I’ve seen countless posts on social media showing snakes watching TV. I even know a pet ball python named Harry who shows interest whenever I turn on my current favorite TV show, but can a snake really watch TV like a person does?
Snakes can watch television, but they will not understand what they are seeing. They stare at a TV simply because of the light, heat, and movement coming from the screen. However, sitting with a calm snake and watching TV is a good way to watch your favorite shows while bonding with your pet.
So if your snake watches a TV carefully, what are they seeing and what do they get out of the experience, if anything?
Read on to find out!
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Can Snakes See What’s on TV?
Many snake owners who see their snakes transfixed by a TV or computer screen make the mistake of thinking their snake is enjoying what they’re watching. Let’s remember that there’s a difference between:
- Seeing: Visually experiencing changes in shade or color.
- Understanding: Knowing what’s being represented on a screen. A snake might “see” a red car on screen, but it won’t understand what it is.
But what exactly can a snake see when it watches TV?
Snakes and Two Dimensions
Humans can see and understand two-dimensional objects. That’s how we read, and it’s also how we can look at a two-dimensional screen showing a cat and know what it is.
Snakes, more than likely, cannot see two dimensional objects in this way.
If a mouse is on a screen and moving around, your snake might look at the screen, but it won’t see the mouse. It lacks the ability to process that sort of information.
But that doesn’t mean it’s seeing nothing!
What Can Snakes See?
We humans can see in three colors: Red, green, and blue, making us trichromatic. These three colors are mixed together by photoreceptors in the retina and then by the brain to produce all the colors we see.
Snakes, however, are dichromatic. They can only see greens and blues. This means they can only see some of the colors on your TV screen.
However, snakes have also evolved the ability to see ultraviolet light, meaning that they see parts of the light spectrum we can’t.
Some snake species, such as vipers, pythons and boas, also have the ability to “see” by sensing infrared heat. This makes them great hunters.
TVs do give off heat, and so if your snake is watching your television, it might be more interested in the heat being produced rather than how far a contestant gets on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”.
If you are interested in how snakes see the world in detail, have a look at the video below. It explains it perfectly and easy to understand!
The Reason Snakes Watch TV
Snakes are hypervigilant animals. Hypervigilance is a type of behavior where an animal commits more cognitive resources and brainpower to its surroundings and what’s happening in its environment.
There are huge benefits to this, including:
- Scavenging for food
- Hunting prey
- Detecting predators
- Finding mates
- Identifying safe environments such as hides
- Seeking out the best places to lay eggs or give birth
Some animals are more hypervigilant than others. A mole for example that spends most of its life underground and with few predators, is not as hypervigilant about its environment as a snake is.
Snakes not only have to watch out for large predators, but they also have to watch out for other snakes. Remember, many snake species are cannibals.
This is the main reason your TV is of interest to a snake. It’s watching the movement to see if what’s happening on the screen is a threat or food. But don’t worry, this won’t stress them as long as they are in a safe, comforting environment.
They’re just curious!
Is Watching TV Bad for Snakes?
You might remember your parents telling you to stop being so close to the TV or it will hurt your eyes (at least mine did, and I wear glasses now, so maybe they were right!).
If your snake is a healthy distance from the television (a few feet or more) then watching it won’t do any harm. However, eye strain is a very real thing, both for snakes and humans.
We have much better eyesight than snakes, as we’ve evolved to look far ahead. Snakes have evolved to see what’s in front of them. When we look at things up close for too long, it can cause our eye muscles to strain over time, affecting the way we focus.
This can happen to a snake, but it’s unlikely.
Although you wouldn’t want your snake to press its face up against your TV, too much screen time is probably worse for you than your pet. Snakes are used to looking at things up close and personal. It’s how they feed!
Watching TV Could Disrupt A Snake’s Day/Night Cycle
The one issue that your TV might cause is disrupting your pet snake’s day/night cycle. All animals have circadian rhythms.
These are biological processes that tell us when it’s night or day. These processes are often triggered by light, which, in turn, causes the brain to release hormones into the body, changing behavior.
In mammals, the pineal gland in the brain releases a hormone called melatonin. This hormone makes the animal tired, preparing it for sleep.
Melatonin release is triggered by the sun setting. Likewise, when the sun is up, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin, making the animal feel awake and ready for the day.
Snakes are one of the only reptile groups to have a very similar pineal gland. While research is still needed, it makes sense that the pineal gland has the same function and produces melatonin in snakes. A caveat here is that some snakes are nocturnal.
Studies have shown that television, phone, and computer screens can upset this natural flow of melatonin, tricking the brain into thinking it’s daytime, when it’s not. It’s why you feel awake when you go to bed and scroll through your phone! Don’t worry, we all do it.
The bottom line is: TV screens are likely to disrupt snake sleep patterns.
This is very bad for their health, and so if you do watch TV with your snake, it’s best not to do it late in the evening when your snake is getting ready for sleep.
If you own a snake that is calm and enjoys being handled, than sitting down and watching TV while handling your pet snake is a great way to bond.
Your animal gets the contact it enjoys, and you get to catch up on your favourite shows! This might help owners who as the question: Do snakes get lonely?
Your snake can happily watch TV with you, but just remember that it’s not following the intricate plot points of Game of Thrones like you are. Most of the time, it’s just happy to be in a safe environment.