Snakes make great pets, but because they can’t build loving relationships with their owners, there’s always a chance that they can become defensive. Getting defensive might mean that your pet snake bites you all of a sudden.
All snakes are obligate carnivores, so they share the same striking instinct. Snakes can only defend themselves with their sharp teeth and fangs. But snakes are less likely to bite you if approached and handled correctly. The safest option is the egg-eating snake.
This is our guide to snakes that don’t bite as often as other species. These snakes still have defensive instincts, and can bite humans if provoked, but they are typically gentler and more docile than most.
Why Do Snakes Bite?
It’s crucial that you understand why snakes bite in the first place. And it’s not because they’re mean, or because they want to eat you. It’s because they’re scared.
If your snake bites you, it will be because of fear, because they’re hungry or you’re annoying them. If they’re scared, some snakes will get defensive and start to either strike or feign strikes at you.
When they’re hungry, they might start striking at things they think are food, which might include your hands. And if you keep pestering a snake, just like any pet, they’ll eventually lose patience with you and tell you to stop in the only way they know how.
But whatever the case, snakes will only strike as a last resort. First, they’ll try to get away from you. To a snake, you could be a big and scary threat if you behave like one. Of course, they’ll try to escape before they stand and fight.
If you don’t leave them alone, they might finally resort to a small nip. Of course, you might find that venomous snakes are slow to release their bite. Either way, there are plenty of signs that you can look for that will tell you whether your snake is about to strike or not.
Which Pet Snake Is Least Likely to Bite?
So, what is the least aggressive snake? There are a few that are equally placid and docile. These snakes have defense mechanisms that they prefer to use rather than trying to bite you. Even besides that, they’re gentle and typically enjoy being handled.
1) Ball Python
What’s the most harmless snake? It could be the ball python.
Ball pythons are easily the most popular pet snake, and that’s in no small part because they’re docile and unlikely to bite you.
When they’re threatened, the ball python lives up to its name by curling up into as small a ball as possible. It wraps itself in its coils, tight, and tucks its head and neck away so that any threats can’t get to its most essential parts. It rolls up into such a round shape that if anything were to hit them, they’d roll away like a ball.
This defense mechanism is unique to ball pythons. It’s a much better alternative to other snakes, which will coil up into an S-shape and get ready to strike when they feel threatened.
Apart from that, they also come in a variety of morphs (different colors and patterns) which make them good beginner snakes.
2) Kenyan Sand Boa
The Kenyan sand boa is—believe it or not—a species of boa that comes from Kenya. They’re remarkably easy to care for, and are pleasant and docile too.
Kenyan sand boas (or KSBs) are a little less common than ball pythons and corn snakes. They’re frequently described as easy-going, laid back, and highly unlikely to bite.
They also only grow to three feet long, which makes them easier to handle. They spend most of their time burrowed under the sand, with just their head poking out. That’s how they catch prey.
Just don’t approach them when they’re hunting, or they might think you’re prey. Wait until they’re basking or moving around until you try and handle them.
3) Western Hognose Snake
The western hognose is a species that gets its name from its unique, tiny snout. It looks like a tiny piglet snake.
They’re gentle and docile, and will rarely if ever try to bite their owner. When threatened, they don’t curl up into a ball—in fact, they play dead, by rolling over onto their back and lolling their tongue out of their mouth. If you try and flip them back upright, they’ll immediately roll over again, as if they’re insisting that they’re really dead.
Hognoses stay small, too. Males will only get to a maximum of two feet, with females clocking in at a still-small three feet long. This makes them easy to care for and handle. Because of their size, even if they do bite, it won’t do any damage.
If you’d like to own a hognose snake, you should read our complete care guide.
4) Rosy Boa
If you’re looking for snakes that are not poisonous and don’t bite, you can’t go wrong with a rosy boa. Rosies don’t grow long, are very easy to care for, and are one of the slowest snakes in the world. They’re a perfect pet snake for a beginner.
Rosy boas are a lot like sand boas. If you research their temperament, you’re likely to see all sorts of opinions on them. Some people say that they’re the most docile snake, and some people say that they’re quite nippy. So, what’s the truth?
Well, like Kenyan sand boas, rosy boas are ambush hunters. This means that they burrow under sand and wait for prey to come to them. If you disturb a rosy boa when they’re in ambush mode, then they might try and strike you, because you elicit their feeding response.
But if you’re a little wiser, you can wait until they’re not in ‘ambush/feeding’ mode before handling. And, if you do, you’ll be rewarded. Rosy boas are incredibly docile and gentle snakes when you handle them.
5) California Kingsnake
California kingsnakes, or royals as they’re also known, are another snake with a mixed reputation. When they’re young, royals are flighty and nervous.
All colubrids—including corn snakes and garter snakes—are the same. That begs the question of why we would include them, but the answer’s a simple one.
When they’re adults, these guys are docile, but can get nervous, and won’t get aggressive unless you go out of your way to annoy and aggravate them. Aside from that, royals aren’t venomous, come in a variety of colors and banded patterns, and
As youngsters, you can forgive them their behavior. They’re so small that you can understand why being approached by something as big as a person can make them nervous, but with regular handling, royals grow into the calmest and gentle snakes out there.
Remember that colubrids become what you make them. If you treat your snake with respect and handle them carefully, but confidently, they’ll grow up calm and confident too.
But if you pick them up when they’re unhappy, hit them, tease them and aggravate them then, of course, they won’t grow up to like you.
Do Pet Snake Bites Hurt?
The pain of the bite depends on the snake. For the vast majority of snakes, the bite isn’t going to hurt much more than a cat or kitten’s bite.
It’s more of a shock than anything. If you are bitten a few times, you get used to it, as strange as that sounds. The same applies to snake bites.
There’s a common misconception that if a snake bites you, then you have to suck the venom out. According to an Australian health advice site—and Australians really should know about venomous snakes—it doesn’t help. Not only that but the pet snake you’ll own either won’t be venomous at all or won’t be deadly enough to be dangerous enough to a human.
The snakes that most people have as pets are relatively small colubrids like corn snakes, which have rear-facing teeth rather than fangs like a cobra. These rear-facing teeth latch onto prey but aren’t very long at all—a quarter of an inch at most in most snakes.
If a colubrid with teeth like these bites onto you, don’t try and pull them off, because that will make their teeth sink deeper. Instead, hold them fairly firmly behind their head and push it down, towards your hand. Their teeth will slide right out of the bite.
Are Pet Snakes Venomous?
Pet snakes aren’t venomous. Some people keep venomous snakes as pets, but they are a tiny minority, and really shouldn’t.
What you have to remember is that most snakes don’t need to be that venomous. The snakes we keep as pets are generally rodent hunters and constrictors. Even those snakes that do kill their small prey with venom don’t need to have venom that’s too poisonous.
Hognose snakes are a great example. They have venom, but it’s only enough to kill the small frogs, lizards, and rodents that they feed on in the wild. If you’re bitten by a hognose, it might hurt and become inflamed like a bee sting at most.
The real danger from snake bites isn’t from the venom, though. It’s from bacterial infection. Snakes carry salmonella, E-coli and other dangerous bacteria that can infect a wound quickly.
It’s vital that you see a medical professional if your snake bite shows initial signs of inflammation and infection.
Do Snakes Bite Each Other?
As you know, snakes produce venom to help them hunt. They use it to either incapacitate prey, or to kill it completely. The stronger the venom, the better the chance of the snake being able to eat that day. That also applies to the amount of venom that they produce.
The life of a snake in the wild is dictated by the amount of energy they need to expend, and the amount of energy they can bring in. Take hibernation, for example.
Snakes would have to expend more energy hunting and finding basking spots to warm themselves than they would in the summer. They would expend more energy than they would be able to find to eat. That’s why snakes brumate (a form of hibernation.)
If a snake were to attack another snake and try to kill them with venom, the snake would then have to create more venom, using more time and energy to create it. This cuts down on time they could spend doing other things like mating, and means that they can’t spend more energy becoming larger and more powerful.
Not only that, but they wouldn’t be able to hunt and eat until they made more. It’s genetically advantageous for a snake to hold onto their venom rather than try and kill other snakes with it.
Not only that, but any species that goes around killing off its own kind won’t survive for long in the wild. Any species that does will gradually die out, whereas a species that doesn’t will outcompete it.
Are Snakes Immune to Venom?
The second reason that snakes don’t bite each other is that some snakes are immune to venom, at least to an extent. There hasn’t been much research into the topic as of yet, but some scientific papers seem to suggest that snakes have some immunity to venom.
According to a paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution, for example, Egyptian cobras have specific sugar molecules circulating in their bloodstream that stop the venom from acting on them.
Not only that, but certain snakes that live in proximity to other venomous snakes seem to have developed immunity to them over many thousands of years.
The European grass snake, for example, isn’t affected by a bite from either the European adder or the European asp. That’s because the grass snake already has chemicals that are analogous (similar to/the same as) the venom of those other two snakes in its bloodstream.
Rather than using venom, snakes will use other ways to display dominance. Rather than biting, male rattlesnakes will wrestle one another, and the more powerful snake will be able to pin the other one down. The winner then gets the food or the mate, while the other slinks away. No venom needed!
How to Find a Snake That Doesn’t Bite
If you want a beginner snake that doesn’t bite, it might be best for you to buy an adult.
This is against the grain of usual advice, because if you purchase a hatchling, you give them more time to get used to you and get used to handling. But all snakes have personalities.
Some snakes are curious, defensive or nervous about any noise that they hear, and others will sit there and do nothing.
If you get a hatchling, you can, to an extent, help them grow up into a calm and easy-to-handle adult. But this isn’t always possible.
If finding a snake that doesn’t bite is your number one concern, it’s best to buy an adult. Go to a store or breeder, and ask to handle the snake before you buy it. See how they react.
Are they nervous, or shy? Are they cage aggressive (meaning they get defensive when you approach their enclosure)? See how they react to handling and feeding, and make your decision based on that, and that alone.
How to Train a Snake to Not Bite
If you want a hatchling snake, it’s possible to train them not to bite.
Preventing snake bites, even when you’re talking about encountering snakes in the wild, isn’t about the snake. It’s about you, and how you act. With correct handling and feeding practices, you can entirely prevent bites and defensive behavior. Let’s find out how.
How to Get a Snake to Like You
First of all, you have to get the snake used to you. They have to be comfortable around you, just like any other pet. This involves approaching them in a specific way, which is going to make it easier for them to understand that you’re not a threat.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to snake handling:
- Sit or stand outside of their enclosure and gauge how they react. Do they try and get away from you, or act defensively, e.g., by rearing or coiling into an S-shape? If they seem curious or calm, you should feel free to carry on.
- Next, put your hand inside their enclosure. Again, see how they react. A happy snake will either remain calm and undisturbed, or come over to give your hand a sniff. Snakes use their sense of smell far more than we do, and rely on it instead of hearing or sight.
- If your snake is comfortable, you can then try picking them up by their middle. No snake likes being picked up by the tail or the head.
The more a snake is around you, the better they’ll get to know you. Over time, they’ll get used to your smell, and won’t associate that smell with predators or with potential prey. At that point, they should be comfortable being handled.
Unfortunately, snakes don’t understand affection. Stroking them, hugging them and kissing them won’t help them build a bond with you. But safe handling practices will help them understand that you aren’t a threat.
Safe Snake Handling Practices
Safe snake handling practices are simple enough that anybody can follow them. They aren’t difficult to learn, and they aren’t difficult to actually put in practice either. You should use these guidelines any time you handle a pet snake, whether it’s yours or not.
- Don’t pick up a snake that doesn’t like you. Forcing a snake to do something, whether you’re feeding them or handling them, will make them dislike you.
- When you go to pick up a snake, move quietly and confidently. Don’t hesitate or shake, or act nervously. If you’re nervous, your snake will be nervous too.
- If you’re handling a constrictor, expect them to coil around your fingers a little. If they coil too tight somewhere that they shouldn’t, which can happen without them realizing, unwrap them from their tail end.
- If you’re handling a non-constrictor snake, you’ll have to give them more support when you handle them. These snakes don’t coil, and will find it difficult to stay balanced on your hand.
- Don’t pick them up or move them around too quickly. Move at a pace that your snake is comfortable with.
If you follow these guidelines, then it’s significantly less likely that your snake will bite you. You also have to make sure that you wash your hands each time that you handle a prey item. The last thing that you want is for your hands and fingers to smell like snake food.