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Things that Stress Snake: Myth or Fact?

Posted by on May 12, 2021 at 1:15 AM

I have answered several questions about the myths common in snake keeping about "handling before and after feeding" and this or that "stressing the snake so not to do it" such as feeding out of the enclosure, giving them too large an enclosure, or things like "it stresses snake to be out of their cage", etc. These are not based on behavior science or what we know about stress and how it works. These may be true for specific individuals; however, they cannot be applied to all snakes across the board.

Every animal is an individual with various temperaments, personalities, and preferences. What is distressful for one may not bother another at all. Get to know your individual animal, with regard to snakes, learn the body language to watch for indicating comfort and relaxation versus distress.

I sometimes handle before, after, and during feeding depending on the individual snake. That rule of thumb to "never handle snakes after they eat" is based on the premise, or the assumption, that handling will distress the snake and cause regurgitation. This is possible anytime the snake is distressed. There is good stress which challenges organisms, tolerable stress which organisms are able to cope with and recover from, and toxic stress which organisms cannot cope with and can have long-term consequences. If an individual snake is moderately stressed (good to tolerable stress) by something and they have recently eaten they may or may not regurgitate. If they are distressed it will likely cause regurgitation or digestive issues. I feed the snakes all over the place depending on if I am using food as a training reinforcer or just feeding them. Sometimes they eat inside their habitats, sometimes out, sometimes on a scale, or in a transport tub. I do have one snake who is highly distressed by prey items inside his habitat and always comes out to eat where he is relaxed and comfortable. If handling, exercise, or other activities are not stressful to a snake then they are unlikely to regurgitate.

If a snake is relaxed and comfortable with an activity, if it does not stress them, then there is no reason to alter their routine around feeding. For example, if climbing onto a ledge, coming out of their habitat, or being picked up does not cause them distress in general, they will not suddenly be distressed by those things just because they ate. This is based on these behaviors being the snake's choice and that they are not being forced on them. If they are normally not comfortable with those things then feeding is not a good time to start working on those behaviors. I do have some videos about habituating new snakes to handling, choice-based handling, and am starting a new series about stress and building resiliency over the next several weeks. If you're interested to learn more before my videos or out I suggest recent papers by Bruce McEwen in regard to stress and allostatic loads.


Categories: Snakes