While snakes have an extraordinary sense of smell, they cannot smell fear. They cannot comprehend someone’s emotions, but they can interpret a person’s or prey’s body language. Fearful body language may be interpreted by the snake as aggression.
Snakes have a keen sense of smell. They smell using its tongue and an enlarged olfactory function. When hunting, they rely on their sense of smell to compensate for their weak eyesight and restricted hearing.
When you approach a snake, it may flick its tongue rapidly to try to catch your scent. It’s not sniffing for a smell of fear. Its tongue starts to flutter rapidly simply to analyze the odors to see if you’re a threat. It is just sniffing to identify whether it is prey or predator.
Can Snakes Smell When You Are Afraid?
Snakes can only sense when you’re scared by your body language, but they can’t smell your fear.
Snakes have a rostral groove which is a tiny notch in front of the lips that allows its tongue to jerk in and out of its mouth effortlessly. When a snake jerks its tongue out, it sniffs its surroundings. It’s smelling for your scent, but not to see if you’re ‘scared’.
The wet tongue absorbs small molecules from the surface or air with which it comes into contiguity. These molecules make up the scents. When the tongue retracts into the snake’s mouth, it transfers those molecules to be digested and evaluated by an olfactory system chemoreceptive organ.
This organ aids in the interpretation of odors, delivering messages to the snake’s brain so that the snake may respond quickly to the scents; its reaction may be to attack or flee from a possible threat.
Can Snakes Tell you are Afraid through your Body Language?
Snakes may be able to sense changes in your motions if you are afraid, especially if you show stiff and unnatural jerking movements. The snake is not likely to see it as fear, but potentially as aggression.
Snakes are not aggressive. They will usually try to escape or produce a hissing sound to warn. However, if they feel aggravated hostility, they will attack in self-defense. The strike is mainly to let you know to back off.
Snakes do not view humans as prey, rather as a predator. Therefore, if you demonstrate fearful behaviors, it is not likely that the snake will see you as prey but as a threat. In such cases, the snake will slither away or bite you.
There is no evidence that snakes will attack you more if you are afraid than not afraid, as long as you keep your movements calm and smooth. Although snakes might detect fear in humans and become fearful, the immediate action is to retreat. Therefore, if you remain calm, steady, and smooth, snakes will not attack you when you are afraid, even for strangers.
You can get rid of your fear of snakes through constant and repeated exposure to the reptile. The exposure and interaction with the snake must remain positive because snakes will sense any negativity in your behaviors.
However, do not be concerned with the fact that snakes can detect you are scared. This feature will not affect your relationship with the snake, only that it will be more reserved when you demonstrate fearful behaviors.
How do Snakes React To Your Fearful Behavior?
There are certain behaviors that humans portray when they are afraid. Fear is normal, and it’s a strong emotion and natural response to what we view as a threat to our safety and health. When we are afraid, various natural physiological changes occur, and they trigger our body to react to danger with fight or flight reactions.
Fear prepares humans or any other animal on how to react when they sense danger. The body releases hormones that sharpen functions that are instrumental to our survival in the event of perceived threat, such as an increase in heart rate and acceleration of breathing.
Therefore, people afraid of snakes typically move more unpredictably with jerky motions when faced by a snake. In that case, a snake will automatically notice your behavior, and they usually see those fast movements and unpredictable behavior as characteristic traits among predators.
When you move rapidly or portray unpredictable behaviors, snakes might interpret those fearful behaviors as a threat. It assumes that your move is that of a predator trying to attack it, and it will either strike or escape.
When a snake views your behavior as a threat to its life, it will also affect its behaviors. Snakes are not aggressive reptiles unless in a highly threatening situation. Therefore, the snake’s interpretation of your behavior will also make the snake more fearful.
This creates a chain of negative behaviors between you and the snake. Your fearful behavior, in turn, makes the snake afraid, and this might affect the way it reacts.
We also tend to release a hormone that snakes can pick up when we are afraid, but it is probably more on our body movement that prompts a strike or flight response.
Snakes do not demonstrate emotion. But may at times display fear and aggression. And when snakes feel aggressive, they usually warn you through hissing or coiling itself, but if you persist, it may strikeout. However, in most cases when afraid they will escape.
How Can A Snake Smell?
The snake’s forked tongue helps it to detect distinct odors from different directions. It can swiftly capture air samples by fast flicking its tongue, which can help it pinpoint the location of scent.
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To gather information, snakes may utilize a variety of tongue flicking actions. Some snakes use their tongues to take up smell trails as they travel around the ground. Others may detect airborne pollutants by operating their tongue in brief up-and-down movements only touching air.
It’s hypothesized that as they move their paddle across the water, they produce “air vortices” that assist in circulating air towards their tongue. Some snakes, especially during the breeding season, employ more regulated up-down oscillations to detect smells. This oscillation enhances the quantity of air that passes above the tongue and improves tracking accuracy.
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Snakes are unique creatures that have effectively evolved to adapt to their surrounding. Although snakes do not demonstrate any emotions, they can sometimes sense when we are fearful through our body language.
When snakes sense our fear, they also become fearful but not to the point of becoming aggressive unless they view your motions as a threat. Therefore, even if you are afraid of snakes is vital to remain calm and steady, and not to show your fear to the snake.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.