Everyone knows that dogs and cats are fluffy, but not a lot of people know what the skin of reptiles or amphibians feel like. Many people assume that snakes are slimy and slippery, but others are uncertain. In fact, one of the most common questions snake owners get is, “What does the skin of a snake feel like?”
Despite common belief, snakes are not slimy. While the texture of a snake depends on its species, most snakes have a glossy, smooth feel to them due to the keratin found in their scales. Some snakes have keeled scales, making them feel rough, and scaleless snakes feel like smooth skin.
Of course, there’s much more to talk about than a snake’s texture alone. In this article, we’ll describe exactly what snakes feel like and why, as well as answer some common questions about how snakes feel.
Are Snakes Slimy?
Many look at the misunderstood snake and assume that it must have slimy skin to be able to so freely slip and slide around. In actuality, snake skin is watertight and dry, making it the opposite of slimy.
So where does this myth come from? As we’ll discuss below, the keratin-covered scales of a smooth-scaled snake are often incredibly shiny, which may give them a wet appearance in direct light.
Many also assume that snakes are like amphibians, which often secrete mucus to keep in moisture (making them often unsuited for handling). Although some snakes may secrete musk from their cloaca as a defense mechanism, they don’t need to secrete mucus is maintain moisture. In fact, non-aquatic snakes often cannot get wet for long periods due to getting cold, and soaking in water is usually only done to help them if they have specific issues.
What Does A Snake Feel Like?
While snakes are by no means slimy, the exact way they feel differs depending on what type of scales they have.
What are Scales?
Any animal with skin has a stratum corneum, a layer of dead tissue that serves to protect the underlying skin. In humans, this skin is thin and flaky, but this is different in squamates. Squamates, which include snakes and lizards, have a thick stratum corneum which is comprised of keratin and lipid-covered plates.
These plates, known as scutes or scales, are made of alpha and beta-keratin, the strong but flexible protein that makes up your nails and hair. They overlay one another in staggered, alternating rows to keep keep snakes armored and protected while providing them plenty of flexibility and reducing friction as they move. In fact, these scales may even act to grip rough surfaces or lengthen and shorten to let it crawl like a caterpillar. Snake scales are also water-proof and impenetrable, which prevents them from getting dehydrated and helps keep out any dirt.
Because they lack eyelids, all snakes instead have a smooth, transparent scale covering their eye known as a brille or ocular lens. A snake’s underside is covered in ventral scales, which are elongated and stacked like shingles. Some snakes have specialized scales, such as the rattle of rattlesnakes or the fringed scales of an eyelash viper.
What Is The Texture Of A Snake?
Most species fall into one of three categories: those with predominantly smooth scales on their bodies, those with predominantly keeled scales on their bodies, and those with predominantly granular scales on their bodies. There are some outliers, such as certain sea snakes, which have skin like an elephant.
The scales of a smooth-scaled snake are curved, hard, and sleek, much like the surface of your fingernails. Alternating rows of smooth scales produce a sleek, glossy feel. These scales often reflect light easily and may have an iridescent sheen, as demonstrated in the rainbow boa. Many pet snakes have smooth scales, such as corn snakes, ball pythons, king snakes, and milk snakes.
On the other hand, a keeled scale has a thick ridge running down its center, so snakes with keeled scales have a noticeably rough, spiny texture to them. These scales are most famously found in vipers and rattlesnakes, but can also be found in rough green snakes, garter snakes, and southern hognoses.
Finally, granular scales are bead-like scales that protrude from the skin rather than lay flat, giving snakes with them a bumpy but not rough texture. Granular scales are much less common than the other two scale types and can be found in elephant trunk snakes and on the head of Angolan pythons.
What Does A Snake Feel Like When You Hold It?
As we’ve explained above in depth, the surface texture of a snake depends on its type of scales. Of course, petting or touching a snake that someone else is handling is an entirely different experience than holding a snake yourself.
Beneath their scales and on top of their skeleton, snakes are incredibly muscular. As a snake crawls on you, you can feel its muscles moving around to help it slither, and it will carefully tighten and loosen different parts of its body periodically. It may gently grip your skin with its ventral scales to climb, but this is a painless and fascinating feeling.
A calmer snake will typically drape itself across you with its tail wrapped around you, and will likely be cold initially. It will gradually warm to match your body temperature, and you may even forget you are holding a lighter snake!
Are Snakes Warm or Cold?
Although snakes are called “cold-blooded,” they may be warm or cool to the touch. The term “cold-blooded,” or ectotherm, refers to an animal that does not have a set body temperature and must regulate its temperature with the environment. This is why snakes are known to bask, as well as why a snake’s metabolism will slow down in cold weather, causing it to hibernate.
As a result, whether a snake is cool or warm depends on the environment it was in. Typically, a snake will be cool but not cold when you take them from their enclosure, but if they were basking, sitting on a heating pad, or even have been recently handled, they may be warm.
What About Scaleless Snakes?
Believe it or not, there are some snakes that (mostly) lack scales! Several mutations of species like corn snakes, ball pythons, rat snakes, and even venomous species lack scales on their dorsal and lateral sides. Despite their name, these mutations actually retain their ventral scales, so they are able to crawl around and avoid damage to their under
These mutations are controversial due to how delicate their skin is, but many note that they have been found in the wild and that they do not experience the water loss many might expect.
Regardless of your views on these critters, scaleless snakes are commonly seen in the pet trade. Because these snakes lack beta-keratin in their skin, they have a soft, pliable texture, much like that of your inner arms. This skin easily folds and is noticeably wrinkled.
There are a lot of misconceptions about snakes, and one of the most common ones is that they’re sticky or slimy. Due to their water-tight scales that are formed from keratin, snakes are typically dry to the touch and may be smooth, bumpy or rough depending on their type of scales.
That said, it’s impossible to truly capture what a snake feels like as it crawls across you. Instead of simply taking our word for it, you can try holding one of these gentle creatures in a pet store or at a reptile convention. In the process, you may come to appreciate how amazing these peaceful animals are.