Whether a snake lives in the wild or not, it's a wild animal and it will need time to adjust to a new environment. Most snakes are used to defend themselves from predators, and you should expect a few defense mechanisms before it gets used to you. However, if you have had your pet snake for a while and all of a sudden, it starts being aggressive, you might wonder where the sudden change of behavior came from. What makes a snake aggressive?
Just because a snake adopts an unusual behavior does not mean it's aggressive. It could be a defense mechanism, a territorial, or a feeding response. Many studies prove that snakes exhibit different moods depending on their environment.
Having been around pet reptiles for a while, I will help you understand why snakes can suddenly change and become aggressive. I will break down the things that make a snake feel threatened and give a few tips on how to handle an aggressive snake.
Why Has My King Snake Become Aggressive?
Hold that thought for a minute and consider that your king snake may not be entirely aggressive but instead trying to adjust to something unusual. Snakes are quite instinctive following years of being regular targets of bigger predators, many of which almost look like humans. Therefore, it would be natural for it to behave defensively whenever it feels unsafe. Here are some situations that might make a snake aggressive.
Some species are naturally territorial, and they will always want their space, especially where other males are concerned. You will probably witness such reptiles fighting all the time, each hoping to cement it's boundaries.
As already noted, snakes are naturally inclined to attack the moment they feel threatened. Since most of their predators approach from the top, picking a snake at the same angle can cause a quick-attack response. They also sense when an incoming animal is tense, so if you are afraid while trying to interact with one, you will cause an unwelcoming reaction.
If a snake is used to bite whenever food is being provided, with time, it will start interpreting that anything coming in is food, thus biting it. This is where many people get it wrong when having snakes as pets. In it's early days, you want to hold and talk to it, almost always. As time goes by, you start neglecting it and only visit it when it's feeding time.
You won't even pick it off the cage but throw in it's food from the top and go about your business. The day you will miss holding it and come back to try and pick it, it will be too late. You have already taught your pet that an open-top means incoming food, so you shouldn't be surprised when it responds accordingly.
How to Tell When a Snake is Aggressive
There are times when a snake is honestly in a bad mood, and it can react aggressively. Some of the signs you should watch out for include:
- Angling its head backwards
- Slow and calculated movements
- Different hissing sounds with the mouth closed or open
- Bluff striking with a closed mouth
- Hiding for too long
- A fast bite or tag striking
However, note that this is different for every species, so it would also help if you further understood how your king snake should behave when uncomfortable, aggressive, or hungry.
What Makes a Snake Feel Threatened?
Just because your snake seems aggressive does not mean it's mad at you. Many reasons could be the cause of this response.
Each snake species has an ideal temperature and enclosure size preference. For example, a ball python will fit nicely in a 40-gallon enclosure with temperatures between 88 to 96 degrees F. A king snake will need a 60-gallon enclosure and 76 to 86 degrees F in temperature. Other Habitat issues include:
- Objects the snake can climb and hide in.
- Enclosure placement
Air irritants can cause a snake to be just as aggressive; therefore, your enclosure placement needs to be well aerated and clean.
It takes time to train a snake, just like having a pet dog. Therefore you should be patient if your king snake is still new to the environment. It needs to adjust to having you as a new host and taking in the new environmental conditions and restrictions.
Snakes will act unusual whenever they are in the process of shedding their skin. They feel uncomfortable and normally want to be left alone. Their eyes will turn cloudy and have a bluish-white color hence the common name, in-blue.
Young snakes shed their skins almost weekly because of their growth process. Older ones will do so a few times a year. Whenever you notice that your king snake is about to start shedding, leave it alone for some days to avoid aggressive responses.
Injury or illness
It is natural for most animals to get irritated when ill or behave aggressively when injured. Aside from abnormal behavior in such cases, look for the following signs:
- Wet sounding breaths or breathing through the mouth
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Eyes, nose, or mouth discharge
- Open wounds
- Loose, damaged, or discolored scales
- Movement issues
If you notice some of these symptoms, call a vet as soon as possible so that they can diagnose and treat your pet.
What Should I Do if My Snake is Aggressive?
Treating aggression in your king snake will highly depend on the primary cause. Therefore I'd insist you know the underlying issue—which can be any of the options listed below, before trying to solve it.
If the source of aggression is a sign of illness or injury, you should get your pet treated. A vet will know what disease the reptile is suffering from and the medicine it needs. Although some wild animals are known to self-treat, some conditions need external assistance.
If it has been a while since you socialized with your king snake, starting to do so regularly might help it get used to human contact again. Remember that such animals will always think of an incoming predator the moment they see a foreign being around, so you should teach your pet how to be comfortable around people.
Hold it for ten to fifteen minutes daily but leave it alone during shedding seasons and after a meal. This should not stop when your pet gets old as it easily picks up an aggressive behavior the moment you neglect it.
Fix any enclosure issues
Once you realize your king snake is not comfortable in its habitat, look for ways to take away the discomfort. Ensure the enclosure is big enough and it has proper basking spots. Provide an ideal hiding spot since snakes love their privacy just as much as other animals do. The more natural its enclosure feels, the better.
Avoid Feeding The Snake Using Your Hand
If your snake bites the moment you reach out and you have not been holding it often, it might be a sign that your snake assumes your hand is food. To stop this from happening, interact with it regularly and not before feeding times, so it does not associate an open enclosure with food.
Try using a hook to remove it from an enclosure, especially if it is not that big. Handling it with clean hands will also help. If your hands smell like food, you shouldn't be surprised if your king snake treats them as such.
How to Calm Down a Snake
Knowing how to behave around a snake will help calm it down. Here are a few pointers that will help ease your snake pet.
Watch your feelings
As mentioned, snakes can detect fear from a distance and will quickly match the energy. If you want your king snake to feel secure around you, you should start by projecting the security yourself. Remaining calm and relaxed makes the snake curious, allowing it to explore around you peacefully.
Moving fast around a snake sends an alarming signal. This can cause it to start being uneasy around you. To handle it properly, lift it slowly from it's enclosure, place it on the ground and let it explore around you at its will. Try not to handle it in the presence of too many people.
Be a patient guide
Snakes will interpret any restrain as a possible attack, so strive to guide and not restrain it. Try to move with its instinct rather than imposing your own. Allow your pet to hold on to you when it wants to rather than at your insistence.
It takes time to understand a snake pet's behavior, especially if you are new to this. The calmer you are, the calmer it will be around you unless other external factors cause it's aggression. Be patient with the reptile and watch for the seasons it requires to be left alone. Ensure it's comfortable in it's enclosure, and you will have fewer issues to worry about. Now that you have some insight on handling an aggressive crawling reptile, you can try and calm down your king snake.