How Fast Can a Snake Move?

White snake with black dots on skin

When thinking about scary animals, snakes are what comes to our minds. Snakes are reptiles and very dangerous. Their bodies are covered with scales which make their appearance even scarier. Apart from their venomous bites, snakes also possess great speed and unpredictable movement, making them fearful creatures. Have you ever thought about how fast can a snake move?

The speed of snakes depends upon different species. There are very slow snakes, such as the Rosy Boa that move at 1mph and there are super-fast snakes, including the Sidewinder that move at 18mph. it should be noted that snakes move at a faster speed only when they are hunting for prey or if they feel threatened. Otherwise, snakes tend to slither slowly to conserve their energy.

This article will answer all your questions about this dangerous reptile, how they move, how fast they move, whether are they faster than humans, and much more. So, hang tight and start reading!

How do Snakes Move?

A snake’s movement is a wonder of nature. They move forward without any apparent mechanism. It looks quite creepy. Snakes have an efficient mechanism for movement which involves their flexible bodies. Their long spine consists of 400 pliable ribs. The main parts that play a great role in a snake’s movement are its muscles and scales.

Muscles: Snakes’ bodies are completely packed with strong muscles. With 10,000 to 15,000 muscles, they have 20 times more muscles as compared to humans with only 700-800 muscles.

Scales: Snakes possess scales instead of skin. Scales are composed of a strong protein called keratin that is usually found in our nails, skin, and hair. Scales create a firm grip on the ground and help to push the snake forward.

Muscles and scales both work together when a snake moves. When muscles lift and lower the scales on the snake’s ribs and belly, it helps the snake to push backward and glide its body forward. All this movement happens inside the snake’s body and from the outside, it looks as if the snakes move effortlessly on the ground.

How Fast Can a Snake Move?

This question has been raised so many times and there have been several debates on it. Confusion has been created due to the misinformation provided on various platforms. The speed of snakes depends on a lot of factors such as their species, size, musculature, and scales. It is commonly known that an average snake moves at 5mph although the slowest snake Rosy Boa never even reaches 1mph. There are more than 3000 snake species all over the world and finding their accurate average speed is not possible as it varies with each specie.

However, it is to be noted that snakes only move fast when they are being hunted or when they are hunting their prey. At all other times, snakes move slowly and prefer to stay in one place. They have a slow metabolism which means that they can stay in a place for longer periods without the need to hunt.

What Factors Can Affect the Snake’s Speed

There are no proper statistics for each snake’s speed; however, some factors contribute to why some snakes move faster than others. These include size, muscles, scales, and environment explained below.


Size has a great influence on the snake’s speed. As huge snakes generally move slowly, their turning radius is also wide and covers a large space on the ground. These factors make a larger snake move slowly as compared to a smaller snake. A larger snake has a lot of mass which makes it difficult to move. In comparison to that a smaller snake that weighs less can move swiftly.


Snakes have a large number of muscles ranging from 10,000 to 15,000 which provides them the strength to move faster. These muscles make them stronger, so much so that they can lift their bodies from the ground. Muscles also help them to strangle their prey tightly. These muscles allow them to move each part of their body independently and strongly.


Instead of skin, snakes possess a much harder layer on their body which is the scales. These scales provide friction between the snake and the ground and help them to push forward. There are a variety of scales possessed by different snake species. The type of scales the snake develops can depend on the environment in which it stays. Scales can either be round and smooth or tapered and protruding. The shape of the scales defines the friction it produces on the ground. For example, in sandy environments, snakes tend to have keeled scales as they need more grip to move there. While the snakes in forests are more streamlined.

snake scales


The last factor that influences a snake’s speed is its environment. Environment plays a major role in the evolution of snakes. For example, if a snake lives in a region of fast predators, then it makes sense that it needs to move fast to protect itself. However, if the snake lives in a region where it is the only predator, it might not need to move fast as it can move freely and safely. In the same way, if the snake has to hunt underwater it might be faster there as compared to its speed on the land.

Who Runs Faster: Snakes or Humans?

Have you ever wondered who runs faster, snakes or humans? Well to be clear, humans run faster than snakes. Most snakes have an average speed of 5mph as mentioned above, whereas the fastest speed recorded by humans is 27.8 mph. This record was made by Usain Bolt. The average human speed is around 15mph. Only some species of snakes have a speed of 18mph but all others are rather slower than humans. So, if you ever have to run from a snake, chances are that you will be successful in running away.

What are Some of the Fastest Snake Species?

There are about three thousand species of snakes in the world. All of them have their unique and deadly features which make them scary. One such feature is their speed. All species have different speeds. Here we have mentioned some of the fastest snake species including the sidewinder, the black mamba, and the southern black racer.

The SideWinder

The sidewinder is considered to be the world’s fastest snake with a speed of 18mphthat is approximately 29km/hr. It is a horned rattlesnake that belongs to the venomous pit viper species. They are found in the desert regions of northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. As you can see from the name, the sidewinder uses sidewinding locomotion to move. This motion allows them to traverse through the desert at remarkable speeds.

The Black Mamba

For centuries, the black mamba was considered to be the fastest snake with a speed of 13mph. They are found in southern and eastern Africa. Despite having black in their name, black mambas have olive green to gray colored scales. They are rather shy and when confronted they will glide away quickly and quietly. But if they are threatened, they will attack. They have a very toxic venom.

Southern Black Racer

The third fastest snake in the world is the black racer with a speed of 10mph. This non-venomous snake is found in rocky hills and grasslands of the Eastern United States. They have smooth scales and can easily traverse through the water. They have a long and slender body with a length of 20-56 inches.

How Fast Can Snakes Swim?

The swimming speed of snakes is different from their speed on the land. It also varies with different species. The yellow-bellied sea snake is considered to be the fastest with a swimming speed of about 1m/sec. Some snakes do not get into water but they can still swim faster than a human. However, the yellow-bellied sea snake stays in the water at all times.

Is It Possible to Outrun a Snake?

While most snakes move at a slower pace there are some snakes that move at a high speed. The fastest speed a snake can attain is 18mph, while the average human joggers move at 8mph. Most snakes might be able to maintain a speed of 8mph but only for shorter distances. On the other hand, humans have the endurance to run at a faster speed for a longer distance. So, it might be possible to outrun most species of the snake but it is better to avoid this risk and one should simply step back and move away slowly when a snake comes in sight.

Final Thoughts

Snakes are deadly creatures and even looking at them can give you shivers. They are very fast when it comes to their speed. Most snakes have a speed of 5mph but the fastest snake has a speed of 18mph. The speed of snakes depends on their species, size, muscles, scales, and environment. The top three fastest snakes in the world are the sidewinder, the black mamba, and the black racer.

Humans are considered to be faster than most snakes except for these three. Snakes are rather shy and would avoid humans which is a good thing so if you come across a snake in the forest or in a desert try to avoid it by simply stepping back slowly and moving away from them.

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