Snake Myths & Misconceptions

Snakes can't get fat: False 

I've seen people say things like, snakes will only eat as much as can fit in their belly or snakes won't eat when they are not hungry. While that might be the case for some snakes, it is not common. Most snakes in the wild are opportunistic feeders, meaning if food comes along they are going to try and eat it. So in captivity some snakes don’t know when to stop, because they still don’t understand when they will get their next meal. Snakes don’t have the ability to understand they don’t have to worry about food, and no longer have to hunt. A lot of snakes are ambush predators, this means they hide laying in wait for food to come by. There are a few snake species that actively hunt, examples would be, corn snakes, rat snakes, milk and king snakes and a lot of your venomous species like the African Boomslang, and Cobra. Because these species are active hunters, and generally more active all around they are not as prone to obesity. The issue of obesity is most seen in commonly kept pythons and boas. Snakes like the ball python, and reticulated python are very prone to obesity. We as keepers tend to forget that in the wild a ball python would not be eating a large dutch hooded rat (a species that originated from Europe), nor would they be eating that weekly. If they are lucky they might eat every week in the wild or less, and are more active that they are in captivity. Imagine if all you had to do was sit on your sofa and someone would deliver your meals on a schedule, chances are you would be fat too! Something known as “power feeding” is a big problem as well. It’s where someone tries to grow their snake faster by offering larger and more frequent meals. The problem is there are long term health effects when feeding in this way. I’ve seen a number of snakes die young from fatty liver disease or other health complications due to obesity. Do as much research as you can on your species of snake and find out what is the appropriately sized meal. If you find your snake is becoming fat, cut back on the number of meals and size of prey. Snakes have a very slow metabolism, so feeding less often will not hurt the animal if they are in good health.


Pet Snake Myths

A few pet snake myths that I hear over and over again.

Feeding live prey will make my snake more aggressive: False

First understand snakes are not aggressive but can be defensive if scared or stressed. In the wild snakes are not more "aggressive" because they are feeding on live prey, they are simply more defensive because well, they are WILD animals. A feral cat is not going to be like your sweet house cat, and this has nothing to do with the animal‘a diet. Snakes are predators plain and simple, they are nature's natural rodent control (and for some species other snakes & reptiles). Changing an animal’s diet from live prey to frozen thawed prey would not make a difference in the instincts of a predator like a snake. If your snake is being defensive take a look at what might be causing it stress. 


Carpet Pythons (or anything other than ball pythons & corn snakes) are mean: False

This goes back to the statement above, snakes are not mean or aggressive, but defensive. Baby carpet pythons get a bad reputation for being more bitty than other species of pythons. There is a simple reason for this, carpet python hatchlings are small, much smaller than ball python hatchlings. So if a big scary thing comes along and picks you up, and your only way to defend yourself is to bite, then you're going to bite. Learn to read your snakes body language. Is the snake hissing, puffing up, coiled? If so chances are the snake is scarred. 

I hear this a lot, and people seam to think anything other than ball pythons are mean or aggressive. There is a simple reason for this, and it comes down to size of hatchlings. The smaller the hatchling the more likely it is to be defensive until it becomes larger. 


You can tame snakes: True, well mostly

Working with snakes to get them over their fear of handling is a real thing. Working with a snake daily can get the snake to no longer see you as a treat. Why I say this is mostly true is that some wild snakes will always be just that, wild animals. It's always going to be easier to tame a captive bred animal rather than a wild caught animal. Remember snake work off of instincts, so wild animals will sometimes stay wild. But at the same time if you put in the effort to work with an animal, even wild ones can become tame.  

Snake Repellents: Myths

Do store bought snake repellents work? NO

I'm sure you've seen them at every garden center. A number of products like Snake Away & other packaged snake repellents. Most of these products contain sulfur or naphthalene (moth balls) and a host of other, inert ingredients. The bottles will be covered in appealing lettering, and images and promises about how the product will repel snakes. Unfortunately, none of these remedies work. Studies have shown snakes are not bothered by these smells & have been seen crawling right over them. They can cause more harm than good if a family pet or child gets into them. So best to ditch the store bought over priced repellents. 

Do moth balls work?: NO

Again like store bought repellents, moth balls do not effect snakes. They can be toxic if a family pet or child gets ahold of them, so it's best not to risk it.

Are there plants that repel snakes? NO

I've read a few people claim some plants like lemongrass & marigolds repel snakes. I can say that there is no proof that snakes would be bothered at all by these plants. It's true marigolds do repel some mammals like cats, so it's possible they repel rodents, and in by that you might see fewer snakes. But I have found no information on if rodents are bothered by marigolds. I've grown both of these plants in the past & have seen snakes right where these plants where.  

How do I repel snakes then?

If you want to "get rid" of snakes on your property, you need to look first at why the snakes are there. Do you have a rodent problem? Lots of tall grass & brush piles? Cleaning up your property is the only real way to have any kind of control over the snake population. Snakes are there looking for food. So by removing the rodents, normally the snakes will move on. Keep grass cut short, clean up brush pills & keep animal food in rodent proof containers.  If you have livestock like chickens make sure your coop is snake proof. 

Snake idenfication myths

You can tell if a snake is venomous by the shape of the head: FALSE

This is 100% false. I'm sure you've heard that a snake with a diamond shaped head is always venomous.  There are a number of non-venomous snakes that when frighten and being defensive can flatten their heads to give a more "diamond shaped" look. Water snakes, rat snakes & hog nose are just a few of the snake that when frighten will flatten their heads.


This is a good example of a harmless water snake trying to look more intermediating by flattening his head.  

On the other end of this myth is the very venomous coral snake which does not have a diamond shaped head at all. 

You can tell if a snake is venomous by the eyes: FALSE (partly)

Again I hear this one a lot. While in part it is true that in the US most venomous snakes have elliptical pupils (like a cat's eye) and most none-venpmous snakes have round pupils. But the coral snake again is venomous with round pupils. This saying also does not hold true at all for venomus snakes in other countries, with some of the most venomous snakes like the King Cobra and Green Mambas having round pupils. Best not too get closed enough to look. 


The old rhyme: "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow, red touch black friend to Jack" is away to tell if it's a coral snake: FALSE (partly)

I'm sure we've all head at least some version of this rhyme. Sometimes it goes: "Red And Yellow, Will Kill A Fellow. Red And Black, Venom Lack"

It was original away to tell North American coral snakes from Kingsnakes, more than likely meant for the South Eastern US. While this rhyme can hold true in some states like TX, LA & MS, the problem is if you travel to the Western US many ground snakes like the Sonoran Shovel-nosed Snake (Sonora palarostris) has red touching yellow. 

These beautiful snakes can be found in AZ and are not venomous. The other problem with this rhyme is that you run into some corals snakes where the bands of yellow are very thin, or kingsnakes where the black bands are very thin, and red appears to touch yellow. Also some coral snakes can be very dark, and vary in color. I've seen some coral snakes where the red has become so dark with age you can't really tell what's black & what's red anymore.

So how can I tell a none-venomous  snake from a venomous  one?

Bottom line, leave the snake alone when you see it. If the snake needs to be moved call an expert, and have the expert identify the snake. Otherwise why worry about what kind of snake it is. Admire it from afar & leave it alone. In the rare case of an emergency (you or someone has been bitten by a snake that you think might be venomous) again call an expert. Local zoo, or parks and wildlife services will normally have a list of people that work with snakes. Take a picture with your phone and send it to them. 


More snake myths

Pet snake myths:

Ball pythons will just go off fed, it's normal. 

This is a hard one, because in part it's true and part it's false. Breeding males will sometimes stop eating during breeding season, and most females will stop eating once gravid. But this is not always the case. Baby snakes should not go off feeding, and normally it's due to a husbandry or health issue. But at the same time in the wild no snake is easting every 7 days on a schedule. In the wild snakes are opportunistic feeders, this means they eat when they find food, or are hungry. Some snakes would eat every day if you let them, some might need more time to digest a larger meal. If a snake skips a meal or two and your husbandry is correct, the snake is health & not loosing weight don't freak out. Again in the wild they are not eating like clockwork every 7 days. You should only worry if the snake starts to loose weight. Once a snake gets to 600 grams change to every 2 weeks, and again if it skips a meal, don't freak out & try again. Ball pythons can get stressed easily so any change (new bedding, hide box, etc) might cause them to skip a meal. 

My snake will only eat live, only eat a brown mouse, only eat ____

Again it's a hard one. Somethings like scent can make a difference to a snake. Color on the other hand, would not. Size, scent and temperature are a factor. If you're trying frozen thawed rodents make sure it's getting warm enough. The body temperature of a rat is 102F so you need to measure the temps and be somewhere within that range. Some snakes don't care and will eat anything, but if your snake is refusing frozen thawed it's normally because it's too cold. Some snakes do have a preference in food, things that are closer to what they would eat in the wild. African soft fur rats are an example and the native food to the ball python. 

Common snake myths:

Snake bites are horrible: False

Unless you're working with venomous snakes, most snake bites are mild. The exception to this would be very large snakes, or a few of the arboreal species that have larger teeth. The bite from a dog or cat is much worse than the bite from a snake. Snakes have very small teeth used for gripping prey not tearing, so they only leave small dots behind. They do bleed a lot because snakes have an anticoagulant in their salavia, so some snake bites might appear worse than they really are. Always wash a bite thourally, and use an antiseptic if you're prone to infection. Very few people have reactions to nonvenomous snake bites, and if swelling accrues make sure there are no teeth left in the skin. The teeth are small & sometimes break off, this is why you should always wash the bite. 


Common Myths About Snakes

I wanted to start this page about common myths surrounding snakes. Some of these myths I'll go over will be about snakes, snake care and reptiles in general. Please follow along as I'll be updating this page often!

Wild Snake Myths & Just General "Old Wives Tails" 

Snakes will hunt or "chase" you down. False
This is 100% false. Most snakes are ambush predators and wait in hiding for their prey. While a scared or provoked snake might move toward you, it is likely trying to escape or defend it's self.  Snakes have limited eyesight and when a large animal (like a human) comes at them they are going to get freaked out. Simply leaving the snake alone and it will move on. If you're worry called animal control and they can send someone to remove the snake.

Snakes size up their owner to eat them! False
Again this is one of those things I hear a lot and it's 100% false. Snakes are opportunistic feeders yes and eat food that's offered to them in captivity. But humans do not make up any species of snakes natural diet in the wild. Snakes hunt by scent, and if it doesn't smell like food they don't eat it. Unless you have been rolling around with rodents, I don't think your snake wants to eat you. They lack the intelligence to "size up their prey" they would not understand a unit of measurement, and don't know to wait until they grow larger to then eat that item. Snakes in captivity and in the wild tend to try to eat things that are too large for them (ever seen a snake puke up a meal that was too big? Yeah it's gross) The old store that some lady slept with her python until one day it stopped eating & was told it was because it was "sizing her up" to eat her next has been going around for years. I think I first heard this story in the 90's & I have no idea where it originated. There is zero proof in this story, zero record of who this woman actually was, or where the original story even came from. The snake most likely stopped eating because it was old, or sick. The store normally says that she let the snake sleep in her bed for years. So how old was this snake? How big was this snake? And for anyone that has ever owned snakes, you know they don't hold still, so how was this snake even staying put in the bed with her every night for years? Nothing about this story has ever added up.

Snakes can't hear or see: False
While snakes don't have the best hearing it's been proven they do hear, just not higher pitched sounds like we do. They can also pickup on vibrations that we can't. They also see colors, but lack binocular vision. So they see just fine but it's limited to more of what's to their sides and close by. Most snakes have heat sensing pits that allow them to see heat as well.

Pet snake myths:

Moving to Feed: False
Not sure where this started but it was mostly likely a pet store trying to sell people extra cages. So you had to buy the enclosure for your snake & then an extra smaller "feeding cage".

The myth goes that if you feed a snake in it's enclosure if will be more aggressive. This is 100% false. Moving you snake to feed only adds stress to the snake. Most snakes are ambush predators and wait in one spot for their food. If you move them into a different area you've just broken that instinct to ambush their food, causing a lot of snakes to not eat. You also run the risk of the snake regurgitating once you move it back into the enclosure.
If you're worried about impaction (swallowing bedding) place the food on a small plastic lid or plate of some kind. If a little bedding gets in your snakes mouth they normally can get it out on their own, and swallowing a small amount of bedding won't hurt your snake. Babies tend to be the worst with this, which is why I keep them on paper towels for the first year of their life.

If you are worried about a bite from your snake when opening the enclosure get a snake hook. It's very easy to hook train a snake, and I recommend everyone do it. If you snake has a strong feeding response than the hook is the way to go. Simply open the enclosure tap the snake with the hook on the nose, or let the snake bump against the hook, then pick them up with the hook. This "turns off" the feeding response and lets the snake know that it's not time for food but time to come out of the enclosure. If you have a snake like a reticulated python hook training is a great thing to start when they are little. Retics have a very strong feeding response. And always make sure you've washed your hands before handling your snake so you don't smell like possible food.