Angry looking ‘snake’ seen furiously contorting neck, on closer look it is not as it seems

A real head-turner, this peculiar little animal has arrested the attention of the internet. The animal, which was once believed to hold magical powers, is a trickster that camouflages itself as a deadly snake, oftentimes shifting its call from a shrill to a hiss, imitating a forest snake.

Keep reading to learn more about this brilliant little creature!

Folklore shares that the humble-looking Eurasian wryneck was once a mischievous nymph, who was turned into a bird after casting a spell that made Zeus fall in love with a nymph of the river.

Another legend says that the bird, which is a part of the woodpecker family, used to use its magic for love. It was placed on a spinning top by young girls, hoping it would deliver the man of their dreams.

The Eurasian wrynecks won’t cast a spell on you, but their head-spinning behavior is enchanting.

Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) perching on moss.

The bird known for faking being a snake until it makes the threatening predator retreat is a small brown woodpecker native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

When alarmed, they use a genius strategy where they bend and twist their head from side to side, often while hissing, to imitate a snake.

According to National Geographic, the act of impersonating an animal that’s more terrifying than itself, is a form of self-defense.

When handled by a person, its brilliant display might not be so convincing but when it’s spotted in the shadows of a dark tree cavity or foraging through ground foliage, the disguise is sure to trick hungry predators.

Explaining the wryneck’s peculiar behavior, Kenn Kaufman, a bird expert and field editor at Audubon magazine, said, “If you’re a wryneck sitting inside a cavity, writhing around and looking and sounding like a snake is likely to make just about any predator retreat. The more snakelike it looks and sounds, the more effective the defense could be.”

Wrynecks, the black sheep of the woodpecker family, are not into woodworking like their tree-drilling relatives, nor do they hammer out their own homes. These birds have less dagger-like beaks, and when feeding, they use unusually long tongues to suck up bugs from the leafy grounds and dirt.

The birds are also opportunistic, and instead of carving out a brand-new home, they move into ground holes created by other species or tree cavities earlier drilled by other woodpeckers.


While they don’t resemble or behave like your typical backyard woodpecker, wrynecks share some similar features, including a long, flexible neck packed with muscles.

It’s these underlying woodpecker features that make snake mimicry possible, Kaufman says.

“Even though the wrynecks are not digging holes, they’ve got the woodpecker family characteristics, such as really complex vertebrae,” he says. “Since they’re not pounding on trees, they can put those morphological traits to use in other ways, such as by being contortionists and moving their head in every which way.”

Kaufman explained it took thousands of years of evolution to adapt its “accidental” snake-like traits.

“There wasn’t any conscious attempt at the start, like ‘gee, I’ll try to look like this other species. Selection is likely favoring wrynecks becoming more and more snake-like, just like in other cases of mimicry.”

Other impersonators in the animal kingdom include the hawkmoth caterpillar, which imitates a snake head; the mimic octopus, which, like its name suggests mimics deadly sea creatures like snakes and a venomous lionfish, and burrowing owls, that are known to produce a long, hissing noise.


The elusive wrynecks are hard to spot, they’re well-camouflaged, and though they are not an endangered species, the population is in decline.  

Grayish brown with a shrill-like cry, the wryneck’s scientific name, Jynx torquilla (from the Latin torqueo, “to twist”) represents its mischievous past and its head-turning talent of twisting its neck.

If you enjoyed this read, you might also like the story of angry ‘snakes’ being spotted in a tree just for everyone to realize how wrong they were upon closer inspection.


Nature really is a magical thing! The Eurasian Wryneck is a fascinating bird, and it would be so interesting to see one impersonate a snake!

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