If you’ve kept snakes for any amount of time you’ve very likely been bit at some point by one of them. Many times there is a simple explanation as to why a snake is biting the hand that feeds it:
- Handling a rodent and not washing your hands
- The snake feels threatened
- Your snake misses a feeding strike and gets your hand
- You’re Chewy from SnakeBytes TV and seem to like it
At other times a snake that has been docile and easily handled for years will suddenly and inexplicably start striking at anyone and everyone who comes near it. Often this is accompanied with violent displays of hissing, thrashing about the tank, and showing of the inside of the mouth. Personally I’ve dealt with three snake’s that began for no good reason to behave like this. All 3 were ball pythons, considered by many people to be the most docile snake there is. Which just goes to show that no species of snake is immune.
- What makes a snake suddenly become aggressive?
- I’ve never found a solid answer to this question but there seems to be a few factors which come into play:
- The snake is more stressed than it was before:
- It could be due to a simple environmental change. For example maybe you moved the tank into another room and the snake has to deal with more noise and foot traffic. Ask yourself what could be stressing the snake out. One of the ball pythons I mentioned became stressed and began striking when I put in a new washer and dryer. I finally figured out that the vibrations were driving the snake up the wall. After putting down some foam padding to muffle the noise the snake went back to it’s old, calm self. Here are a few examples of things that might stress out your pet snake and make it more prone to biting:
- More foot traffic
- A new pet in the house (other animals often love to harass pet snakes)
- Improperly maintained temperatures and humidity levels
- The snake doesn’t like you:
- Ok, so that’s not really possible as a snake isn’t capable of like or dislike. However there might be something you are doing that agitates it. A corn snake I had at one point would constantly strike at my ex girlfriend any time she tried to get it out. Everyone else could hold the snake all day long and nothing would happen. Finally we figured out that a bracelet she wore would set the snake off. Once we realized that she just took the bracelet off before trying to handle the snake and everything was fine. Strange thing was that anyone else wearing the bracelet had no problems, only her.
Another snake, the second of the three ball pythons I mentioned, would strike at anyone wearing clothes washed in Arm & Hammer laundry detergent. Once I figured that out I switched detergents and the snake stopped being aggressive. From what I could tell it was only triggered by the Arm & Hammer detergent and then only the liquid version. That’s not to say I tested all possible detergents, but I was able to narrow it down and eliminate the problem. If you have a snake that is biting try to pay attention to the little things and see if there’s not something simple that might be causing it to react in a defensive manner.
- The snake is ill or injured
- Just like a person, or any other living creature when a snake isn’t feeling well it can get grumpy. Before you assume that the snake is just being a “jerk” check to make sure it isn’t hurting. Even though they can’t vocalize a snake still has nerves and still feels pain. A friend of mine had a Rat Snake that suddenly became an absolute terror. Turned out to be a piece of substrate had been lodged into the roof of its mouth. Once the vet got it out and the snake had 2 weeks of being left alone it went back to normal. If your snake starts to strike at everyone around it check to make sure that there isn’t an injury or illness. If need be don’t hesitate to get a vet involved.
- What if the snake won’t go back to being “nice”?
- It ultimately comes down to the snake, and yourself. It can be a tough decision but remember your own health and safety has to take priority. A small snake, such as a ball python can draw blood, and cause some pain but for the average adult they pose very little health risk. On the other hand a Boa Constrictor could easily kill a full grown adult male if things get too far out of hand. You’ll need to evaluate a few things in deciding what to do with a snake that has become aggressive and won’t stop:
- Can you handle it on your own?
- Are you putting yourself or anyone else at risk?
- Is someone more experienced more appropriate to own the snake? I don’t generally recommend passing your problems on to others but sometimes someone with more knowledge will be able to handle a biting snake better
- If the snake were to strike someone aside from you what kind of liability is involved. A snake that is a classroom pet could become a problem if parents start hearing it is biting their kids
There are other questions you can ask but that should give you an example.
Have you had to deal with any pet snakes which have suddenly and for no obvious reason begun biting and striking at people? How did you end up having to handle the situation?