Can Pet Snakes Recognize their Owners?

We’d all like to think that our pets know who we are and love us in return. But depending on your pet, that may not be the case. 

Snake owners, in particular, may have trouble determining if their pet knows who they are when they enter the room or pick them up for a cuddle.

Sorry, Pet Snakes Don’t Recognize their Owners

Pet snakes may recognize certain people in their life, but they don’t use that recognition to form attachments and familiarity like a cat, dog, or person might.

Snakes may have physical reactions when they sense their owners walking into the room. Snake owners often note this and anecdotally report that their pets recognize them. 

However, that reaction is more attributable to a conditioned response by the snake to potentially getting fed or cared for, or even noting a familiar scent entering the room. 

The lack of recognition by the pet doesn’t mean a snake owner shouldn’t feel affection towards it. Just know that the snake can’t reciprocate the feelings.

What Kind of Senses do Snakes Have?

Snakes use their senses differently than humans. They don’t rely primarily on eyesight or hearing as people do.

In fact, they mostly don’t hear the same way we do at all. Snakes sense vibrations in the ground through their jawbones. They can then translate these vibrations into sensing where others are around them.

These vibrations help them understand if they’re under attack or if there’s a potential food rodent nearby.

Some sounds can penetrate their skulls, but only at select frequencies. So they can’t rely on hearing to keep them safe from foes.

Their eyesight, while functional, also isn’t great. Snakes don’t have moveable eyelids, so they can’t capture a lot of what’s around them by sight. 

Instead, snakes primarily rely on smell and touch for navigating the world. They have nostrils, but they usually smell by flicking their tongues in various directions and gathering scents on them. 

They then bring that information in and process it in their mouths in what’s called their ‘Jacobson’s Organ’ (Animal Planet). This unique organ uses the data to identify if whatever’s nearby is friend or foe. 

When you walk in the room with your usual soap, sweat, and detergent, the snake can gather all that information with a flick of its tongue.

A few snakes, pit vipers, have an extra ‘sixth sense’. This sense is heat-seeking and allows snakes to sense changes in heat around it, and thus when potential rodents for eating are nearby.

Do Snakes Have Good Memory? 

The next logical question is if snakes can store that olfactory and sensory data long-term. Can they remember that whenever your scent walked in the room, they were fed and thus happy?

Likely no. They are a primal species, so they haven’t evolved to want the same things or store the same memories as humans or other pets.

As the veterinarian Adam Dish notes, “Unlike domesticated dogs and cats, reptiles have retained their primitive characteristics…Most of their life is about basic necessities like drinking, eating, breeding, and surviving” (PetMD).

However, you can still help your snake form a positive response to interaction with you through certain types of care and handling.

What Do Snakes Care About?

Snakes are cold-blooded creatures that aren’t inherently social. The only notable exception to their social aversion is a study reported in Popular Science that found boa snakes in Cuba hunted in packs.

The fascinating study conducted by a very brave researcher found that boas would coordinate with one another to find, corner, and secure food. 

The observed and documented coordination between the boas apparently also made them more successful hunters who found, killed, and ate their prey more quickly than those acting alone.

However, the boas didn’t stay around each other beyond the hunt itself. So we’re back to a snake’s hierarchy of needs, it’s really all about food.

Your ability as a person to provide a pet snake with food may allow the snake to associate you with what it wants. As such, it may positively react when people walk into a room or come near its tank.

You also provide security to your snake. 

While it doesn’t necessarily know it’s a pet, and therefore dependent on your love and care,

it knows its tank is warm, it gets food when it needs it, and predators don’t bother it. 

Caring for your snake, feeding it, and providing it a good home allows the snake to achieve its evolutionary goals and thus be happy in its own way.

How Do You Form a Bond with Your Snake?

There are several ways you can condition your snake to react positively to your presence. 

The first is obviously – keep feeding it. But beyond that, you can help snakes feel more secure in their surroundings and acquainted with your presence in three main ways. 

  • Handle It: snakes will get used to regular interaction. As you continue to hold your snake, getting it familiar with your touch, you train it to react positively to you. Snakes like and need warmth and you are brimming with more than they are.
  • Habitat Enrichment: snakes enjoy changes in their environment. Just as spring cleaning and furniture moving may feel good to you, it will please your pet snake. Add a new feature and make sure all the tank bits and pieces are spiffy clean.
  • Sunshine: consider giving your pet snake a little time in the grass or under the sun. Some fresh air and nature could help it relax and associate your presence with contentedness. But keep a close eye on your pet; you don’t want him to slither away.

Snakes, like all animals, also have unique personalities. 

Your snake may respond particularly well to being handled a certain way, or to hours lazing outdoors in the sun, or feel especially frisky during certain times in its feeding cycle. 

Your snake might be more finicky or interested in engaging than others. Spend time with your snake and learn its peculiarities. You can then provide it tailored care so it’s content.

If you are consistent with your attention and continue to provide certain types of care over time, you will help your snake become accustomed to routines. It will then respond positively to your presence.

Consistency and repetition are the foundation for many snake-people relationships. It’s how snake charmers can get their snakes to perform for crowds. 

Why You Snake Might Have Negative Associations With You

Snakes need certain types of attention and you might be accidentally mistreating them. As a result, your snake might not positively engage with you. 

Your snake may be stressed or unhappy for any of these reasons. 

  • Small Tank: if your tank isn’t sized correctly for your snake, it may feel cramped and uncomfortable. Look for signs of discomfort and twitching to see if you should upgrade the tank to a more spacious version.
  • A Little Too Much Love: if you or a child is a little rough with your snake when handling it, the snake may react poorly. Always treat your snake gently so it’s comforted and not scared with interaction.
  • Limited Enrichment: just as an interesting and changing tank may comfort a snake, a tank without any features will bore it. Create a fun environment for your snake so it can explore a little and entertain itself.
  • Too Many Friends: snakes don’t want friends. Remember they’re nonsocial creatures. If you have multiple snakes in the same enclosure you may be stressing them all out, rather than providing them extra comfort and care. 
  • Improper Heating or Moisture: snakes need to be well heated, their life depends on your ability to provide that heat. They also need some moisture to help shed their skins and depending on what type of pet snake it is, it may require ultraviolet light. Make sure you’re providing the heating, light, and moisture your particular snake breed needs. 

Positive Snake Care

Just because snakes have bad memories and different evolutionary goals than humans doesn’t mean they can’t make wonderful pets worthy of care and attention. 

Your snake may not recognize you per se, but you have the power and responsibility to provide for its needs and help it live its best life. 

Bring your snake into the sun to feel the rays on its face. Let it slither (under close watch) through the grass and ground to feel new and different vibrations and touch. Handle it delicately and with love.

Give your snake nutritious food and plenty of space. A big enough tank without any friends will please it tremendously. Add some new features to its tank now and then so it can explore as it wants to.

Snakes experience life in a completely different and unique way from humans or other pets. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn how to best provide for the creatures and fulfill their wishes.

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