Defense Mechanisms and Warnings

Carpet Python

Snakes are more often than not viewed as aggressive, but I’m here to say perhaps we should look at it in a different light and see it as defensive, instead.

Snakes, in most cases, are smaller than us, first of all. Anything bigger than them are viewed as predators that could pose a threat to them, they are merely going about a defensive tactic for their own best interest. Their first instinct is not always to harm us or kill us, either. These slithering reptiles have several methods of warning us, before actually inflicting any kind of damage.

1. Hissing.

Red Tailed Boa

Yes, this isn’t an act of being mean, but actually an act of kindness. Snakes have no vocal cords, and can give no other “verbal” indication that they are actually present. That scary hiss you hear is actually them giving you a kind warning to let you know they are there if you hadn’t seen before, or to let you know you are overstepping a boundary. If you ignore this warning though, you might consequently suffer a bite.

I’ve received a message like this from Dusty when he was going through a shed. During shedding they experience massive discomfort and he was letting me know he didn’t want excessive handling at the time. The only time I worked with him then was doing cleaning, and he never bit me, as I respected his discomfort.

2. The Rattle.

Mojave Rattlesnake

Another common sign to tread with caution is the tail rattle, made famous by the rattlesnake, the sound that accompanies it making it all the more intimidating, often repelling predators. Though, not just these rattling creatures do it, but also, quite often, other snakes as well. Not all snakes settle for a “verbal” warning as discussed before, but prefer a little booty shake, you just need to be willing to watch their body language. Rattlesnakes create a well known and characteristic sound with their rattle, but not all snakes come with a built-in marocca, so they go for mimicry.

3. Oral Display


This may sound strange, but, in times of fear or a potential deadly situation, certain species will open their mouths, displaying the interior thereof. Examples include the black mamba, showing its inky-black mouth as a sign of its power, a well known trait which usually works, animals as well as humans taking head of its message. The cotton mouth has the same method of defence, tilting its head upwards, showing its soft, white-looking, gummy interior, a sign to remove yourself from their path before things get ugly. Not only used as a warning amongst the deadly but a defensive tactic among the harmless. The Common egg Eater has the same dark mouth as that of the mamba, using it as a false ID to predators to stay away, a facade of sorts.

4. Warning Bites

Yes, you read correctly, there is such a thing. For the venomous sort, it takes energy as well as protein and nutrients from the serpent to continuously make venom, so they try to save it for feeding purposes unless necessary. Snakes can therefore give what is called dry bites, a bite meant to scare you away and have it be known that they will defend themselves if necessary. Non-venomous snakes will also give warning strikes, and can be recognized easily by the fact that they quickly strike, but do not latch themselves to you, they are just asking you to leave.

5. Playing Dead

Eastern Hognose

That’s right folks, unlike a puppy, you don’t need to teach these little critters to do this trick! The little guy most known for this cute, but quite dramatic act is the Hognose snake, rolling over, opening his mouth, stick out his tongue and even committed enough to give off a foul odder by musking, pretending its rotting. Done by more harmless species, this is done as a form of protection so they are not noticed nor harmed.

The point I was trying to make is that these scaled creatures aren’t hell bent on human destruction and death, and ultimately actually try to avoid unnecessary conflict with us at all. If you happen to come across one in the wild, it’s not going to approach you and chase you. If you give it leave it be, it will grant you the same. Admire from a distance and you will both end up happy.

23 thoughts on “Defense Mechanisms and Warnings

  1. Excellent write up. they now have single anti-venom that is used for almost all venomous snake bites in the the USA. One exceptions is the Mojave Rattlesnake. It has a complex venom that is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic, whereas, the venom other rattlesnakes, water moccasin, and copperheads are hemotoxic.

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  2. I had a hognose who adopted me on my property for a long time it static’s were fantastic! ( I had to transport her to higher grounds insane people wanted to capture to keep or sell) thanks for sharing, Elisabet.

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  3. Good facts to know; nicely researched and reported, ReptileQueen!

    Ironic, isn’t it, that a snake hisses no to amplify confrontation, but as means of avoiding it?

    When you think of it, all creatures have their own sets of “warning” displays and noises.

    That applies to us too, doesn’t it? Seriously. People have a certain range of gestures and eye movements that shows they’re getting annoyed. Kind of like you are, right now.

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    • Thank you very much! I just want to break the image that they are aggressive and want to to harm us all the time. It just is not so.

      Everything and everyone does, yes, though we come across a bit more obvious than the little serpent in the bushes!

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      • Definitely. Aside from a few gigantic varieties, such as anacondas and some pythons, snakes never view us a “prey,” something to hunt.

        Most unfortunate encounters are the result of people crashing around and stepping on a snake. Worse yet, when people see the snake, they often freak out and abandon logic.

        I don’t exclude myself from their company, unfortunately. When I was twelve, I went to my father’s company picnic, and very nearly stepped on a copperhead sunning itself on the path. Copperheads are nothing compared to some of species you have, but they still are vipers and their venom packs quite a punch (though short of what you demonstrated at Mykonos).

        It was all so sudden, I didn’t have time to think, and instinct asserted itself I jumped I the opposite direction, probably breaking a world record if I had cared to measure. Meanwhile, the snake hissed to warn me I was about to plant my foot, then it slithered into the weeds while I jumped. Quite the cardio workout!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is true though, that people do tend to abandon logic and forget how to react to situations, but that is most probably fear induced. That’s why I try to get information like this out there to try and rid them of their fear.

        Well that reaction was still a good once to have, you got a fright, but instead of reacting with ill intent on the snake, you jumped out the way, trying not to harm it!

        It must have been gorgeous though! Copperheads are quite the site, though I imagine you weren’t admiring it at the time.

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