Monday, March 14, 2016

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Snakes are highly efficient predators. They are stealthy, they are fast and some of them are even packing lethal venom. It is hard to imagine that such skilled hunters would need defense mechanisms, but obviously they do. No animal on Earth is exempt from becoming prey. Snakes may be preyed upon by predatory birds, other snakes, small mammals and more. Lucky for them, most snake species have evolved with instinctual defensive behaviors and/or physical attributes that aid in their defense. Here are just a few of the more common ways that snakes can defend themselves.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Warnings

When a member of some species of snakes is startled by something that it feels may be a threat, it may attempt to scare the creature off by giving it a warning. The most well known of these snake warnings is the rattle. Rattlesnakes will use their rattle as a way of saying “If you get close, I’m going to bite you.” This can be effective against animals that know the sound comes from a very dangerous snake. Other ways that snakes may warn potential predators are to hiss, puff themselves up so they look larger or to open their mouths wide as if to strike.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Balling

A very popular snake to keep as a pet is known as the Ball Python. This snake is thus named because of its habit of wrapping its body around its head when it is threatened. This is called balling. They are not the only snakes that do this to protect their head from damage, but they are the only species that are nicknamed for it.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Tail Loss

There are at least three species of snakes that are capable of ridding themselves of their tails. They do this when a predator has them by the tail. This way, the more important half of their body can escape to safety while their attacker munches on their tail.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Play Dead

There are several species of snakes that will pretend they are dead when confronted by a predator. Some will roll over on their back and let their mouth hang open. Others will go one step further by giving off a nasty scent that mimics the smell of decomposition. However, this isn’t very effective when they meet with a predator that doesn’t mind eating a dead snake.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Camouflage

Snakes can camouflage themselves in many ways. This is a great defense mechanism because it makes it very difficult for a predator to spot them. Some snakes can blend into their surroundings really well by hiding in leaf litter or holding very still so they look like a branch or a vine.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Venom

Now, most venomous snakes rarely resort to using their venom as a defense. They prefer to use their venom to kill prey. Nonetheless, they will not hesitate when need be. Spitting cobras (which don’t actually ‘spit’) spray their perceived threat with venom strictly as a warning. They never use their ‘venom spit’ to kill prey. Of course, a venomous snake without this ability will bite if they have to. They don’t want to, but they will, with the exception of a scant few highly aggressive venomous snake species. They do want to bite you and will if you get close enough.

So you see, snakes are not only very good at causing the rest of the animal kingdom to go on the defensive, they are actually quite good at playing defense themselves. Remember, if you see a snake displaying any of these behaviors, they are threatened by you. The best thing you can do is to leave them alone and walk away. They’ll eventually calm down and go about their business. Also, if you will be walking outdoors, know the snake species in the area, if possible. Some snakes are very territorial–not many, but some. The best defense against the smaller species of this category is high boots.


Chris Mattison, Snake, p. 26-29, DK Publishing, INC. 1999

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