Belly Up: Why Do Some Snakes Have Elaborate Belly Patterns?
Plain or patterned bellies can help snakes avoid predators.
Snakes aren’t in the habit of standing upright. That thought prompted Dave Patrington to ask Saturday’s Weird Animal Question of the Week via Facebook: "Why do so many snakes have pattern and color on their bellies?" If you’re a ground-hugging reptile, isn’t that a waste of ornamentation?
The eye-catching checkerboard belly of the corn snake is a good example of this body décor-—it resembles an ear of maize, which is likely what inspired the snake’s name.
But, “patterns are not very common on snake bellies," says Kate Jackson of Whitman College in Washington State. Instead, the reptiles typically display solid colors that are paler or brighter than their topsides.
This contrast is called countershading, a type of camouflage that