11 Animals That Snakes Eat (And Why They Eat Them)
Most people know that snakes eat rodents, but did you know that there are a lot of animals that snakes will eat? Most snakes only need to eat every week or two, but they try to make that meal count.
Snakes are ambush predators who eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. Typical meals include insects, rodents, lizards, amphibians, eggs, fish, large mammals, and other snakes! Snakes can unhinge their jaws to eat prey wider than their own body, allowing them many opportunities.
For a more specific list, keep reading below for 11 common animals for snakes to eat!
How (And How Often) Do Snakes Eat?
Before getting into the list of all the different animals a snake will eat, we should clarify some specifics and misconceptions many people have about snakes.
Understanding how and why snakes eat will help us understand how their unique diets work.
And, of course, if you are having a big snake problem, contacting a professional is always recommended.
Snakes Are Generally Ambush Predators
First and foremost, snakes are seemingly lazy animals. They spend most of their time doing one of three things: hiding out, sunning themselves, or drinking water. They tend not to travel far if they do not need to.
For a snake to secure a meal, it will lie in wait for an animal to walk by and catch them by surprise. This means that any animal that a snake thinks it can eat that is unlucky enough to walk by its mouth will become a meal.
Part of what makes snakes such effective ambush predators is their speed. Snakes can strike out in the blink of an eye, coupled with high-quality camouflage, and they can catch most animals by surprise.
Snakes Will Also Eat Larger Animals
Snakes also have a good idea of what size animal they can eat, so they will only lash out at large animals if they are scared or startled. This is not a problem for nonvenomous snakes but can be unlucky for animals that catch a venomous snake by surprise.
Not all snakes are ambush predators; some will actively forage for food, but this is relatively uncommon and not a strategy most snakes adopt. Snakes try to be as efficient with their movement as possible to stretch each meal.
Depending On Their Last Meal, Snakes May Not Need To Eat Often
Cold-blooded reptiles are much more efficient with their meals than warm-blooded animals, and snakes can go a long time between meals.
Generally, a snake can go 4-7 days without eating, up to several months after a substantial meal.
While digesting their food, snakes don’t need to move much, which helps them spend their calories efficiently. Simply sunning themselves and drinking water does not require much movement from snakes, meaning those meals can be stretched long.
Snakes Don’t Eat In The Winter
During winter, snakes enter a period of brumation, much like hibernation. At this time, snakes do not need to eat at all, and eating can have poor effects.
Since snakes need external warmth to digest their meal, eating when it is too cold to digest can cause the food to rot in their stomachs. You can read more about what happens to snakes during winter if you’d like!
11 Most Common Animals That Snakes Eat
Below is a list of the 11 most common animals that a snake will eat, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Snakes are very opportunistic eaters and will make a meal out of just about anything they think they can swallow.
This means that sometimes even though a snake can’t eat something, it will try its best to. Also, I recommend taking a look at our guide on what animals eat snakes incase you’d like to learn more about the food chain!
1. Snakes Will Make A Quick Meal Earthworms
Small snakes love to feast on earthworms. The two animals often live in the same environment, and earthworms are neither very quick nor good at noticing danger, which is great for small snakes.
Earthworms are also very easy prey to catch and swallow. On top of that, they are abundant, so snakes can rely on them as a consistent source of meals.
Baby snakes that are not good at hunting can rely on easy meals from earthworms until they can eat larger prey.
Small species of snake can be adapted to eat small insects, including earthworms, and can play an important role in local ecosystems.
2. Grasshoppers, Crickets, And Other Small Insects Are Targets For Snakes
For more ambitious small snakes, small insects are common prey.
Insects are abundant and likely to cross the path of a snake lying in wait for an easy meal, and it becomes a battle of who is faster when the snake strikes.
Crickets and grasshoppers are the two most common species of insect for snakes to eat, but really any insect that size or larger would be a good meal for snakes.
Part of what makes these insects good food is their abundance, coupled with the frequency that snakes need to eat.
Adult snakes can go much longer between meals, while baby snakes need to eat more often to keep growing and stay healthy.
3. Lizards Will Often Fall Prey To Snakes
Part of the reason lizards are one of the most common animals for a snake to eat is that they live in the same environment and are active at the same time.
Despite lizards having better mobility and speed, they often stubble across a waiting snake and are quickly snatched up.
Since lizards and snakes are both reptiles that thrive in similar environments, this is part of the reason they are one of the most common food options for snakes.
Lizard eggs are another typical meal for snakes, especially since they are high in protein and defenseless.
4. Snakes Can Eat Other Snakes!
You’ve probably heard the expression, “it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” but for snakes, it truly is a snake-eat-snake world. Some species of snakes are well known for eating other snakes, while most species are cannibalistic.
One common misconception is that bullsnakes eat rattlesnakes, but unfortunately, this is a myth. However, kingsnakes, king cobras, and cottonmouths are all examples of snakes that will eat other snakes often.
A hungry enough snake will eat another snake, even of its own species, if the opportunity presents itself. This is considered rare, as snakes would prefer other meals, but it still happens often enough to make this list.
Desperate snakes who come across baby snakes or snakes that have already passed away will make a last-resort meal from them. Hungry snakes are focused on survival, no matter what they need to do.
5. Unlucky Birds Can Get Caught By A Hungry Snake
Large birds eat small snakes, and large snakes will happily eat small birds. While it seems like it would be difficult for a snake to catch a bird, it happens more often than you would think.
Chickens, quail, and other domestic birds can quickly be eaten by a large enough snake, although a snake would need to get the bird alone so that the snake isn’t attacked by the rest of the flock. This is because snakes are most vulnerable while eating.
When a snake attempts to swallow its meal, it can be occupied for a few minutes for a small meal or several hours for a large animal. This can be a risk when targeting animals in a group that will protect one another and one of the risks that snakes must consider.
6. Frogs And Toads Are Another Easy Meal
Frogs, toads, salamanders, and other amphibians are all possible animals for snakes to eat. Since some snakes live a semi-aquatic lifestyle, it makes sense that they would target a semi-aquatic animal.
Frogs and toads are easy for snakes to sneak up on and ambush and offer a lot of protein in a low-effort meal.
Since snakes can strike faster than frogs can react or jump away, it is a deal when a hungry snake comes across one.
Amphibians Are An Easy Meal For Snakes
Compared to other animals that snakes often eat, amphibians are some of the easiest to catch and are likely to walk by a snake camouflage on land or wait in the water.
The University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Lab mentions that garter snakes will eat adult frogs and tadpoles, which is true of other species of snakes.
Water is vital for snakes to stay alive, so many species live close to lakes and streams, although they may also travel quite a distance from water in search of food.
7. Mice Are A Well-Known Snake Meal
Mice, rats, and other rodents are all typical meals for snakes, and the larger the rodent, the larger the snake they will feed.
Snakes in the 4-8 foot range will feast on adult mice and rats, while smaller snakes will seek out smaller and defenseless baby mice and rats.
Interestingly, the Smithsonian National Zoo notes that even the largest rodent, the capybara, can weigh up to 150 pounds and is still a primary food source for the green anaconda. This means snakes rely on rodents for meals, no matter how big the snake gets.
In captivity, frozen rodents make up the majority of snakes’ diets. Baby mice (called pinkies) all the way to adult rats are fed to snakes in captivity, and large snakes may also be upgraded to rabbits.
Rodents are definitely one of the biggest animals that attract snakes! If you’re curious about what else snakes are into, head on over to our article to learn about a few other things that attract snakes!
8. Eggs That Are Left Alone May Be Gobbled Up By Snakes
Snakes searching for food and stumbling upon eggs will quickly gobble them up.
Eggs are one of the best foods for snakes since they can’t move and are full of protein and good nutrients.
Some species of snakes will eat a diet of only eggs, while others eat eggs only if the opportunity presents itself. Eating eggs can be bad for a few species of snakes, although this is not a common trait for snakes.
Some Snakes Will Climb Trees For Eggs!
Corn snakes are the most popular snake in the U.S. that will hunt down eggs by climbing trees to eat bird eggs, although, around the world, many snakes will do the same.
If you thought that snakes primarily slithered around on the ground, you are surprised to learn a surprisingly large number of them will climb trees and rarely come down.
Since snakes have no appendages or ability to chew, eggs will be swallowed whole without breaking them.
9. Unfortunately For Fish, Snakes Can Swim Too
Believe it or not, snakes can be excellent at fishing. Whether a snake comes across a recently deceased fish or an unknowing fish comes into striking range, fish is a common meal for snakes.
Aquatic snakes exist in both fresh and saltwater and have a diet primarily of fish. Snakes can hold their breath for ten minutes in wait for a fish to swim by, and giant snakes can even stay underwater for over an hour. This gives them plenty of opportunities to wait to ambush a fish underwater.
Snakes are also excellent swimmers, with those adapted to an aquatic lifestyle capable of swimming two mph, about that of an above-average human swimmer.
10. Unattended Pets May Become Snake Food
Unfortunately, across the world, pets can become a meal for snakes, with cats and small dogs being the most at risk. While your pets are not at high risk, it happens occasionally.
In Florida, the most common species of snake to eat dogs and cats is the Burmese Python, an invasive species that has become a real problem.
Burmese Python is not the only snake that can eat pets, with the Eastern Indigo native to southeastern states, and rattlesnakes across the U.S. can grow over 7 feet in length.
Other large animals than pets, including pigs, boars, deer, and even alligators, can also become food for snakes, although it takes exceptionally large snakes to eat these animals.
And truthfully, if you’re having a snake problem in your yard – pets may be one of the reasons they aren’t leaving! For more info on why you have snakes in your yard, head on over to our article.
11. Desperate Snakes Will Even Eat Carrion
Carrion, or previously dead animals, are still possible food options for snakes, and as they become more desperate, they are more likely to eat carrion.
Scientists have found animals in a snake’s stomach that was further decayed than expected, suggesting that snakes will eat carrion that has been sitting out for a while.
Almost all snakes prefer live meals, and even in captivity, where live feedings are rare, the person feeding the snake often has to move the animal to make it appealing to the snake.
However, even though scavenging is not the first choice, desperate snakes will try to survive at all costs.
Is It True Snakes You Can See Lumps In A Snake After Eating?
Often seen in cartoons, after a snake swallows an object with a strange shape, you can see the outlines of that shape as the snake eats it and begins to digest it. You might be surprised to learn there is a lot of truth in this.
While not quite as extreme as TV makes it seem after a snake eats a large meal, you can often see a lump as the food works down the snake’s digestive tract.
This happens because a snake can unhinge its jaw and swallow prey larger than the snake itself! This is part of what helps snakes only need to eat every week or less often.
In rare cases, a snake can consume more than its body weight, although 25% of its body weight is a normal size meal.
So, How Does A Snake Eat?
To take down prey, snakes have a few different methods. Venom and constriction are the two most common methods and are not mutually exclusive. Some venomous snakes will use constriction, although it is more common for constricting snakes to be nonvenomous.
Snakes will eat by biting their food and wrapping their body around the prey itself.
A snake simply swallows its prey whole, with no chewing involved. Since snakes can unhinge their jaw and stick out a breathing tube while they swallow their prey, it does not matter if the prey is wider than the snake itself.
To quickly recap, 11 of the most common animals for snakes to eat are:
- Dogs And Cats
Hopefully, this article was informative, and you better understand the animals snakes commonly eat. Snakes, however, will eat just about anything they can catch or find, provided they can swallow it.
Please check out our other articles, including more similar to this one about the diets of other predators or pest control articles if you have any animals wreaking havoc in your home.
And, if you are having a current snake problem, make sure to check out our other articles mentioned today! If you want a solution fast – head on over to our article about the best spray repellents to get rid of snakes asap!
Bellini, G. P., Giraudo, A. R., Arzamendia, V., & Etchepare, E. G. (2015). Temperate Snake Community in South America: Is Diet determined by phylogeny or ecology? PLOS ONE, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0123237
Durso, A. M., Willson, J. D., & Winne, C. T. (2013). Habitat influences diet overlap in aquatic snake assemblages. Journal of Zoology, 291(3), 185–193. https://doi.org/10.1111/jzo.12061
Gleaton, A. (n.d.). Eastern garter snake (thamnophis sirtalis). Species Profile: Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/thasir.htm
Green Anaconda. Smithsonian’s National Zoo. (2021, August 2). Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/green-anaconda
Wolfe, A. K., Bateman, P. W., & Fleming, P. A. (2017). Does urbanization influence the Diet of a large snake? Current Zoology, 64(3), 311–318. https://doi.org/10.1093/cz/zox039
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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