Pet Snakes – General Information

Our scaly, legless friends are probably the most unfairly treated, and most morbidly loathed creatures on earth. From the 2,200-plus species of reptiles that exist, only 20% of those are poisonous. People have an instinctive fear of reptiles leading back for thousands of years. Maybe it began like an instinct for survival, when there was no manner of knowing if a snake was venomous or merely harmless. In another case, the scriptures have encouraged us to be afraid of reptiles for a very alternative reason. Other people obviously don’t understand them, reasoning that they are slimy, nasty creatures.

The first thing to realize about a snake is that any harmless snake will strike out at you for 3 circumstances. First, if you smell like something it can eat. If you have in the recent past handled warm-blooded animals, such as mice, guinea pigs, even kittens, the reptile could smell the odor on your skin and mistake you for an animal that could be it can eat. Second case, if the snake feels you are a hunter that could eat it. In particular when moving your hand down towards a snake, the snake can misinterpret you for another animal trying to harm it. Third case, and the most probable reason non-venomous snakes bite, is just because they are nervous. If it’s a choice between striking at you (the huge giant animal that entered it’s territory) or running away as quickly as it can slither, it will almost always running away every time. However, if the snake feels trapped into a corner, or finding itself to hide, it will try to bite you, more as a danger signal to leave it alone than to actually do any harm.

Reptiles that are non-venomous are usually very safe to handle, especially pet snakes or reptiles that are habituated to human handling. Even most kinds of wild snakes that are not poisonous are quite able to be picked up without fear of being bitten (the exception may be water snakes and other kinds which are naturally aggressive). When you do try to pick up a snake, try to move leisurely, and slide your fingers under the belly of the snake near it’s tail area. If you move rapidly, or from over the snake, it may feel you are a predator. After you have actually lifted the reptile and are holding it, don’t hold it by it’s tail, rather support it’s body loosely with your hands (keep a loose but firm grip, don’t squeeze too hard as it may damage the snake), and let the snake explore it’s way around arms and hands. If the reptile feels agitated, or goes into a strike position, it would be prudent to slowly, and carefully replace the snake in it’s box.

You will find that snakes are not nasty or slimy in any way. However if they get frightened, they might poop on you as a way of showing fear. If this happens, be sure to wash the skin thoroughly with soap and hot water, as reptiles can carry salmonella bacteria in their feces. You must also remember that reptiles, while being beautiful and fascinating to behold, simply aren’t the most intelligent animals in the world, and have about the same thinking power as your average goldfish. Remember when you are holding a snake that it possible sees you as a very unusual tree, and doesn’t see you as a human being. Snakes react to their surroundings by instinct rather than thought, and keeping this in mind, being around snakes is a breeze, as well as being fascinating.

So how do you distinguish between harmless and poisonous snakes? There are a few ways to do this, although some species of non-venomous snakes have evolved so that they look like venomous snakes when they become scared. If you are ever even slightly in doubt, don’t go near it! Normally, venomous snakes have a head shaped a bit like a diamond or triangle, in place of a head that looks rounded like most non-venomous snakes have. In addition, the eyes are in the shape of an ellipse like a cat’s eye instead of being round as well. Pit vipers have a trademark hollow between the eye and the mouth. This hollow, a heat-sensing organ, makes it possible for the reptile to precisely launch itself at a warm victim, even if the snake can’t see the animal. Of course rattlesnakes normally have a rattle, however this isn’t always true. Some kinds of rattlesnakes have developed with no rattle! Be sure to take good advice on how to buy a pet snake, and choose a docile species to start with.

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