Finding two or more snakes tangled together can be an alarming sight. If you stumble upon knotted serpents, you may wonder why they are entwined and what you should do about it. This comprehensive guide will uncover the reasons for snake tangles and provide recommendations for how to safely handle the situation.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Try not to disturb the snakes. Call animal control or a wildlife expert for assistance untangling and relocating them. Do not attempt to detach them yourself.

In this roughly 3000 word article, we will explore several key topics to demystify the occurrence of snake tangles. We will cover the common causes of snakes tangling, describe what species tend to knot together, explain the risks of trying to untangle them yourself, and offer expert advice for dealing with a snake tangle safely and humanely.

What Causes Snakes to Tangle Together?

Mating Activity

One of the most common reasons for snake tangling is mating activity. Male snakes will often fight and wrestle when competing for a female mate. This can result in the snakes becoming knotted or twisted around each other. Snakes may also get tangled when they are courting and mating with a partner.

The intense activity and coiling involved in snake reproduction can cause them to become entwined, sometimes to the point that they have difficulty separating.


Snakes are cold-blooded animals and rely on external temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In colder regions, many snakes brumate (reptile hibernation) together in a den during the winter months.

They coil together in large “snake balls” that can contain dozens or even hundreds of individuals. The close contact and twisting of so many snake bodies leads to tangling and knots. Come spring, the snakes will slowly disentangle themselves as they become active again.

Fighting and Predation

Snakes, especially males, are highly territorial. When two snakes encounter each other, they may perceive the other as a threat. This can lead to combat such as wrestling, coiling around each other, and biting. Two fighting snakes engaged in a struggle for dominance can become hopelessly tangled up.

Certain snake species like king snakes and milk snakes also prey on and constrict other snakes. A snake ambushing prey may end up entwined with the victim. Predator and prey may become so tightly wound they are unable to separate.

Accidental Knotting

Sometimes snakes simply get tangled by accident. Snakes often smoothly slide through vegetation, rocks, and tight crevices. But their long, limbless bodies can be prone to accidental knotting in natural obstacles. Captive snakes can also get tangled in cage decor, plants, or loose substrate.

Due to a snakes flexibile spine, even a simple loop through a branch hole can turn into a tight knot if the snake panics and struggles. With two heads and no arms or legs, a tangled snake pair will need outside help to get free.

Which Snake Species Commonly Tangle?

Rat Snakes

Rat snakes, including black rat snakes and corn snakes, are among the most common snake species found tangled together. These nonvenomous constrictors often wind themselves around each other when courting or mating. Male rat snakes may wrestle and entwine as they compete for a female mate.

Sometimes several males will end up hopelessly knotted as each tries to gain access to the female!

Rat snakes may also coil together for warmth. These reptiles are cold-blooded, so basking with another snake allows them to share body heat. On chilly mornings or nights, finding a tangled ball of rat snakes is not uncommon.

Garter Snakes

Like rat snakes, garter snakes frequently entangle themselves with other snakes. Courting rituals often involve male garter snakes coiling their bodies tightly around a prospective female mate. This allows the male to properly align his reproductive organs for mating.

Garter snakes also gain warmth by tangling together. These cold-blooded creatures often pile on top of each other, creating a writhing mass of snakes trying to absorb heat on cool days. Sometimes dozens or even hundreds of garter snakes can be found in these communal nests!


Though not as commonly observed, rattlesnakes do sometimes become entwined together. Male rattlesnakes may wrestle in ritual combat over access to females during the breeding season. Their powerful bodies wrapping around one another as each tries to gain dominance.

Like other snakes, rattlesnakes also unite to conserve warmth. Finding a den of coiled and tangled rattlesnakes is alarming but not unusual during hibernation periods or on cooler days.

Other Species

While rat snakes, garter snakes, and rattlesnakes account for many tangled snake sightings, other species exhibit this behavior too. King snakes, milk snakes, and water snakes may also knot up when breeding or thermoregulating.

Even large constrictors like pythons and boa constrictors sometimes entwine themselves.

So while shocking to witness, finding a bundle of knotted snakes is often simply a natural part of their life cycle. The snakes are not necessarily fighting or even in distress when tangled together. With gentleness and caution, they can be unraveled to go safely on their way!

Dangers of Trying to Untangle Snakes

Risk of Bites

Attempting to untangle wild snakes carries a serious risk of being bitten. Snakes often bite when they feel threatened or attacked. If you try to physically handle tangled snakes, they may see that as a threat and strike in self-defense.

Venomous species like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins can inject potent toxins that could make you very sick or even kill you. According to the CDC, about 8,000 people per year are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S., and 10-12 people die.

So it’s not worth risking your life just to untangle some snakes!

Even nonvenomous species can bite, causing injury or infection. And you may not be able to easily identify which species are venomous just by looking at them. It’s best to call animal control professionals and let them assess and handle the situation safely.

Harming the Snakes

Attempting to physically untangle wild snakes often harms or kills them. Snakes are fragile animals and their skin and bones can be damaged by rough handling. The stress of capture and restraint can also be fatal.

One herpetologist said up to 20% of captured and released rattlesnakes die within a year from the “capture myopathy” effects of stress, exhaustion and overheating.

Grabbing snakes by the tail can dislocate vertebrae and paralyze them. Trying to pull snakes apart can rip their skin or even pull their heads off. Experts say tangled snakes should only be carefully untangled by trained handlers using proper tools like snake hooks.

Average people who try to untangle them often end up killing or injuring the snakes in the process.

Legal Consequences

In many areas, you could face legal penalties for killing or harming wild snakes when trying to untangle them. All native snake species are protected under federal and state wildlife laws. Intentionally killing them carries fines up to $25,000 and jail time.

Accidentally killing or injuring threatened species when untangling them can also bring steep fines under the Endangered Species Act.

Additionally, if you get bitten after illegally touching or capturing wild snakes, you may get less legal and insurance compensation since you provoked the bite. Let trained professionals with proper equipment carefully handle the situation to protect both you and the snakes.

How to Safely Handle a Snake Tangle

Leave the Snakes Alone

If you come across a snake tangle, the best thing to do is leave the snakes alone. Trying to untangle them yourself can be dangerous, as snakes may bite when feeling threatened. Back away slowly and give the snakes space. Don’t try to kill them or harm them in any way.

The snakes will eventually separate on their own.

Call for Expert Assistance

Instead of handling the snake tangle yourself, call a professional for assistance. Licensed wildlife control operators or herpetologists have the proper training and equipment to handle snake tangling situations safely.

They can assess if the snakes are venomous and determine the best course of action, whether that involves carefully separating them or relocating the snakes together to a suitable habitat. Having an expert deal with the snake tangle helps ensure the safety of both you and the snakes.

Use Proper Equipment

If you must handle a snake tangle yourself, it’s essential to use the right protective gear and equipment. Thick leather gloves can protect your hands and arms from bites. Snake tongs allow you to control the snakes from a safe distance.

Have a secure container ready to safely contain the snakes once separated. Avoid using bare hands, as this greatly increases the risk of being bitten. The proper equipment gives you the means to carefully detangle the snakes without harm.

Relocate Properly

Once you’ve safely separated the tangled snakes, you’ll need to relocate them. Release the snakes together in a suitable habitat at least 100 yards from any human dwelling. An area with brush, rocks, and logs provides cover and resources for the snakes.

Be sure to give them ample space from areas frequented by people or pets. Responsibly relocating the snakes reduces the chances of future snake tangles and lets the snakes return to their natural environment. Handle and transport the snakes humanely.


Discovering a tangle of snakes in the wild can be startling, but understanding why snakes knot and how to respond appropriately will help ensure a safe outcome for both you and the serpents. By calling wildlife experts and allowing professionals to carefully detach and relocate the snakes, the animals can be freed without harm or legal trouble.

With this knowledge in hand, snake tangling can be approached with confidence rather than fear or confusion.

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