Are Pet Snakes Dangerous?
You’ve got just moved into your new home when you notice that one of your neighbors has a pet snake. It’s hanging out on their porch and it looks friendly enough at least from far away. Plus, the neighbor assures you, “Snakes aren’t dangerous.” Great!
Now, what happens if you have a young child who wants to play with it? Or maybe you want to keep your pets after learning they might be potentially harmful? What should you know about pet snakes before taking them home?
First things first, there are two types of snakes that people can own legally in most states: venom-producing serpents (like cottonmouths) and nonvenomous-producing species like corn snakes and garter snakes. Nonvenom-producing snakes don’t produce any kind of toxin, but some will bite you if you try to handle them without proper training.
In those cases, it may seem as though they pose a threat, but many people actually find these wild animals to be fairly docile and easy to manage. As for pet snakes, most families get them because they’re cute, colorful, and seemingly harmless creatures. The American Society of Reptiles even says that owning a pet snake makes sense since they require little maintenance, loves being handled, and comes in a variety of colors and sizes.
But while pet snakes can make great additions to your household, they can also be quite unpredictable. One snake owner told us she once found her beloved pet had escaped and was hiding behind an air conditioning unit in the house. She freaked out and called animal control, but luckily no further harm came of it.
Other owners report having snakes munching on their ankles while they sleep, or worse yet, eating their dogs or cats. So how can you tell which snakes are safe to own? And are there snakes that shouldn’t ever be kept as pets? Let’s start by looking at what signs to look for in a potential danger zone.
What Are Some Signs of Danger in a Snake?
Although snakes generally tend to be peaceful creatures, there are several indicators that you might want to consider keeping them under wraps until you get more experience handling them. For example, if you see your pet snake slither across the floor or climb up onto your bed, that could mean it’s trying to escape.
Many experts say that you should never pick up a snake that tries to flee. Instead, wait until the snake calms down and then grab it gently by its tail, making sure to avoid touching any scales directly. If you decide to take matters into your own hands and handle a snake that’s already loose, here are other warning signs to watch for:
? Coiling around objects
? Scaling walls or fences
? Flailing tails
? Eating other snakes
The best way to determine whether or not your snake is poisonous is to contact a veterinarian, who can perform a series of tests to identify the type of snake. Another option is to ask a local wildlife expert or naturalist. These professionals often work with reptiles and amphibians and can spot potential threats earlier than anyone else.
How Do You Know If Your Snake Is Harmless?
So you’ve decided to give your pet snake a chance, but now you need to figure out exactly which snake you brought home. How can you tell if your snake is harmless? First off, you’ll probably want to check with your vet. He or she can help you narrow down which species of snake you have and offer advice on how to treat it.
A good rule of thumb is to use common sense. If the snake seems too big for its surroundings, acts aggressively toward humans, and doesn’t shed its skin, chances are it’s a venom producer. Also, if you see scales coming off a snake’s body, that means it’s shedding its skin, which is normal behavior.
According to the ASPCA, the following snakes are considered venom producers and should be treated as such:
? Ball Pythons
? Burmese Pythons
? King Cobras
? Milk Snakes
? Night Owls
? Rat Snails
? Rock Diamondbacks
? Rock Snakes
? Sea Kraits
? Tree Boas
? Venomous fish including coral snakes, sea kraits, brown water dragons, and copperheads
Nonvenomous snakes include milk snakes, garter snakes, ball pythons, boas, vine snakes, and corn snakes. Most of these animals won’t hurt you unless you approach them roughly or try to catch them. However, there are still plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t handle them. For instance, if you’re bitten by a venomous reptile, you could end up losing a finger or limb.
One thing you should keep in mind is that different species of snakes have varying levels of toxicity. For example, although corkscrew vipers are deadly, most cobra bites aren’t fatal. On top of that, some snakes don’t release enough poison to harm someone, while others release too much.
When Should I Keep My Pets Alive After They’re Discovered to Be Dangerous?
Sometimes people are surprised when their pet snake turns out to be a danger to themselves or another animal. This isn’t always the case, however. Sometimes animal control officers show up at a residence unexpectedly and discover a snake that’s been injured and left untreated.
In general, if you suspect that your snake might be dangerous, you should immediately call your local animal control authority. Since the agency likely deals with this issue regularly, they can quickly assess whether the snake poses a threat to the public or not. In extreme cases where the snake might attack someone, the ASPCA recommends contacting a doctor or emergency room right away.
Another important consideration is that snakes are coldblooded, meaning they only care about maintaining their body temperature. Thus, they sometimes become aggressive during hot weather, especially if they feel trapped by something. When temperatures spike outside, you should ensure your snake is able to access shade and stay cool.
Hedgehogs Aren’t All That Scary
While we were researching our article on snakes, we heard from reader Kim, who lives in Florida. Her boyfriend recently bought his first pet snake, a corn snake named Tally. Tally seemed very calm and laid low for the first few weeks, but lately, she’d started getting feisty and biting Kim whenever she tried to touch her. Kim contacted the local animal control office to see what they thought.
Unfortunately, they said Tally was fine, and the couple couldn’t legally get rid of her. We felt bad for Kim, so we reached out to our editor to see if he knew anything about hedgehog snake ownership. Turns out, we weren’t the only ones curious about these fuzzy critters.
“I am going to admit that I did think about calling [the animal control officer] back,” wrote Mark. “After talking with the guy, I realized that he wasn’t really sure himself. He had never seen one behave badly, but didn’t want to risk it.”
Mark went ahead and released Tally into the backyard where she promptly hid in a bush. Soon, the couple returned inside and discovered the hedgehog had climbed up onto the couch and eaten a mouse. Unfazed, Tally continued to roam the house throughout the night, sleeping peacefully atop the TV stand. According to Mark, the next morning she looked nothing like she had the day before.
“She was fat, happy, and full of life. No sign of aggression or fear,” he wrote. “We later learned that she was just pregnant, and had been eating mice all along!”
Since hedgehog snakes are harmless to everyone except birds and lizards, they’re among the easiest snakes to care for. Just remember to provide shelter and lots of food, and you should be okay.
A lot of snake enthusiasts believe that the real reason why people buy and keep snakes is for companionship. They claim that snakes are actually pretty social and interact with each other through vocalizations and movements. Although some scientists disagree, the idea of snakes as family members caught on with the wider population.
Today, there are plenty of books, television shows, and movies set in snake-filled worlds. As long as you learn everything you can about a particular snake before bringing it into your home, you’ll be able to enjoy watching them wriggle around freely.