How to Tell if a Snake is Dead

Are you worried that your slithery friend may have passed on? No need to panic! I’ll go through the telltale signs of whether your pet snake is deceased. 

Snakes are slow-moving when in brumation or when cold. A dead snake will not be reactive to touch. When picked up, they will feel limp and cool. Assume any snake lying on their back with their mouth ajar to be dead; a gentle prod will make sure.

As a novel snake owner, it can be difficult to tell if your snake has died. Some species of snakes can be docile, preferring to spend long periods curled in one location of their enclosure. This can be alarming for those who are not used to the species. Some snakes show signs of illness before death, although they may be subtle. Monitor your snake for any mucus, signs of dehydration, weight loss, or scale discoloration. 

In addition, some snakes may brumate once the winter months hit. Brumation is the natural phenomenon that occurs when a snake begins to conserve its energy for winter. To the untrained eye, they appear dead. During brumation, a snake will enter a deep sleep for long periods, waking only occasionally to eat and drink. During this time, they slow their metabolism and other bodily functions. Their Oxygen requirements are lower as well, so you may not be able to notice them breathing. This preservation of energy ensures that they can go for longer while sleeping. 

Brumation occurs anywhere from September to April and is unique to the snake. Your scaly pal may sense the chill in the air, and seek a warm location in the tank to settle down for winter. Brumation is not a universal trait for all snakes. If your snake has not been moving as much and has cut down on its feedings, it may be gearing up for its long winter nap. Check the temperature of the enclosure to ensure that it is within the optimal range. A tank with a temperature that is too low will trigger a snake to enter brumation. 

“Healthy snakes will actively explore their enclosure.”

Snakes don’t have eyelids, so they may look dead when they are awake or sleeping. So how can you tell if your snake is brumating, sleeping, or deceased? The first way is by gently prodding them. A snake that was sleeping will be startled by your presence. A sleeping snake will allow a person to get much closer without reacting to their presence. 

If your snake does not respond to a gentle prod, it may be in a deep brumation. Try picking them up to see their reaction. Your pal will look around, unsure of what is happening, while they try to grasp the situation. A brumating snake will act similarly but will be sluggish when it awakens. A dead snake will not react when they are picked up. 

When you pick up a brumating snake, you will still feel it react to your touch. It will grasp you for support if it’s a constrictor, and you will feel it move. It will also feel warm in your hands.

If a snake is truly dead, it will be limp. There will be no reaction when it is picked up, and it will dangle limply in your hands. Its head will not move around in an attempt to figure out what’s happening. A deceased snake will also feel cool to the touch.

If a snake is unresponsive, check the temperature in the enclosure. When the temperature is below the optimal range for extended periods, it can be detrimental to the health of your snake. At this point, your snake may appear dead, but they may be in a deep, vegetative snake. Your scaly pal may be revived with a long soak in a warm bath. Ensure that the bath is shallow enough that their head is propped up above the waterline. Maintain the water at a comfortable temperature. If it is too hot, your snake may suffer from ectothermic shock. 

When a snake dies, they may roll over on their back and open their mouth. Although this is not a universal behavior for all snakes. This may be an attempt to relieve the pain or pressure they experience when dying. 

“Brumation presents similar to death.”

Some snakes are convincing actors and will fake their death. Hognose snakes are notorious for doing so. When threatened, the snake will attempt other intimidation tactics to ward off their perceived threat. If this doesn’t work, the snake may flatten themselves  and hiss to fill their body with air. Then, they will roll over on their back, opening their mouth wide to trick their predator into thinking they are dead. If this happens, remove yourself from your snake’s vision, and watch them spring back to life!

Final Thoughts

Snakes are notoriously difficult to discern whether they are alive or dead. They don’t have eyelids and some of them enter a deep sleep called brumation during the winter months. During this time, they slow their breathing and activity level. To the untrained eye, they may appear dead. Some snakes are skilled actors who mirror death when feeling threatened. 

The only way to ensure that your pet is alive is by gently prodding him for a reaction. If he is startled awake, then he was sleeping. If your snake is unable to be aroused in this manner, try picking them up. If they are limp and cool, they may have passed on. To make sure, place them in a tepid bath to warm their bodies. Ensure that their head is above water so they can not drown. If they are still not moving after they have been warmed to their optimal body temperature, then your scaly friend has passed on.