Imagine a particular species of snake living in a mountainous region that when provoked or threatened will curve itself into a loop and every muscle in its body will tighten as it rolls down the slope to safety.

Can nature provide a clever design to protect the head so that it won't get a headache or feel like throwing up?

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like the hoop snake of lumberjack lore. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2020 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curl-up? ;) $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jul 13, 2020 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ Did everyone just miss the obvious: It should roll on its belly in stead of on its back? Sure, you could than ask another question about protecting its jaws, but still... $\endgroup$
    – Douwe
    Jul 14, 2020 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Douwe: great idea! but male will do the mobius strip instead ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jul 14, 2020 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ Fun fact: A mobius cylinder (as opposed to a strip) exists, only you need a fourth dimension to make it work. Which would make your snakes somewhat of an Eldritch horror or at least something out of a Clive Barker novel. I'd read that story :D $\endgroup$
    – Douwe
    Jul 14, 2020 at 12:00

3 Answers 3


Why asking worldbuilding when nature has already done it? ;-)

Let me introduce you the armadillo lizard!

The armadillo girdled lizard possesses an uncommon antipredator adaptation, in which it takes its tail in its mouth and rolls into a ball when frightened. In this shape, it is protected from predators by the thick, squarish scales along its back and the spines on its tail. This behavior, which resembles that of the mammalian armadillo, gives it its English common names.

enter image description here

Keeping in mind that we have birds hitting a tree trunk with their head without getting concussions, I think it's surely possible for a rolling lizard to develop tolerance to rolling.

A possible mechanism would be to "clamp" the labyrinth while rolling, so that inner flow cannot occur and thus spatial disorientation is not present once it stops.

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    $\begingroup$ This rolling spider might be of interest. youtu.be/bzAF7WuXhKA $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2020 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ @chasly-reinstateMonica using legs as suspension might be ... difficult ... for a snake. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2020 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @John Dvorak - That's why I didn't suggest it as an answer!!! Just as another example of animal locomotion by rolling. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2020 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can the armadillo still move itself forward in that position? Hedgehogs curl-up too, but AFAIK they don't move after that. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Jul 15, 2020 at 6:24

Instead of a loop, a long enough snake could make a ball and leave its head in the middle, padded by its body. image source

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ So basically, this, courtesy of M.C.Escher. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman minus the human-like feet, spot-on $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak Oh crud, just noticed somebody already referenced that in the chat to the OP. Oh well, this one is higher resolution... $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2020 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman Perhaps the Pedalternorotandomovens Centroculatus Articulosus should have its own answer. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Jul 15, 2020 at 6:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Mast If Trioxidane hadn't gotten there first, I might've, but it's also not quite an answer given that it depends on the creature having legs, unlike snakes. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2020 at 13:33

Helical rolling

Following on from the answer by @L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica

Because snakes are generally longer and slimmer than equivalent weight lizards, the snake has an advantage. It can make more than one coil to make a helix. This has two advantages

(1) the snake can tuck its head and tail into the inside of the spiral (not shown), and bite its tail and still be able to roll

(2) it is less likely to tip over when rolling because of the extra dimension giving stability.

red 22 mins ago

enter image description here


Credit is given to the following discussion https://nnka.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/uroboros-mechanizm-samoregulacji-zycia/

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    $\begingroup$ An escape mechanism where a snake would transform into a slinky and rapidly slink down a slope would be awesome. Not realistic or practical, but awesome. $\endgroup$
    – ptyx
    Jul 14, 2020 at 17:54

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