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Are Snakes Intelligent?

Oliver Jones

Intelligence is one’s ability to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills. Although humans are some of the most intelligent creatures, snakes are oddly intelligent too. They have highly impressive abilities to learn and apply what they have learned to their lives.

Although the exact level of intelligence of snakes is hotly debated, no one denies the fact that they are capable creatures. Still, some people believe their intelligence is instinctual, but it seems to us that snakes have keen abilities to learn and apply new information.

To find out more information about the intelligence levels of snakes, keep reading. In this article, we talk about their ability to learn and whether their abilities are instinctual or intellectual. Let’s get started.

new snake divider

Is It Hard to Tests Snakes’ Intelligence?

Before digging into the exact intelligence levels of snakes, let’s get one thing straight. It is incredibly difficult to test how intelligent snakes are. Although there have been tests done to try to confirm the intelligence levels of snakes, the answers and research are subpar at best.

One reason it is so difficult to test the snakes’ intelligence is that snakes are not motivated like other animals. Neither food nor positive reinforcement works on snakes since they do not eat as frequently as other animals and don’t have the ability to comprehend positive or negative reinforcement.

Another thing that makes it difficult to test a snake’s intelligence is that snakes don’t like to move unless they have to. Once snakes find a cool place to lay, they stay there. Because it has been so difficult to test a snake’s intelligence, many people make assumptions based on the snake’s brain size.

With that out of the way, now we can talk about what research suggests regarding a snake’s intelligence.

Scaleless Corn Snake
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

Do Snakes Have the Ability to Learn?

As of lately, more scientists have been interested in finding out exactly how intelligent snakes are. One of the biggest determiners about an animal’s intelligence is their ability to learn. Without an ability to learn, animals would not be able to learn new skills, avoid dangerous areas, or defend their territory wisely.

From these recent studies, scientists have found that snakes appear to be more intelligent than we first thought. This is because snakes tend to have a really good ability to learn. For example, they are great trackers and can even learn boundaries of different territories.

In fact, these recent studies have shown that many types of snakes have the ability to reason, logic, and solve problems in order to get their next meal and survive.

The king cobra is considered the most intelligent snake. It tends to have the highest ability to learn when it comes to territory markers, defending their territory, and more.

Is It Instinctual or Intellectual?

Even those studies are suggesting that snakes are more intelligent than we first thought, many people still wonder if their abilities are instinctual or intellectual. Many experts believe that snakes are driven purely by instincts, not intelligence.

Scientists who believe snakes are purely instinctual cite the fact that snakes seem to only be concerned about eating, mating, drinking, and staying alive. More so, these experts suggest that a snake’s ability to hunt and track is a byproduct of instincts, not intelligence.

At the same time, there are some experts who believe snakes are more intelligent than many other experts believe. Although the snake’s desired to track and basic tracking skills are instinctual, the ability to learn territories and avoid certain predators is intellectual.

To us, it seems that snakes aren’t necessarily the most intelligent creatures, but they certainly should not be ignored either. Although they certainly have really strong instinctual skills, they are intelligent as well.

orange corn snake
Image Credit: Alan Wooler, Pixabay

Snakes’ Intelligence Levels Compared to Other Animals

In comparison to other animals, snakes really aren’t that intelligent. Many other species, including birds, mammals, rodents, and more show much more aptitude towards learning and applying new skills. However, snakes are more intelligent than experts have believed in past years.

Perhaps, snakes are more intelligent than we believe. As we learned above, it is very difficult to test a snake’s intelligence level, meaning we might not have the full picture about their brains’ capacities.

new snake divider

Final Thoughts

All in all, snakes are not the most intelligent creatures on the globe, but they aren’t dumb either. Recent studies have shown that snakes are much better at learning and applying skills than we previously thought. Hopefully, different tests will be conducted in the future to find out exactly how intelligent these creatures are.


Feature Image Credit: Charles Brutlag, Shutterstock

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.