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How to Avoid Snake Bites at Feeding Time

How to Avoid Snake Bites at Feeding Time

When it comes to pet snakes, the vast majority of snake bites occur during feeding time. Many of these are the result of improper feeding techniques.

Among reptile geeks like myself, these are often referred to as stupid feeding errors or SFEs. I myself made an SFE several years ago with an otherwise docile rainbow boa, but I haven’t repeated the error since then. Usually, one SFE is all it takes before a snake keeper changes their tactics!

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this. Actually, there are many solutions, but the simplest and most effective way to avoid snake bites at feeding time is to use a snake hook. The word “hook” scares some keepers away from using these products, but in truth they are completely safe.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of the old Jeff Corwin Show or something similar, you’ve probably seen a snake hook in action. Basically, it’s like a golf club with a curved part at the end instead of a driver or putter. You can buy them at reptile shows, order them online from companies like Midwest Tongs, or make your own if you’re crafty.

Another way to avoid bites is to choose a pet snake that has a reputation for being docile and reluctant to strike. Corn snakes fit into this category, as do ball pythons. That’s why those two species are among the most popular snakes in the hobby. A healthy corn snake or ball python is extremely reluctant to bite its owner, and typically will only do so if a stupid feeding error takes place (see definition of SFE above).

A lot of keepers transfer their snakes into a separate tank or “feeding tub” at meal time. The idea is that this prevents the animal from associating the cage door opening with food, thereby reducing the likelihood that the snake will bite its owner by mistake. I personally don’t use this option, but it’s worth consideration.

The key to success here is to “think” like a snake. These animals use sight, scent and (sometimes) temperature to detect their prey. So if, for example, you put your hand into a snake’s cage after handling a rodent, that snake would have three indicators that prey was nearby — it would smell the rodent, detect the body heat from your hand, and see the movement of your hand. These are prime conditions for a stupid feeding error.

The solution I propose is simple and nearly 100% effective. Use a snake hook to initially lift the animal from its cage. Lift it from the mid-body area to provide the proper support. Once you have lifted the snake with the hook, it will realize that it’s going to be handled and not fed. Then you can simply reach in with your hand and handle the snake as normal.