading through water, or spending more time in trees.

The shape of a snake’s scales determines the level of friction their bodies have on a given surface area, so it makes sense that snakes in sandy environments need more grip, and snakes that live in dense forests or on water would like to be aerodynamic.

The scales also affect light reflection and camouflage, with keel-like scales breaking up the light more and reducing the shine.


Snakes have a huge 10,000 to 15,000 muscles. For reference, humans have 700 to 800.

All of these lean muscles allow snakes to move each part of their body independently. In constrictor snakes, these muscles allow them to grip their prey tightly while simultaneously coiling themselves tighter without letting it escape.

Muscles allow snakes to move quickly and dexterously. They also make snakes extremely strong for their size, as they can individually constrict each muscle to maneuver. The combined force lifts their bodies upright off the ground.

how fast a snake moves
A cobra using some of its 15,000 muscles in a classic defensive pose


The last major factor in speed is the environment. Not only does the environment influence how snakes evolve, such as how some have keel-like scales, but it also determines what the snake has to contend with.

If a snake lives around fast predators, it makes sense that it needs to be faster to escape. On the other hand, if the snake is the top predator in the area, it doesn’t need to move fast as it just moves from place to place.

Similarly, if a snake does most of its hunting underwater, it will be quite fast underwater but may be very slow on land.

What are the fastest snake species?

Now that we’ve seen how fast the average snake is, why snakes can be so fast, and how they move, let’s look at the fastest snake species and see what makes them so special.


The Sidewinder is the fastest snake in the world. It has been clocked doing 18 mph!

fastest snake in the world
The fast Sidewinder

This venomous viper (Crotalus cerastealso known as a horned rattlesnake OR sidewinder rattlesnake), inhabits the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It uses sidewinding-style movement, hence the name, which allows it to reach such high speeds.

Sidewinding allows these snakes to cross the desert sands at remarkable speeds while touching the heated sand as little as possible.

Despite being so fast, Sidewinders do not stalk prey. Instead, they bury themselves in the sand and wait to strike.

The same properties of sand that make walking so difficult are exactly why this snake can move so fast. If you press down on the sand, it tends to move, but if you hit it, it doesn’t compress and instead acts like a solid surface. As the Sidewinder pushes across the sand, it uses such explosive power that it acts as a starting point rather than gently drifting sand.

Using the sidewinding technique allows Sidewinders to avoid losing traction. If they moved in serpentines, they would end up burying themselves. It would not be an effective movement.

Check out the sidewinder’s incredible speeds here:

Black mamba

For years, the Black Mamba was thought to be the fastest snake. Moving at over 13 mph, this snake sure is fast.

The fearsome Black Mamba

Hailing from the arid bushlands of Africa, these venomous snakes do their best to avoid humans. They move very much like Sidewinders in that it’s simply the best way to move across sand. Likewise, they also have keeled scales.

While instances of Black Mambas attacking humans are rare, they will fight back if cornered and can be extremely aggressive. Their venom is also highly toxic.

Southern Black Runner

The title of third fastest snake in the world goes to the Southern Black Racer. This relatively small snake calls the prairies and rocky hills of the eastern United States home.

how fast can a snake slither
Southern Black Runner

It is a smooth-scaled snake that often traverses aquatic environments and, as its name suggests, can reach speeds of 10 mph on land when hunting.

Snakes versus humans

While these snakes, and snakes in general, may seem like terrifying speed demons, keep in mind that they are not built for endurance.

The average running speed for a human is 6-8 mph, but we are much better at maintaining this speed than snakes. Also, the fastest speed ever recorded for a snake was 18 mph. The fastest speed ever recorded by a human was 27.8 mph. While this occurred during a 100m sprint, it shows how fast people can be.

The average person won’t reach speeds that high, but a relatively fit person may be able to run 15 or even 20 mph. Assuming the average snake moves 1 to 5 mph, those aren’t bad odds.

The bottom line

Snakes are fast. Some snakes are unusually fast. So how fast can a snake slither? It really depends, but the bottom line is that unless you need to escape from one of the top three fastest snakes in the world, you’re probably going to win.

Many factors affect how fast a snake can slither, such as size, musculature, type of scale, environment, and style of movement.


In the thrilling journey through the world of serpents, we’ve embarked on an exhilarating exploration of just how fast a snake can truly slither. As we conclude this captivating voyage, our minds are enriched with a deeper understanding of the remarkable creatures that grace our planet. The Venomous blog has been our guiding light, shedding light on the fascinating intricacies of snake locomotion.

Dear readers, this is not the end, but rather a stepping stone to further discovery. With each passage and paragraph, we’ve been immersed in the world of these slithering wonders. So, heed the call to action, as the Venomous blog beckons you to continue your journey. Read on, explore, and let your curiosity guide you through the twists and turns of the natural world, as we seek to uncover even more secrets waiting to be revealed.

In the end, it’s not just about how fast a snake can slither, but about the marvels of adaptation, survival, and the sheer beauty of nature’s creations. Thank you, Venomous, for opening our eyes to this captivating world. Onward we go, with newfound knowledge and unwavering enthusiasm!