It can generally go without saying that people want to be able to bond with their pets. After all, you are going to be spending the next several decades caring for the animal companion, so it would make sense that you want it to recognize you as something important in its life.
However, reptiles have different mindsets than most other pets. Cats, dogs, birds, and most rodents and small animals are able to bond with their people for a variety of reasons, which is why they are so popular as pets. Reptiles, on the other hand, do not seem capable of bonding to their people in the same fashion.
This then begs the question of whether or not snakes are capable of feeling appreciation and love toward their owners and if they can bond with them. As a whole, snakes are not the best pet to have if you are looking for a meaningful and obvious bond with your animal.
Do Snakes Have Emotion?
Before you can look into the question of can snakes feel love, you first have to look at things from a broader perspective. If snakes do not have the part of the brain that helps them process emotions and connections like other animals do, then it would make it clear as to whether or not they can feel love.
Unfortunately, the answer as to whether or not snakes have emotions is a little bit cloudy. Snakes, by their nature, are pretty distant animals and are rarely social. If the species of snake is one that lives in a den with other snakes, it seems to simply be coexisting rather than a social gathering. This makes it hard to gauge what emotions, if any, snakes can have toward others.
The general consensus is that snakes can experience simple emotions, but may not process complex emotions. For example, if the snake feels threatened, it will act aggressively. Snakes can have docile, nervous, and defensive personalities. But they do not necessarily build bonds with others, meaning that a more complex relationship is likely not going to be possible.
How Do Snakes View Their Owners?
Snakes do not have the intellectual capacity to process complex emotions. They do not recognize you as an “owner” to their lives the same way that other pets do. With that being said, how do snakes view the people who take care of them?
Snakes can be docile toward their owners but it isn’t through affection or appreciation for them. Instead, it is a textbook case of classical conditioning. This refers to the concept of when positive reinforcement is provided surrounding a person, place, or thing, the creature is going to appreciate that person, place, or thing more because it has been conditioned to associate it with that positive stimuli.
Think about it this way, with you bringing your snake food, you help show it that you are not an enemy. The snake is capable of associating you with that positive association, that you bring it food and care for its habitat. But beyond this association, snakes don’t really care about you all that much. You are simply another passing creature in the snake’s life.
Do Snakes Remember Their Owners?
Another aspect to this is that snakes simply do not have a strong frontal lobe to their brain. The frontal lobe of the brain is typically where more emotional connections are made, both good and bad, and because it is weaker and smaller than in other animals, this explains a little bit more about why snakes aren’t exactly affectionate.
In fact, it is believed that snakes don’t even truly recognize their owners. Snakes don’t have a good sense of sight and hearing, so they don’t have much of a way to distinguish you from another passing person. They can detect heat, but most people are the same temperature, so this doesn’t mean much. Snakes don’t make the same connections to smell and memory as other animals do either.
To your snake, you are a passing creature that may occasionally bring food. They do not recognize you as a person, but they recognize that this creature comes bearing food, so it won’t treat you quite as aggressively as it would if you suddenly reached in to pet the snake. Aside from this, you mean just about nothing to your snake.
What Kind of Pets Are Snakes?
With this in mind, most snakes are not the type of pet you should adopt if you are looking for an animal who will know you and interact with you. Most snakes don’t appreciate being handled and may lash out at you if you do try to handle them unexpectedly. However, some snakes, especially the ones with a more docile temperament, can learn to associate being handled with it not being a dangerous act.
When you are keeping a snake, it is important to remember that in the eyes of your snake, you aren’t anyone specific or special. You are a passing force that may or may not bring food. You should not expect your snake to remember you or be excited about you in the same way that dogs and cats are.
Snakes are the kind of pet that you keep to observe and occasionally interact with. Think of fish, other reptiles, and most aquatic animals. These animals are all ones that you don’t really interact with because they don’t recognize you or because it would affect their environment. Snakes fall into this category more often than not.
Why Do Some People Think Snakes Recognize Them?
Chances are that if you are looking into research on snakes, then you have read accounts from people who have owned snakes and have said that they are affectionate and can recognize people. This is a concept known as anthropomorphizing, where people attribute human concepts, ideas, and emotions onto animals who are incapable of feeling or experiencing those.
Snakes may flicker their tongue out around you or move closer to you when you pass their tank, and people take this to be an affectionate move or them recognizing you. In reality, the snake is likely just sensing movement and is moving itself to get a better view of what is going on outside of its tank.
Anthropomorphizing snakes is not harmful in itself, as long as you know what stresses snakes out and that you know, somewhere, that these behaviors are not the same as what you imagine them to be. As long as you treat your snake with the same distant respect that most snakes appreciate, there is no harm in imagining that it recognizes you and wants to say “hello.” The problems come when you act on those beliefs and try to be more social with the snake than it is capable of appreciating.