What do snakes eat? Worms, mice, lizards, people? Snakes eat many different things, and the specifics of each snake’s diet will depend on the species’ preference and what types of food are available within its habitat.
What snakes eat, like many things about these serpents, is often misunderstood. Snakes have an air of mystery about them, but that’s mostly because many people are too scared to try to know them better.
If you’re simply curious about what snakes eat or are planning to keep these fascinating serpents as pets, knowing what they eat and don’t eat is important.
In this post, you’ll learn about the different types of foods snakes eat. We’ll discuss snake diets in general, but we’ll also discuss the diets of common snake pets you might own.
Table of Contents
What Do Snakes Eat
Snakes Have a Carnivorous Diet
As a rule, snakes are carnivores, which means they feed on other animals. But while it’s easy to take this knowledge at face value and try to feed your snake with the next mouse or rabbit you catch, you shouldn’t.
A carnivorous diet doesn’t look the same for all snakes. For some snakes, a carnivorous diet means one rich in insects, crayfish, prawns, and other arthropods. For others, this means earthworms, slugs, and other soft-bodied invertebrates.
In addition, while some snakes consume a wide variety of prey, some species have a highly specialized diet because of their digestive system. This means they can only eat one type of food.
Egg-eating snakes, for example, only eat eggs. They have no teeth, but their spine has an internal spur that breaks swallowed eggs, allowing them to squeeze out the nutrients before spitting out the eggshell.
Though many snakes can consume prey wider than their necks because of their flexible jaws, the size of a snake’s prey often depends on the size of the snake. Small snake species tend to consume tiny animals like worms and insects.
On the other hand, slightly larger snakes may eat fish, mice, birds, and some reptiles and amphibians like frogs, lizards, and salamanders. Large snakes like pythons and anacondas consume much larger prey, such as sheep, goats, and other snakes.
Most snakes people keep as pets fall in the mid-range and feed on small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. But since snake diets can be very niche depending on the species, it’s best to confirm what the species you’re keeping eats before feeding it.
What Do Corn Snakes Eat?
Corn snakes are small, nonvenomous serpents that make good pets for beginners. These serpents get their name from their body patterns, which resemble the pattern corn grains make on corn.
These serpents mostly feed on small rodents like mice, but they also eat insects, birds, and amphibians. Corn snakes kill their victims by constricting them before swallowing them whole. Though they prefer their prey live, you can also feed them defrosted kills.
What Do Ball Pythons Eat?
The ball python is a small snake (for a python) with a beautiful hide and a largely clean disposition. This serpent is nonvenomous and easy to keep and care for, often curling into a ball when threatened instead of attacking people.
Ball pythons mainly eat rodents, such as mice and rats. But the size of prey they consume varies with their size. Smaller ball pythons are fine with eating baby mice, while adults tend to go for larger mice and rats.
In some cases, pet owners feed young ball pythons with insects until the snakes are large enough to swallow rats and other rodents. In the wild, ball pythons constrict their prey to kill them before eating, but they are comfortable with pre-killed prey in captivity.
What Do Gopher Snakes Eat?
Gopher snakes are generalist feeders. While these animals show a preference for rodents like rats and mice, these serpents are fine consuming almost any type of animal they can swallow.
Lizards, frogs, and small birds and their eggs are some other food items these animals often consume. Young gopher snakes tend to go for smaller prey, while adults tend to eat large animals.
Like many nonvenomous snakes, these serpents are constrictors that swallow their prey whole after snuffing the life out of them. They hunt their victims in the wild, but you can train them to eat animals you’ve killed beforehand.
What Do Rosy Boas Eat?
Rosy boas are small, beautiful constrictors with smooth scales and rose-red stripes running down their bodies. These stunning serpents are usually between 31 and 36 inches long, and they make great pets.
Like all boas, this species is nonvenomous. It preys on various types of animals, especially small mammals like rats and mice. Rosy boas also feed on birds, lizards, and other snakes.
What Do Milk Snakes Eat?
Milk snakes vary in color depending on the subspecies, but most have reddish-orange, black, and yellow or cream rings on their bodies. The reddish-orange ring may be much longer than the rest.
These animals are nonvenomous constrictors, but their body coloration is a mimicry of coral snakes. This mimicry helps them scare away potential predators because coral snakes are highly venomous.
Milk snakes mostly eat rodents like rats, reptiles like lizards, birds and bird eggs, and other small snakes. You may encounter these serpents in your barn, but that’s usually because they followed potential prey like rats into the barn.
What Do Garter Snakes Eat?
Garter snakes are semi-aquatic snakes found in a wide range of habitats from ponds, lakes, and marshes to woodlands and grasslands. These serpents are not venomous, and many people keep them in captivity.
Garter snakes feed on many types of animals, from earthworms, leeches, and slugs to fish, birds, lizards, frogs, and salamanders. In some cases, these serpents also consume small mammals.
The dietary preference of these snakes can vary significantly between species and subspecies, so it’s good practice to do some research first. Some species feed almost exclusively on slugs; some, on fish; others still prefer frogs and other amphibians.
Should You Feed Your Snake Live or Pre-killed Prey?
It depends on the snake in question. Most captive snakes are fine with pre-killed prey, and this is the option you should choose if your snake doesn’t mind. You can store pre-killed prey in your refrigerator and defrost them just before feeding your snake.
One reason experts often recommend pre-killed prey is that they carry far fewer parasites and harmful microbes than live prey taken from the wild. This option reduces the risk of your pet serpent falling sick from parasite transmission.
Feeding your snakes with live prey also reduces the risk of injury, which might happen if the live prey fights back when your snake attacks it. While injuries gotten this way are unlikely to threaten your pet’s life, it’s better to minimize the suffering of all parties.
Since snakes don’t normally eat dead animals in the wild, you might need to train your snake to eat pre-killed prey. If you’re buying a pet snake, opt for one already on a diet of pre-killed prey.
Though you can train many pet snakes to eat pre-killed prey, some snakes still won’t eat pre-killed prey and prefer to kill their targets themselves. In such cases, offering live prey is normal. But it’s best not to get the animals you feed your snake from the wild.
How to Feed Your Pet Snake
Feeding your snake is easy, though how you do it will vary slightly depending on whether you’re feeding your snake live or pre-killed prey.
If you’re giving your snake live animals, such as rats, to eat, simply toss the rat into the snake’s enclosure and wait. If the snake is hungry, it will attack the rat and eat it. Otherwise, it might not.
Remove the rat from the snake’s enclosure if the snake doesn’t eat it or if the rat is too aggressive for the snake to handle. The process is similar for other types of prey, including non-mammals.
When giving your snake pre-killed prey, defrost it and let it thaw. You can accelerate this defrosting process by dipping the animal in warm water until its body is about as warm as the room.
Don’t defrost pre-killed prey using a microwave or cooker. There’s a high chance you’ll cook the animal, even if slightly, and snakes won’t eat it.
Once you’re defrosted meal is ready, wipe it off and lower it into your snake’s enclosure. Some experts recommend shaking the animal a little to mimic live prey since snakes prefer live prey, but this isn’t always necessary.
Do Snakes Drink Water?
Yes, snakes drink water. They just don’t do it the same way humans and most animals do. Instead of siphoning or lapping up water the way humans and other animals do, these serpents soak up water through a series of sponge-like grooves on the bottom part of their mouth.
These sponge-like grooves of soft tissue pull water into the mouth, which the snake then swallows. To the untrained eye watching this process, it might look like the snake’s drinking water the normal way.
If you own a pet snake, you can serve it water in a small bowl. The snake will drink from this bowl whenever it is thirsty.
In the wild, where many snakes (especially arboreal species) don’t have easy access to water, these serpents often rely on rain or mist for drinking water. Some species have specialized scales that hold water droplets, from which they then drink.
How Much Should You Feed Your Pet Snake?
There’s no specific quantity of food that’s right for snakes. Since every snake is different, you’ll arrive at a more precise quantity by observing how much your snake eats when you feed it.
If there are usually leftovers, that’s a good indication you’re leaving your snake too much food, which can cause germs to fester in its enclosure. Reduce the quantity to match what the snake eats.
If it’s your first time keeping a particular snake species, doing a bit of research about how much it eats in captivity gives you a good place to start before fine-tuning.
How Often Do Snakes Eat?
How often a snake eats usually depends on how much food is available to it and how fast it’s able to metabolize the food it’s eaten. Some snakes eat every other day, while some species eat once or twice a week. Some may only eat once in two to three weeks.
In general, larger snakes tend to space out meals more than small snakes. That’s because they often consume large prey, which takes a longer time to digest than small prey. After eating, such typically snakes find a place to wait out the digestion process.
How Long Can Snakes Go Without Eating?
Some snakes can only go a few days without eating, while others can go a few weeks without eating. Larger snakes like anacondas and some pythons tend to go much longer without eating, especially after consuming rather large prey.
There’s no need to panic if your pet snake hasn’t eaten for a few days, especially if it’s going about other activities normally.
While larger snakes can go long periods without eating, it’s unusual for small snakes to go weeks without eating anything. If your snake gets sluggish, won’t drink water, or stays close to a month without eating, get a vet to see if something’s wrong.
Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers to other questions you might have about what snakes eat.
Do snakes chew their prey before eating?
No, snakes don’t chew their prey before eating. Virtually all snakes swallow their prey whole, even though some may bite their victims to subdue them before consuming them.
Can snakes eat plants?
No, snakes can’t eat plants. Snakes only eat animals, so you should never feed your snake with plant matter. Unfortunately, these reptiles are incapable of digesting plant materials.
Do snakes eat while hibernating?
No, snakes don’t eat while hibernating. And brumation, not hibernation, is the right term for what snakes do. During brumation, snakes become much less active than usual, but they don’t become completely inactive like warm-blooded hibernators.
During brumation, their body temperature drops, and their bodies become unable to digest food. Snakes might come up to the surface to drink water on warm days while brumating, but they generally don’t eat until winter is over.
Should I give my snake vitamins?
You don’t need to give your snake vitamins since it’ll get all the nutrients it needs from whatever prey it eats. Just ensure that the animals you feed your snake are healthy, which you can make sure of by buying from good pet stores or rearing them yourself.
Can snakes eat normal or cooked meat?
Technically, yes, because they are carnivores. But no, snakes won’t eat normal meat (cooked or not). These animals prefer to kill and eat their prey whole. So while many will eat pre-killed prey, they won’t eat cooked prey or any meat that isn’t a whole animal.
Feeding a snake is both easier and more complicated than it seems. On one hand, it’s easy because you can just toss your snake its meal and wait for it to eat it. But it’s also complicated because you have to figure out what the snake eats and the best time to feed it.
While many snakes people keep as pets have pretty similar carnivorous diets that include small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and insects, you shouldn’t assume every snake eats the same types of animals.
Some snakes have niche tastes when it comes to the types of food they eat and will refuse to eat anything else. So it’s essential you research what the preferences of whatever snake species you plan to keep are before feeding it anything.