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Snake Stuns Scientists With Its Extraordinary ‘Lasso’ Climbing Tactic

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  • Brown tree snakes are known for the decimation of forest bird populations in the area. The snakes were also responsible for power outages.
  • In order to keep the birds safe, the researchers used three-foot metal baffles designed to keep the tree snakes from climbing up and reaching the bird boxes.
  • But they were shocked to see the brown snake using its body to form a lasso around the pole, writhing its way up to the box.

When there’s a will, there’s way. This must be the motto of brown tree snakes, an invasive species known for decimating forest bird populations in the island of Guam. In order to climb smooth cylindrical objects such as posts, they wrap their bodies around it like a lasso and climb their way up in this position.

This is what scientists from Colorado State University and the University of Cincinnati have discovered while they are working on a project that aims to protect the nest of Micronesian starlings in Guam. There are only one of only two native species that remain on the island.

Brown tree snakes have been introduced accidentally to the Western Pacific territory during the 1940s and have resulted in the killing of forest bird populations in the area. The snakes were also responsible for power outages.

So in order to keep the birds safe from snakes, raccoons, and other threats, researchers used three-foot metal baffles designed to keep the tree snakes from climbing up and reaching the bird boxes.

But they were shocked to see video surveillance reveal a brown snake that has used its body to form a lasso around the pole (which is cylindrical and eight inches in diameter), writhing its way up to the box.

The scientists have never seen reptiles move the way these snakes do. In order to move, snakes generally use one of four types of locomotion – lateral undulation, rectilinear, concertina, and sidewinding.

The concertina mode is usually used when climbing steep and smooth surfaces, such as pipes and branches. They bend their body sideways to grip the surface in at least two places.

But by using the “lasso” movement, the snake was able to grip in just a single region, “with little bends formed in the loop of the lasso, allowing them to advance slowly upward.”

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Thomas Seibert, co-author of the study from Colorado State University, said that they didn’t expect the brown tree snake to find a way to climb around the baffle.

“Initially, the baffle did work, for the most part. [But after four hours of video footage], “all of a sudden, we saw this snake form what looked like a lasso around the cylinder and wiggle its body up. We watched that part of the video about 15 times. It was a shocker. Nothing I’d ever seen compares to it,” he said.

They researchers added that this is not easy for the snakes to do – the snake slipped often, moved slowly, and breathed heavily. It even stopped to rest.

This explains why these reptiles were able to attack unsuspecting prey and climb power poles that lead to electrical outages.

“Understanding what brown tree snakes can and cannot climb has direct implications for designing barriers to reduce the dispersal and some of the deleterious effects of this highly invasive species,” said co-senior author Bruce Jayne of the University of Cincinnati.

They want to use this discovery to provide better protection for the birds in the area.

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