Snakes are one of nature's most fantastic creatures. They play such an important part in our ecosystems, and they’re very much misunderstood. Many people think of snakes as aggressive predators who will strike at any moment. The truth is very far from this and understanding their behaviour is key to success.
For instance, a snake will generally stay hidden from humans. To a snake, humans are predators to them. They will only strike at a human if there is no other choice and they feel threatened. In most cases, snakes will either stay hidden or run away, even large snakes would rather run away.
In this article, we will look at snake behaviours and how you can read them to better understand snakes. So if you want to know how to read snake body language, read on.
Snakes can be relatively calm around humans when they don’t feel threatened. There are numerous signs of when a snake is relaxed. For one, a snake’s movement is often slower, and more casual when it is relaxed. They will often flick their tongue out slowly at a regular intervals, this is to sense what is around them as they pick up the smells in the environment.
In addition, a snake will generally look around and stay still. If it does want to move, it is less likely to sidewind or serpentine out of the four-movement styles they typically use., Instead, relaxed snakes are more likely to use concertina or rectilinear. Though don’t just look at the method of movement to determine whether a snake is relaxed as the surface and snake species can determine what method of travel a snake is using.
Another sign is that stimuli are approached in calm, slow movements
It could be suggested that a relaxed snake is not in a hurry to do anything.
Snakes can show significant stress with their movements and behaviours. A snake that is frantic and moving around a lot is in a level of stress. Some snakes will also hiss and show some signs of aggression to the person that has disturbed them.
A snake that is moving away fast is not necessarily stressed however. These snakes are normally just trying to find a safe place to hide. They might be relatively calm. However, if they are moving in the serpentine method, it is likely that they are stressed and trying to get away. The serpentine movement is the fastest mode of travel for snakes and is often used in panic mode by all species.
Some other species will have specialised ways of displaying stress. For instance, many snakes in Australia will adopt a fast, jerky movement. This is an attempt to frighten you and display that they can be a threat. Or the snake may raise their head and open their mouth, hissing at what is scaring them. This movement is supposed to have the same effect.
Others might try to play dead. Some will lie on their back with their mouth open. This attempt is to try to fool you that they aren’t anything to worry about and not a good meal. When whatever has stressed them out moves on, they will quickly escape.
Another sign to be wary of is rapid tongue flicking. This behaviour displays that the snake is unsure of the environment or a stimuli and trying to determine whether it is a friend or foe.
Snakes that are overly stressed have very specific behaviours that you need to be careful of. Many snakes that are showing signs of severe stress will strike at stimuli regularly. They might not bite you or the animal that they’re trying to frighten, they might do a mock strike where they just head but you.
Another option is that they might shake or vibrate their tail. Or they can move in a way that rubs their scales together. In some species of snakes this makes a noise that is there to intimidate you.
Finally, a snake may try to escape at high speeds from the area. Again, this is normally serpentine movement as this is one of the fastest methods of travel for a snake.
Snakes are an excellent group of animals that play an important part in our ecosystems. They deserve our respect and admiration. When you see a snake that is calm, it will display slow movements and curiosity with the world around it. When a snake is panicked by something in the environment, its behaviour will be more erratic. If you see a stressed snake, it is best to leave it alone, as this is when snakes are more likely to strike.
All snakes have body language which can be easy to read. Snake behaviour is relatively easy to read as long as you look for certain movements and the speed that they are reacting to your or the environment.
The three key aspects to reading a snake’s behaviour is to look at its movement, look at its speed and look at its intention. A snake that is calm and casually moving about is relaxed and not bothered by anything nearby.
A raised head in a snake is not very specific to calm, angry or scared. A raised head could be because something has interested it that is higher than it and it wants to investigate more. Or it could be that the snake is scared and trying to look bigger. It is other movements and behaviours that you need to look for to determine the intentions of the snake.
Snakes generally show anger by hissing or showing you their fangs by opening their mouth. These behaviours are there to terrify you and display aggression. Generally speaking, these behaviours are a last resort, as a snake is more likely to run away and hide.
A curled tail often shows that a snake is calm and relaxed, but it depends on other behaviours. For instance, if a snake is hissing, then the snake is stressed. And if the snake hides its head under the tail, it can mean the snake sees you as a threat and is trying to protect itself. Therefore, it is a mix of behaviours you’re looking for to determine the intentions and mood of the snake.
A snake flicking its tongue is investigating the environment. It uses its tongue to taste the air and detect odours in the world. The speed of the tongue flicking determines their mood. A fast tongue flick normally determines some level of anxiety in the snake.