Interested in finding out about the fastest snakes in the world? This article gives an overview of the world’s speediest snakes, split into two categories
- The fastest snakes on the ground, and
- The fastest striking snakes
Snakes, love them or hate them, are one of the most fascinating species around. From the Garden of Eden to The Jungle Book’s Kaa, snakes often feature in stories as mythical, hypnotic, and, let’s face it, negative creatures. The fear factor associated with snakes primarily relates to their ability to kill with just one bite… but also relates to their speed – both on the ground and their strike when attacking prey.
So, just how fast are snakes? Read on below to see the three fastest snakes on the ground, and the three snakes with the fastest strike speed, plus a great video showing just how fast a cottonmouth viper can strike its prey.
Let’s start with the three fastest snakes on the ground:
29 km /18 m per hour
What is the fastest snake in the world? #1 hand down is the sidewinder.
The sidewinder is a venomous pit viper snake that lives in the sandy deserts of the Southwestern USA and Northwestern Mexico, and makes this list of speediest snakes by moving in a unique way. Rather than the standard wavy motion known as lateral undulation, sidewinders repeatedly use their bodies to carve indents in the sand and use the ridges of sand they create to push against, resulting in explosive power.
Sidewinders can be easily identified by the unique horns on the top of their head, used to prevent anything from getting into their eyes whilst submerged in the sand.
2. Black Mamba
19 km /12 m per hour
How fast are black mambas? Growing up to 4 meters long with a slender, agile shape, the fastest black mamba speed is around 19 km per hour in short bursts on open ground. As with the sidewinder, the black mamba uses lateral undulation, moving in an ‘S’ shape and pushing off objects in its path to help gain momentum.
The black mamba is the only snake on this list to live in Africa (the dry bushlands of Eastern Africa), using its speed to catch prey and inject an extremely toxic venom. Often regarded as the fastest snake in the world, it’s actually beaten into second position by the sidewinder.
The combination of speed, venom, and aggressive attitude is what makes the black mamba such a feared snake across Africa – and, indeed, puts it on the list of most dangerous animals in Africa. As with all snakes, mamba will try to avoid confrontation with humans, but if backed into a corner they are more than happy to stand their ground and fight.
3. Southern Black Racer
16 km /10 m per hour
The southern black racer is a non-venomous, constricting snake found in grasslands and rock hills throughout the Eastern USA.
Maxing out at 2 meters in length, the racer is a light-bodied snake which allows them to reach speeds of up to 16 km per hour when hunting prey. Unlike many snakes, the southern black racer is comfortable in water, and can reach high speeds there too.
The fastest striking snakes
What exactly is a snake strike? Simply put, a strike happens when a snake whips its head forwards as part of a lunge, to bite and kill prey. For the fast striking snakes listed below the strike happens faster than the blink of a human eye, as they experience accelerations of up to 30 Gs – that’s 30 times the force of gravity. For comparison, expert fighter pilots generally lose control of their bodies at 8 Gs.
Strike speeds of snakes are measured by their acceleration rates using the measurement of meters per second, squared, or m/s2. When an object accelerates at 1 m/s2 its speed increases by 1 m/s each second.
To understand just how fast different species of snakes can strike, researchers use high-speed cameras. These three snakes below are considered to have the fastest strike speeds of all snakes, though this is an area where continual research keeps turning up surprising results!
1. Cottonmouth Viper
2.98 meters per second squared
Cottonmouth vipers are snakes known by many names – including water moccasin, gaper, trap jaw, water copperhead, swamp lion, river rattler, or by their scientific name Agkistrodon piscivorus, which translates as ‘hooked-tooth fish-eater’.
The snake lives in waters in the Southeastern USA, and although they’re extremely dangerous – one of the most venomous snakes in North America – they only ever strike when feeling provoked. Before striking they often give a warning by bearing their fangs and the white inside of its mouth.
2. Diamondback Rattlesnake
2.95 meters per second squared
Coming in only three hundreds of a second behind the cottonmouth, diamondback rattlesnakes are so quick they can complete a full strike in the time it takes a human to get just halfway through a blink!
Found in the Southern USA and Mexico, diamond rattlesnakes are considered more aggressive than other venomous snake species as they will usually stay and fight as a first resort instead of trying to escape. On the plus side, they use their tail to make a sound to warn predators of their presence, which decreases the chances of coming across one unawares.
3. Texas Rat Snake
2.67 meters per second squared
Texas rat snakes are found in the Southern USA. They don’t release venom but are constrictors who hunt their prey, then strike, bite and constrict.
Until relatively recently it was thought that the fastest striking snakes were all vipers, and non-venomous snakes were in a lower category of speed. However, recent studies have shown that the Texas rat snake speed for striking is not too far behind the cottonmouth viper and diamond rattleback at all.
Watch a cottonmouth viper strike… and 21 cool facts
And that’s your lot for the world’s fastest snakes. Did any surprise you? Or have you met any of these snakes in the wild? Please do share your experiences in the comments section below!
Into fast animals? Check out our article on the fastest land animals in the world.