The Hoop snake is a mythical creature from the United States and Canada that looks like a regular snake, but has the ability to grab its tail in its mouth and roll like a wheel at high speeds. It hunts by chasing people in hoop-mode, getting close, and then rapidly straightening itself out and stabbing their victims with their poisoned tail.

If you look at the descriptions of the hoop snake, it is said that it forms its wheel to chase prey and travels like a normal snake when running away from things. Unlike the wheel spider, the hoop snake doesn't seem to rely on gravity to roll around. It can form its wheel and accelerate from a standstill.

Here are two points that should be considered about this arrangement:

  1. How does it get into its circular position?
  2. How does it actually move itself forward in hoop-mode (aside from just rolling down a really big hill)?

I have seen clips of snakes flipping themselves over when playing dead, but that kind of side to side movement wouldn't really translate into forward locomotion. Unless there is another method of movement that I'm just not thinking of.

  • $\begingroup$ Should migrate to scifi.stackexchange.com? $\endgroup$ – Secret Nov 4 '17 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Secret No it shouldn't, OP isn't asking about how the physiology of the hoop snake is explained in already existing stories, they're asking how it could be explained at all. This is a perfectly valid worldbuilding question. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Nov 4 '17 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ So I can imagine you can tell their personalities from the way they roll, on its back, belly or the trending, mobius strip... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 4 '17 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ without any spoke to support, your snake will have a hard time to maintain that wheel shape when rolling.. maybe some kind of interlock bones or scales? $\endgroup$ – Thỏ Già Nov 4 '17 at 16:19

Snakebots roll.

snakebot rolling up a hill https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghOZWTrc9_s

The video does not show the snakebot rolling down a hill, in traditional hoopsnake fashion. Here it is actually rolling up the hill. It does roll along the level and surprisingly can roll uphill pretty well. Essentially it is like a tank tread. Rolling is much faster than the inchworm-like movement this snakebot can also do, but the worm is better if there are obstacles. I am not sure how these 2 locomotion styles would matchup to the side to side typical snake motion or the very cool (and probably hard to reproduce with a bot) sidewinder style locomotion.

I think to roll downhill a more circular hoop would be better and I think control would suffer at speed. I had thought I saw a video of a snakebot rolling downhill but I could not find it. Probably dreamed it.


There are good reasons why no snake actually tried the stunt, but it's theoretically possible.

The secret is to have a small head start when arching over to grab the tail.

Of course, a perfectly round wheel won't be able to accelerate in any direction, but nothing prevents the snake from partly flattening its body.

What I propose is:

  • snake points tail in direction of the target
  • snake arches over to grab tail.
  • body is still largely flat on ground, possibly waving to maintain balance.
  • snake begins stiffening muscles in upper body starting a caterpillar movement.
  • movement is maintained by a wave-like stiffening moving from head to tail.
  • with higher speed stiffening is maintained longer, resulting in a rounder shape.
  • top speed would be with a shape resembling a D pointing forward; contact with ground would signal where to relax, just to begin stiffening right afterwards.

Of course, such an arrangement would have problems with prey tracking; I would suggest having the snake roll over it's back (belly in the inside of the loop) to have a glimpse when the head is in the highest position and then close the eyes before they hit the ground.

  • $\begingroup$ Another option for the eyes would be having chameleon-like bulging eyes so the snake can see past its back while chasing the prey. $\endgroup$ – HAEM Nov 4 '17 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @HeikkiMäenpää: predators usually need frontal view to get stereoscopic measurement of distance. Prey animals , OTOH, try to cover as much of solid angle as possible (lateral eyes are the norm). $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Nov 4 '17 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @ZioByte Bulging eyes can achieve stereoscopic vision just fine - as chameleons nicely demonstrate. The only issue remaining would be image stabilization - and bird heads demonstrate this ability already. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 29 '18 at 12:31

I'm going to go for a slightly different tack - maybe it doesn't actually grab its tail in its mouth, but uses timing to sort of cartwheel around.

A long time ago (in computer years) there was an experiment in genetic algorithms to see what kinds of creatures evolved in a computer simulation of evolution. One of those that evolved was the "End over End Worm" and it's similar enough that it might work for you!

Here's a video of it rolling

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    $\begingroup$ This is beautiful! $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 29 '18 at 12:28

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