Erik Agar

Can snakes make friends?

When we think of snakes we have many preconceived ideas of what they are like. We regard them as sly sneaky creatures that stick to themselves mostly because of the sound they make and their slithering action. In reality, snakes are not like this at all. A new study has shown that snakes are social creatures and will form friendships. Read on to learn more about why and how.

The study was conducted by Morgan Skinner from the Canadian Wilfrid Laurier University. The study was made to analyze the personality and social skills of snakes. This particular study focussed on the Eastern Garter Snake a nonvenomous snake that is found in both Canada and Costa-Rica.

The experiment looked at 40 snakes in total – some that were raised in captivity others that were hatched from mothers that had been caught in the wild. The experiment placed ten snakes in a small enclosure. In this enclosure were four houses with space in between. The houses were of a size that required the snakes to group up.

The experiment started by placing snakes randomly in an enclosure, creating groups. The snakes were left in these enclosures for eight days. At this point, the enclosures were cleaned with the snakes removed. When the snakes were put back they were placed in new groupings in random locations. The remarkable study showed that no matter what group they were put in they would return to their original groupings. This shows that the snakes have the built to tell each other apart and form some sort of bond or connection with the first snakes they were with.

The team also found that different snakes exhibited different personality traits. Some snakes were shy and would not leave their enclosure at all. Other shakes were bold and would happily explore the entire space. However once in a group of friends they would all stick together – it trumped their personality peculiarities.

It has forced the research team to ask the question of what is friendship in the wild. The team says it is clear that it is very different from what humans regard as friends and that there must be some reason for these friendships to take place. The bird that sits in the mouth of the crocodile does not do it because they are friends, he does it because he gets food from the mouth of the crocodile. The crocodile allows him to do it because he gets his teeth cleaned. This is a symbiotic relationship, not a true friendship.

Is there some symbiotic relationship between these snakes then? According to the lead researcher, there must be some benefits to these friendships otherwise animals would not pursue them. The belief, in this case, is that the snakes stuck together to retain heat and to defend against attackers. The reason they chose the same snakes as the first time they were grouped together is that they believed they could form some trust. That together with that group of snakes an honest partnership could be struck. However, it makes you wonder why they didn’t simply feel the same about the second group. It suggests there is some lengthy task to go through to establish trust that makes it easier to go back to an old friend instead of making a new one.

Whatever the reason it is clear that snakes are surprising creatures. If you have ever been called a snake before you know no one was being nice when they did it. However, perhaps we can change the snake name from its negative bias to something more positive. Snakes are remarkable creatures and far more intelligent than we give them credit for.