Do Snakes Bite?

When we think of snakes we often conjure up images of hypnotizing King cobras, swaying and striking, or perhaps the mighty boa constrictor waiting to coil around its prey. You may even find yourself thinking of the brightly colored emerald tree boa curling around branches in the rain forests of South America. You probably have already split them into categories in your head; the venomous snakes that inject toxins into their quarry, and the constrictors that suffocate theirs with their grip.

But do snakes bite?

There’s the old adage that pretty much anything with teeth can bite if it wants to, and most species of snake are equipped with a set of gnashers. So yes, snakes do bite – but each species might bite for differing purposes.

Fangs and Teeth are Different

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Snake-Teeth-Python

First things first – fangs and teeth are two different things. In snakes, fangs are venom injecting tools, usually used for hunting. Species of snake, like the king cobra, which is the largest venomous snake in the world, the black mamba, and the yellow chin, will have fangs. Characteristically, they will strike, and the venom will be released as the fangs sink into the skin. One exception is the boomslang snake found in Africa, that often mimics tree branches and will chew on its victim until they submit to the toxins.

Constricting species of snake, such as reticulated pythons, don’t have fangs, but teeth that face inwards and backward. As they bite into their victims the teeth act like a vice, creating a tighter grip if the prey struggles.

Only in Self Defense or When Searching for Food

Rattlesnake-Venomous
Snake-Constrictor-1

Snakes typically only use their bite when hunting or in self-defense, perhaps if someone strays to close to them on the path and doesn’t heed their warning signs such as curling up, hissing, or pretending to strike. They may also feel the need to bite if they are picked up and handled aggressively – it’s best to leave them be if you find them in the wild. The fangs of venomous snakes are delicate and often fall out so they will only attack if they really deem it necessary. Some snakes will sneak up on their prey and swallow it whole without the need to bite. Quite an impressive feat, as with all snakes they are capable of unhinging their lower jaws and swallowing a creature 3 times their head size whole! So yes, snakes can and do bite, when finding food or defending themselves.