Snake musk is a foul-smelling substance that a snake releases through its cloaca (anus). Snakes release this to deter predators.
Snake musk smells like rotten eggs. Some claim that the smell is similar to that of a skunk’s. Not all snakes release musk, and different snakes musk at different frequencies.
Table: Common Snakes that Produce Musk
|Snake||Musk Emission Frequency|
Is Snake Musk Venomous?
No, snake musk is not venomous, but its scent is overpowering.
Those who have been taking care of snakes for a long while attest that it is so powerful that it leaves a scent behind even after washing. Expert snake handlers say that soap alone is not enough to remove the smell.
Snake musk is usually white in color. However, since it passes through the cloaca, it is not unusual for the snake to excrete musk with urine and feces. Do not be surprised if a snake’s musk is yellowish or brownish.
Why Do Snakes Emit Musk?
The general assumption is that snakes use this to ward off prey. Some say snakes use this to mark their territories, while others use it when looking for a mate.
A snake typically produces musk if captured or if it is disturbed in captivity. Scientists have reasons to believe that there is a difference between the musk of male and female snakes. The hypothesis is that female snakes emit musk more often than males for defense purposes.
This difference comes from what scientists call sexual dimorphism. It is a widespread phenomenon among many animals, and it means that snakes have differences in sexes in many forms.
Scientists also found out that snakes, even in the same species, have different musk odor. The difference comes from the varying sizes of the musk-producing glands among the snakes’ sexes.
There are also studies suggesting that females carrying eggs musk more often to ward off predators. As such, female snakes have more reliance on “musking” than males.
As far as mating is concerned, though, it is becoming more and more apparent that snakes use musk as an alarm system. They do not excrete musk to attract mates.
The way scientists studied this is to measure how snakes flick their tongues in the presence of the musk odor. In a control group, there is water with no musk smell. These snakes, particularly the cottonmouth, did not flick their tongues that much
However, their behavior changed when exposed to the musk. The snakes have elevated tongue-flick rates, and they were more silent. What this means is that the snakes exposed to musk were immobile as if afraid of something.
The snakes exposed to musk also took longer to forage for food. So, the scientists also studied the metabolic rate of snakes.
After the study, scientists theorized that snakes exposed to musk have slower metabolism compared to the control group. This finding is not yet conclusive, as the scientists know that some factors may have affected this.
How Do Snakes Produce Musk?
Snake musk is a secretion from a gland at the cloacal area. The musk is made of various chemicals. Snakes (and some other animals like skunks) have developed special glands that produce a stinky smell, especially if they are defenseless.
A study concluded that many snakes share the same types of musk composition. These scientists used methods like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. After testing different snakes, they found the following volatile components:
- 3-methylbutanoic acids
Furthermore, the study also concluded that five of these compounds are present in some pythons and vipers. What this suggests is that the production of musk has been around for millions of years in the snake’s long and colorful evolution.
What Kind of Snakes produce Musk?
There are many kinds of snakes, and the musk they produce very in terms of frequency. Read below for guidance.
- Frequent: garter snakes, king snakes, corn snakes, and milk snakes
- Infrequent: ball pythons, boas, and hognose snakes
Corn snakes typically musk frequently when young. As they mature, they rarely do this anymore. Corn snakes musk in environments that are new to them—they are marking the territory.
Ball pythons musk but not frequently. They are much more comfortable around other animals than other snakes. Their size makes them formidable, so they do not musk as there are few animals that they see as threats.
On the other hand, it is observed that garter snakes musk more often. These snakes are small and easily feel threatened. They also have small fangs, and a foul odor can sometimes be much more effective than biting an enemy.
Kingsnakes use both aggression and musk to fight a predator. They will bite a person they do not know, and at the same time, will shake their tails as they excrete musk.
Generally, garter snakes are not poisonous, and this is why they use musk as a self-defense mechanism. Some have venom but are not powerful enough to inflict serious damage to humans.
How to Remove Snake Musk from your Body
Pet owners face a smell problem as they take care of their snakes. There will come a time when a pet owner comes in contact with musk.
Musk is made of at least five chemicals, and this is what makes the smell challenging to get rid of. Many experts suggest washing hands repeatedly with soap. Some suggest lave soap—something that has pumice and special kinds of plant-based oil.
Snake musk is not fecal or urine matter. It is made of different chemicals from the gland in the cloacal area of the snake’s anatomy. Snakes musk to warn predators and mark territories, but they do not use this to find a mate.
Snakes musk usually have seven different chemicals, but some, like pythons, only have five. As a result, various snakes have different musk levels as far as the smell goes. To remove snake musk, use a strong brand of soap that has pumice and oils.
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