Why do snakes eat their own tail?

I was sitting here admiring my corn snake, Peaches, when my mind flashed back to a video I’d seen of a snake eating its own tail.

Because these types of videos tend to go viral, you may have seen this one or one similar to it.

The thing is, I never found out why the snake did this or how it ended up in this situation. I have no idea what happened to the snake either.

This has never happened to any of the hundreds of snakes I’ve encountered in my years of breeding ball pythons, so it made me wonder why a snake would eat its own tail.

As a snake owner, I’d like to know how I can keep something like this from happening to my sweet noodles.

snake eating its own tail
Courtesy of PennLive.com Youtube Channel

Not Interested? Here are some cool facts about BEL Ball Pythons

Why do snakes eat their own tail?

Let’s start with the most obvious question. Why do snakes eat their own tails?

Scientists haven’t figured out why snakes eat their own tails, but I discovered some theories while researching it on the internet.

The most obvious answers are stress and confusion, but here’s how that happens.

Stress 

Snakes, like any other animal, can experience stress. We don’t understand the complexities of snake emotions, but we do know that they can be uncomfortable.

Extreme discomfort causes stress in a snake.

A snake can be bothered by anything in its environment.

Changes in food, feeding schedule, or routine, temperature and humidity levels that aren’t suitable for the snake, and thoughts of being in danger are all factors that cause snakes to stress.

Although tail-eating is not directly related to a snake’s stress level, it may play a significant role in it.

Any animal, including snakes, make poor decisions when under stress.

Stress influences our decision-making even in humans, as indicated by numerous studies, including this one.

Researchers in this neuroscience journal go into detail about stress levels and their impact on decision-making.

When stressed, snakes may mistake their own tail for food.

I’ve seen plenty of snakes accidentally strike themselves and then let go. In a stressed state, snakes may not be able to recognize that they have just bitten themselves.

Most snake teeth are designed in such a way that once they’ve latched onto something, there’s only one way to get it off, and that’s down the throat.

snake eating

Confusion

The next reason snakes will eat themselves is because they become confused. According to a herpetologist on Quora, “…[snakes] may become confused and disoriented, and their metabolism becomes messed up, giving the snakes a false sense of being extremely hungry…”

He explains that snakes are ectothermic, which means they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature.

If their enclosure becomes too hot, the heat may cause them to become disoriented, leading to a false hunger. They may also mistake their tail for food, particularly if the snake species eats other snakes as part of their diet.

Click here for the Ultimate Feeding Guide for Ball Pythons

What to do if your snake eats its own tail?

So, what if you find yourself staring at your poor snake as it eats itself? We know that human intervention is required for this snake’s survival.

Even though the snake will not eat itself to the point of digestion, there are numerous dangers in this strange occurrence.

You should not, however, pull them out before unhinging their hook-like teeth.

Pulling the snake’s tail out may may seem like the logical first response to seeing your snake eat its tail, but due to the design of snake teeth, pulling the snake’s tail out will cause more damage.

Can I pull out their tail?

Once they start eating their tail and it’s down their throat, their teeth won’t let go, making it difficult to pull them out.

As long as their teeth are unhinged, the snake should be able to regurgitate its own tail.

A king snake owner advised safely tapping the snake’s nose to make it uncomfortable. Most snakes will regurgitate their food if they are uncomfortable or threatened while eating, which is exactly what we want in this case.

He was able to get the king snake to let go of its own tail completely by unhinging the snake’s teeth and tapping its nose.

What kind of snakes eat their own tails?

king snake
King Snake

Snakes that eat other snakes, such as the king snake, are the most likely to end up in this unusual situation.

Although king snakes are more likely to eat their own tails, any snake that is stressed or confused can do so.

The occurrence of a snake eating its tail is nothing new. In fact, the symbol was given the Greek name  Ouroboros.

Symbolism

According to Mirriam-Webster, ouroboros (pronounced ur-oh-BOR-us) is a circular symbol that depicts a snake… devouring its own tail and is especially used to represent the eternal cycle of destruction and rebirth.

The word “ouroboros” derives from Greek, but the symbol first appears in ancient Egypt.

Although the symbol had different meanings in Egypt than it does today, it has come to represent eternity.

This symbol has piqued the interest of well-known artist Salvador Dali. It took him four years to complete the artwork, which he finished in 1975.

The ouroboros is also a popular tattoo symbol. People frequently get this tattoo as a symbol of life, death, and renewal, or the life cycle.

Salvador dali ouroboros

Conclusion

Although the symbolism of a snake with its tail in its mouth dates back to ancient Egypt, the reality of it happening can be frightening for any snake owner.

A snake that has eaten its own tail will not digest itself, but human intervention is required or the snake will die.

The most important thing to remember if you find your pet snake eating itself from its tail is to stay calm.

You can try to unhook its teeth from its body, but this may injure both you and your snake.

Instead, tap on your snake’s nose (as long as it’s not venomous) to get it to regurgitate itself, as snakes won’t eat if they think they’re in danger.

In the worst-case scenario, take your snake to your local veterinarian right away to get the best assistance.

Have you heard of a Paradox Ball Python? Here’s what you should know about them

Resources

Pabst, Stephan, Matthias Brand, and Oliver T. Wolf. “Stress and decision making: A few minutes make all the difference.” Behavioural brain research 250 (2013): 39-45.

Reemes, Dana Michael. The Egyptian Ouroboros: An iconological and theological study. University of California, Los Angeles, 2015.

Keep Reading