Has you snake been lying motionless for a long period of time?
It could be dead. But most likely everything is fine.
We’ll show you how to tell if a snake is dead below.
If we’re not talking about a pet snake, but a snake you found in the wild, you’ll want to be a lot more careful.
Unless you are absolutely sure the snake is not venomous, do not do any of the things we recommend below that involve touching the snake.
This should be obvious.
Stick to the methods that keep you a safe distance away. And if you’re still unsure, contact a professional.
With that warning out of the way, let’s dive right in and go over the different ways to tell if a snake is dead.
Table of Contents
- 1 How To Tell If A Snake Is Dead
- 2 Recognizing A Dead Snake: Related Questions
- 3 Determine If A Snake Is Dead: Final Thoughts
How To Tell If A Snake Is Dead
A dead snake will feel cold when you touch it. It will also lay around without any movement. Naturally, a dead snake won’t eat, flick its tongue out, or slither around like it normally does. It will also be completely unresponsive when you touch or poke it (gently) with a stick.
Obviously, touching a snake to see if it is dead is not always the best idea. Let’s take a more in-depth look at different ways you can tell if a snake is dead.
Obviously, if the snake in question is venomous, or even if you are simply not sure, do not do anything to put yourself in danger. If you can’t safely determine is the snake has died, contact an expert and let them figure it out.
It Is Cold To The Touch
Snakes are cold-blooded animals, which means they cannot regulate their body temperatures. If the air around them gets too cold, they may become inactive or dormant. However, even a snake that is in brumation will be slightly warm to your touch.
Therefore, one of the most important signs that a snake is dead (and not sleeping or hibernating) is that it will feel cold on your skin when you touch it.
Be very careful when you touch your snake. Touching a sleeping snake could startle it, if it is resting. And no snake takes kindly to being disturbed from a nap.
Snakes, like all reptiles, love to bask in the sun. They also seek warmer areas in their enclosure. So, if you touch a healthy snake, it will feel warm against your skin.
On the other hand, a snake that feels cool or cold is likely dead. Naturally, this is not the only indication that your snake is dead. You might also want to look for other signs given below, especially if you know, or suspect, the snake might be venomous.
It Assumes An Unnatural Position
Most dead snakes assume an unnatural position. For example, if you move your snake on its back and it remains that way without trying to turn back on its belly, then it is probably dead.
There are cases where some snakes have lain on their backs while they are dying and they remain so after they are dead. Most dying snakes get on their backs to relieve pain. But they may do this if they are having a seizure, too.
Again, the position of a snake after it is dead can range from coiling around itself to laying on its back. So, you can never tell for sure if a snake is dead simply based on its position. But it can sometimes give you a bit of a clue.
It Is Completely Unresponsive
A snake that is in brumation, or simply taking a nap, will always react when you touch or poke it. It will raise its head and look around to determine what is happening.
As mentioned earlier, please be very gentle when you touch your snake. You do not want to startle it, because that could make it aggressive. A dead snake, on the other hand, will not react at all. It will simply lie unresponsively.
Of course, it is fairly well-known that there are instances where a snake retains some of its active reflexes even after death.
In fact, according to research conducted at the University of Arkansas, a snake could remain dangerous for hours after death. This is due to the negatively charged ions that remain in the snake’s nerve cells. Snakes can even still bite after they are declared medically dead.
It Will Not Try To Wrap Itself Around You
Almost all species of snakes that are simply sleeping will coil themselves around an object when they are awoken or poked with a stick, or when you make an attempt to lift them up.
For example, boa constrictors will invariably coil themselves around you or the stick you use to poke them. Even snakes that are in brumation will do this. A dead snake will not do any of that and will simply lay unresponsively.
It Lies Around Limply (Rigor Mortis)
A dead snake might hang from a branch or lie limply in your hands. It will not lift its head, look around, or react to your touch.
Yes, snakes get rigor mortis, because they are cold-blooded animals. They become stiff after they die, just like human corpses.
It Changes Color
Snakes start becoming dull when they are about to shed. They lose their luster and their scales take on a dull, dark appearance.
However, after death, their skin color changes drastically. A green snake might turn blue a few hours after death, because the yellow pigment that imparts its green color deteriorates rapidly after it has died. The blue pigment is all that remains and that imparts the bluish coloring hours after death.
It Has Hazy, Sunken, Cloudy Eyes
Snakes do not have eyelids so you can see their eyes clearly. A healthy, living snake will have clear eyes. A dead snake, on the other hand, will have hazy, cloudy, or sunken eyes.
In fact, a snake’s eyes are often the first indication of ill health. They can clearly tell you if a snake is about to die. A dying snake will have a cloudy haze on its eyes.
But it is important to know that a snake’s eyes also go dull when they are getting ready to shed. So if your snake has dull eyes, you need to rule out that possibility first.
One thing you will not see is a snake with its eyes closed. Snakes never even blink. That’s because they do not have eyelids at all.
It Does Not Flick Its Tongue
Snakes flick their tongues repeatedly to get information about their surroundings from the air around them. They also collect chemicals from the ground with their tongues.
A dead snake won’t flick out its tongue. Some snakes die with their mouths slightly open and their tongues laying out.
Be careful here. Certain species of snakes, like hognose snakes (heterodon platirhinos), have been known to give an Oscar-worthy performance by playing dead.
They pretend they are dead by laying limp with their tongues hanging out when threatened by a predator. Then, they strike at the last moment. So always wait for a while before touching an immobile snake.
Recognizing A Dead Snake: Related Questions
The following questions are all common and related to the topic at hand. If you have additional questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Why is my snake not moving?
A snake will stop moving when it is in brumation when the temperature gets cold. A snake that is sick or dying, or has the deadly Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) commonly seen in boas, will also be motionless.
Do snakes change color when they die?
Yes, snakes could change color after death. This is because some of the pigments that impart its color when alive rapidly deteriorate after death. The pigment that remains imparts the snake’s color post-dying.
Do snakes move after dying?
Yes, snakes could move after dying. Venomous snakes like cobras often retain their biting reflexes for hours post-death. This is because their nerve cells retain the electrical charges that enable their muscles to carry out the reflex action.
Determine If A Snake Is Dead: Final Thoughts
If you suspect that your snake might be dead, use the methods given above to determine if it has indeed died. IF it is not your snake, be much more cautious.
If you know that the snake is harmless, go ahead and use the methods just as you would if it were your pet. But if you are not sure, don’t put yourself as risk.
Do what you can while keeping your distance but if you can’t determine whether it is dead safely on your own, contact a professional to take care of it. Better safe than sorry.