This is a key part of my snakebite mystery story, which I am thinking of making part of a medical mystery series. I have been told that it actually is more life threatening to the snake for it to squeeze it's prey or threat non-lethally if the snake is venomous. I don't see why. It's not like it would be likely to cause the snake to be injured since snakes are extremely flexible.

And it wouldn't affect venom production most likely because a non-lethal squeeze doesn't affect selective pressure for venom. And yes, I know most venomous snakes in real life don't have the muscles to achieve such a squeeze, but that doesn't mean that a fictional snake can't both be venomous and have python-like muscles to achieve the non-lethal squeeze.

Here is what happened at the scene of the snakebite in my story:

  1. The girl stopped to admire the snake.

  2. The snake coiled up around her legs like a python

  3. The snake then hissed and hooded up like a cobra

  4. Her brother took a picture of the scene

  5. The snake struck at her hand

  6. She moved her hand out of the way

  7. The snake struck again, this time at her arm

  8. She couldn't move out of the way in time

  9. The snake fled back into the park and the girl starts bleeding at the bite site

  10. Mom calls the paramedics

  11. Her brother and sister run to school to avoid getting snakebit themselves

  12. Mom stays to watch over the little girl

  13. Paramedics arrive and take her to the STU(snakebite treatment unit) of the nearest hospital

This non-lethal squeeze from a venomous snake is part of what is fueling the suspense of my snakebite mystery story. That along with the unusual symptoms(like blindness from a snakebite, that is pretty much unheard of, but the little girl does go blind) and the competition between scientists and doctors to figure out what is going on and how to cure it.

So, what could cause a venomous snake to squeeze its threat in a non-lethal manner?

I would imagine the squeeze would be to hold on as it climbs up to the perfect strike position. And I would imagine that for big prey(like bigger than average for a similar sized snake), or prey that tend to flee faster than the snake can catch up, it would actually prove beneficial for the snake to squeeze the prey non-lethally first to immobilize it and then strike and envenomate the prey to kill it, and thus would be selected for, not against, as far as evolution is concerned, since it means more food for the snake which means a higher chance of surviving to next breeding season. But that's just my hypothesis.

So, why would a snake that has venom powerful enough to kill a person, squeeze its threat non-lethally before striking and injecting its venom? And importantly, is there anything besides muscle bulk that is required for the snake to be able to immobilize it's prey or threat via squeezing?

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    $\begingroup$ Snakes hiss as a pre-strike warning. Doing it after attacking the target is, well.. not exactly brilliant. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 14 '19 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ Extremely flexible is not the same thing as strong, the snake has to be strong enough to support the weight of whatever it is squeezing on the few coils on the ground otherwise it gets crushed. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 '19 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ "unusual symptoms(like blindness from a snakebite, that is pretty much unheard of(...)" Actually since many venoms are neurotoxic that is sadly very common. Check this study for example: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520869 $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 14 '19 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ keep in mind that snakes swallow their prey whole, if the target is so large that they need to squeeze them to get to an optimal place to strike its probably too large for the snake to consume in the first place. Also snakes inject tracking compounds along with their venom and so don't need to chase down wounded prey, they can track it down after their venom has done its work. $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Aug 14 '19 at 21:13

Snakes are cold blooded reptiles and need a source of heat to raise their body temperature and become more active. If your snake was in a cold environment, the body temperature of your humans would be enough that your snake would snuggle up in a non-threatening matter (either being delirious from the cold, or not feeling threatened at that exact time).

Of course, once the snake has warmed up slightly, it recognizes the human features and raises its warning signs still not realizing it is using a human leg for warmth. It then identifies the girl as a threat and lashes out (maybe she was reaching to pat it, or was flailing her arms around, or there was a strong flash which made it go into an alert state).

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  • $\begingroup$ The snake will realize the leg is alive as soon as it touches it, it can feel the heart beat through the skin, how ever if the girl was still and let it coil before panicking that would do it. However this is only going to work if the snake was a pet and used ot being handled by humans, otherwise it will never coil around her. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 '19 at 17:08

Venomous snakes - especially those with less powerful venom - do occasionally coil around their prey to subdue them before delivering the bite, if they have the opportunity. This helps ensure a lethal dose is delivered and to keep the prey from escaping. However, they only do this to prey, i.e. animals small enough to effectively immobilize by binding them.

There is no reason for a snake to coil around a predator - doing so would make it more vulnerable to the predator's attack. If a venomous snake encounters a human and it has the opportunity to flee, it will do so - snake bites occur mainly because the snake is surprised or cornered. Snakes will sometimes face down a predator and hiss to warn them off rather than turn away and flee because snakes are not very fast and fleeing could leave them vulnerable to attack from behind, but they won't approach a predator.

In your story, the only logical reason why the snake would coil around the girl's legs is if it didn't recognize her as a predator in the first place. It is possible that she was wearing an unusual perfume that caused the snake to misidentify her, or the clothes she was wearing made her leg resemble a small animal from the snake's perspective (snakes do not have especially good eyesight and mostly see motion). As Shadowzee suggests, it is possible that the snake was cold and wrapped around her leg for warmth (this is the reason why "tame" snakes like to coil around their owner's arms), again not recognizing her as a living creature.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem is if she alive the snake knows she is alive, pet snakes do it because they learn humans are not a threat. They get acclimated to human contact. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 15 '19 at 18:24

Snake did not know she was alive until it had already climbed her leg.

  1. Snake was stressed out by brother chasing it to take photo.

  2. Girl was holding still. Stressed snake wrapped around girl's leg not realizing she was an animal. It is trying to climb to safety.

  3. Girl moves. Snake is already on her leg! Now snake is scared and hisses and bites.

The snake is not trying to squeeze her like prey. It did not immediately bite her because it did not perceive her as a threat.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the most realistic scenario. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 14 '19 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ If her heart is beating the snake knows she is alive. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 '19 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ @John - why do you say that? Snakes of all types crawl onto people not uncommonly. I can't imagine they are just being friendly. $\endgroup$ – Willk Aug 14 '19 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Crawl onto and coil around are very different things, one is easy to disengage from the other is not. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 14 '19 at 18:14

The snake is a former human pet, it was used to being handled by humans. This is the only way you are going to get the snake to coil around her. It is now feral, come up with whatever series of events you wish. Now in the wild if it finds a warm still human it may coil around them for warmth as it no longer sees still humans as a threat.

The girl may not have panicked, being more curious than anything. Lack of fear is not uncommon with young children. But if other people around her panicked, say like older children or adults who arrive later. Their actions may cause her to panic, "oh this thing is dangerous" ,again not uncommon with children.

Her flailing causes the snake to display, and when she does not stop, lash out.

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