Many people are fascinated by snakes and want a snake as a pet, but they are intimidated by the prospects of owning and having to take care of a snake.
It’s only natural to wonder if you have never had a snake before, whether you would need to have it defanged first.
The simple fact is that most pet snakes don’t need to be defanged—because they don’t have fangs.
And while poisonous snakes do have fangs, not many people keep poisonous snakes as pets.
Non-Venomous Snakes Don’t Have Fangs
To understand why most common pet snakes don’t need to be defanged, it helps to start with some basic facts about teeth and fangs in snakes.
A fang is a long, pointed tooth. Most animals that have fangs don’t use them to inject venom into their prey.
Your cat, for example, has four fangs for holding the mouse she catches. Fruit bats have fangs they use to bite into fruit.
Some apes have fangs they use for intimidating challengers and for fighting.
People have canine teeth that perform some of the same functions as fangs in a fruit bat, but they are too short to be considered fangs.
Poisonous snakes have fangs that inject venom. Scientists have discovered that fangs work in unexpected ways.
Short fangs, for instance, are usually more powerful than long fangs. Some poisonous snakes, like rattlesnakes, shed their fangs every four to six weeks.
However, they are still capable of excreting venom that can flow into an ordinary bite.
Sea snakes and cobras have permanently erect fangs at the front of their mouths.
Cobras don’t even have to bite to spread their venom. They can spray venom through holes in the front of their fangs.
Defanging a pet snake that happens to be poisonous doesn’t happen a lot, because very few people keep poisonous snakes as pets.
Non-venomous snakes, that is, snakes that aren’t poisonous, don’t have fangs. They have ordinary teeth.
King Cobras, Saw Scaled Vipers, Tiger Snakes, Taipans, Faint-Banded Sea Snakes, and Black Mambas are poisonous and have fangs.
Anacondas, Boa Constrictors, Pythons, Kingsnakes, and Gopher Snakes are non-poisonous, and don’t have fangs.
All of these snakes have their pros and cons for keeping in captivity, but only venomous snakes have fangs.
Can You Defang A Snake?
Strictly speaking, it’s not a good idea for you to try to defang a snake.
This is a job that is better left to a professional herpetologist, or better, a veterinarian who specializes in snakes.
But even if you could find a professional with the surgical skill to defang a poisonous snake, it is highly unlikely they would do it.
And even if you manage to defang a venomous snake, the change is only temporary.
Many poisonous snakes shed their fangs every four to six weeks. If you removed the fangs, they would just grow back.
To prevent future hazards from keeping a poisonous snake, it is necessary to remove its venom glands.
The few snake keepers and veterinarians who have removed venom glands from poisonous snakes usually work on poisonous snakes kept for public display.
People who show venomous snakes to others, and particularly snake keepers who charge admission, have to maintain liability insurance in case spectators are injured by the snakes.
It is rare for someone who goes to a poisonous snake display to be bitten or sprayed with venom, but it could happen.
A snake that has been operated on to remove its venom glands or its fangs is called venomoid. Venomoid is also the term used to describe the surgery to do this.
Myths and Corrections About Venomoid Snakes
One of the objections to defanging poisonous snakes is that since venom contains compounds that break down the tissues of the animal the snake bites, snakes need venom to digest their food.
This is a myth and is obviously untrue.
Pet snakes survive on diets of fish, steak, sausages, ham, squid, chicken, and thawed mice that were previously killed and frozen.
None of these food items has to be poisoned for the snake to eat it. If poisonous snakes had to use their venom glands to eat these foods, some would starve.
Venomoid snakes lose their ability to eat live food since they can’t poison their food to kill it.
But since they aren’t, in most cases, being fed live food anyway, losing their venom glands doesn’t make a difference in their nutritional status.
There is also a myth that snakes need a long recovery time after they have their venom glands removed.
However, snake keepers report that snakes are able to eat food almost immediately after their surgery, as long as only soft tissue is removed.
Surgery on the snake’s jaw bone, which was the old way of doing venomoid operations, had much more of a detrimental effect on the snake.
Frequently Asked Questions About Venomous Snakes
Q. What is the difference between snake teeth and snake fangs?
A. Nearly all snakes have teeth. They have four rows on top and two on the bottom. Only about 15% of snakes have fangs. The snakes that have fangs are poisonous.
A fang is a long, sharp, grooved, or hollow tooth connected to a venom sac in the snake’s head. The snake’s venom sac is usually behind its eye.
Q. How do poisonous snakes use their fangs?
A. When a poisonous snake bites into its prey, the venom sac shoots poison into the fang.
The venom is injected into the snake’s prey and begins almost immediately to shut down the animal’s ability to flight or fight.
Some species of snake have venom that starts to digest their victims even before they are dead.
The venom is carried by the prey’s bloodstream throughout its body and it dies, so the snake can carry it off and swallow it whole.
When an animal manages to get away after being bitten, the snake will flick its tongue to pick up its scent.
Then the snake will follow it until the venom kills its prey and it can feed.
Q. Why are we discussing defanging venomous snakes? Is it even legal to own a venomous snake?
A. Some cities, states, and provinces regulate ownership of dangerous animals.
You may need a special permit and to maintain liability insurance if you keep a poisonous snake as a pet.
Q. Is it possible to tame a venomous snake?
A. Venomous snakes can be trained the same way as any other snake, but this does not mean you should ever handle them without precautions.
Even if you have great confidence in the veterinarian’s work, there is always a possibility that some residual venom gland tissue was left behind after the surgery.
Assume that your snake can poison you even after venomoid surgery.
Q. Which snake kills the most people?
A. In the United States and Canada, the greatest number of poisonous snakebites in the wild involve rattlesnakes, while in Australia the greatest number of deadly bites from any wild snake come from the ill-tempered, aggressive Eastern Brown Snake.
Fatal bites from snakes held in captivity, but have occurred with cobras, rattlesnakes, and Australian Eastern and Western Brown Snakes.
Q. Are there ever reasons to handle a snake’s fangs?
A. In many countries, including the United States and Australia, venomous snakes are caught so their venom sacs can be ‘milked” to release the poison.
The venom is used to make antivenom to save the lives of people and pets that are bitten by the snakes.
A single gram (about 1/30th of an ounce) of rattlesnake venom sells for over $200. The venom of other snakes may cost a lot more.
However, many “snake milkers” have lost fingers that had to be amputated after they were bitten.
Q. Can I have the teeth of a non-venomous snake removed?
A: No veterinarian will remove teeth from a non-venomous snake. They need their teeth to feed, and removing them would be considered animal cruelty.
In Australia, there are also now rules about removing venom sacs from poisonous snakes.
It’s generally a good idea to keep animals in the most natural state possible, or not keep them at all.
Fascinating Facts About Fangs and Snakes
- The gaboon viper, also known as the whisper viper, the swampjack, or the forest puff adder has the longest fangs of any snake in the world, up to 2 inches (5 cm) long. A single bite from this snake releases enough venom to kill up to 30 people. Gaboon vipers are docile but will bite if they are directly threatened.
- Most snake fangs are hollow, so they can shoot venom into their victims. Some snakes, however, have fangs that are not hollow that shoot venom down a groove.
- Solenoglyphous fangs—or folding fangs, if you prefer—fold backwards against the roof of the snake’s mouth. This is a characteristic of vipers, including rattlesnakes.
- Proteroglyphous fangs don’t fold up into the snake’s mouth, but they are usually much shorter. These are the fangs that are found on mambas, cobras, and coral snakes. These snakes have to hold onto their prey longer to inject venom.
- Some snakes have opisthoglyphous fangs in the rear of their mouths. The rest of the snake’s dentition is just regular teeth. These animals start eating their prey and poison them on the way down.
- Snake jaws are not connected. This gives them the ability to swallow animals whole.
- Snakes don’t have molars. They don’t grind their food to predigest it. Digestion is accomplished by the venom and in the stomach itself.
- Some snakes don’t have fangs or teeth. They usually feed on eggs. The interior of the snake’s spine is lined with spurs that puncture the egg once it is inside the snake, releasing its contents for digestion.
- Snakes can regrow a fang in just 2 or 3 days. This is a good thing for venomous snakes, because their fangs fall out frequently.
- Snakes shed their fangs, not just their skin. Snakes shed their fangs about every one to two months.
- Constrictor snakes, like boas and pythons, have teeth unlike venomous snakes. Their teeth are small and static, enabling them to hold on to their prey while they squeeze it. The teeth of constrictor snakes point inward and backwards to pull the prey down their throats.
- Snakes can bite even after they are dead. There was a famous case of a Chinese chef who was poisoned by a cobra he decapitated after he threw the rest of its body into a wok to be cooked.
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