Skip to Content

How Intelligent are Snakes? Would Have Never Known!

How Intelligent are Snakes? Would Have Never Known!

All snakes have some level of intelligence. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to survive.

While some snakes are certainly more intelligent than others, herpetologists see this in the wild and in pet snakes.

As a snake owner, I have found that a few of my snakes are “smarter” than others. So, for the remainder of this post, we will look at just how intelligent snakes are despite their tiny brains.


How Intelligent are Snakes?

Snakes are smart enough to hunt prey, find water, shelter, and know when danger is near and how to escape. Every year, many wild snakes return to the same place for brumation, which requires a certain level of intelligence and memory. However, it is believed that domesticated snakes recognize their owners and respond to them in a way they don’t with strangers. 


How Smart is a Pet Snake

A pet snake is intelligent enough to be able to recognize its owners. Pet snakes do not have to fend for themselves.

Everything they need is provided for them. Therefore, the ability to measure a pet snake’s intelligence is limited.

However, I personally believe that pet snakes do not get enough credit for being intelligent. A few years back, my son accidentally left a small opening in his pet snake’s enclosure.

Of course, the snake decided to venture out and check out the world beyond his very nice, well-kept home. He wandered around the house for three days before we found him.

Then, shockingly, we found him in his enclosure. He was smart enough to explore the house and find his way back home!

Pet snakes do generally not mark their territory, so there was no distinctive smell to help him find his way home, nor were there any instructions for him on how to jar the top enough to slither back in.

To me, that’s how you’ll spot an intelligent snake.


Do Pet Snakes Recognize Their Owners: The Answer

Over time, they come to associate humans with providing them with food and keeping them protected.

If they are fed at the same time and basically the same thing, they will also associate you with their food, which helps with their recognition skills.

All snakes have poor eyesight and hearing. They depend on their senses of smell to guide them. Snakes will pick up on their owners’ sense in a short period of time.

Even if you were to change your laundry detergent, your snake would still recognize you because it is your body’s scent.

They learn to identify you, so the snake would immediately know it wasn’t you if a stranger neared their enclosure. The snake may even become leery, especially if they do not smell the food you usually bring them.


The Intelligence of a Wild Snake

Herpetologists are split 50-50 about the intelligence of all snakes, both pet and wild. Over the past years, lots of studies have been made on how intelligent snakes are.

While 50% of the herpetologists believe that snakes are a lot more intelligent than they are given credit for, the other 50% believe their peanut-sized brain is useless and everything they do is done on instinct.

If snakes do everything on instinct, how does a pet snake know how to crawl inside their rock shelter to get warm (if chilled), to sleep, and to hide?

If they were truly stupid, would they lie around their enclosure, eat when food is provided, and drink water is given to them?

In other words, pet snakes are far from pet snakes, and snakes that live in the wild are far from stupid. In fact, they are indeed intelligent.


Wild Snakes

The intelligence of snakes is more obvious in wild snakes who must fend for themselves. They hunt and capture food, find water sources, places to bask in the sun, places to sleep and hibernate.

They also know when they are the prey, not the predator, and they act accordingly.

According to recent studies, snakes will use thinking, intellect, and problem-solving skills to find their next meal.


Most Intelligent Snake

King cobras are the most intelligent snakes according to herpetologists. However, I personally have never owned a king cobra and have no desire to.

While they are beautiful and intelligent reptiles, they are also deadly.

Now, you may wonder how on Earth it is legal to have a King Cobra as a pet?

Depending on the state and even the county within the state you live in, some states or counties do allow people to own king cobras with a whole list of rules and regulations.

Pet king cobras have the ability to distinguish between different situations such as feeding time, enclosure cleaning time, and enrichment time.

Some herpetologists believe this is learned behavior, but none the less it is a sign of intelligence. Clearly making them the most intelligent snake species.

No one knows for sure how intelligent a snake is. All herpetologists must go by are a limited number of studies that re-split right down the middle, with half saying snakes are smart and the other half saying they are not.

They also have their own observations, and research will vary greatly from one herpetologist to another. Therefore, in some instances, snakes are intelligent, and in others, they are not.