Snakes are a fantastic family of animals. While they are often characterised as slow-moving and sneaky, snakes can be fast. In this article, we look at the fastest snakes in the world.
The Different Types of Speed for a Snake
One of the reasons why snakes are often portrayed as being slow is that the vast majority of snakes are ambush predators. Constantly moving fast would go against their main hunting tactic. But that doesn’t mean that snakes can’t be fast.
Some species have learned to chase down some prey, or they use speed as a way to evade predators. And speed isn’t just about how fast a snake moves across the ground. Some snakes have a speedy strike of venom.
And this is important for the snake. A slow-moving strike can mean the snake never catches its prey. Likewise, a slow-acting venom allows the prey item to run away and the snake will have to find it again, or go hungry as scavengers get there first.
So in this list of the world’s fastest snakes, we won’t just look at what is the fastest moving snake, but also the fastest strike and other aspects.
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
The Black Mamba is one of the fastest snakes in the world and is the fastest snake in Africa. What makes this snake particularly dangerous for its speed is that it is known to chase down humans who get too close, as well as actively chase prey.
The snake is large, getting to lengths of 14 feet (over four metres), and is highly venomous. Therefore, it has few predators and little fear.
The Black Mamba, which gets its name from the colour inside the mouth, likes to live in a wide range of habitats from grasslands to forests. It sprints between locations and can move between trees in the canopy by using a dipping motion that is not utilised by any other species.
Luckily for humans, we’re not a good prey item. They prefer to eat small rodents like squirrels and mice. So bites on a human are defensive, often when the human has got too close or accidentally disturbed the species while it is resting or hiding.
Common Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)
The Common Death Adder from Australia has one of the fastest strikes in the world. Their strike is just 100 milliseconds. For humans, they can move about two inches in that time, which isn’t fast enough to avoid a strike from the Common Death Adder.
The Common Death Adder is a highly toxic, venomous species in Australia with the ability to blend perfectly into its habitat. If left untreated, half of those who are bitten by this species will die. Luckily, this species is also relatively intelligent, about half of bites are dry, meaning that there is no venom.
Many species will deliver a dry bite to a non-prey item because they only want to deter items they can’t eat. A bite is painful enough to deter most would-be predators. And using venom on something it can’t eat makes it tough for the snake to hunt, as it can’t instantly replace the venom.
Common Death Adders can be found across much of Eastern and Southern Australia.
Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus)
Most of the fastest species are venomous. Why is not completely understood. However, this is the fastest non-venomous snake. The Southern Black Racer is a subspecies of the Eastern Racer (Coluber constrictor) and the species can travel up to 10 miles per hour.
As a constrictor, you would typically assume that it is a slow-moving snake. However, it is one of the fastest because of its general temperament. It is a small species, most individuals never get larger than 140 cm, though most are much smaller than this.
The species is also known to be ‘ambitious’.
Most constrictors tend to wrap their bodies around the prey item. Most people assume this is to suffocate the prey item, but instead research in 2015 found that constricting snakes actually stop the blood flowing in the prey’s body causing a heart attack – which is a quicker way to subdue prey.
However, the Southern Black Racer is different. Instead of coiling around them, they chase prey items and then pin them against the ground or a tree to kill them. They also use their speed to get away from their many predators, though they are known to ferociously defend themselves, strangling owls in some cases, when attacked.
Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake (Hydrophis platurus)
The Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake is the fastest swimming snake in the world. It can be found in all tropical oceanic waters, except for the Atlantic Ocean, where there are no sea snakes at all. The speed of the sea snake is just 2.5 miles per hour, which makes it very slow compared to many of the species you will find on land, regardless of whether it makes it on the list or not.
What makes this snake different is that it has adapted to live its entire life in water and the snake has no known predators in the deeper waters it prefers to live in.
These are highly venomous species with some fantastic adaptations for living in the sea. They’ve learnt how to filter salt from the water around them. They are also great at seeking out and chasing their fish prey.
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
The King Cobra is one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. It is known as the longest venomous snake in the world. It is also considered one of the fastest-killing snakes in the world, able to kill a human in as little as 8 minutes, though it can take up to 30 minutes.
The King Cobra is a snake that has few predators as most do not have resistance to the venom. The only exception is the Mongoose (Herpestidae) which will fight and kill King Cobra. Though it is important to note that the Mongoose isn’t immune, it just has resistance.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
The fastest-striking snake speed in America is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, which can strike at a speed of 2.95 metres per second. The ambush predator is highly venomous and can reach a distance of more than six feet in less than a second, and it can reach up to two-thirds of its entire body length in a single strike.
When the snake has bitten a prey item, which can be as large as a rabbit, the snake will let the prey item to leave the area but will follow to eat when it has been incapacitated.
The snake does have a rattle to warn of predators.
Texas Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri)
It was commonly believed that all the fastest striking snakes in the world were venomous or vipers, but that is not the case. The Texas Rat snake can strike at 2.67 metres per second, making it only fractionally slower than the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake above.
The Texas Rat snake is one of the fastest strikers and prey on rodents in their native range. They’re also a species that is finding its way into the exotic pet hobby, being a species that is easy to keep and tolerates human interaction.
Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)
The world’s fastest-moving snake might surprise many. The snake can travel at a speed of up to 18 miles per hour. What is interesting about this snake is that it has a unique movement process because its natural habitat, the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, don't allow for the typical grip and traction available to other snakes.
The snake moves by simultaneously keeping two body parts on the ground while the head thrusts forward. Therefore, they can skip across the sandy substrate quickly. The snake has a unique ability of not needing to push forward, something that can lower the speed of other snakes.
Final Word: What is the Fastest Moving Snake
The fastest-moving snake in the world depends on what you’re measuring and the environment it is in. Some snakes are striking their prey faster than others but move slowly across the ground. Others offer high speeds in water, but can’t move on land. Others can move fast on the sand, but could barely move in the trees. Above is a rundown of all the fastest-moving snakes in the world, and what their speed means. With this variability, it is imperative to protect yourselves and your loved ones.