Small Snakes Can Cartwheel Away From Predators

You’d have to be a much better acrobat than me to escape a predator by cartwheeling.

But the dwarf reed snake’s got the technique down, according to a team of Malaysian and American scientists. The group’s paper, published last week in the journal Biotropica, outlines the gymnastic behavior.

“This rolling motion is a rare escape mechanism which has not been formally documented in detail for any other species of snake or reptile,” the paper says.

“Formally” is the operative word. Videos like the one below show the tiny reptile — endemic to Malaysia, southern Thailand, Singapore, and surrounding islands — performing the movement.

(Yes, the snakes are very small; don’t let the video’s title art fool you.)


According to, the team first spotted a cartwheeling dwarf reed snake by accident in 2019. Climbing a road that leads up one Malaysian mountain, they approached the snake, which promptly curled itself into an upright loop and started rolling downhill. The researchers then caught it and placed it on flat ground, where it repeated the behavior.

They think the tactic helps the snakes — which are nocturnal, and generally reclusive — flee faster from danger, the outlet said. It’s also possible the acrobatics confuse the snakes’ predators, and diffuse scent trails by minimizing bodily contact with the ground.

The team thinks the behavior could indicate a broader behavior pattern among snakes.

“We believe that this behavior may be more widespread in other small snake species, especially members of the subfamily Calamariinae, but the lack of records is probably an artifact of the challenges in detecting and observing these secretive species,” the researchers told

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.