Constriction is how non-venomous snakes kill their prey in the wild, but a snake may constrict on you when you handle it. This can be unnerving, but there are some really easy ways to stop a snake constricting.
Avoid panicking and take your snake’s tail in your hand. Unwind it from its tail to its head. Alternatively, push your free hand under its tail to loosen it. If this doesn’t work, tickle your snake, spray its mouth with rubbing alcohol or vinegar, or hold its head underwater.
The most common pet snakes pose no threat to a healthy adult. However, snakes do pose a threat to children or the infirm. Learning how to stop a snake constricting is a key part of handling snakes safely.
How to Stop a Snake Constricting
There are several ways to get a snake to stop constricting. Which you use depends on the size of your snake, and whether it has bitten down or not.
Unwinding is sufficient for most instances of constriction involving common snakes. That applies to corn snakes, ball pythons, boa constrictors, and other popular pet snakes.
Why Does My Pet Snake Constrict on Me?
To understand how to stop a snake constricting, you have to understand why it does so in the first place.
Constriction is the method that non-venomous snakes use to kill their prey. Other snakes use venom, but constrictors use brute force. Here’s some information on how tightly pythons can squeeze.
This is where you’ll be familiar with the constriction process. When you feed your snake, it will first bite down onto its prey. Its body will then instantly start to coil. Even if you feed your snake pre-killed prey, it will wrap around its food and squeeze.
This means that the constricting reflex is tied into the biting reflex. So, one way to get your snake to stop constricting is to release its bite, if it has bitten you. At other times, it may constrict you for what seems like no reason.
What may cause your snake to constrict when you’re handling it is that it can feel your heartbeat.
According to National Geographic, snakes have learned to stop constricting only when their prey’s heart stops.
So, if your snake can feel your heartbeat, it may instinctively start constricting. A pet snake will never lose its instinctual behavior.
If your snake is an arboreal snake, there could be another explanation. Arboreal snakes live in trees so they may wrap around your arm without biting to gain their balance. This is slightly different from constriction, but can make a novice owner panic in the same way.
If your snake is wrapped around you, use the methods below to get it loose:
Unwind from the Tail
When a snake constricts on your arm, your first thought is to tug at it to loosen its grip. According to Biological Psychiatry, the panic that a human feels when constricted or suffocated is instinctive.
However, this is ineffective. The snake, which is used to efforts like this from its prey, can wrap harder around you. And if you don’t want your pet snake to see you as a threat, violently pulling at it won’t help.
Instead, you have to unwind the snake from around your arm. You can only do this from its tail, not another part of its body.
Because your snake’s tail is weak compared to its core body, it’s unable to resist what you’re doing. There are 2 ways to do this:
- Take the snake’s tail in your hand and unwind it
- Slide your hand under the tail, moving up its body towards its head
Don’t unwrap your snake by grabbing the snake’s tail and yanking it as hard as you can. You don’t need to do so. Instead, be gentle but insistent. Hold above the base of the tail and unwrap it slowly.
This is especially useful when your snake hasn’t bitten down. A constrictor’s constricting reflex is triggered by biting down into prey. But it can also happen when you’re handling your snake and it’s not feeding.
If your snake hasn’t bitten down yet, then unwinding it from the tail will stop it completely. If your snake has bitten down, then you also need to deal with that with one of the other methods (below).
Tickle Your Snake’s Sides
Your snake may resist you doing this, especially if it’s large and powerful. After all, the snake’s instincts tell it to maintain its constriction at all costs.
Brush your fingers against your snake’s sides, moving from its tail to its body and head. This may not ‘tickle’ your snake as it would tickle you. But it can irritate it and encourage it to move.
If this works with your pet, it’s the ideal method of stopping it from constricting. That’s because it’s entirely non-confrontational. This is like persuading your snake to stop constricting rather than physically preventing it.
Vinegar or Rubbing Alcohol
Because a constrictor’s constricting reflex is tied to its biting reflex, getting your snake to release its bite can make it release its constriction too. Using vinegar or rubbing alcohol is one way to do just that.
Snakes don’t like the bitter/sharp tastes of vinegar and rubbing alcohol. When your snake tastes one of these things, it will want to get away from it.
The reason behind the response is that a snake’s normal food doesn’t have such a strong taste.
According to Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science, poisonous plants and animals ward off predators by producing strong scents and tastes. So, the predator learns to avoid strongly bitter tastes.
What this means is that the snake will unlatch its bite and try to get away. At the same time, it may or may not unwind itself from you. If it doesn’t, you can unwind it from the tail (as described above).
Head under Running Water
Another method akin to the one above is to hold your snake’s head under water. The idea is that the snake will release its prey because it has to get to dry land so it can breathe. There are two ways of doing this:
- Hold your snake’s head under a running faucet
- Immerse the snake’s head into an inch or two of still water
Whether you think this is cruel is up to you as an owner, but it’s certainly not dangerous. Snakes can hold their breath for a long time, so dunking it for a second or two underwater won’t hurt it.
Breaking Your Snake’s Tail
If you have no alternative, you can break your snake’s tail to get it loose. The easiest method is to take the tip of the tail and bend it back into a U-shape. You can then squeeze and the tail will break.
This is a method of last resort. You should not do this to your pet snake unless you are in genuine danger. If you own a 10ft. or bigger snake and it’s wrapped around your neck, and it won’t let go, then this can shock it enough that it lets you loose.
But for a smaller snake, like a corn snake or ball python, this should never be necessary. It’s too small to hurt you or cut off your circulation. So, you shouldn’t have to do this to get a snake to stop constricting.
2 thoughts on “How to Get a Snake to Stop Constricting”
Wow. I’m a paramedic and just had a situation where a python bit the owners thumb and wrapped around his arm and hand and would not let go. I found your article while on our way to the call. I tried the vinegar and it worked like a charm. That snake hated the taste and let go in an instant. Thank you for the information!
No amount of you saying ‘as a last resort’ will stop dumb people from overreacting and instantly break a snakes tail. This is HORRIFIC advice and is nowhere backed up by scientific or zoological method. It’s very careless of you to put that, in this day and age where everyone takes everyone they read on the internet as Gospel. Also – far too many people own snakes who shouldn’t – they don’t educate themselves about the animal. I can assure you a lot of people who own snakes won’t even be able to confidently identify which part of the snake is actually it’s tail….. it’s a long animal at the end of the day and someone in a panic thinking ‘oh break it’s tail’ is 9 times out of 10 going to severe it’s spine and kill it horrifically, instead.
It’s so upsetting to see this. Please remove this dangerous information and if you want more advice on ways to replace it, I’m happy to discuss that with you.
The comment about alcohol and vinegar is also risky….. where alcohol is an approved method, vinegar is not. In fact vinegar will burn the snake and it could easily blinded, die from oesophageal inflammation. Please do NOT use vinegar. And when using alcohol, advise to avoid getting it in the snakes eyes. You don’t need to douse the creature – literally a few drops will make it release.
You have to remember when writing about serious things like this, there’ll be some people reading who won’t be as intelligent as they ought to be to own a snake – so you have to be careful with how you word things.
I work with snakes and can tell you several other ways to counter a constriction!