Reptili Guide to Mastering Snake Handling

Welcome to our guide on mastering snake handling. Discover essential tips for safely interacting with these incredible reptiles and gain the confidence to become a skilled snake handler. Dive into the world of serpents and learn the ropes with us.

Reptili Guide to Mastering Snake Handling

Welcome to our guide on mastering snake handling. Whether you're a seasoned snake enthusiast or a beginner looking to explore the fascinating world of these reptiles, you've come to the right place. We'll provide you with valuable insights, tips, and best practices to ensure safe and confident snake handling. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge and skills necessary to build a strong connection with these remarkable creatures while prioritising their welfare and your safety. So, let's slither into the world of snake handling together, and you'll soon discover the beauty and wonder these serpents bring to our lives.


 brown and beige snake


Understanding Snake behaviour

What are the key behaviours of snakes?

Defensive Postures:
Snakes may adopt a primary defensive posture by coiling their bodies into an 'S' shape, indicating their readiness to defend themselves if necessary. This coiled position provides them with the flexibility to lunge forward at potential threats or prey.
Additionally, snakes might resort to tail rattling or hissing when they feel scared or threatened. These actions often precede the main defensive 'S' shape posture.

Feeding Response:
It's important to note that the behaviours mentioned above can also be observed before a snake strikes at its offered prey. Another common behaviour is frequent tongue flicking, which allows the snake to detect and prepare to strike at its prey.

Resting and Basking:
Snakes often spend time resting and basking in warm spots to regulate their body temperature.

Hunting and Feeding:
Snakes are carnivorous and use their keen sense of smell and heat-sensing pits to locate and capture prey. They may strike swiftly to immobilise and consume their prey whole.

Slithering and Climbing:
Snakes are excellent climbers and can move gracefully through a variety of terrains. They use their muscular bodies and scales to navigate and climb trees, rocks, and other surfaces.

Snakes shed their skin periodically to accommodate growth. This process, known as ecdysis, is essential for maintaining a healthy skin and body.

Some snake species are proficient burrowers, digging tunnels in the ground or seeking refuge in pre-existing burrows.

Mating and Reproduction:
During the breeding season, male snakes may engage in courtship behaviours, such as combat or pursuing females. Female snakes lay eggs or give birth to live young, depending on the species.

Hibernation or Brumation:
In colder climates, some snakes hibernate or enter brumation during the winter months to conserve energy and survive colder temperatures.

Exploring and Scouting:
Snakes are curious creatures and may explore their surroundings, especially when searching for food or new shelter.

Signs of Distress:
Signs of distress in snakes may include prolonged periods of gazing upwards, constant movement within their enclosure, and repeatedly bumping into the glass in an attempt to escape.

If you ever notice any unusual behaviour in your snake, it is advisable to seek guidance and assistance from a qualified exotic veterinarian. Your snake's well-being is our top priority.


 person holding brown and black snake


How do snakes communicate?

Snakes employ various methods of communication depending on the situation they encounter. These fascinating creatures utilize the following communication techniques.

Snakes release pheromones that are specific to their species. These chemical signals are often used to mark territory or to attract potential mates. Pheromones are excreted through their skin and can be carried by the breeze, making them airborne. Snakes detect these pheromones by flicking their tongues through the air. The specialised organ in their mouth, known as the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson organ, plays a crucial role in analyzing these scent particles. It helps the snake determine whether the scent is from a potential rival or a potential mate.

Hissing and Vibrations:
Hissing and vibrations are typically employed by snakes as a warning to potential predators. Snakes may audibly hiss by expelling air through their glottis in an attempt to deter would-be threats. Vibrations can also be created by a snake rapidly coiling its body or by vibrating the end of its tail on the ground. These actions not only serve to ward off predators but also communicate to other snakes in the vicinity.

Biting and Aggressive Lunging (Striking):
Biting and aggressive lunging are considered a last resort when other communication methods fail. In many cases, simply lunging or striking is enough to drive away potential threats. Snakes coil their bodies, extending their length, and lunge forward as a warning or aggressive gesture, often mimicking a biting action. While bites are generally quick, they are unlikely to be prolonged unless the snake is capturing prey.

Understanding these communication methods helps us appreciate the complex and intriguing ways in which snakes interact with their environment and one another.


Essential Tools for Safe Handling

What tools do I need for safe snake handling?

When it comes to safely handling a snake, it's important to have the right tools at your disposal. One of the most valuable tools for snake enthusiasts is a Snake Hook. This tool allows you to easily and safely remove the snake from its enclosure for maintenance or vet check-ups. It's essential to choose a sturdy snake hook with an appropriate length to maintain a safe distance between yourself and the snake, especially when handling adult snakes. By holding the tail end of the snake with the hook and keeping its head section away from you, you can manoeuvre the snake effectively with minimal stress.

If your snake requires a vet check-up, consider using a snake bag. These bags are typically made of 100% cotton and feature a drawstring closure to securely contain the snake, preventing any chances of escape. The bag provides a dark and snug environment that helps the snake feel safe and secure, reducing stress. Snake bags also come in handy when conducting enclosure maintenance and you need to temporarily relocate the snake.

For added protection, especially when dealing with a defensive snake, snake gloves are a valuable addition to your handling toolkit. These leather gloves are designed to prevent snake bites from penetrating your skin, ensuring your safety during handling sessions.

Additional Tools below you could add to your tool kit:

Tongs or Forceps:
Long-handled tongs or forceps can be used to offer food to the snake or make adjustments within the enclosure without direct contact.

Safety Glasses:
Safety glasses protect your eyes from accidental strikes or sprays of waste while handling snakes.

Cleaning Supplies:
Keeping your hands and tools clean and disinfected is essential for preventing the spread of disease between snakes.

First Aid Kit:
Always have a first aid kit on hand in case of accidents or bites. It should include items such as antiseptic wipes, bandages, and sterile dressings.

Remember that safety should be the top priority when handling snakes. Always exercise caution and follow established safety guidelines and protocols.


 black and brown snake on brown wood


How do I choose the right handling tools for different snake species?

Selecting the right handling tools for different snake species is essential for safe and effective handling. Here are some considerations:

For Juvenile Snakes:
For smaller snakes, such as juveniles, a smaller snake hook is suitable. Telescopic hooks are particularly useful for this age range because you can extend them as the snake grows.

For Adult Snakes:
Fully grown adult snakes, typically ranging from 4 to 6 feet, require a larger and sturdier hook. This larger hook allows you to maintain a safe distance from the snake's head while easily moving it to another location if necessary.

Snake Gloves:
Using snake gloves is a wise precaution when handling snakes. Some keepers opt to wear a single glove on the hand that touches the snake's body. This approach provides protection in the event of a bite, as this hand is most likely to be targeted. Keeping your snake hook hand glove-free enhances manoeuvrability during handling.

When choosing handling tools, always consider the size and behaviour of the snake species you are working with. Safety should remain the top priority in all handling situations.


Proper Techniques for Handling Snakes

How should I approach a snake for handling?

Properly approaching a snake for handling is essential for both your safety and the snake's comfort. Here's how to do it:

Before attempting to move or pick up your snake, ensure you have your snake hook ready. You may also choose to put on snake gloves if you feel they are necessary.

Check for Alertness:
Look for signs that the snake is awake and alert. A key indicator is the snake's tongue flicking out. If you see this, it means the snake is awake and not sleeping. Snakes won't be frightened if touched when they're awake. If you're unsure, gently nudge or tap the snake's body with the snake hook and allow it a few minutes to fully wake up.

Approaching from the Side:
When the snake is awake, approach it from the side, never from above. Most reptiles may become defensive if approached from above, as this instinctive behaviour is a response to potential predators attacking from above. Approach the snake slowly and steadily from the side, placing the side of the hook under the snake's body. Gently move the snake until you can lift the front end, and then securely hold the tail end. This allows you to safely remove the snake from its enclosure.

Moving to a Safe Area:
Once the snake is out of the enclosure, slowly move to a safe area where you can sit down. You should be able to gently handle the snake with just your hands once you are settled. If you feel anxious, wearing gloves can help both you and the snake feel more at ease.

Important Note:
Never handle a snake immediately after it has eaten. Allow the snake at least 48 hours of rest after a meal before attempting any handling.

What are the correct techniques for supporting a snake's body?

Properly supporting a snake's body is crucial for its comfort and safety during handling. Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Secure Handling Area After safely removing the snake from its enclosure and entering a dedicated handling space, ensure that you are in a controlled environment with minimal distractions.

Step 2: Hand Placement With both hands, gently support the snake's middle body area. Position your hands about a foot or so apart to distribute support evenly. Maintain a firm but gentle grip on the snake, keeping it close to your body. This approach provides maximum comfort for the snake while allowing it to move freely between your hands.

Step 3: Controlled Movement You should be able to guide the snake's movements by gently shifting your hands. If the snake shows a tendency to move upwards towards your neck or face, it's important to stay calm. Corn snakes are known for their climbing behaviour. If you are uncomfortable with the snake moving in that direction, gently redirect its movements elsewhere.


How should I handle venomous snakes, and what additional precautions are needed?

A DWA licence is required to keep any venomous animal in the UK so it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to be near anything venomous.


 Burmese python


Fostering Trust with Your Snake

How to Establish Trust with a Snake Over Time

Building a trusting relationship with your snake is a gradual process that hinges on consistency, repetition, and patience.
Daily tasks like enclosure maintenance, cleaning, and feeding provide opportunities for your snake to become accustomed to your presence, ultimately making handling less stressful.
Handling your snake for short periods, 3 to 4 times a week, will gradually foster trust and allow for brief handling sessions (ideally no longer than 30 minutes).


What should you do if a snake becomes agitated or defensive during handling?

If the snake displays clear signs of discomfort, such as actively trying to evade the snake hook or your hands when initially attempting to remove it from the enclosure, it's best to respect its feelings and try again at a later time. Forcing the snake out when it's agitated can elevate stress levels, posing potential risks to both you and the snake.

Similarly, if you've already taken the snake out and notice it becoming increasingly restless and fidgety, it's a good practice to gently return it to its enclosure. Increased restlessness is a sign that the snake is stressed or anxious. Placing it back into its familiar environment will help it calm down and reduce stress, allowing you to attempt handling on another occasion.


Mastering snake handling requires patience, knowledge, and a deep understanding of these fascinating reptiles. By following the right techniques, using the appropriate tools, and building trust over time, you can create a harmonious relationship with your snake. Remember to prioritise the snake's well-being and comfort throughout the process, and with practice, you'll become a confident and responsible snake handler.


Photo Credits

Sagar Paranjape

Timothy Dykes

George Gymennyi

Sagar Kulkarni

William Warby

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