How Do Snakes Eat?

Even if you’ve never owned a pet snake or seen one up close in real life, we bet you’re aware that snakes can swallow food that is much larger than their head in a single bite. How cool is that? But, how do snakes eat other animals?

As humans, we not only cut up our food into manageable portions, we also chew it until it is the proper consistency to be swallowed. It’s hard to imagine trying to swallow an entire cow or even an entire carrot whole, but that’s what snakes do.

How do snakes eat?

So, how are snakes able to eat this way without choking? What unique adaptations do they possess that allow them to eat so efficiently? Well, if you’re curious about this topic at all, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover topics from how a snake’s jaw is built to other special traits they have in order to be such powerhouse eating machines.

how do snakes eat
Snakes are able to eat food that is literally larger than their own head. They have special jaws that give them an enhanced range of movement. This photo shows a Hog Island Boa (Boa c. imperator) consuming a mouse. This particular snake is a picky eater and therefore had to be fed a live mouse rather than one that had been frozen.

What do wild snakes eat?

As is the case with many wild animals, snakes are opportunistic eaters and usually will eat a variety of food based on what types of prey can be found in their vicinity. Keep in mind that all snakes are carnivores though, so there are no species that eat plants or vegetable matter.

Most mid-size snakes will eat small vertebrates, usually mammals. Ground-dwelling rodents such as mice, shrews, voles, rats, and even moles are all excellent meals for snakes in the wild. However, mid-size snakes are also not afraid to indulge in appropriately-sized vertebrates such as frogs, toads, small birds, and even other snakes!

Larger snakes can obviously eat larger food. North American species that don’t grow to extremely large sizes will eat chickens, lizards, rabbits, and other large rodents.

Some of the larger snake species (i.e. boas, pythons, and anacondas) can eat large game animals such as deer, boar, and even goats. However, this is usually reserved for jungle-dwelling species that eat wild game animals.

green anaconda
Snake species such as this green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) will grow so large that in time they will eat small game animals!

We’ve covered what large snakes eat in the wild. But, what do tiny snakes such as ringneck snakes and blind snakes eat in the wild? What prey items are small enough for these nearly earthworm-sized reptiles to consume?

Well, many will eat small invertebrates in place of vertebrates. Small insects like cockroaches, crickets, and even worms are all on the menu for these itty bitty snake species.

Notice anything in particular about this list of prey items? All of them are listed as “prey” and not “food.” This is because snakes actually won’t eat dead matter. They will only eat living food, or in the case of snakes we keep as pets, food that they perceive to be living prey.

How does a snake’s jaw work?

The jaw of a snake is very different from the jaw on mammals and other reptiles such as lizards and tortoises. Most mammals and reptiles that are not snakes have a skull and a lower jaw bone called a mandible.

These two main bones are generally fused together and unable to perform too broad of a range of movement other than opening and closing and perhaps a little shifting from side to side.

Snakes have jaws that are much more flexible and capable of a broad range of movement. This is because instead of two pieces that are fused together, the jaws of a snake are comprised of three pieces that are held together by much more flexible tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

Snakes have a top skull bone and two bottom jaw pieces that are actually not fused together at the chin. Instead, these two bottom jaw pieces are held together by muscle allowing each side of the jaw to move independently of each other.

Getting into the nitty gritty anatomy of a snake’s jaw, the upper bone and lower bones are connected via the quadrate bone. This special bone behaves like a hinge and allows for the snake’s jaw to open 150 degrees!

This means that any snake can open its mouth to swallow food that for all intents and purposes appears too large for it to eat.

snake jaw
This diagram shows the inner workings of a snake’s jaw. Notice the quadrate bone and how it behaves like a hinge allowing the snake to open its jaws to such a wide angle.

One myth that we’d like to clear up regarding a snake’s jaw bones is that a snake’s jaw can actually come unhinged or detached. This is not true. Snakes don’t detach their jaw bones on command.

As we’ve already discussed, they simply have special adaptations that make their jaws extremely flexible and this makes it appear that the jaw detaches.

If you’ve ever witnessed a snake eating, you’ll know that although you’d think it would be a very slow and tedious process, most snakes eat very quickly and will consume their prey in under five minutes.

This is because once the jaws have opened over the prey, the snake’s curved teeth grab the prey and make sure it doesn’t slip forward and out of the snake’s wide open mouth.

The snake then secretes a lot of saliva and lubricates the food while “walking” its jaws forward over the prey one side at a time. The digestive muscles then take over the remainder of the process and push the food further down the digestive tract and proper digestion begins.

How do snakes catch their prey?

If snakes have no arms, legs, or even claws of any sort to catch prey, how then do they capture food to eat? What special abilities do they have to make up for their lack of arms and legs?

As we’re sure you’re aware, some species of snakes are venomous. They have long, hollow, front fangs that grab prey and inject them with venom that allows the snake to eat the prey item at its leisure.

Examples of venomous snakes that most Americans are familiar with are vipers, coral snakes, and rattle snakes.

Did you know that each species of snake actually possesses its own special venom type? The effects of the venom can vary by species, but there are three main types – neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, and hemotoxins.

Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and generally cause respiratory function to cease. Cardiotoxins affect the prey’s heart, causing the muscles to deteriorate and eventually make the heart stop beating.

Hemotoxins cause blood vessels to rupture which results in widespread internal bleeding.

Boa dumerili
This Dumerils Boa (Boa dumerili) is a typical constrictor. It will suffocate its prey before eating it and does not possess fangs like venomous snakes.

When a venomous snake is not biting something, its hollow fangs fold back into the snake’s mouth. This is because if the fangs didn’t lie flat, the snake would either be incapable of closing its mouth or its teeth would puncture through the bottom of its own face.

Most other non-venomous snakes are constrictors, meaning that once they lunge and grab their prey, they begin to squeeze the animal until it has suffocated to death allowing the snake to eat freely. Each time the prey inhales, the snake’s coils tighten and the prey is unable to take another breath.

So, whether the snake injects venom or squeezes its food to death, it’s clear that lacking limbs poses no problems for these reptiles when it comes to grabbing a meal.

How should I feed my snake in captivity?

Snakes are usually not hard to feed in captivity. Most smaller species will happily eat mice their entire life, while the larger constrictor species will eventually move onto rats.

If you’re squeamish about feeding a living rodent to your pet snake, luckily most snakes will eat pre-killed frozen rodents. All you need to do is keep the frozen rodent in your freezer until it’s meal time for your snake and then you de-thaw it.

We usually allow our frozen mice to thaw in warm water, but you can also just allow them to sit out until they’ve completely thawed. Just be sure to NEVER put a frozen rodent in the microwave!

You will have disastrous and rather messy results and end up with a snake that goes hungry.

Sometimes, snakes can be picky eaters. This is usually only true of the ones that are wild-caught. Captive bred snakes will generally accept frozen/thawed rodents with no issue.

If you do end up with a picky eater, you can certainly feed it living rodents. Pet stores sell feeder mice specifically for this very reason. There will be a few extra steps to the feeding process though.

First of all, we don’t recommend throwing a live mouse in with your snake in its normal enclosure. No matter if you’re feeding a live rodent or a frozen one to your snake, we highly recommend transferring your snake to a new enclosure for the feeding process.

This helps your snake to associate being moved to a specific area with feeding time and helps develop a schedule. It also trains your snake to recognize that not every time the cage opens means feeding time and will help minimize accidental striking and biting.

So, the first step when feeding a live rodent is to transfer your snake to a separate feeding container. Once you’ve done this, we recommend stunning your live rodent. This process is certainly not for the faint hearted.

There are many ways to stun a rodent, but many snake owners will strike the mouse against a hard surface to knock it unconscious. The rodent should be stunned because like any animal, it will fight for its life and this means that if your snake doesn’t consume the rodent immediately, the rodent could actually gnaw on your snake and inflict wounds that will get infected.

If you are simply unable to stun your snake’s dinner, then always stick around for the entire feeding process and make sure that the mouse or rat is not injuring the snake in any way.

If your snake turns out to not have an appetite, which can happen often if the snake is preparing to shed, then always remove the rodent from the enclosure and return your snake to its normal enclosure. Never leave the rodent around assuming the snake will eventually eat it.

There are also specific species of snakes such as egg eating snakes, water snakes, and tiny snakes like ringneck snakes that don’t eat mice. Obviously, egg eating snakes eat eggs.

They’re specialized eaters and won’t eat rodents no matter how hungry they are. Water snakes might eat rodents, but usually they eat small reptiles and amphibians in the wild, so we recommend offering feeder frogs and even feeder fish.

green water snake
Specialized snake species such as this green water snake probably won’t eat rodents like a “traditional” pet snake. We recommend doing your research before you purchase any species of snake to be sure that you can properly address its food requirements.

If you ever happen to end up with a snake that proves to be a troublesome eater, we actually wrote an entire blog article dedicated to offering tips and tricks to get them to eat. You can find that particular article here.

Conclusion – How do snakes eat?

Snakes are fascinating reptiles and watching your pet snake eat is usually quite a spectacle. Most snake owners genuinely enjoy observing the feeding process and it’s a huge reason many reptile hobbyists choose to care for snakes.

We hope that this “How do snakes eat?” article has taught you some things about how snakes have evolved to be able to eat food that is much larger than their own head. We think it’s a really cool adaptation and we never grow tired of feeding the snakes we keep at Backwater Reptiles.

 

 

How do I get my snake to eat

Although snakes are very common pet reptiles, it’s not uncommon for them to refuse food from time to time. In fact, at Backwater Reptiles, one of the most commonly asked questions we get when it comes to reptile care is – how do I get my pet snake to eat?

So, if you’ve ever struggled with a picky eater or are currently trying to get your snake to eat, continue reading to learn what tips and tricks we use at Backwater Reptiles to get our own snakes to eat regularly and healthily.

Live Prey vs. Frozen Prey

The biggest problem many snake owners seem to encounter is getting their snake to eat dead prey. In the wild, obviously snakes kill and eat live animals, so some snakes need to be taught that when you present them with a dead mouse, the mouse is meant to be eaten.

How to get my pet snake to eat
This green water snake (Nerodia floridana) could prove to be a tricky eater as they are primarily known to eat small amphibians in the wild.

Many small animals that snakes eat in the wild (i.e. mice, gophers, rabbits, etc.) are mammals that create their own body heat. The key word here is heat. If your thawed frozen mouse is not warm enough, your snake might not recognize it as a food source.

In order to thaw and warm up a frozen mouse of any size, do NOT place it in the microwave. Ever. You will wind up having to clean mouse innards out of your microwave. Instead, thaw the mouse the same way you might a chicken breast. Place the mouse in warm water or run it under warm water until it is warm to the touch.

In addition to feeling warm, the mouse should also not be hard in the center. If the feeder mouse is hard or tough in the center when you squeeze it gently, it’s still frozen inside. This might not only deter your snake from eating it, but it can also create digestive issues down the line.

Throughout the years, we’ve also learned that some snakes just don’t like to eat thawed food. Maybe they fancy themselves food critics – who knows? But the only real way to feed a snake that refuses to eat thawed food is to feed it living food.

red tail green rat snake
A small, slender snake like this red tail green rat snake (Gonysoma oxycephala) should be eating small mice.

Feeding your snake living mice, rats, or in some cases, even rabbits, can be distressing to both you, the owner, and the snake. Even though it’s part of life and the food chain, it can be tough to have to administer a living animal to another living animal. And as far as distress to the snake is concerned, if your snake doesn’t capture and eat the prey immediately, the prey can actually injure the snake! It’s not unheard of for unattended live mice left in a snake’s cage to actually gnaw on the snake and create wounds.

Ultimately, we highly recommend frozen food if your snake will eat it for both safety and convenience’s sake, but live prey is always an option should you have a very picky eater on your hands.

Color of Food

It has also been suggested that the color of the prey item makes a difference in the snake’s appetite.

Many mice obtained from pet stores for snake food are white, which is not a naturally occurring mouse color in the wild. Most wild mice are grey, brown, or some combination thereof.

This might not hold true for all snakes, but some owners swear that snakes will refuse white mice but eat naturally-colored ones with no problem.

Feeding Schedule & Feeding Tanks

If you can, we do recommend sticking to a schedule. Regularity will help the snake to know when it’s feeding time.

Most mature snakes should eat once every one or two weeks. Growing hatchlings should eat no less than once per week. Some will have large appetites and even consume multiple mice in one sitting.

Along with the schedule, you should create regularity in how the snake is fed. We highly recommend utilizing a feeding tank so that your snake will come to understand that being placed in the feeding tank means food will arrive shortly. This will not only encourage eating, but will also encourage your snake to strike less when you take it out to handle it because it won’t associate your hand with food every time the cage is opened.

Shedding Time

The only time that a snake will normally refuse food is when it is preparing to shed. Your snake will become dull and its eyes will become cloudy or opaque and this indicates that it will shed shortly.

ball python
Ball Pythons are notorious for refusing food from time to time, although they usually overcome this habit.

Most snakes do not feed in the wild when they are preparing to shed because their eyesight is compromised. This behavior also holds true in captivity and is to be expected.

The bottom line is that you should withhold food until your snake has completed its shed because the snake will probably refuse the food anyway.

Snake Constipation

As silly as it seems, sometimes a snake can get constipated and will therefore decline food due to an upset stomach.

A good remedy for this is to give the snake a good soak. Prepare a lukewarm water bath and allow your snake to sit for anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes.

The moisture can sometimes help stimulate the snake to defecate, not to mention that nearly all reptiles enjoy a good soak.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why snakes sometimes won’t eat. Some are picky eaters and some might even be in pain without your knowledge.

We recommend trying out our tips and tricks and if your snake still won’t eat after three weeks of trying, it’s time to see the vet.

 

 

Blood Python Species and Differences

Are you familiar with the three types of Blood Python – the Red Blood, the Black Blood, and the Borneo Blood? What about short-tailed pythons? Did you know that in fact, these species of snakes are one and the same?

If you’re at all confused about the differences and similarities amongst these three species of pythons, read on to get some clarification.

Red Blood Python (Python brongersmai)

The Red Blood Python, also known as the Brongersmai short-tailed python and the red short-tailed python, is a species of python found in Malaysia and Sumatra. They get their common names from their reddish coloration. This main red can range from a rich, bold red to a dusky, orange-red, although they sometimes exhibit rusty brown colors too. They have yellow and/or tan blotches and stripes that run the length of their body with some tan and black spots towards their rear.

red blood python species
This red blood python is an orange/brown/red in color.

Red Bloods used to have a reputation for being ornery amongst reptile hobbyists, but this type of aggressive behavior is slowly disappearing due to captive breeding efforts. The breeding efforts have not only produced more colorful animals, but also more docile and mild-mannered snakes.

The Red Blood is the only species amongst the three types of short-tailed pythons that can have a red color phase. It’s also good info to know that some Red Bloods can start out very dull red as hatchlings and mature into a more brilliant and noticeable red.

Black Blood Python (Python curtus)

Nomenclature can be confusing and this is true in the case of the Black Blood Python. In fact, a more accurate common name for this snake is the Sumatran Short-Tailed Python because it can be found in the southern and western parts of Sumatra. We highly agree and so from here on out, we will refer to this snake as the Sumatran Short-Tailed Python and avoid the confusing “Black Blood” label altogether. But just be aware that amongst hobbyists, this misnomer is more common.

Sumatran short-tail python
Notice how dark this Sumatran short-tail’s colors are.

The Sumatran short-tail ranges in color from dusky brown to a deep, jet black. They commonly have black, grey, or silver heads, but some do have orange or yellow heads, which can sometimes cause them to be confused with the Borneo short-tailed python.

Borneo Blood Python (Python breitensteini)

A more accurate name for the Borneo Blood Python would simply be the Borneo Python or even the Borneo Short-Tailed Python. These short-tailed pythons are the only species to be found on the island of Borneo, hence their common name. We’re assuming that the nomenclature of “Blood” in the common name of this snake stems from the fact that they are so closely related to the Red Blood and Black Blood pythons.

borneo short-tail python
All of the short-tailed pythons have rather stout bodies with thin, short tails.

Borneo short-tails will vary in color from dark, coffee-colored brown to a pale, brown-beige with black, white, and brown markings. There are several commonly known morphs including a striped python and what is known as the “Ultra-breit,” a very pale snake with patterns that are hardly discernable.

Conclusion

When it comes to short-tailed or “blood” pythons, names can be confusing. Our solution is to refer to these snakes by a name that makes more sense, in this case a geographical name, rather than a name that implies similarities or differences to other species.

Overall, these three species of short-tailed pythons are gaining in popularity due to captive breeding projects that allow them to be available in more colors. A nice, coincidental side effect of captive breeding also happens to be that they have become more docile and accustomed to human handling. In other words, it’s not necessarily true that blood pythons are nippy, aggressive, and grouchy by nature.

Although the Red Blood is considered to be the largest of the short-tailed pythons and the Sumatran is considered the smallest, these three species of pythons will all start out life between ten to seventeen inches long and will grow to be approximately five feet long on average. They are all also very stocky snakes with thick, somewhat bulbous bodies and short tails (go figure).

We think that any of these three species of snake would make a great addition to any herp hobbyist’s collection. If you’re ready to commit to one of these stunning pythons, Backwater Reptiles has all three species of blood pythons for sale.

Ball Python Care

Wondering how to care for Ball Pythons (Python regius)? Backwater Reptiles has currently got so many snakes for sale! We just got a shipment in with tons of cute babies and young snakes including garter snakes, pythons, and even some corn snakes.

This entry we’re discussing ball pythons (Python regius), but stay tuned for more snake-centric entries to come later this week.

Ball pythons like the one pictured below are generally very good-natured and easy to handle. While they grow to be around 4 feet in length, they are very docile and probably one of the easiest constrictors to keep as it’s not necessary to give them large feeder animals to eat or maintain too large of an enclosure for them.

python regius care

Ball pythons are not usually picky eaters and therefore can be fed frozen fuzzies, hoppers, or full-grown mice/rats depending on the size of the snake being fed. Young animals such as the one featured in this blog post should eat once weekly, but as they get older, it is acceptable to feed them every one to two weeks. It should also be noted that during the cooler times of the year, it is not unusual for ball pythons to reject food. This is normal and owners should just keep an eye on the weight and health of the animal and offer food approximately every ten days until the snake resumes its normal eating habits.

ball python care

Ball Python Popularity

Ball pythons are the most popular pet python in the world due to the variation in color morphs that breeders have produced. The unique ball variants that are available range in price based on the trait being expressed, but Backwater has standard ball pythons for sale for only $29.99.

ball python facts

With proper care, ball pythons can live around 30 years (sometimes more!) in captivity, so be prepared for a long-lived critter.