Can Pet Snakes be Affectionate to Their Owners?

Ball Python 

Snakes are cold-blooded creatures that aren’t the easiest to impress, so you might be wondering whether or not they even feel affection for their owners. I did some research: here’s what I found.

Can pet snakes be affectionate to their owners? Snakes don’t have the intellectual capacity to feel human emotions like love or affection. So no, they can’t feel affection for you. They can, however, feel an affinity for you as a non-threatening creature that cares for it. 

Don’t let this thought discourage you. Snakes make amazing pets, even if they don’t feel affection the same way humans do. Snakes can do plenty of things and this article mentions many of those things. 

Can Snakes Feel Affection?

So this is quite the subject of debate among the reptile community with the majority of pet owners refusing to believe that their pet’s don’t love them and several biological scientists seeing the early signs of that not really being possible.

So who do you believe? Looking at the evidence, it just isn’t really possible for snakes to feel affection for their owners. But a snake not feeling affection doesn’t mean that your pet snake doesn’t like you, or that it doesn’t like living the way it does. It is simply asking the snake to do something that, as far as we can tell, the snake isn’t capable of.

Einstein had a quote about this, he said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein

Snakes can’t feel affection, so don’t judge a snake using that margin otherwise you’ll just make it feel stupid. So what can snakes do? That’s what the rest of this article will be talking about below. 

Will a Snake Recognize its Owner?

Unfortunately, snakes can’t recognize their owners.

There are quite a few examples out there of snakes connecting with people. However, unlike dogs or cats, this is always reliant on the person who is feeding them. They like food and begin to associate the person feeding them with the food they receive.

This is a simple case of classical conditioning.  By eating food, the snake feels good and so it begins to associate the thing before receiving food with the food and eventually the thing before the food with the positive sensation of having eaten food. 

In this case, the thing before receiving the food is the person in the room. So the smell of their owner is going to turn into something positive for the snake. That’s how it worked in Pavlov’s dogs, right? So doesn’t this prove that snakes can recognize their owners? 

Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite mean that. See, the problem here comes back to the snake’s brain. Snakes have weaker and smaller frontal lobes than other pets. One of the defects with that smaller brain is a decreased ability for a snake to remember.

Furthermore, the snake is unable to fully associate the smell of its owner with, well, them being their owner. Add to this the concepts of snakes not having strong senses of sight and hearing and you having an even harder time differentiating people.

Snakes have six senses unlike humans’ five senses but their sixth sense doesn’t help with differentiation. Sense number six in snakes is their ability to detect heat, but there isn’t much difference in one human’s heat signature when compared to another’s. So instead snakes are more like to use their advanced sense of smell to tell the difference between things.

You might think a sense of smell will be beneficial after smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory right. Well, yes, but that is only in humans. The reason that smell is so strongly connected to memory is that the olfactory receptor, the things that tell you what smells are, are located right next to the hippocampus the part of your brain that remembers things.

This is not true in snakes. Smell isn’t much of a benefit to snakes’ memory as their sense of smell is wired in snakes desire to hunt. They use smell to tell the difference between what is to be eaten and what is not to be eaten. Generally, this is why a snake won’t bite you unless they smell mouse or other prey on your fingers. But it doesn’t mean the snake will remember you and it’s even more likely that will be able to recognize you in a significant enough way to distinguish between you and another human.

So once again, because of snakes’ brains, not even the things dogs have been seen doing with conditioning¬†will carry over to them.¬†Sorry, but recognition is just another tree this fish can’t climb. If you want more answers, I recently wrote an article specifically about whether or not snakes recognize their owners. I also talk about how to know if your snake likes you and how they recognize the world. Find it here.

Do Snakes Like Being Pets?

Now, this is a whole other can of worms. This question or at least the answer to the question that snakes do not like being held captive is used as a reason to not own a snake.  But this really isn’t true.

Snakes do enjoy their stays in your home wherever you keep them so long as they are getting fed and have somewhere warm to be and somewhere cool to hide. It’s as simple as that. Care for your snake and that’s more than it would have gotten from its mother in the wild. 

Snakes in your home have longer life spans than they would out in the wild. As such they appreciate their survival. Snakes work off of a more simple processing system than most animals. As such, survival is every animals’ chief concern, followed by reproducing, and finding food to survive.

Really, the only thing your snake may complain about here is its inability to breed if you don’t allow that. Otherwise, you are providing for its needs and protecting it from predators. So don’t be too concerned with the lack of emotions your snake is giving you. That’s just how snakes are, so leave them that way.

It is even worse to release your snakes into the wild if you have kept them captive. Since they haven’t grown up in that kill or be killed environment it is often a sad send off to the end in the same morbid way each time they are sent into the wild, so make sure that you don’t release your snake into the wild. Much worse than the possibility of your snake dying is the possibility of it not dying.

Pet snake are often not from the environment in which their owners live so if a foreign snake is released it has to potential to become an invasive species and destroy the natural environment around it.

To prevent this, don’t release a pet snake into the wild if you must get rid of your snake find a pet store or new owner to take care of your old friend. If you’re still not convinced, here you can find an article about whether or not pet snakes can survive in the wild.

Can a Snake be Domesticated?

Domestication is very complicated and recent studies have changed our current understanding of what and how domestication is possible, so to claim any one true answer to this complicated question is impossible but to answer as best as possible snakes cannot currently be domesticated.

So snakes that are kept as pets are not considered domesticated, instead they are considered captive. Now don’t let this concern you what this simply means is that these are creatures, that are not capable of domestication, that have been taken out of their natural environment.

So what is domestication then? Domesticated animals are animals that have been tamed to serve as pets or on a farm. The issue with snakes here is that they can’t be tamed.

This once again goes back to the intelligence of the snake. Snakes don’t seem to have any desires past their innate animalistic tendencies and very basic emotions, because of this they can’t be kept as anything more than a “captive” pet.

I want to clarify here that just because a snake cannot be domesticated does not make them dangerous. If a creature has no power to harm you then, domesticated or not, it will continue to not harm you. The concern comes from snakes that do have the ability to harm you. They have the potential to strike out if you are not careful when handling them.

For this reason, it is especially important that you make sure that the snake that you are getting is going to be one that you are comfortable with and able to handle well. So do your research and pick snakes that will thrive in the environment that you live in, and will enjoy the care that you will put into taking care of them.

Can Snakes Be Friendly?

This all comes down to, once again, the semantics of what you mean by friendly.

Snakes will act nicely and kindly to those that it doesn’t view as a threat or food.  So if you consider the playful nature of a not so angry snake friendly, then sure, snakes can be friendly.

On the other end of things, snakes are not likely to build any sort of relationship with you as its owner. They aren’t going to be able to tell very well who is who nor will they be able to feel anything that we as humans conceptualize as feelings for another person.

So if those are the qualities that you need from a pet, then a snake isn’t going to be there for you, and you won’t view them as friendly.

Overall, remember that snakes are simple creature they enjoy being by themselves and other simple things like being warm or being cool.  So don’t annoy your snake or else they will be aggressive, but if you respect your snake and the boundaries of them than you will have a back and forth relationship that the two of you can respect.

Do Snakes Feel Affection for Their Mate?

There are two categories that you can put mating animals into: those that are partners for life and those that aren’t or just don’t care.

Being parts of the first of the two options, it is difficult for humans to relate to the lackluster attitude that snakes have towards their partners, but it is very much lackluster. This confusion grows as snake mothers don’t care for their young. Two of the very core parts of society as we see it are completely brushed by in snakes.

So do snakes feel affection for their mates? In the wild certainly not, however, there have been snake couples that have seemed to exist in captivity. These relationships do not always last, however , and will often last even shorter should there be other snakes introduced to the equation.

Snakes aren’t creatures to hold onto a relationship for a long time, so really the only way that a real relationship will come out of two snakes is through constant interaction through captivity. Otherwise, the snake is going to move on. That’s just how snakes act. As much as they like to wrap themselves around things, they really don’t want to be tied down.

Are Snakes Intelligent?

Compared to most animals, reptiles have been seen as the back of the pack as far as intelligence goes. That was until some recent studies using lizards came out.

The group of lizards were tested with a maze experiment and those lizards had to find the most effective way through the maze.

After several tests, the lizards were found to be able to make it through the maze as efficiently, and more efficiently over time then several other animals including certain mammals, and several of those classic mouse maze contenders.

But what about snakes? Here’s the thing: snakes haven’t been seen as all that intelligent, because they are hard to test. When you put a creature into a test you need to motivate them. Well, snakes only eat once a week. So motivating them with food isn’t exactly going to do the trick.

Moreover, snakes like cool, shady places to stay and have no real ability to tell where a cool place is should that place be far away so they often lie down and snuggle up in the cool confines of the maze, so not the exciting action that you might have expected from a maze solver.

So snakes can be easily labeled as not all that smart, but that’s simply because they aren’t really matching the tests that we are used to for animals, and as a result snakes are understudied and assumptions about them are based more off of their brain size than tested evidence.

So is there no hope for snakes?

There have been a few tests on snakes, and one in particular hints at snake having high capacities to learn. In this test, the snakes were placed in a plastic tube about the size of a child’s kiddie pool and bright lines were shined on them. These snakes seemed to have an aversion to the lights and were able to then consistently discover, follow, and remember to follow certain clues the researchers had placed to reveal the dark cool exit for the snakes.

From the experiment, several things were learned:

  • The snakes used their sense of sight more than the scientist would have expected. They had assumed they would try using their tongue to pick up on chemical sues but the snakes used primarily visual cues to guide itself through the maze.
  • The test found that snakes are able to match the pace of rodents and birds in these conditions. It seems that perhaps the right motivation was all that was needed to put these snakes into cognitive motion.
  • Young snakes seemed to be more willing to try other none visual cues to navigate. This appears to be part of the adaptability of the snake. Visuals become more important the more the snake uses them, so when the snake is young it’ll try everything as it explores since it has yet to develop those visually based prejudices.
  • There are several types of snakes that use their bodies in incredibly intelligent ways. In particular, the king cobra and the king snake have been shown to contort their bodies in ways that allow them to defeat predators of equal or larger size. In one study, king snakes were found to be able to produce twice the constricting power needed to kill their common rodent prey.

So are snakes intelligent? Definitely. Do we understand that intelligence? Definitely not, but hopefully one day we will, and snakes will weigh in higher on the animal intelligence charts.

Related Questions

What are the friendliest snakes? The friendliest snakes are the corn snake, California king snake, rosy boa, gopher snake, and the ball python. These snakes are consistently listed as the best snakes for beginners. So they are easy to handle and generally laid back enough to allow frequent petting without much complaint. 

Do snakes yawn? Snakes yawn for a multitude of reasons. One of which being when it is preparing to eat a large meal. The snake will yawn to prepare to unhinge its jaw. Unhinge is a bit poorly used though, as snakes don’t have a hinged jaw in the first place. But either way, the snake stretches its mouth in preparation and then will eat its next meal even if that meal had been larger than the snake’s head.

Can snakes cry? Snakes do not cry, however like all other reptiles they do produce tears. These tears flow into these glands in the roof of the snake’s mouth, therefore the tears will never come out of the eye of the snake, so the snake cannot cry, and they don’t really have much reason to. Snakes can only feel very primative emotions. These emotions include fear, pleasure, hunger, and pain. 

Recent Content