Ssssensational Facts: Why Do Snakes Eat Themselves?

Shirin Biswas
Feb 24, 2024 By Shirin Biswas
Originally Published on Nov 12, 2021
Fact-checked by Sakshi Raturi
Green Tree Python coiled around tree branch

You may have seen the ancient Egyptian symbol of a snake eating its own tail.

But, did you know that eating their own tails could be fatal to your pet snake? If your snake starts to look stressed, make sure that it is eating well, because, before you know it, it may start eating its own tail!

As much as ancient folklore may glorify this odd eating habit among snakes, it is not a natural animal behavior and should be cause for concern.

Documented events testify to the fact that these cold-blooded animals do not do well in extreme heat since they are incapable of regulating their body temperature.

This can give them the false sense of feeling extremely hungry, and they may adopt self-cannibalistic behavior that can actually kill them! There are many things that may lead to this, from simple issues such as the temperature of the enclosure being too high, to a snake mistaking its own tail for prey.

Whatever the reason is, it is essential that your snake is taken care of to avoid any mishaps.

If you enjoy this fun facts article, then why not also take a look at how often do snakes eat and how often do snakes shed.

What is this type of behavior called and why?

As confusing as it may be for a pet owner to watch their snake eating its own body, this is a recognized behavior and has an actual name. This behavior is called ouroboros, after a famous, ancient myth.

The term ouroboros is based on Egyptian folklore and history, which says that the circle formed when snakes eat their own tails is a symbol of the eternal cycle of birth and death.

While it may be quite difficult to rationalize such behavior (or even to remember such a name), people can sometimes be heard referring to it simply as self-cannibalistic behavior.

This self-cannibalistic behavior, however, is not natural, and the snake usually behaves in such ways due to external factors such as stress. Snakes usually bite their own tails when their climate is not cool enough for them.

This leads to confusion and makes a snake mistake itself for prey.

Understandably, it would be impossible for snakes to swallow their own bodies, so they end up choking. Many species of snake may show ouroboros if their enclosure is not maintained correctly or they are not fed well enough.

What happens when snakes eat themselves?

Just as it would be rare for a human to start eating their feet, it is very rare that a snake will try to eat itself.

If your pet snake does try to bite or eat itself, it is probably because it is thinking of its tail as another snake or possible prey. Such behavior in animals of all kinds is harmful and can be fatal.

The main reasons why your pet snake might engage in such behavior can be a very high temperature in their enclosure or insufficient food. Since snakes are cold blooded animals, they cannot regulate their body temperature like humans can.

If the temperature and heat gets too much for them, they get stressed, confused and disoriented.

This disorientation results in snakes thinking that their own bodies are another snake. Since extreme heat can also give this animal a false sense of hunger, a snake may nibble on its own tail for food.

Such behavior can also be seen in snakes that are hungry. Not enough food can make the hungry snake eat the first thing that it can see, which, unfortunately, is sometimes its very own tail.

The snake may also exhibit such behavior during the shedding season.

When snakes shed their skins, their eyelids also come off as a part of this life cycle.

This may lead to poor vision and cause clueless snakes to mistake their own tails for prey and start biting them.

While it may seem like a really easy solution would be to turn off all of the enclosure's heating pads in an attempt to save the snake from feeding on itself, it can actually be difficult to free the poor animal from its own deadly bite!

What types of snakes eat themselves?

There is no particular species of snake that is known for showing such behavior. Since it is mainly external factors that confuse the animal and lead to the rare event of it biting its own tail, no particular snake species or genus can be narrowed down on.

However, such behavior is understandably more common in snakes that eat other snakes as part of their diet.

The animals that are infamous for eating snakes of other species are the Kingsnakes or King Cobra snakes. Not only is it advisable for any human to stay far away from the mouths of these snakes, even other snakes run a major risk of being swallowed whole!

How can you stop it/prevent it?

Some snakes regularly eat other snakes, and, in these cases, it can become really difficult to prevent such behavior during the shedding period when the vision of the animal is compromised.

No matter whether or not the species of snakes that you own is one that feeds on other members of the snake family, such events can be fatal.

However, if your pet species is not known to eat other snakes, consider spraying cool water on your snake every once in a while to make sure that the extreme heat does not confuse your reptile friend.

It may also be a good idea to make sure that the temperature inside the enclosure is well regulated to keep it as cool as your pet likes it to be.

The use of heating pads has to be limited to when the temperature drops in the place where you live.

Make sure to feed your pet at regular intervals and watch out for any signs of stress-eating. Always remember that a well-fed pet is usually happier and healthier that an under-fed pet.

The conditions in which the enclosure is kept can also be very important. If waste and debris have been lying around for a long time, clear them out.

Another factor that may cause confusion and disorientation for your friend can be noise.

Try to make sure that the room in which your snake is kept is devoid of any excessive noise that might make the animal think that something is going wrong. Snakes are not all that different to us humans when it comes to wanting to live with neighbors that aren't overly noisy!

If it does so happen that your pet snake thinks of its own tail as that of another snake and starts biting or swallowing its own body, quickly see a veterinarian.

A visit to the vet is absolutely necessary because the teeth in a snake's mouth are arranged and placed in such a way to ensure that prey is unable to free itself.

Due to this, once your snake has caught its own tail or body in its mouth, the best thing is to take the animal to a vet before it starts to draw its own blood.

No matter how adept you may be as a pet owner, once the teeth of this animal have caught something, only specialized hands may be able to save its life!

It is very important to understand that, though you may want to try and help your reptile friend, doing this yourself might prove to be more harmful than beneficial and could be detrimental to your pet's life.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly factsfor everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do snakes eat themselves then why not take a look at when do snakes hibernate, or Vine Snake facts.

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Written by Shirin Biswas

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

Shirin Biswas picture

Shirin BiswasBachelor of Arts specializing in English Language and Literature

With a degree in English from Amity University, Noida, Shirin has won awards for oratory, acting, and creative writing. She has a wealth of experience as an English teacher, editor, and writer, having previously worked at Quizzy and Big Books Publishing. Her expertise lies in editing study guides for children and creating engaging content.

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Fact-checked by Sakshi Raturi

Postgraduate Diploma in Management

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Sakshi RaturiPostgraduate Diploma in Management

Sakshi has experience in marketing strategy, social media planning, and recruiting industry experts for capstone projects, she has displayed a commitment to enhancing their skills and knowledge. She has won multiple awards, including a Certificate of Appreciation for Creative Writing and a Certificate of Merit for Immaculate Turut, and is always seeking new opportunities to grow and develop.

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