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I was considering adopting a milk snake. She's 5 ft. long and the first time I held her she was very friendly, wrapping herself around both my arms, and mostly staying in that position. I held her for several minutes, slowly wrapping her around the other arm as she gradually moved around and uncoiled herself.

The second time I met her though, she moved much faster, and made two sudden movements of jabbing. But she was jabbing away from me (at no one). (What does that mean?) As she was moving faster, it was harder to keep her coiled around my arms, so I brought her closer to my chest, at which point she wrapped herself around my neck. This was fine, until I felt a sharp pain in my cheek just under my ear. My friend had to pry the snake's jaws open with her fingers, and she was very upset, saying she's had the snake since it hatched and had never seen her bite anyone. She also said the snake was supposed to be fed yesterday and was probably very hungry.

Today I ventured to hold the snake again. Almost immediately though, the snake started jabbing again in random directions. I quickly gave the snake back to my friend, and she quickly and tightly coiled herself around my friend's arms. Then my friend tried holding the snake close to my arm for a few minutes to let her get my scent. The snake however burrowed into my friend's sweater.

If the snake feels threatened by me, how should I proceed to make her feel safe? Is it possible? Why was she so friendly the first time, but not the others? Are snakes (or milksnakes) very unpredictable or moody?

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  • You wouldn't happen to have anything on you that could smell like the stuff the snake eats, would you?
    – Pyritie
    Feb 9, 2016 at 15:16

2 Answers 2

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Snakes are a lot more likely to bite when they are hungry. My ball will act like he wants to strike me about a day or two before his scheduled feeding day then for two or three days after he will be very cautious, although I would suggest the biting is both a result of fear (my aggressive boa strikes in exactly the same manner), and possibly environmental stress. My boa is the biggest scaredy cat because she grew up in an abusive household and when you pull her out of the enclosure she will strike randomly in any direction to try to scare you off. Did the snake let out a huff sound or did it straight out hiss at you? Make sure when you hold the snake you aren't gripping it at all. Let the snake crawl between hands or arms and don't use sudden movements. Also try not to come from over top of the snake.

In another note, also snakes can "smell" fear in a sense that you release pheromones when you are scared that can be detected by snakes. Make sure you also wash your hands so it cant smell any other pets you may have.

Make sure you follow the care sheet and the temp/humidity are right in the environment. I would also suggest feeding the snake, waiting 3-5 days, then trying to hold them again. You can also help the snake get used to you (a new, big, scary creature) by standing by the cage for a while. You don't even have to be doing anything but it helps the snake get used to your scent. I also highly recommend slow movements and most snakes don't like coming in from above. The best way to make a snake feel safe is simply a lot of time around that snake. Try to work with the snake a bit and make sure it is used to people holding it. Also don't handle the snake for a few days after a move, a feeding, or generally any change that can stress them out.

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  • Also going to add, don't handle the snake too frequently, especially a new snake. This is likely to stress them out and cause the bluff striking.
    – SuperStew
    Apr 4, 2019 at 16:33
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To me, as someone who kept and bred hundreds of snakes, the key point is this: "But she was jabbing away from me (at no one). (What does that mean?)"

What it means, assuming that you weren't silly enough to bother the snake while it was 'in blue' (getting ready to shed), is that there is likely neurological damage to this snake. Snakes do not strike in random directions when they are healthy. What possible purpose could there be for doing so? There is none. It wouldn't scare away any genuine threats and it would tell genuine predators that this is likely an easy meal. "He doesn't know where I am? Great!" chomp

It's possible the snake is having vision problems. That could be neurological or it could be age-related or it could be that the current owner hasn't been caring for the snake properly and that there are now multiple 'eyecap' scales stuck on the snake's eyes, so it can't see clearly. That last one is curable. The others are not.

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