grass snake

Once the new arrival is feeding well, and is not showing signs of discontent such as reacting with alarm at movement outside the enclosure, or devoting considerable effort to get out of the enclosure, it is likely to be more amenable to handling. If it is gradually introduced to handling, it is likely to become quite tolerant of it in the fullness of time, depending of course on the species and individual specimen, as well as the handling ability of the keeper.

Reptiles that have just fed will be more inclined to bite, and snakes should be allowed to digest their meals until there is no visible bulge in their body before being handled.

Handling should be done in a relaxed but firm and non-hesitant manner, with a close watch on the reaction of the reptile, with care to avoid dropping it. If the reptile responds with excessive struggling or by attempting to bite, it should be returned to its enclosure.

A snake hook is a handy piece of equipment, even when working with non-venomous species. Small hooks for smaller snakes can be quickly fashioned from a metal coat hanger, and commercially available hooks are available for larger snakes. Although a snake may be quite accustomed to handling, the sudden movement of the initial ‘grab’ can surprise the snake and elicit a reflexive feed-bite or defensive bite. The snake hook can be used to awaken a resting snake, and partially lift its body, before the free hand can move in and properly lift the snake from the enclosure, where after the hook is put away to free that hand, and allow greater support of the snake during handling. Of course with very snappy snakes (e.g. living chainsaws such as young jungle carpet pythons) the hook is useful in moving the most pugnacious specimens in and out of their enclosures with a minimum of stress to the snake while avoiding any bites to the keeper. Unless there is a need to medicate the snake, inspect its mouth or reconfirm its sex, you should never grab it anywhere near its head or along the first third of its body, as this will cause undue alarm. Neither should you hold it by the tail. Instead, support the entire snake with your palms pointing upward. If it attempts to crawl forward, you can alternate your hands one in front of the other, so that the snake will move along the equivalent of a never-ending treadmill.

Most reptiles will adapt more quickly to their surroundings if suitable cover, or ‘hiding spaces’ are provided. In the wild, most snakes and lizards spend a lot of time in confined and even tight fitting recesses, such as in burrows, beneath flat stones, or in hollow bits of timber. It’s important to provide such privacy for your snake. In our experience, the best ‘hide’ is simply a piece of corrugated cardboard of a size that the snake can fit under. The snake will then feel secure with the weight of the cardboard on top of it and it will be able to move around regulating its temperature.