How Do Snakes Swim?

Have you ever seen a snake in a movie swimming and you wonder if it’s real?

Do you wonder if snakes even like water?

If you are looking to research more about snakes and how they behave when they are in the water, you might ask:

How do snakes swim?

Snakes who spend time in the water use lateral, wave-like movements, creating an “S” shape with their bodies while swimming along in lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. These movements start from their head and continue down the length of their bodies, and their tail provides the propulsion moving them forward.

While only some snakes are designated water snakes, almost all snakes can swim if necessary.

Keep reading as we discuss the topic of swimming snakes further.

how do snakes swim

How Do Snakes Swim?

While there are only a handful of snakes researchers call water snakes, the fact is all snakes can swim. 

Some might be better swimmers than others, but they all can swim.

Most snakes do this in the same way.

Snakes move their body from side to side, forming the well known “S” shape as they move.

The movements start from the head and continue down the full length of their bodies.

The tail on the snake provides propulsion, moving them forward through the water.

There are some snakes, like the water moccasin, who are very buoyant.

These snakes float on the water and hold their head up and out of the water. 

Other water snakes, or any other snake going for a swim, will usually swim at the surface of the water or just under it.

And instead of being like the water moccasin with its head up, out of the water, most other snakes keep their heads level with their bodies while swimming. 

There are some snakes which spend most of their time in the water.

These snakes, called sea snakes, can stay underwater for up to an hour and have developed flattened tails, kind of like a paddle.

This adaptation allows them to swim quickly. 

Will Snakes Bite You In The Water?

The idea of swimming with snakes might make you a bit squeamish, and the thought of being bitten is not a pleasant one. 

Snakes may bite when they are in the water, under the surface, or swim on the top.

And it doesn’t matter if the snake is venomous or not; they do and will bite.

What you need to keep in mind is snakes don’t bite you for the joy of biting.

They usually will only bite you if they are feeling threatened or provoked. 

This is the case in or out of the water, with many attacks coming after someone has caused the snake to react. 

In many cases, people who are bitten in the water are fishermen who accidentally step on an unsuspecting snake. 

Do Snakes Drown?

Snakes, like people, use lungs for breathing.

This means if the conditions are right, they would be susceptible to drowning, just like any other animal who relies on their lungs to breathe. 

Even sea snakes (who can hold their breath for a great amount of time underwater), they still need to come up to breathe. 

Sea snakes are often misidentified as eels, but eels are in the fish family and rely on their gills to breathe underwater.

Drownings have even happened to snakes in captivity.

If the water dish is too deep, and the snake cannot escape, there is the chance a pet snake will drown.

Drownings have been known to happen when pet snakes are allowed to swim in the bathtub.

This is why, as an owner, one should always observe the animal when it is in the tub for a soak, and the water level should not be higher than half of their body. 

Why Do Snakes Swim?

As we have touched on, some snakes spend nearly all of their time in the water.

These snakes spend time in the water hunting for their food.

Other snakes though, don’t go into the water to eat.

Instead, they do so to help regulate their body temperatures.

Snakes are cold-blooded animals, which means they rely on external temperatures to perform everyday bodily functions, like eating.

If a snake is too cold, their body will not function properly, and in the case of eating, it won’t be able to digest their latest meal. 

Should the weather get hot, the snake will need a way of cooling down, and sometimes a nice dip in a lake, stream, or river is just the ticket.

Soaking in water also helps loosen the skin as they go through a shedding cycle.

Owners will often take their pet snakes out of the enclosure for a dip in the bathtub for this same reason. 

Swimming comes naturally to all snakes. 

What To Do If You See A Snake While Swimming?

Because all snakes are swimmers, you may come across a wild snake when swimming or participating in other water activities.

It is essential not to provoke or threaten the snake because doing so will cause the snake to defend itself.

If possible, avoid the snake and go about your business.

Sometimes wild snakes have been known to get into people’s swimming pools.

In this case, the best solution is to call your local animal control for assistance.

They will be able to safely remove the animal and relocate it to a better place.

Snakes might have a bad reputation, but they don’t usually go out of their way to attack people.

They defend themselves the only way they know how.

This might be a hiss, or it could be a bite. 


After reading this, we hope you now have a better understanding of how snakes swim.

All snakes can swim and use a side to side motion, using their tails to move forward.

If you are swimming in an area where you know snakes are likely to be, use caution and do your best not to provoke or threaten them.

With some care and a watchful eye, you will likely avoid any encounters with these animals. 

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