How can I tell the age of a snake?


Dear VPI,

Do snakes show their age?  They don't have hair that could turn grey and fall out.  They don't get wrinkles or liver spots or any other "signs" of aging that I can think of.  How can I possibly know if the adult snake I am buying is 4 years old or 14 years old?  Dustin

Dear Dustin,

Good question. The answer is yes and no. Snakes don't show anything as prominent as gray hair or liver spots as they age. The age of wild-caught snakes is usually evidenced as the number of scars and broken bones on their bodies, but that doesn't apply to captive-raised snakes.

As a snake ages, its symmetry changes. It's a subtle thing and I don't know that I can always tell a four-year from a 14-year old animal. Most 14-year-old snakes are still pretty much in their prime. But, in general, as snakes get older, they tend to get bigger heads, and bigger bodies--not necessarily fatter, though that's usually the case in captivity, but a bigger skeleton, a bigger body cavity because the rib cage is bigger.

There no real way to quantify what I'm talking about. There are commonalities that you'll notice among all snakes. Go to the zoo and look at the snakes there; that's a place where older animals are more often seen than in private collections. But to get down to specifics for any particular species, it really requires that you know well the symmetry and shape of the animals with which you want to work. And that involves looking at lots and lots of them. There's no substitute for experience.  DGB