In Microgravity, Some Snakes Tie Themselves in Knots, Others Attack Themselves

Some animals just don’t know how to deal when gravity goes away

Photo: Mark Johnson/Westend61/Corbis

A surprisingly high number of animals have been subjected to zero gravity, either in space or during flights of so-called "vomit comets," planes that engage in stomach-turning parabolic flights that provide the people (or creatures) aboard with a few moments of weightlessness.  

As io9 explains, animals react differently when gravity's constraints are suddenly removed. Tree frogs, for example, assume a nosedive position. Caecilians, tropical amphibians that resemble worms, go limp, more or less playing dead. Cats assume they're falling, so they'll roll over, and over, and over--they'll just keeping rolling, trying in vain to right themselves. 

Here are some frogs bouncing around space, along with a few tadpoles: 


Snakes, however, are a particularly interesting case, io9 continues. They tend to have one of two reactions: either they attack themselves, or they coil themselves into a tight knot-like bunch. Both of these reactions, researchers think, are responses to the same problem.

In microgravity, snakes lose their sense of proprioception, or the awareness of one's body parts in relation to one another. Once the gravity wheels come off the wagon, snakes no longer seem to know their own bodies from any other physical obstacle they're bouncing up against. They might perceive that obstacle as an enemy, or, if they think it's another snake, they might try to bunch up alongside it, a common reaction in stressed groups of snakes, io9 explains. 

Here, you can see one such victimized snake. It's not attacking itself, but rather relaxing by bunching together, likely in the false assumption that it has found soothing snake buddies to commiserate with:

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