How to Tell if a Snake Is About to Strike

This article is brought to you by Joshua Castle who is a professional and licensed snake catcher in Brisbane, Australia.  He definitely knows his stuff when it comes to telling whether a snake is about to strike! As a backpacker, I keep my distance from any snakes I see but it is still incredibly useful to know whether a snake you come across on the trail is getting ready to strike.  Here’s what Josh has to say.

Snake catcher Joshua Castle handling a female coastal carpet python

Reading snakes body language can be very difficult to the untrained eye but there are a few things we should consider when coming across a snake in the wild.

First and foremost, DO not try and catch it yourself and defiantly do not try and kill the snake: 95% of bites happen because the person was untrained in the field and could not read the body language properly. In Australia where I live, snakes are protected by the government so it is actually highly illegal to interfere with these species without the proper permits and licenses.

But let’s say you come across a snake in the wild or maybe you forgot to keep your tent closed and one slithered inside. You’ll be able to tell whether the snake is about to strike by its “mood.”


Mood 1: Relaxed

If treated with the respect they deserve, some snakes will have a relaxed attitude about them.  They will lazily flick their tongue out to taste the air.  Snakes have almost no eyesight, so they rely on their tongue flicker to know what is going on.


Mood 2: Unsure

In the unsure mood, a snake will start to flick its tongue  more rapidly to try and grasp what is going on around it. This behavior should be observed from 5-10 meters to ensure maximum safety.

Getting any closer could result in a nasty bite. Bear in mind some snakes have an incredible strike range. They can launch their body 2-3x their body length.


Mood 3: About to Strike

If a snake’s tongue stops moving, chances are its spotted you. If you make the mistake of getting too close at this point, 9 out of 10 times the snake will rear up a little into an S-shape position.  This S-shape is a sign that the snake is about to strike. Start backpacking away out of strike range.

Below you can see images of snakes in strike position.

snake about to strike

snake about to strike
snake about to strike

Some snakes won’t give you that warning of rearing and S’ing up though, which is why you always need to keep your distance from a snake. It’s not worth the risk of getting close just so you can take a cool photo for Instragram.  Please don’t take this for granted. Snakes don’t want to bite you but, if you get within its personal space while its reared up at you, you will most definitely be in for a bad time.

striking snake

A snake striking

Reading snake body language is very difficult and should be left to a professional snake catcher. At the end of the day, they still are wild species and can turn very quickly, some snakes can almost have a bipolar personally: they will be fine one minute, and the next they are wrapping their mouth around your hand.

If you live in Brisbane or Moreton Bay and find a snake on your property, you can contact Josh – he’s available 24/7 to catch and relocate snakes.

Also Read:

Image credits:
Joshua Castle
“Rattle Snake” (CC BY 2.0) by photogism

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