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Do Snakes Eat Themselves: Here’s What You Need To Know

You may have heard that snakes do sometimes eat themselves but dismissed the fact, thinking it cannot possibly be true. The vision of such an act leaves a mark that you may never want to explore again. However, what you have heard is entirely factual and interesting.

If you are a snake owner, this information is of the utmost importance, and if you are simply curious about wildlife, you may witness this in the wilderness. Knowing why snakes eat themselves will be helpful in what you may see, and how to handle the situation.

There are various reasons a snake will be inclined to eat itself. These occurrences are well documented, the most obvious reason may be that snakes instinctively react to external situations. However, if something within the snake’s natural state is off-balance, this can result in unusual behavior, thus the snake eating itself.

For example, snakes bite into their own bodies on occasion, instinctively sinking those fangs into themselves as if biting prey. The same scenario would apply to a snake getting a firm grasp on its own tail, and like prey, the tail is forced into the snake’s stomach.

This is not done purposely on the part of the snake, and it can definitely produce negative results in the snake’s life. A snake will immediately realize they are biting itself and let go in most cases. However, when they do not realize that they are treating themselves like the animals they prey on, there are causes for the behavior.

Stressed Out Snake Eats Itself
Stressed Out Snake Eats Itself

Just like us, snakes are prone to stress. A manifestation of this psychological disorder will result in highly unusual behavior, a fight or flight situation. As in people, tension builds up little by little until the snake cannot cope with the circumstances.

It is not just one factor, but several factors that compile, one on top of another, leading to a breakdown in the snake’s physical health. Snakes require precise requirements, timely and repetitive.

Expert Tip: If a snake does not have a proper environment, regular feeding times, and fed exactly what the snake wants to eat, this can result in stress, weakening the immune system, precisely as in humans.

Sensitive to stress-inducing factors, a tank that is too small, being handled far too often, a dirty tank are amongst the factors that can lead to stress for a snake. The signs of stress are highly missed in pet snakes as their behavior is expected to behave with resilience.

Stress can also be applied to snakes in the wild, however, it is most common in snakes who reside in a domesticated environment. If the snake is not taken care of properly, the snake will react to stress by what is called a displacement of behavior, a part of this behavior results in trying to eat themselves in order to cope.

Before making the decision to acquire a snake as a pet, ensure accommodations are suitable and appropriate, food supply is plentiful, and become knowledgeable on why snakes eat themselves. A great deal of stress on a snake, especially a pet snake, can be relieved if noticed directly and handled adequately.

Snakes sunbathing to warm up
Snakes sunbathing to warm up

Temperature regulation is another factor in the reason snakes may begin to eat themselves. Snakes are cold-blooded and do not have the ability to control their body temperature. Therefore, snakes highly rely on the external environment to regulate their own temperatures.

We will often find snakes sunbathing to warm up, which is vital to their survival. Snakes do not have the ability to sweat to cool themselves off, if it gets over-heated, it needs to find shade to cool down. If a snake cannot find that cooling area, it becomes disoriented and confused, causing them to mistake its tail, its own body for another animal.

In this state, they cannot distinguish themselves from prey and begin to eat themselves. Whether in a domestic environment or a natural existence, if a snake cannot cool itself, it can result in hypermetabolism.

While in this confused state, a snake will hunt down prey that it would not normally eat and can be easily fooled into seeing its own body as food to satisfy its disoriented, hungered state.

Exactly like humans, when a person is overly hungry, they can become irritable, irrational, have extreme difficulty in making simple decisions, and may even become ill. The same behaviors are exhibited in hungry snakes.

Extreme hunger can cause a snake to become chronically ill, resulting in what is called “auto-cannabilism” which is basically a snake that begins to eat itself. An hungered snake may start to eat itself out of a state of confusion, and its own body resembles food.

Snakes are natural predators, and in a desperate state, if the amount of nourishment is not available, they will mistake themselves for that prev they need and crave.

Hunger will definitely cause a snake to begin to eat itself
Hunger will definitely cause a snake to begin to eat itself

Given that a snake’s brain is reactive, it will react to hunger by preying on the closest thing it can find that resembles food, including itself. Some species of snakes are cannibalistic and can eat the tail of another snake, which is quite different from a disoriented snake that is eating itself.

Snakes are unable to think clearly when hunger takes over, much like a human that will grab any food within reach when hunger pangs set in, even if we do not have a natural taste for it. Hunger will definitely cause a snake to begin to eat itself simply because it cannot distinguish itself between prey and its own skin.

Expert Tip: Hunger and illness are connected when a snake is not getting enough nourishment. A snake may even mistake itself for an enemy in its completely disoriented state. The delusional presence of an enemy, another predator, will result in a trigger defense, an excited state, thus aggressive biting of itself.

In any situation, the snake is confused, thus causing a great deal of excitement and unpredictable behavior. Snakes can and have taken their own lives from biting themselves, especially when their own tails go down their throats.

One may think it is the venom if a lethal snake begins to become its own predator that will kill them, however in most cases, snakes have a resistance to their own venom.

Their own venom does not usually harm venomous snakes because the venom is protein. When they digest it, the toxins are broken down by acid and digestive enzymes, making them harmless. However, this does not always apply if a venomous snake vigorously places its fangs in a position it would on real prey.

There have been documented incidences, though rare, where snakes kill themselves by their own lethal poisonous venom. It is, however, is most common the deep punctures, the loss of blood, and if the snake does not stop itself from its own demise, it will literally eat itself to death.

Snake bites are powerful, as seen in cases where a snake bites a human. The same power is used when a snake bites itself, causing severe, if not a suicidal impact the snake caused by its own fangs. These cases may seem rare, but they do happen with snakes more often than thought.

The mere fact that snakes, whether in the wild or domestic environments, may not be able to find the right body temperature, experience extreme stress, and suffer from hunger, which is only a few of the reasons snakes eat themselves, can happen at any given time.

The reasons mentioned above why a snake may eat itself are all caused by conditions that can turn neurological. Just as humans, a neurological condition without treatment or resolution can and often does have very negative results.

Although snakes eating themselves is not natural, it is not a behavior that is instilled in a snake’s biological genes, it is an extraordinary fact. This is not due to a snake having a small brain, as the most lethal of all snakes have small brains, their brains are instinctively devised to be predatory, cunning, and aware.

The size of a snake’s brain has nothing to do with the fact that they tend to eat themselves under certain conditions. In fact, unfortunate conditions cause this to occur, and again, in most cases, if a snake is a pet, the handler can prevent this from happening if noticed right away.

In the wild, a snake has nothing to rely on but itself, and whether domestic or wild, a snake is reactive and not proactive. A snake does not have the ability to find a way to cope with their circumstances immediately instead, they react in ways that can be detrimental to their own lives.

Snakes do not bite, nor eat themselves purposely
Snakes do not bite, nor eat themselves purposely

Snakes do not bite, nor eat themselves purposely. This is a reaction to a circumstance and is purely accidental. When in a disoriented state, or even when shedding, which impairs their vision and may cause an odor that resembles prey, the mistake of biting themselves is an occurrence that is never done to harm themselves.

With so many factors to consider, most of which are out of the snake’s control, biting and eating themselves is a reaction to an unsuitable environment or condition. It is absolutely not expected that a snake eats itself. There is a definitive reason, these reasons are unfortunate and can shorten the lifespan of the snake by several years.

The question immediately asked is, “why do snakes eat themselves?” when hearing this is an actual fact. The answers make sense in the world of this species of reptiles. Circumstances can cause a great deal of distress, creating a neurological reaction. With every reason as to why snakes eat themselves, each one relates to a stressful situation.

Although horrifically disturbing, this is how a snake will react to overwhelming stress.

Again, it is not to harm themselves; it is a sort of defense mechanism to try to grasp onto something that will make the situation better for their comfort. The delusion they are feeding themselves, protecting themselves from an enemy, and regulating their body temperature are among the few reasons snakes accidentally do this to themselves.

It is a reaction, not an instinct. This is more common in snakes in a domesticated environment than out in the wild. A snake has enough room to grow, stretch, food is usually plentiful, and it can burrow itself into the natural brush depending on its location.

A pet snake needs to have the same sort of environment in order to survive in a healthy manner. If not given the appropriate living quarters, a snake will bite itself to thrive.

However, if you witness a snake eating itself, remember it is not because they want to, it is because something is causing them to become disoriented. When seeing this unfortunate occurrence, be careful as the snake in this type of state has no idea whether you are safe, an enemy, or prey.


In conclusion, snakes eat themselves because something is a threat to their ability to be healthy, to be the predator they were created to be. Whether a gentle reptile or lethal, a snake’s reaction to definitive circumstances will make them begin to bite itself without thought of what they are actually doing.

Remember that snakes are reactive, not proactive. Whether it is biting their own tail or simply biting any area on their naturally slithering body, a snake is merely reacting to distress.

This fact of nature is something snake owners and outdoorsmen and women need to be aware of, why snakes eat themselves is more than likely due to a disoriented state.

Please feel free to comment on this information, your questions and thoughts are welcome.

Why do snakes eat themselves? Just like us, they are reacting to stress. No matter what is causing the stress, which could be a number of factors, it is piled on and becomes more difficult to handle over time.

This is not something that is comprised in the natural order of things in the world of reptiles, however, it does happen when a snake is introduced to a need or an uncomfortable situation.

About Grace Hocker

Hi, my name is Grace and I am a pet lover. Ever since 5 years old, I've owned some sort of pet from Bearded Dragons to Rabbits. I have dedicated my life to helping pets, and am here to help you get the best for your pet!