Snakes feel some type of pain, although it’s not entirely known if this pain is the same as humans feel.
There is a common myth that snakes (and other cold-blooded animals) don’t feel pain due to the lack of visible response like a facial expression.
However, snakes do react if we accidentally step on them or hit them in defense, either by snapping back or moving away.
This reaction is similar to the ones humans make when they’re hurt; lashing out, shouting, or screaming.
So, what kind of pain do snakes exactly experience? This article will explore the type of pain snakes feel, how they process pain, as well as their capacity to bond with humans!
What Type of Pain Do Snakes Feel?
There’s a misbelief that snakes react mechanically to pain stimuli, rather than experiencing pain as humans do. However, snakes feel pain, similar to other species, including humans.
But, scientific interpretation of pain in snakes is a challenging process, considering most non-mammals don’t make facial expressions and most of them don’t even have eyelids, according to National Geographic.
The fact that snakes experience pain is becoming increasingly accepted, but it’s evident that it differs from how humans feel pain.
For example, let’s say someone is walking across a hot desert at 120 degrees. At this temperature, their feet would be burning, right? On the other hand, a snake doesn’t have this problem.
Thanks to its scales, it’s protected from the heat and doesn’t suffer. However, this ability doesn’t mean that if the temperatures keep rising so much that the snake won’t feel any discomfort.
Snakes will move around their environment to find a comfortable temperature to sleep.
How Does Science Know that Snakes Feel Pain?
PETA notes that because snakes have a slow metabolism, they experience pain and fear long after decapitation. Snakes are often captured to be used for fashion accessories and beheaded or nailed to trees so that their skin can be peeled.
The book Pain Management in Veterinary Medicine says that reptiles certainly do feel pain because they have the requisite neuroanatomy needed for perceiving pain. What’s more, reptiles tend to avoid painful stimuli, and pain-reducing drugs lower this response- both signs that they do experience pain.
Snakes are known to be ectotherms or cold-blooded animals. But, this term doesn’t actually give the entire picture. They can’t generate their body heat so they rely on external heat. This is why they’re frequently seen basking in the sun.
On warm days, they may even have blood that’s warmer than that of humans! On the other hand, on a cold day, they really become “cold-blooded”.
Snakes can adjust to various temperatures and this doesn’t harm them. But, when they cool down, their metabolism will also slow down.
Because they get the heat from the sun’s energy rather than from their metabolism, their metabolic rate is generally slow.
Hence, a snake needs less energy to function and isn’t in need of a continuous supply of food, so it can survive longer between meals.
It seems that the thing that helps this reptile survive between feedings is also the reason for its slow death.
Do Snakes feel Pain when Decapitated?
According to PETA, snakes stay conscious and feel certain body sensations for a certain period after decapitation, which is believed to be a result of their slow metabolism.
The rapid and panicked wriggling of a snake’s body after decapitation may be a sign of the pain receptors acting at full-tilt, telling the muscles to use their muscle memory to attempt to wriggle away from the threat.
Does Pain make them Angry?
According to Dr. Sharman Hoppes, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, reptiles can express basic anger and sadness.
There is also speculation that they may also show pleasure when being stroked or given food, but more research is required.
Many experts claim that the concept of pleasure or love is controversial in reptiles. Since this isn’t something that they benefit from, they’re considered “incapable” of developing such an feelings or let alone expressing it.
However, why do some reptiles recognize the people who handle and feed them? Dr. Hoppes isn’t entirely sure if this has to do something with love, but she’s seen that certain tortoises and lizards like some handlers more than others.
Moreover, snakes’ good sense of hearing and smell makes them capable of recognizing and even remembering their owners.
Snake bonding doesn’t look like bonding with a dog or a cat. For some snake owners, it’s more of an acceptance or tolerance.
Still, there are individual examples of snakes expressing deeper emotion.
Namely, Danny Ripp who’s a member of the Nebraska Snakes and Reptiles has several snakes and claims her female ball python finds a way to get away from her when her boyfriend is in the room and heads towards the snake’s favorite spot: his shoulders.
Does Cold Weather Cause Snakes Pain?
Snakes certainly do suffer during cold weather, which implies their bodies are sending them signals through their neuroreceptors.
We know, for example, that snakes will seek out warm places during winter to hibernate in order to escape the cold weather.
It’s not clear whether they are suffering mentally during the cold, or simply mechanically reacting. But, chances are, there is some mental pain occurring.
To conclude, snakes hurt, but interpreting pain in non-mammals is challenging because they don’t make facial expressions.
Nonetheless, there is scientific data showing that reptiles are capable of perceiving ache because they have the neuroanatomy for that. And, they’re known to avoid painful stimuli which can be reduced through the use of meds.
Some experts also note that the snakes’ slow metabolism is one of the reasons why they experience pain, long after decapitation or injury.
The ability to experience pain may indicate snakes’ capacity to build bonds and feel something beyond fear and aggression, like pleasure.