How Far Can A Snake Strike? (Coiled vs. Uncoiled)

snake about strike from a coiled position

Throughout history, snakes have often been painted as evil, villainous and mysterious.  Fictional works like Harry Potter and The Jungle Book use snakes as evil characters.  But, why is this?  Snakes can be intimidating, they move in a strange way compared to humans and their hissing is certainly off-putting.  It might be that not much was known about snakes in the past, and that lack of knowledge turned into fear.

One exciting and scary thing that snakes do is strike at prey and predators.  Today, to continue our journey of demystifying snakes, we are going to answer the question:

How far can a snake strike?

Most snakes can strike about 1/2 of their own body length.  This distance can vary greatly based on if the snake’s position and the species of the snake.  It is important to know this information so that if you ever feel threatened by a snake you know exactly how much distance to give it!

Knowledge really is power and learning more about snake behavior shows us that they are no more evil than a rabbit or a fish!  Now, let’s get into the specifics of snake strikes.

What Is A Snake Strike?

Striking is a defensive mechanism and a hunting mechanism that all different sorts of snake species use.  Often, the intent of a strike is to bite the target.

Most snakes, when threatened will first try to escape from the threat!  But, if a snake feels cornered or doesn’t feel safe moving away from a threat, it will start to prepare to strike.

A strike is a super fast movement that a snake makes with its head shooting out towards the threat in question.  A strike can be used as a warning, to injure, or as a fatal blow.  Some species of snakes will strike with their mouth closed.  Other species will strike with their mouths open, intending to bite the threat quickly, and then release it.  And other species strike with the intent to inject venom into the threat.

As we already mentioned above, a snake can usually strike out about half of its body length, which can be significant for larger snakes!   A strike is also an incredibly fast movement that venomous and nonvenomous snakes have acquired over time.  Here is a video to demonstrate how fast and intimidating a snake strike can be!

Why Do Snakes Strike?

So, we know that snakes might strike when they’re scared, but why do snakes strike in the first place?

Well, for the same reason that a dog might bark loudly, or a frog might take a great leap, snakes have evolved to strike.  The Smithsonian Magazine reports a theory that snakes have evolved to a super fast strike to be able to catch their super fast prey.

Think about it, snakes are often hunting very small mammals or birds.  These animals are small, fast, and could be really difficult to catch for slow predators.  Venomous and nonvenomous snakes all strike pretty quickly because they need to be able to cast fast prey animals.

This explains why snakes strike in an evolutionary sense, but why do they strike in the wild, or as pets?

Snakes are most likely to strike at someone when they feel threatened.  In the wild, if a snake is striking at you, the best thing to do is to move away from that snake, and keep in mind how far it might be able to reach, especially if it is coiled up!  Make sure to not back them up against a wall or corner them, as it will only agitate them further.

Why Your Pet Snake Might Be Striking

It’s not likely that your pet snake sees you as prey.  So, we have to assume that if your snake is striking at you, they see you as a threat.

You could be causing your pet snake fear and stress without realizing it.  Improper handling is one of the number one ways to cause your snake to stress out.  If you’re not sure how you should be handling your pet, or if you’re a new reptile owner, make sure to do your research!  Additionally, check out our guide to our choices for the most handleable reptiles.  Picking a snake off of this list will make handling easier and reduce your snake’s stress.

If you don’t handle your snake but you still notice that they look like they are going to strike you when they see you, they could also be hungry!  Being hungry can cause snakes to strike more readily, as their survival instincts could be kicking in.  Now, this isn’t to say that your snake thinks you are the prey, but, they do know that you are usually the one who brings them food!  Make sure your snake is getting adequate nutrition and if you’re not sure, you can always take them to your local exotic pet veterinarian.

How Far Can A Snake Strike If Coiled?

Now that we’ve learned a little bit more about snake strikes, let’s talk about how far these strikes really can go.

If you watched the video above, you can see that the rattlesnake was in a coiled position every time it struck the balloon.  Snakes usually rest in a coiled position.  When a snake is coiled, they are smaller, warmer, and safer overall.  If you have a pet snake you know that when snakes sleep, they are almost always coiled up.  Snakes can also rest in an uncoiled position, but they are usually only uncoiled when moving, eating, or drinking.

A snake strikes farthest when it’s coiled at the start.  This coil position gives a snake a good strong base to push off of when striking.  It also makes their surface area smaller, which in turn protects them from injury.  If a snake were to strike while uncoiled, the second half of its body would remain far behind them and at risk of attack.

Most snakes can strike at about 1/2 of their body length.  This means that if a snake is 3 feet long, you can expect it to strike a distance of 1.5 feet.  However, many snakes can strike anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of their total body length.  This means that if a snake is 3 feet long, you can assume that it can strike up to 2 feet.  It’s always safe to err on the side of caution and assume a snake can strike further.

If a snake is striking from a coiled position and is striking downhill, that would theoretically be the furthest that it can strike.  On the other hand, an uncoiled snake striking uphill will only reach a fraction of its furthest striking distance.

How Far Can A Snake Strike If Uncoiled?

An uncoiled snake is usually a surprised snake!  And a common belief is that an uncoiled snake cannot strike.  This is not true.  But, a snake’s strike is less accurate and shorter when starting from an uncoiled position.

Because a snake’s best strike comes from a defensive coiled position, a snake that is striking uncoiled is doing so as a reaction or reflex.  A snake that is moving might strike if surprised or a snake that gets picked up could easily turn around to strike and bit the holder!

An uncoiled snake doesn’t have a great base to spring off of.  Because of this, the strike is going to be shorter.  A lot of a snake’s accuracy also comes from the coiled position.  So, if a snake isn’t coiled, it won’t be able to hit its target as easily.

Don’t think that this means you are safe from strikes and bites if a snake isn’t coiled.  I have experienced my fair share of snake bites that usually came unexpectedly when I was handling a snake for an exam.  These snakes were not coiled and yet were always able to turn their heads at lighting fast speed and found a way to bite me!

I’m sure you have an image of me getting bit in the face or the neck by a snake, but in reality, they’re usually not aiming for those spots.

Where Will Snakes Usually Strike?

When snakes strike humans, they are usually acting defensively.  A lot of the time, biting snakes are responding negatively to being handled.

Because of this, it’s only natural that the USDA reports that most snake bites happen on the hands, wrists, and arms.  Additionally, snake bites will also occur on the ankles and feet.  As you can imagine, these bites occur not when a snake is being handled but usually when a snake is surprised by someone walking by.

If you’re worried about a particular species of snake in your area, keep reading to find out exactly how far some snakes can strike.

Striking Distances of Common Species

We established that snakes usually strike about 1/2 of the length of their body when coiled, and less than that if they are uncoiled.  But, this distance does vary among species.

What Is The Striking Distance of a King Cobra?

If you see a king cobra, the world’s deadliest snake, get away as fast as possible.  These huge venomous snakes can strike up to 6 feet and will often bite multiple times in one strike.  Adults of this species are known to bite and hold onto prey in order to inject their deadly venom.

What Is The Striking Distance of a Rattlesnake?

Rattlesnakes are a snake that is known for the loud warning rattle of their tails.  These snakes are also able to strike quickly and aggressively.  These snakes are known to strike up to 2/3 of their total body length.  Rattlesnakes can be anywhere from 4 – 8 feet in length.  This means that a large adult rattlesnake could strike up to a distance of 6 feet, as much as a king cobra!

What Is The Striking Distance of a Copperhead?

Copperheads are another species of snake that are estimated to be able to strike a distance of 2/3 of their body length.  Luckily, the average length of a copperhead is much shorter than our previous snakes, measuring between 2 and 3 feet.  At most, a copperhead can strike up to 2 feet in distance.

What Is The Striking Distance of a Cottonmouth?

A cottonmouth snake is a species of semi-aquatic viper that you won’t want to run into on a swim.  These are relatively small snakes, only growing to about 2 -4 feet in length.  Their striking distance will measure at 1/2 of their length or 2 feet at the most.  But whether you meet one of these snakes coiled or uncoiled, keep your distance.  Their venom is one of the most painful and deadly in the world.

What Is The Striking Distance of a Python?

Pythons are a relatively less dangerous group of snakes.  Pythons are by definition nonvenomous.  But a bite from a python can still be painful and some species of python, like the reticulated python, can grow ridiculously large.  The longest reticulated python was recorded at 30 feet.  So if we follow our 1/2 rule, this snake could theoretically strike up to 15 feet away!  I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t stay around to find out.  But, if you are keeping a ball python as a pet, you won’t have to worry about them striking further than a few feet, and hopefully, they won’t at all if they are well cared for.

What Is The Striking Distance of a Bullsnake?

Bull snakes are fairly large nonvenomous snakes.  These snakes can grow up to 5 feet in length.  You could expect a bullsnake to strike at around a maximum of 3 feet.  However, this snake, like many other constrictors has backward curving teeth.  These teeth will shred skin or hold onto it tightly.  Either way, don’t let a bull snake get a chance to strike at you!

How Do You Know If A Snake Is About To Strike?

All of this knowledge won’t help you if you can’t read the warning signs of a snake that is about to strike.

As we mentioned above snakes can strike from any position, and sometimes a bite is unavoidable.  But there are a few things you can be alert for.

One major sign that a snake is going to strike is that it has coiled up and the upper part of its body is in an s-shape.  This s-shape is the perfect shape for striking and a snake doing this is just waiting for its moment.  Another sign a snake might be preparing to strike is that they move the end of its tail.  The tail can act as a kickstand so getting the tip of the tail in a good position is another sign that s snake is about to strike.  If you’re lucky enough to hear a rattle or a hiss, that is yet another sign that a snake is getting ready to act defensively.

Basically, a coiled, hissing snake is not a good sign.  I can’t encourage you enough to try and distance yourself from a snake that looks like this.

Final Thoughts

Whether a snake is coiled or uncoiled they still have an amazing ability to strike and bite!  But, this doesn’t mean that snakes are evil.

Snakes strike and bite at prey or when threatened by predators.  If a snake has no reason to feel threatened by you, you might never see them act defensively or start to coil up.  Whatever you do, always assume that a snake can strike at least 1/2 of its body length, and just give them space.