What does it mean when a snake hisses?
Should you be concerned when you hear this sound?
Snakes are generally pretty quiet animals, but their most aggressive noise is their hissing.
If your snake has ever reared their head and hissed at you, you may have asked yourself:
Why do snakes hiss?
Although snakes are often considered formidable creatures, they are also hunted by many different predators. They use hissing as a defense tactic to intimidate potential predators and indicate they feel threatened.
Wild animals employ a wide array of different techniques to protect themselves against predators.
Read through the rest of this article if you’re interested in learning more about why snakes hiss.
Table of Contents
Why Do Pet Snakes Hiss?
While it makes sense for wild snakes to hiss in an attempt to protect themselves from predators, what does it mean when your pet snake hisses at you?
Maybe you’re attempting to handle your snake or moving something around in their tank.
Snakes will hiss not only when they feel like they’re in danger but also as a warning if they’re upset or annoyed.
The warning will predate an actual strike.
Respect your snake’s territory when they do this, and leave them alone until they’ve calmed down.
If you don’t, you may get bitten.
Snakes will usually hiss more when you initially obtain them.
It takes time for them to adjust to a new home and new environment, and this adjustment causes them a lot of stress.
With consistent handling routines and a comfortable enclosure, your snake should eventually calm down a lot.
If you need to move around the snake while it’s still adjusting, get yourself a thick handling glove.
This will enable you to be less afraid of potential strikes or bites and allow you to take care of the enclosure during this period.
If your snake is a baby, it may not trust humans yet.
Older snakes, bred in captivity, feel comfortable with a human’s presence and handling, but baby snakes may need some time to learn their human owners aren’t a threat.
It helps to handle your snake on a regular schedule initially to get your snake accustomed.
Conversely, handling your snake too often may also lead to stress and agitation.
Snakes are used to having adequate alone time, so don’t let them feel like you’re invading their alone space by picking them up too much.
Your snake may also hiss if it’s been startled.
Sometimes attempting to handle your snake when it’s not expecting it will cause surprise, and your snake’s instinct will be to assume you’re a predator.
This same assumption happens if you make any sudden or quick movements while near your snake.
For this reason, when you’re handling your snake, be slow and deliberate.
Hold your snake by the middle of its body rather than reaching for its head or tail.
Another reason why your snake might hiss is stress from shedding.
When your snake sheds, its vision becomes distorted and blurry due to shedding eye caps.
The lack of sight is stressful for your snake, leading to atypical behaviors, such as hissing.
Why Do Wild Snakes Hiss?
While larger snakes like anacondas and pythons are less likely to be hunted by predators, smaller snakes have to stay constantly vigilant to ensure they don’t end up as another animal’s meal.
Especially for those which are non-venomous, hissing is used to intimidate and dissuade possible predators.
Snakes prefer to avoid confrontation when possible rather than risking the possibility of injury, so hissing is a great option if they feel cornered.
Other defense techniques include using their fangs to bite, expelling a strong musky scent, or rapidly fleeing.
Venomous snakes will also use hissing as a warning before biting.
This has the same intention as non-venomous snakes; if the predator backs off due to the warning, there won’t be a confrontation.
Although some animals use such noises to communicate with one another, snakes are not one of these creatures.
Because they are usually more isolated and do not interact with other snakes other than for breeding or hibernation, they don’t require much in terms of communication.
If you notice one snake hissing at another, it is most likely giving the other snake a warning or threat.
In fact, the average frequency of a snake’s hiss is outside the range of a snake’s hearing, meaning they cannot hear their own hisses or the hisses from other snakes.
How Do Snakes Hiss?
To understand this, you must first know a little bit about the snake’s anatomy.
Snakes have a structure in their throat called the glottis located behind the tongue.
This organ is predominantly used for both respiration and hissing.
When a snake is eating, the glottis extends so the snake can still breathe while it is in the process of swallowing.
In more basic terms, the glottis opens and closes to control airflow.
With normal breathing, no sounds are made.
Inside the glottis is a piece of cartilage.
Forcing air through this opening in a more forcible manner vibrates this piece of cartilage, resulting in a loud hissing noise.
Certain snakes, including vipers, can make this sound even when they’re inhaling.
Which Snakes Hiss
Although all snakes have similar anatomical structures and are therefore all capable of hissing, not all snakes hiss.
A lot of domesticated snake species will hiss, however, like hognoses, ball pythons, and boa constrictors.
Other species include the reticulated python, pine snakes, anacondas, vipers, cobras, corn snakes, African rock pythons, and black mambas.
It’s critical to know why snakes hiss.
Otherwise, you may end up hurting yourself or your pet.
Hissing is a natural reaction for snakes when they feel threatened or upset.
Learn how to read your snake’s mood so you better understand when you should handle them and when you should leave them alone.
Understanding your snake’s needs will help you become a well-trusted owner.