7 Top Reasons Keepers Get Bit by Their Snakes

As experienced keepers know, even a docile snake with an even temperament can potentially bite them. The reasons why normally placid snakes bite their keepers include stress, improper handling, food response mistakes, the onset of disease, post-shedding, post-gestation and catching them off guard.

1. Stress

Stress is the number one reason why snakes bite. Besides some colubrids ability to musk, nonvenomous snakes have no other defense except to bite. After all, snakes have no limbs or claws. I empathize with them, it’s not easy being a snake.

7 top reasons keepers get bit by their snakes | Snake Hacks
A defensive Texas rat snake.

I should also add that some extremely large constrictors have been known to squeeze perceived threats such as humans. Again, we’re talking very large snakes which most people are unable to keep because of federal bans. Kingsnakes, rat snakes and other constricting colubrids won’t constrict a human as a defensive measure.

Snakes placed in a high-traffic room or lacking a hide box in their enclosure may become stressed. This can lead to other problems like feeding issues and poor shedding. It’s important to make sure your snake isn’t stressed.

When bringing a new snake home, allow it a week to acclimate before excessive handling. Also, allow forty-eight hours to pass before handling after a meal. Always feed your snake appropriately sized rodents and other prey items. Ways of reducing stress are easy and vital to successful husbandry.

2. Accidental food response

The second most common reasons why keepers get bit by normally docile snakes is due to an accidental food response. I’ve taken plenty of food response bites over the years. The biggest problem with these bites is when the snake won’t let go of your finger or hand.

Snake feeding hacks
Using forceps prevents accidental food response bites.

Food response bites occur under different circumstances. Taking the following tips into consideration limits nasty food response bites. 

Don’t smell like snake food

Smelling like a mouse, rat, or rabbit is never a good idea when attempting to handle your pet snake. Wash your hands with soap and wait until they’re dry before you attempt to pick up your snake.

Snakes depend on their sense of smell to decide when food is near. If your hand smells like a gerbil, there’s a good chance you’re going to get nailed. It’s simply common sense.

Always feed snakes from hemostats or forceps

Never hand-feed a snake. if you do, you’re setting them up for a poor habit, eventually getting yourself bit. Hand-feeding is not looked upon as favorable among most herpetoculturists. Over time, the snake is likely to recognize your hand with feeding time.

To discourage this behavior, always feed your snakes from hemostats or forceps. This way, they associate these tools with feeding, but more importantly, your hand will be out of biting range. These days I use forceps. I choose using hemostats over forceps when feeding large boas and pythons. 

If your snake bites and won’t let go

In some feeding response bites, the snake may not let go of your hand easily. Over the years, I’ve had this happen with a northern pine snake, a Children’s python and a Florida kingsnake. It’s not fun and I couldn’t imagine the terror of having this happen with a large Burmese or reticulated python.

To get a snake to release, dab rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and place it on the snake’s nose. It should release immediately.

Some try placing the snake underwater, but it’s much less effective in getting the snake to release its bite. Never pull the snake off your hand with force. It will leave some of its teeth in your flesh. The snake also gets hurt. Unless it’s a matter of life and death, a true herpetoculturist always prioritizes the health and well-being of the snake.

3. Improper handling

Improper or excessive handling can lead to a snakebite. Learn how to read your snake. Know when it’s time to go home. Snakes often give signs when they had enough handling for the day.

Improper handling includes situations of showing off with the specimen and other kinds of horseplay.

You must also hold a snake with confidence. If you’re nervous, the snake picks up on it and becomes nervous too. Remember that a snake is not a toy, treat it with respect. Many accidental bites occur by way of foolish activity that is easily avoidable.

A defensive northern pine snake
A defensive northern pine snake.

4. Before, during and after the snake sheds

Many snakes get nervous when they shed. From the time their eyes glaze over white until they finally lose their skin, you’ll have a more temperamental snake than you’re used to. From the very first sign, a shed is imminent, the snake is blind.

While this only lasts a few days, the snake is still cranky, even after the shed is complete. Simply leave it alone during this time and don’t attempt to feed it. Certain snakes regurgitate if fed during a shed cycle. Many snakes don’t bite during this time, but it’s still a common reason for an accidental snakebite.

5. During and soon after the gestation period

Leave mamma snakes alone during pregnancy and right after they drop their load, whether it be eggs or live young. As one would imagine, this is a very stressful time for them. Certain snakes, like many python species, guard and defend their eggs. Once separated from the clutch, they usually go back to their old selves after a few days.

6. Catching the snake off guard

Sometimes mistakes just happen. Snakes lack ears so they can’t hear. While they sense vibrations, snakes sometimes find themselves unaware of your immediate presence resulting in an accidental snake bite. There are ways around this.

When opening the enclosure of the snake, stick a roll of paper towels, or something similar in first. This allows the snake more time to figure out what’s going on. If it decides to strike, it’ll hit the roll of soft paper towels, harming neither of you. It’s always good practice to allow the snake to see you before you attempt to pick it up.

7. The onset of disease

The onset of disease causes normally docile snakes to get defensive. While a mite infestation is a great example, other diseases such as mouth rot make snakes unhappy. At this point, who can blame them for getting nippy? Recognize the problem and find a way to solve it.

Never “punish”, or take any kind of retaliation on your snake for biting you. The snake doesn’t understand the reason behind such tactics and it only worsens the situation. 99% of the time, humans are to blame for snake bites anyway, so why punish the snake for your own mistake?

Conclusion

Getting bit by your pet snake isn’t fun, but it is often avoidable. Following my seven steps greatly reduces your chances of getting bit.

Remember, I’m talking non-venomous species in this article only. Also remember that if you do attain a snakebite, it’s not the snake’s fault. Never take disciplinary actions against a snake for biting you. Ultimately, it’s the keeper’s fault, not the snakes.

Do you have any snakebite prevention advice? Please let us know in the comments section below.

7 Top Reasons Keepers Get Bit by Their Snakes

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