Snakes display a variety of behaviors when they feel threatened or angry. These behaviors allow them to defend themselves from predators and competitors. Understanding angry snake body language can help people avoid getting bitten. This article explores common angry snake behaviors, why snakes get angry, and how to interpret their body language.
Summary of Main Angry Snake Behaviors
Here is a quick overview of the main things snakes do when angry or feeling threatened:
- Hissing – This loud, forceful exhaling creates an audible warning.
- Striking – Lunging forward to bite with an open mouth.
- Rattle their tails – Rattlesnakes shake their tails to make a warning sound.
- Puff up – Cobras spread their neck flaps to appear larger.
- Muscle tension – The snake’s muscles tighten in preparation to strike.
- Raised head and neck – The head may flatten to appear more triangular.
- Mouth gaping – They open their mouths wide to expose their fangs.
- Lateral undulations – Side-to-side body movements prepare them to strike.
Why Snakes Get Angry
Snakes typically display angry behaviors for the following reasons:
- Feeling threatened – When snakes sense nearby predators or competitors, they go on the defensive.
- Surprised – Snakes often bite when startled by nearby movement or vibrations.
- Protecting resources – They may react to defend their territory, food source, or eggs.
- Self-defense – Frightened snakes will use aggression to drive away perceived threats.
- Maternal instinct – Female snakes can be very aggressive when guarding their eggs or offspring.
Essentially, angry behaviors allow snakes to warn intruders away and defend themselves if necessary. The specific triggers vary between species and situations.
One of the most common angry behaviors is hissing. This involves forcefully exhaling air through the glottis to create a loud, threatening sound. Here’s why and when snakes hiss:
- Creates an auditory warning – The noise alerts predators or intruders to stay away.
- Signals imminent attack – If the threat persists, hissing may precede a strike.
- Shows state of anger – A sustained, intense hiss reflects higher aggression.
- Defensive tactic – Makes the snake seem larger and more dangerous.
- Used against many threats – Snakes will hiss at nearby animals, people, and loud noises.
Not all snake species hiss. Some common hissing snakes include:
- Garter snakes
- Water snakes
- Pit vipers
Striking and Biting
When angry snakes feel directly threatened, they may strike out and bite the intruder. Characteristics of defensive striking and biting include:
- Lightning fast – Snakes can strike faster than the human eye can track.
- Targeted bites – They aim for warm, blood-filled areas like the face and neck.
- Envenomation – Venomous snakes may inject their toxins when biting.
- Multiple strikes – Angry snakes may bite their target more than once.
- Powerful muscles – Their entire body propels them forward when striking.
Snakes strike when they feel cornered with no other options left. Biting allows them to directly attack the threat. Their long, flexible bodies can strike from coiled or elongated postures.
A very recognizable angry behavior is tail rattling by rattlesnakes. Here’s an overview:
- Specialized anatomy – They have keratin segments at the end of their tail that knock together to make noise.
- Distinctive warning – The rattling sound alerts enemies to stay away.
- Triggers rattling – Rattling often signals increased aggression and the possibility of a strike.
- Defensive adaptation – Rattling evolved as a way to warn large herbivores and mammals.
- Innate behavior – Young rattlesnakes can rattle their tails almost immediately after birth.
Rattling serves as an auditory caution signal that’s far-reaching and very difficult to ignore. It likely evolved as a better alternative to striking atStampeding hooves or curious humans.
Cobras and some other snakes exhibit puffing or hooding when angered. This involves:
- Spreading the neck flaps (hood) – To appear larger from head to torso.
- Vertical posture – Raising up higher on their coils.
- Intimidation display – To scare challengers from attacking.
- May precede spitting – Some cobras spit venom as a defense.
- Hissing – Hooding is often accompanied by loud hissing.
Interestingly, king cobras can flare more than twelve inches of neck skin during hooding displays. The spectacle makes them look huge and helps avoid physical confrontation.
Snakes prepare for defensive striking by tightening their muscles. Signs of muscle tension include:
- Coiled posture – The tensed muscles allow sudden lunging.
- Jaw rigidity – They clench their mouths in readiness.
- Stillness – Motionless coiled snakes are often extremely tense.
- Strike readiness – Their neck may draw back slightly to propel the head forward.
- Tight curves – More tight, angular bends show increased tension.
Muscle tension focuses power in their core. This allows explosive responses to launch strikes in any necessary direction. The tenseness is maintained until the threat recedes.
Raised Head and Neck
Elevating the head and neck is another common threat response. Reasons snakes raise up include:
- Increased height – To lift the head higher to survey threats.
- Intimidation – Appearing taller makes the snake more imposing.
- Triangular shape – Flattening the neck creates a wider, more dangerous-looking head.
- Strike preparation – Raises their strike range higher off the ground.
- Alertness – An upright posture allows better threat detection.
The elevated head and neck allows snakes to watch for predators more easily. It also makes them seem bigger and more ready to defend themselves if necessary.
Snakes may gape their mouths open wide when angry. Reasons for mouth gaping include:
- Fang display – Shows the fangs to seem more dangerous.
- Increased strike range – Allows them to bite from farther away.
- Intimidation – An open mouth makes snakes appear much larger.
- Muscle tension – Clenching jaws wide requires significant tension.
- Bite readiness – Gaping gets their mouths ready for rapid biting.
The wide open mouth is both a defensive display and physiologically primes the snake for quick, strong bites at threats approaching too close.
Angry snakes may writhe in side-to-side movements known as lateral undulations. Reasons for this include:
- Intimidation – The writhing looks ominous and dangerous.
- Muscle loosening – Gets the body ready for rapid motions.
- Agitation – Reflects a heightened internal state of anger or fear.
- Defensive readiness – Allows sudden dodging or lunging motions.
- Threat detection – The motion helps sense vibrations nearby.
The lateral undulations signal nervous energy and preparation for defensive maneuvers. The writhing may immediately precede a strike at an encroaching target.
Biting Versus Bluffing
When confronted by an angry snake, it’s helpful to know when their aggression is a bluff versus real intention to bite. Signs a snake is bluffing include:
- Closed mouth – Gaping often signals higher biting intent.
- Hissing only – Lots of noise but no body lunging.
- Head lowered – Less likely to strike from a relaxed posture.
- Mild muscle tension – Less coiled tightness means less readiness.
- Minimal rattle shaking – Weaker, slower rattle isn’t an imminent threat.
- Slow tongue flicking – Snakes taste-check threats before biting.
However, potential strikes shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are signs a snake is poised for a serious bite:
- Silent and still – Quiet snakes are often the most dangerous.
- Coiled and rigid – Tightly packed muscles signal readiness.
- Raised posture – An upright snake can lunge in an instant.
- Intense stare – A fixed gaze shows attack focus.
- Open mouth – Fang exposure means readiness.
- Fast tongue flicking – Rapidly sampling scent for body heat.
Pay close attention to an angry snake’s body language before getting too close. Retreating and giving them space is the safest option.
Bite Risk By Species
Some snakes are more likely than others to bite when angered or threatened. Species known to be aggressive include:
- Black mamba – Highly venomous, known for readiness to attack.
- King cobra – Can be very aggressive, especially when defending a nest.
- Cottonmouth – Often stands its ground instead of fleeing from threats.
- Rattlesnake – May hold its ground and rattle warnings rather than retreating.
- Copperhead – Freezes in place before biting defensively.
- Fer-de-lance – Very fast striker known for nasty bites.
However, any snake species may bite in self-defense if they feel cornered or provoked. The list highlights some notoriously quick defenders.
Venomous Versus Nonvenomous Snakes
Venomous and nonvenomous snakes show similar body language when angry. However, venomous snakes present additional bite risks:
- Potent venom – Toxins rapidly disrupt body systems.
- Injection when biting – Hollow fangs deliver venom deep into tissue.
- Often more dangerous – But any snake is equipped to bite in self-defense.
- Require urgent medical care – Anti-venom can treat venomous bites.
- Higher average lethality – More potential for bites to be critical or fatal.
So extra caution should be used around angry venomous snakes. Bites may be more severe due to the destructive compounds in their venom.
Common Venomous Snakes
Here are some of the most notorious venomous snake species worldwide:
|Eastern Brown Snake||Australia|
|Belcher’s Sea Snake||Indo-Pacific Oceans|
|Black Mamba||Sub-Saharan Africa|
|King Cobra||South/Southeast Asia|
Understanding snake body language allows people to steer clear of bites. Key takeaways include:
- Most bites happen when snakes are startled or feel threatened.
- Hissing, neck-raising, and other behaviors signal rising aggression.
- Muscle tension, fang-gaping, and posture changes show strike preparation.
- Rattling, puffing, and writhing try to intimidate challenging animals.
- Still, quiet snakes poised to strike often give little warning.
- Back away from any snake showing signs of anger or fear.
Being able to distinguish bluff strikes from serious bite intent helps gauge true danger levels. Learning to interpret snake body language promotes safer encounters in the wild.