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You Think Vipers Are The Fastest Strikers? Think Again!

March 18, 2016



You think snakes of the viper family are the fastest strikers on the planet? Well think again because while they are some of the fastest snakes to strike the common rat snake is just as fast and in some cases, faster. 

rattlesnake strike

david penning

The vipers were often slower than the rat snakes.

David Penning, a researcher who studies functional morphology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was trying to determine how the size of a snake determines the capability for it to strike successfully when he clocked a Texas rat snake and noted that it struck with a similar speed to that of a venomous viper, according to the Los Angeles Times. Unconvinced by the notion that a rat snake can strike faster than a rattlesnake, Penning and his colleagues ran the test multiple times and began to question the long held belief that vipers were the fastest snakes to strike. 

Texas Rat Snake

david penning

In most instances of the study, the Texas rat snake struck the target at a much faster speed than the venomous cottonmouth and rattlesnakes.

With that finding, Penning and his colleagues set out to test the reflexes of 14 Texas rat snacks, six western cottonmouth vipers and 12 western diamondback rattlesnakes, vipers native to the United States. 

Penning and his fellow researchers filmed the snakes striking at a moving glove stuffed with paper towels or foam and found that the rat snake struck not only just as fast as the venomous snakes, but in many cases faster than the vipers.

rattlesnake strikes

david penning

The rattlesnakes strike with amazing speed, but they aren't always the fastest strikers.

They clocked the rat snake’s acceleration toward their target at 190 meters per second squared, or 19Gs, while the rate at which the cottonmouth and rattlesnakes hit their target were an average speed 173 meters per second squared and 169 meters per second squared respectively. The fastest snake of the 32 snakes tested was in fact a rattlesnake, which clocked a time of 28Gs, but a rat snake was close behind at 27Gs. 

Rat snake strikes

david penning

Rat snakes were measured to be faster strikers on average in this study by the Univeristy of Louisiana.


The notion that vipers are fast is just that, a notion. There is no reason why they are though to be faster given that both rat snakes and rattlesnakes are generally after the same prey items, and use similar methods to capture that prey. 

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