When the time comes to take a snake out of its cage you want to be sure to pick it up properly. In the interest of your own safety and that of the snake there are some things you should not do.
- Do not make sudden movements around the snake
- You want to avoid frightening the snake. If you move to fast around it there’s a chance the snake will become agitated.
- Do not attempt to grab it by the head
- Most snake’s are extremely head shy. They will recoil and try to flee from a hand that is place on its head. If they can’t flee they will likely bite. Even if you do manage to grab the snake by the head it will be writhing and squirming so much that holding it will be next to impossible.
- Do not grab the snake without making your presence known
- Snakes are easily frightened. Before you pick up a snake make sure you let it know you are there. A good way is a combination of sound and touch. First gently tap the cage so it is aware of your presence. Watch for a tongue flick to indicate it senses something. Then gently place your hand on the snake’s body. If you just grab a snake without giving it any warning there’s a good chance it will launch a defensive attack.
- Do not try to pick up an aggressive snake without proper tools
- If you must hold an aggressive snake be sure to use the right tools. Hooks, poles, and tongs can all help you to handle an aggressive snake.
- Do not attempt to hold a snake that is striking at you
- I hesitate to say this as there comes a time that in order to “tame down” an aggressive snake you’ll need to hold it, but you need to use common sense. If the snake is ten foot long and striking at everything to that moves don’t try to pick it up. At least not without the proper equipment. On the other hand if it’s just a neonate which is aggravated and striking just go ahead and pick it up.
- Do not try to pick up a snake over 6 feet without someone else to help you
- One common denominator that most deaths and injuries caused by pet snakes seem to have is that a person tries to handle a large snake over 6 feet in length. The snake gets scared, and begins to constrict, the person panics, the snake constricts more. The outcome is ugly. Obviously the 6 foot rule is for an average size and condition adult. If you’re 8 years old a 4 foot snake could be a challenge.
Now that we’ve gotten the basic safety out of the way let’s discuss how you will actually go about picking up a snake.
- Approaching the snake
- The first thing you need to do is get with in reach of the snake. As mentioned above you don’t want to just suddenly walk up and snatch up the snake. Let it know you are there. A gentle tap to the side of the snake’s tank will alert it that someone is there. You’ll generally see it become active; It’s eyes will move and the tongue will dart. This is a sign that it is “thinking” and not just reacting. Since many snakes are ambush predators you don’t want to risk that they are in “ambush mode” when you go to hold one.
- First contact
- This isn’t the literal first contact you ever have with a particular snake. Use it each time you go to pick the snake up. Gently pat it about midway down the length of it’s body. Don’t try to pat it on the head, and don’t grab at the tail. Predators will often try to grab a snake that way and it will become agitated. Once you’ve made your presence know to the animal then you can move to pick it up.
- Lifting the snake
- Gently slide your hands under the snake about 1/3 of the way down and lift up. As you are lifting slip your other hand under the last 1/4 of the snake to support its weight fully. Most constrictor snakes will instinctively throw coil or two around your wrist and forearm. Don’t try to stop it as that will just stress it out.
If you are dealing with a large, heavy snake you’ll want to have more than one person picking it up. Many pet owners don’t have anyone else available to help them. If that’s the case for you be very careful. A large snake can easily and very quickly overpower even a well conditioned male. Some tips:
- Do not let it coil, even partially around your neck.
- The tail is the weakest point. If it does begin to throw coils unravel from the tail first
- If it is large enough to be able to do so keep it from throwing coils around your chest
- Always have one hand free. In other words make sure that it doesn’t coil around both hands and arms
The idea behind those tips is to make it easier to escape from a large snake. These aren’t a replacement for common sense which includes having more than one person holding the snake.
- Moving the snake
- Once you are holding the snake moving around is fine as long as you are gentle and don’t move too quickly. If you need to transport the animal any amount of distance use a snake bag, a plastic tub, or some other container.
The more you handle a snake the more comfortable both you and the animal will be with the whole experience. It’s important to start when they are young and small and get them used to being held. Aside from a few days after being brought home, when they are shedding and within 48 hours of a meal they should be held on a daily basis. Just 5 to 10 minutes a day is enough.