A snake’s behaviour around humans is largely dependent on the type and breed of snake that comes into contact with a human. There are more than 2,000 different varieties of snake in the world that will all react differently when in direct contact with a larger species, such as being approached by a human. The main distinction in how any snake will behave is down to whether or not it is of the venomous variety. While less than 20% of all snakes are considered to be venomous, it is common to be concerned or worried when approaching a snake because of the connections to the minority that are venomous.
A basic instinct
Snakes, like most animals, have a built-in instinct that dominates how they behave, especially around humans. But unlike other many other species of animal there is thought to be only a minimal thought process that contributes to a snake’s actions, instinct will more often than not take over and a snake will react how it is instinctively designed to. In venomous varieties like the cobra, this makes them more dangerous towards humans and their aggressive approach to interaction will be displayed when they are disturbed.
For the non-venomous snakes such as boas, their behaviour around humans will greatly differ depending on what kind of situation they are placed in. Most non-venomous snakes are not considered aggressive in nature. However this is not consistent with all breeds and there are certain non-venomous snakes that will attack without provocation from humans. If the snake’s breed can be determined before any close interaction and it is identified as the non-aggressive type, they can in some instances be safe to approach.
When in direct contact with a human, a snake’s temperament will reflect how it is treated, which directly relates back to its instinctive nature. For snakes that are not naturally aggressive and who are not venomous there is very little reason why they would attack. No considerable thought process dictates the snake’s actions so if it feels comfortable in its surroundings then it is likely not to pose any heavy threat to nearby humans.
Flight or flight
A snakes instinctive behaviour is often to flee an area that a human enters; the dominant size of a human over that of a snake is reason behind its instinct to escape the immediate area. A human will normally pose a bigger threat over the snake than vice versa, hence the snake will feel the need to protect itself in a defensive manner rather than an offensive manner and attacking directly.
This can vary depending on the situation the snake finds itself in. If the human directly corners the snake or intrusively disrupts it then the snake may feel there is no other option but to defend itself in an aggressive manner. In these circumstances it is likely that the snake will strike at the human it believes is a threat to it. While this is normally not to kill or harm the human, it is a warning with enough force and speed to scare the person and show that the snake is ready to defend itself.
Non-venomous snakes generally don’t view humans as a source of food as there is no predatory instinct to attack them. This behaviour can change however is the human’s scent is tainted with the normal food of a snake such as a small mammal. If contact has recently been made with any small creature that the snake may instinctively hunt- including common household pets like cats- the scent that remains will in some situations cause them to attack the human.
A snake’s behaviour to humans is as much dependent on the behaviour displayed around them as well as the instinctive nature that they have. If you quickly approach a snake or create a loud scene they will consider it as an attack towards them and will defend themselves in the only way they know how. If a snake is calmly approached with caution and in the correct manner it will behave differently to how it otherwise would, not knowing if they are friend or foe.
Most common snake varieties will only attack if provoked and will allow humans to handle them with ease. With other rarer, naturally aggressive or venomous snakes such as the Rattlesnake varieties they may attack any approaching human, even if they do not view the person as a direct threat. Some species of snake have evolved to become better capable of attacking without being noticed while others can be easily frightened and wary of any intrusion. The behaviour of a snake can generally be predicted if the breed is known, but it is always wise to be cautious.