Guess What? Snakes Have "Best Friends" Too!

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A team of Canadian researchers found that garter snakes form strong friendships with their peers (Credit: Oregon State University / CC BY-SA-2.0/ Creativecommons.org)

Given their reputation as solitary creatures that come together only to mate and hibernate, the notion of snakes hanging out in groups with their "best friends" may sound a little far-fetched. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from Canada's Wilfrid Laurier University asserts that the reptiles not only actively seek out socialization with their peers, but are also extremely particular about who they spend time with.

For the study, the team led by Ph.D. student Morgan Skinner and associate professor Dr. Noam Miller, selected 40 specimens of non-venomous garter snakes. Ten were from a single litter purchased from a snake breeder, while the remaining were captured from the wild. After marking each specimen with a speck of nontoxic color to allow for easy identification, the researchers placed ten snakes inside each of the four plastic shelters contained within a tabletop enclosure.

Skinner photographed each snake group twice a day before removing them from their shelters. After cleaning the areas thoroughly to rid them of any familiar smells, the reptiles were rearranged into different groups and returned to the enclosure. A camera mounted over the shelters allowed the scientists to capture the animals' movements every five seconds, 12 hours a day, for a total of eight days.

Garter snakes are harmless to humans, making them popular pets (Credit: Steve Jurvetson/ CC BY -SA-2.0 Creativecommons.org)

When Skinner and Miller analyzed the images, they found that regardless of where they were placed, the snakes always slithered back to their original "friends," forming groups of three or eight inside the small shelters. "They have sophisticated social cognition," Miller told National Geographic. "They can tell others apart."

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, are not sure why the snakes seek out friendships. However, they believe the animals would not waste their energy forming bonds unless it were beneficial to them. Miller hypothesizes that the tendency for snake friends to curl up with one another probably helps retain moisture and heat in the wild. Being in groups may also help keep predators at bay.

Gordon Burghardt, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tennessee, who was not involved in the research, says, "[The study] should help convince people that snakes aren't all cryptic loners, but have more social intelligence and a larger social repertoire than most of us realize."

Garter snakes eat anything they can overpower including frogs (see above), lizards, and rodents (Credit: Cjottawa /CC BY-SA-3.0/creativecommons.org )

Miller believes the research could help with reptile conservation efforts. Endangered snake species relocated to safer habitats often leave these areas, jeopardizing efforts to save them. Now, conservationists may be able to avoid that by transferring entire snake cohorts to the new location. Alternatively, they could also spray the new habitat with the species' scents to make transplants feel at "home."

Garter snakes are not the only reptiles that display human-like social behavior. Previous studies have found that male and female cottonmouth snakes often forage together for long periods of time, while rattlesnakes set up communal dens to look after each other's babies!

Resources: Nationalgeographic.com, livescience.com, sciencemag.org

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295 Comments
  • cham3137
    cham3137Wednesday, September 16, 2020 at 10:36 am
    I LOVE SNAKES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want one UwU
    • jomiwowu-156993535441
      jomiwowu-156993535441Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 4:49 pm
      snakes are so cool i alwase wanted a snake skin
      • snakelover
        snakeloverMonday, September 14, 2020 at 5:58 pm
        I have some! (from my snake)
      • simpsons2010
        simpsons2010Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 5:05 pm
        wow wow
        • fobosuku-159906689821
          fobosuku-159906689821Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 12:24 pm
          wow
          • seajay
            seajayTuesday, September 1, 2020 at 1:11 pm
            That is awesome i did not know snakes can have friends.
            • jamleonard
              jamleonardThursday, August 27, 2020 at 9:17 pm
              That is cool that snakes can have friends. 😀
              • jafyzoli-159853811216
                jafyzoli-159853811216Thursday, August 27, 2020 at 9:22 am
                i want a snack but my moms frst fer is a snack so i cant get one i will one day tho :)
                • starpup
                  starpupWednesday, August 19, 2020 at 2:49 pm
                  I wish I could have a pet snake!!!! THEY'RE SO COOL P.S - Not all snakes are poisonous
                  • danzeli12
                    danzeli12Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 12:12 pm
                    I think snakes are cool...but no venomous ones for me!!!
                    • danzeli12
                      danzeli12Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 12:13 pm
                      Besides, I’m pretty sure snakes CANNOT be trained!!!
                      • snakelover
                        snakeloverMonday, September 14, 2020 at 5:59 pm
                        My snake isnt!
                        • starpup
                          starpupWednesday, August 26, 2020 at 2:00 pm
                          Unless your a snake charmer
                          • starpup
                            starpupWednesday, August 26, 2020 at 2:00 pm
                            True
                      • anum
                        anumWednesday, August 19, 2020 at 7:46 am
                        i dont like snakes
                        • kitten1111lol
                          kitten1111lolTuesday, August 18, 2020 at 11:10 am
                          if you get bitten by a snake before i hope you did not get poisioned.