Everyone knows that snakes can slither along the ground and coil up into a snug little reptilian package, but did you know that some snakes can stand too? Your snake may be capable of lifting up to a third of its body into an upright position, and there are a few different reasons why.
Most pet snakes, such as ball pythons, stand up to satisfy their curious nature or communicate to their owner that they need a change of scenery. Other species of wild snakes typically display this type of behavior for a whole different reason – to attack.
There are several common reasons why your pet snake may be standing up in his territory. We’ll delve into each of these explanations and then provide additional reasons that probably don’t apply to your pet snake but may be motivations in wild snakes.
Reason #1: Exploring a New Place
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but snakes are just as guilty of the desire to explore new places. If your pet snake is standing up, he may be observing new surroundings. This behavior is most notable when you first bring your snake home, move him to a different room, or introduce him to a new space.
Before slithering around to check out the strange new environment, some snakes are a bit more cautious and prefer to survey their surroundings, calculating potential risks, new habitats, or even sources of food.
Reason #2: Looking for a Place to Hide
Another viable reason why your pet snake is standing up is to look for a place to hide. Some common pet snakes, such as ball pythons, are nocturnal reptiles which means they are active at night and tend to rest during the day.
Even though your snake is safe from predators and the blazing sun in its cozy enclosure, the instinct to seek shelter during the day is still strongly ingrained in its DNA. If you do not provide adequate hiding places in the form of rock caves, hollow logs, or other sheltering materials, your snake may stand up and investigate its options for cover.
Reason #3: Checking You Out
As previously stated, snakes can be curious animals, especially when it comes to this strange new bipedal creature who feeds and cares for them. Similar to exploring a new environment, pet snakes can stand up to get a better look at you when you approach their tank.
Naturally, if you are taller than your snake’s enclosure, your pet will want to take the full measure of you or anyone who may approach their habitat. Standing up provides snakes the ability to see eye to eye with those they encounter and better determine if their motives may be a threat.
While standing up in pet snakes, such as ball pythons, is usually out of curiosity, this behavior displayed by some wild snakes in response to being approached may be more defensive. Be aware that you are likely to be perceived as a threat to wild snakes and standing up can indicate that they are sizing you up for a fight.
Reason #4: Assessing a Potential Source of Food
Snakes are natural predators so the instinct to hunt for their food may still manifest in certain ways even in pet snakes. Even though most snake prey can be detected from the ground level, environmental obstacles such as rocks, plants, and debris can prevent a snake from identifying its next meal.
By standing up, a snake has a better view of its surroundings, including any potential sources of food. If you notice your pet snake standing up in its tanks, it may be looking for food. If your snake becomes accustomed to getting fed at a certain time of day or finding food in a specific spot in its enclosure, it may stand up if you change up its normal routine to try to locate where its next meal might be hiding.
Reason #5: Climbing
Depending upon what species of snake you keep, how large its enclosure is, and what additions are included in its environment, your snake may be standing up as a means to start climbing. Arboreal snakes or those that are naturally found in trees, such as certain species of boas and pythons need places to climb in their enclosure and most snakes can climb stairs or other household objects with a little effort.
If a branch or climbing apparatus is placed too high off the bottom of a snake’s tank, it may appear to stand up in order to reach its perch. Consider placing these items in a more convenient spot so your snake doesn’t have to work for it!
Your Snake Is Probably Not Sleeping
Sometimes you may find your snake standing up and leaning against the glass of its tank. You might assume that your snake is just sleeping if it remains in that position for an unusually long period of time. However, this is very unlikely considering snakes typically sleep in a relaxed state coiled on the ground or draped over a branch.
If your snake is sleeping, its muscles would not be actively holding it upright in a standing position. More likely than not, your snake is assessing a situation rather than sleeping. You’d be surprised how long a snake can stay absolutely still in one position without moving a muscle!
It Is Not Likely That Your Pet Snake Is Getting Ready to Attack
If you have a common species of pet snake such as a ball python, the likelihood that your reptile is standing up because it is preparing to attack is very slim. Ball pythons are considered fairly docile and exhibit curiosity more than aggression.
However, if you have a more exotic pet snake species, especially one that is venomous, you should be on your guard because standing up is a sign that they feel threatened and may be preparing to mount a preemptive defensive strike.
Cobras and mamba snakes are prime examples of species that stand when preparing to attack. Additionally, eastern brown snakes and rattlesnakes stand up before they strike, however, they will also coil or fold their bodies back for maximum launching ability. Beware if you have any of these kinds of snakes as pets or encounter them in the wild – you may be next on their hit list whether they’re standing or curled up.
Why Is My Snake Periscoping?
In addition to simply standing up, you might notice that your snake also moves its head from side to side. This behavior is known as periscoping, named after the instrument used by submarines to observe their surroundings above the water.
Ball pythons in particular are known for exhibiting periscoping behavior, especially when checking out a new environment. Periscoping allows your snake to survey all its surroundings and not just what is in front of them.
Sometimes, ball pythons will also exhibit periscoping behavior in their tank if they need a change of scenery. If the atmosphere in their enclosure becomes stale and they need a breath of fresh air, your snake may communicate this to you by standing up and looking around.
Check out this video example of a periscoping snake:
Should I Be Worried If My Snake Is Standing Up?
There is no need to be concerned if you notice that your snake is standing up. The action may indicate that they require food, better shelter, or a break from their tank. However, their health is not in any immediate danger. In fact, your snake may just be curious to see what’s going, especially if something new is introduced in their purview.
The only time you should be concerned about your snake standing up is if you own a venomous snake and it is not within the confines of its enclosure. While this poses little danger to the snake, you or someone else may very easily be the target of your snake’s next attack. Most snakes will only strike if they feel threatened, so back away to show you intend no harm and hopefully, your snake will back down.
While we typically think of snakes as creatures that stay low to the ground, it is not unusual for some species to raise themselves into an upright standing position.
Standing upright allows snakes to observe new surroundings, look for food, and locate places to hide that may otherwise go undetected if they stayed low to the ground.
The next time your snake stands up, make sure it has everything it needs because it may be communicating to you that it is hungry or wants to shelter, or it may simply be saying “Hi!”