As far as horrendous, pungent, and atrocious smells go, snake musk is up there. If you go by what the name suggests, you’re probably right in that snakes – meaning those slithery, limbless reptiles – can produce their very own special scent.
But unlike your own store-bought musk that smells divine, snake musk is something that you will never want to wear in a thousand years.
Coincidentally, store-bought musk sometimes contains aromatic compounds that generally feature as base notes in perfumery, but did you know that the musk comes from animals like deer musk?
Clearly, nature is capable of producing wonderful smelling musk, but snakes just prefer to rock our world in a bad way with their stinky secretions. There’s more to the story than that, so keep reading as we decode snake musk and its biological motives.
What Is Snake Musk?
Musk is a smell produced by snakes as a defence mechanism to anything the snake perceives as a threat.
The musk is created naturally as a by-product of the snake’s digestive system and is secreted from the cloacal scent gland. Musk is composed of an assortment of five or more organic compounds that combine into one of the most foul-smelling concoctions.
Snakes are similar to skunks in that they have special glands for producing stinky secretions. In snakes, the glands are located in the cloacal area, which is the area on the rear of the snake’s body, under the base of its tail, aka the snake’s vent or its posterior opening.
Most of the chemicals in snake musk are produced as a by-product in the snake’s gut.
Typically, snakes rely on their venom to protect against predators, but not all species are venomous. So, when a snake is defenceless, it will musk to intimidate potential attacks instead of fighting.
For instance, a female carrying eggs will musk to ward off predators. Similarly, snakes in captivity will also musk because they are distressed.
What Does Snake Musk Smell Like?
Snake musk smells unpleasant, to say the least. Generally, the musk smell differs according to the snake species that produced it. This explains why the smell of snake musk has been likened to many things, all of which smell terrible.
For instance, the musk smell has been likened to rotten eggs, skunk smell, dead fish, rotting death, decay, and other foul-smelling substances.
From a scientific point of view, the reason why snake musk gets such a bad rep, smell-wise, is because of its chemical composition.
It usually contains five or more chemicals, including acetic acid, propanoic acid, 2-methylpropanoic acid, butanoic acid, 3-methylbutanoic acids, trimethylamine, and 2-piperidone.
Individually, some of these organic compounds are classified as having very unpleasant smells. For instance, 2-methylpropanoic acid is described as having an unpleasant odor, as is the case with 3-methylbutanoic acids.
Combining a number of these foul-smelling liquids intensifies the smell to the point where almost everyone can’t stomach snake musk.
What Does Snake Musk Look Like?
Snake musk doesn’t look as bad as it sounds. When concentrated, it looks like a whitish substance with a milky, opaque and oily texture. However, when a snake musks, you should not always expect to see the whitish stuff.
Keep in mind that the musk is produced by the cloacal glands in the tail – the same area where urine and feces also come out, so things get mixed up.
But that doesn’t mean that musk is the same thing as snake poop and pee. When the snake musk comes mixed with urine and faeces, you can expect it to have a brownish or yellowish appearance and to look as disgusting as it smells.
As mentioned, snake musk in its pure form is whitish. This is a result of its chemical composition, which mainly consists of organic acids.
When a snake musks, it will look like it’s spraying you or flicking you with a substance. Some species of snakes are capable of spraying their musk over short distances. If you’re handling the snake, it might even rub the substance on you.
Sometimes, the musk will look like a small dribble of fluid, though larger snakes tend to produce more of the stuff and spray it everywhere.
Do All Snakes Have Snake Musk Glands?
According to experts, snake musk glands or cloacal glands appear to be present in all snakes. These musk glands look like two pouches located at the base of the snake’s tail. That means all snakes musk.
The only difference is that some snakes will musk more than others. For instance, younger snakes and some species like garter snakes tend to musk more.
Remember, snakes release musk to deter predators. One of the reasons why garter snakes and younger snakes musk frequently is that people are not afraid to handle them. If the snake perceives the handling as a threat, it will musk to get you to drop it.
Some snake species also tend to be calmer, so they don’t musk as much, for instance, ball pythons and boa constrictors.
On the other hand, some snakes have a nervous temperament and can get grumpy and musk you even if you have kept it as a pet for a while. The other thing is that smaller snakes are more defenceless, so they need their musk to be super potent to increase their chances of survival.
How Do You Get Rid of The Snake Musk Smell?
Before you attempt to get rid of the snake musk smell, you should know that it’s one of the most stubborn scents in the world. This is true of most animal musk scents, which is why better-smelling animal musk is used in long-lasting perfumes.
Right off the bat, snake musk does not wash off using ordinary hand soap because the soap is not strong enough.
The other thing is, even if you’re using a strong cleansing substance like dish soap, you’ll need several applications before the potency of the smell decreases somewhat. You can also use a special kind of soap of which you have a couple of options.
For instance, lave soap contains pumice to help you remove stubborn smells. You can also use metal soap to remove the strong smell.
Metal soap is made from stainless steel, and fishermen swear by it when it comes to removing the pungent odor of fish. Whatever soap you’re using, make sure you apply it generously to the skin and wash it several times.
Other substances that can help you get rid of the musk smell include tomato juice, aftershave, and white vinegar, though there’s no guarantee they will work.
Can You Stop a Snake From Musking?
It’s possible to stop a snake from musking. The trick is to understand that snake musk is a defensive mechanism that won’t be triggered if the snake feels comfortable around you.
In the first days of ownership, snake pets tend to musk frequently when handled, but the frequency will drop as the snake gets used to handling.
It’s also essential to ensure the snake has a comfortable environment because the wrong kind of enclosure can make a snake feel threatened. If you see a small snake in the wild, it’s best to avoid handling it. Instead, interact with the bigger snakes, which tend to be calmer.
Overall, the only reason you might want to prevent a snake from musking is to avoid the reeking smell. Otherwise, snake musk is neither venomous nor poisonous.
In a nutshell, snake musk is a secretion that also acts as a defence mechanism for snakes. Because it’s so malodorous, musk can help snakes ward off predators. Snake musk looks like a whitish substance, and its smell will give skunks a run for their money. The good news is snake musk is not otherwise harmful. It can be washed off, and there are ways to minimize musking.