When owning a pet snake, it is natural for you to bond with them and become aware of their own needs, preferences, likes, and dislikes. But can a snake learn to recognize you and become familiar with the fact that you are their primary carer? I have spent some time researching these reptiles and would like to share with you my findings here today.
So, do snakes recognize their owners? Snakes can become familiar with their owners – that they take care of them and help fulfill their needs, such as providing food. However, they will not view nor recognize you as other people and animals would.
Snakes will always be relatively cautious and perceive you and their environment differently.
They primarily live by instinct and survival.
It is essential first to point out that snakes have basic feelings, far more primitive than us humans.
In many ways, they do not have as complicated emotions as we might have hoped for.
This is open to research and is in regular debate among owners.
Let us now take a closer look into how a snake perceives and feels about us as its owner.
Can Snakes Recognize Their Owners?
First and foremost, we must define what we mean by the word ‘recognize’.
By definition, recognition is all about identifying someone or something from which they have encountered them before. They know what it is due to past experiences.
With this in mind, we can be sure that a snake does recognize us as its owner.
In time and with care, they learn to associate us with bringing them food and keeping them safe and protected.
Snakes have a keen sense of smell and can learn to recognize their own smells with feeding time.
They, therefore, recognize you in relation to this.
However, a snake’s eyesight and hearing are poor; they cannot identify you through vision and tell you apart from one person to the next.
For snakes, their utmost priority is food and survival. Even after eating, they are quickly keen to source the next meal.
It’s only mating that is the other potential area that may occupy the thoughts of a snake.
Here is what Adam Denish, VMD, a veterinarian at Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital in Philadelphia, has discovered:
“Most of their life is about basic necessities like drinking, eating, breeding, and surviving”
It is of course, challenging for us to truly understand the psychology of snakes – because reptiles differ in so many ways. As humans, we not only rely on social interactions; we need them.
For snakes, this is not the case at all. They have no need, preference or requirement for socialization. They are solitary and do best on their own.
How Do Snakes Perceive Their Owners?
Now we know that a snake will only recognize you as the bearer of food. How do they view and perceive you? As an owner, it is an interesting question to consider.
While a snake does not appear to love us or become fond of us, this does not mean that they are unable to tell us apart from somebody else.
We have already mentioned how snakes depend on their primitive senses. Smelling is perhaps the primary way a snake will become familiar with you and learn to understand you.
They can even tell when you change your clothes, or you are carrying a new scent on you.
Over time, a snake can understand how you generally smell – so whenever a new person approaches the enclosure – they know they are somebody else.
This is very important to snakes; it has enabled them to meet their basic needs to ensure generations’ survival.
So, while a snake does not socially perceive you, this is not to say that you do not serve a useful and essential purpose in their lives.
While snakes will not express nor show their appreciation, they can develop trust in their owners as seen by through handling and their perceptiveness to you as a threat.
You’ll mostly recognize this in their feeding patterns, behaviors, and schedules. A snake will learn when fed and act in specific ways around specific times in food expectations.
Why A Snake May Not Trust You
As an owner, you can do things that accidentally reduce your snakes’ trust in you.
First and foremost, it is essential to note that all animals, reptiles included, have their unique ways, temperaments, and personalities.
We, humans, are generally quite good at picking up on the vibes being given off by our pets. This is true of snakes too.
Snakes, with a focus on survival, rely on fear and anxiety to keep them safe.
Of course, excess or prolonged stress is not suitable for a snake and can lead to health issues.
Here are the most common reasons why a snake may become stressed or begin to lose trust in you as their owners.
- Ineffective Handling Techniques – it is crucial that you do so in the right way when you hold your snake. They need to feel secure and supported at all times. You’ll also need to ensure that you are not holding them in appropriate places/positions or too aggressively. Equally, it would be best if you did not attempt to hold them at certain times, like shedding or during a meal.
- Small enclosure – your snake requires sufficient space to live and roam. Depending on the age and species of your snake will depend on their requirements. Too little space will result in stress and anxiety.
- Being Housed With Other Snakes – can cause stress through the competition for space and social dominance. Therefore you need an appropriately large enclosure; if you did want to house two snakes together, you need to be particular about the species you keep together, and you should also consider buying a second/separate enclosure.
These are just a few reasons why your snake may not be having its needs appropriately met.
If you suspect that your snake is unwell or suffering from an illness, you should look to contact a specialist reptile veterinarian right away. They could be in distress and may require medical intervention.
It’s important to know that you are responsible for fostering a positive and trusting relationship as an owner.
Thankfully there are some things you can do – which we will look at in the next section.
How to Get A Snake To Positively Recognize You
It is not only in meeting your snake’s needs that you can get them to recognize and build positive associations with you positively.
Here are some of the most effective ways commonly used by snake owners:
- Upgrade Their Environment – one of the best things you can do to put a snake at ease is to improve their environment. You can do this by adding items to their enclosure, such as extra hide boxes. Also, be sure to keep the enclosure clean and change the substrate out regularly.
- Give Your Snake Space To Roam – Of course, you need to be careful here, especially where and who/what is around. However, you can let your snake roam and slither around in a safe space. Be careful that they do not hide and what they come into contact with. However, the extra space can do them good.
- Extra Handling – Your snake will begin to trust you with increased handling. Be sure to do so correctly and appropriately, but from there, look to pick them up more and prove to them you are not a threat, safe, and able to meet their needs. They’ll generally enjoy the time out of the enclosure and warmth your body can provide them.
There is one last thing for us to address in this article; how a snake recognizes and acknowledges the environment around them.
How A Snake Recognizes Their Environment
A snake’s natural habitat and the environment are very different to ours.
So, how do they know, and how do they learn to navigate?
While very different, snakes have and use the same senses as us (minus taste).
Without repeating myself, snakes’ sense of smell is their most superior one. But they use other body parts too.
For example, they use their tongues to obtain data about their environment. It helps them to understand the conditions and how they need to approach them.
Snakes will be on the lookout through their hearing sense too.
Although they do not have ears, they use sound waves’ vibrations to listen out for potential predators.
They are even able to get a rough idea as to the size of each potential predator too!
Regarding their sight – it is quite inferior to ours as humans, but it is still used to help them appropriately ascertain whether food is safe or ideal to eat. Of course, it is used to help them obtain prey.
Not all eyesight in snakes is the same; it varies quite dramatically by the species.
Snakes that live in specific environments have developed a vision to help them manage that environment; for example, snakes that live in darker places have evolved traits to help them navigate such conditions.
Alternatively, other snakes even possess a whole new organ to help them see.
This is found mostly in larger snakes (including Boas and Anacondas); the pit organ is one example.
The pit organ is a fascinating body part because it helps them navigate by using heat.
They see objects through the heat they produce and emit.
Regardless of the species, snakes have developed a variety of senses to help them navigate their habitat and survive in their environments, catching food and avoiding predators in the process.
Snakes recognize their owners, just in their unique way.
They have a developed range of senses that help them become familiar with and differentiate one human from another.
This is also how they navigate their environment and capture prey.
A snake’s sense of smell is perhaps its most impressive, and this is likely how your snake will be able to tell you apart.
However, just because snakes are considered more primitive they do not mean that they do not rely on you and cannot build a trusting relationship with them.
It’s essential to take good care of your snake and ensure all of their needs are met; they will learn to know that you are the food provider after all.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.