Snakes, also known as danger noodles and nope ropes, are fascinating to some and terrifying to others. Even though we give these slithering reptiles a wide berth, there are plenty of animal predators out there that are willing to get close for a meal!
Animal predators of snakes include bobcats, opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, eagles, owls, hawks, other snakes, snapping turtles, alligators, and bullfrogs. With that many predators, you will see snakes use a variety of defense mechanisms such as venom, hissing, rattling, and fleeing.
Below, we’ll go in-depth into all the animal predators of snakes and how they manage to catch these wriggly reptiles. But first, let’s talk about how snakes defend themselves
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but we’ve included the most common predators of snakes here.
If you have problems with snakes in your yard, you can read more about what attracts snakes and how to repel them here.
1. Birds Of Prey
Raptors are one of the biggest predators of snakes and some even specialize in catching these slithering serpents.
Hawks, eagles, and owls are all common predators of snakes, each with their own unique way of catching their prey. Hawks and eagles go after prey in the daytime while owls go on the prowl at night. Unfortunately for snakes, there’s no safe time to be out in the open!
Some of the more specialized birds that go after snakes include:
- Great Horned Owls: great horned owls seek prey by sound rather than sight. If a snake crawls over dry leaves or something that makes noise, the owl can zero in and strike.
- Red-tailed hawks: These daytime prowlers search for movement using their amazing eyesight. They sit on perches high in trees and, once they see movement, dive for their food and extend their talons at the last second to catch their prey.
- Barred, Burrowing, and Eastern Screech Owl: These owls hunt similarly to great horned owls, using sound rather than sight to locate prey.
Birds of prey drop on snakes from above and are most likely to clash with snakes when they are away from trees, bushes, and other covers that make it difficult for the birds to dive.
2. Other Snakes
It’s a harsh world out there, and sometimes snakes fall prey to their own kind! Yep, other snakes are big predators of snakes.
Some of the most common species of snakes that prey on other snakes include:
- Eastern Indigo
- Coral snake
The kingsnakes are truly the king of eating other snakes. They will go after over 40 different snake species and, according to the University of Louisiana, will go after snakes that are 20% larger than they are. They do this by using their amazing constricting strength which is the strongest in the world.
Bobcats are elusive predators that are rarely spotted by people despite being widespread throughout North America. They occur in every contiguous state in the U.S. except for Delaware.
These wild cats do not specialize in snakes, but they will eat them if the opportunity arises. Bobcats are patient hunters with a keen sense of sight and hearing. If they see or hear a snake from a distance, they will quietly stalk it until they are close enough to pounce.
Bobcats are most likely to go after snakes along edge environments such as the edge of a forest or field. Depending on the species of snake, bobcats may find them in rocky environments or heavy forest cover as well.
Frogs may seem like squat, lazy amphibians that just sit around waiting for flies to pass all day, but this is not the case for bullfrogs. Bullfrogs are carnivores that will eat anything and everything that they can fit in their mouths, including snakes.
Unlike owls and other snakes, bullfrogs are not specialty animal predators of snakes and mostly target small snakes. Bullfrogs are most likely to encounter snakes near water sources, especially those that are warm and slow-moving.
Bullfrogs don’t go after prey like other predators on our list. They are the sit-and-wait kind of ambush predator. As soon as something crosses their path, they jump on it with their mouths open and quickly shove it inside.
An article in the Journal NeoBiota found that the stomach contents of 5,075 bullfrogs contained 11 snakes, all of them garter snakes, indicating that these are the most likely snakes to be eaten by bullfrogs.
Opossums are amazing animals that get a bit of a bad rap because of their somewhat rat-like appearance. They are omnivores who will eat fruits and grains as readily as snakes.
These marsupials are specially equipped to deal with venomous snakes as they have a protein that makes them resistant to snake venom!
Opossums are mostly nocturnal, so they are more likely to eat snakes at night than during the day.
Opossums are super adaptable to a variety of habitats but they are usually found near a water source. They nest in brush piles and other covered locations, which makes them likely to run into snakes in these areas along with areas close to water.
Snakes are not a huge fan of cold weather, and neither are opossums. There are countless areas where these two animals overlap, but for the most part, opossums are not found west of the Rocky Mountains until they reach the west coast.
Raccoons are the garbage disposals of the animal kingdom. They will eat almost anything they can find, and that includes snakes.
Young snakes are more likely to be eaten by raccoons than large snakes. Small snakes are slower than adults and typically easier to catch. Raccoons aren’t big on wasting energy and prefer to catch easy prey when the opportunity presents itself.
There are a few different places where raccoons are likely to catch snakes:
- Near water: Raccoons love dunking their food in water to get a better feel for it. Water-loving snakes like cottonmouths and watersnakes may slither right into the clutches of a raccoon.
- In trees: The rough green snake and western rat snake are two examples of snakes that climb trees. Raccoons will often climb trees while looking for food and may run into a snake there.
- On the ground: Raccoons can adapt to a variety of conditions from heavily forested areas to small fragments of trees. While trundling along their territory, raccoons will take advantage of the opportunity to snatch a young snake that happens to be slithering by on the ground.
Since raccoons do not have a preference for their diet, there is no one species of snake that raccoons target. But that also means that raccoons in one area may prey highly on a species of snake that happens to like that environment, while a raccoon in a different habitat may never eat that species of snake.
For example, raccoons that live in the swamps of Florida may prey heavily on black swamp snakes, while raccoons in the northeast prey heavily on garter snakes. You can read more about what raccoons eat here.
Foxes are considered sly and cunning and for good reason. These elusive animals are rarely seen but inhabit the widest swath of habitat of any canid species. Foxes specialize in hunting mice, but they are opportunists and will eat a snake if it slithers by.
Unlike other canines, foxes do not form packs but rather go after prey alone.
Foxes are adaptable to a wide range of habitats but are most likely to catch snakes in open fields or near wetlands.
Foxes use their incredible sense of smell and hearing to locate snakes. They will cover a familiar area over and over until they detect their prey. Foxes use two forms of catching prey:
Pouncing is often used when catching mice while rushing and grabbing is probably the preferred method of catching snakes.
When it comes to adaptability, coyotes are king. These canines have flourished alongside humans as we expand our territory. Coyotes may be the king of adaptability, but they don’t hold the crown for eating the most snakes.
Snakes make up a small percentage of a coyote’s diet when compared to some of their favorite food such as white-tailed deer and rabbits. Coyotes are most likely to go after snakes during the dry season because snakes are more available at this time.
When prowling around for snakes, coyotes will stalk them until they are close enough to pounce and incapacitate the snake. Besides stalking a snake, coyotes might also go after them if they get too close to the coyote’s den and pups.
There are no specific species of snakes that coyotes target—they are very opportunistic and will consume whatever is at hand for food.
You can read more about how and why coyotes eat snakes here.
Alligators have been around forever—literally! These giant reptiles haven’t changed a bit in 8 million years. And for as long as snakes have been around, alligators have been eating them!
Snakes are not the primary food source of alligators, but these carnivorous reptiles are opportunists that will snack on whatever wades by.
Some of the snakes that alligators might eat include:
- Rat snakes
- Banded water snakes
- Eastern coral snakes
Interestingly, opossums and alligators have something in common—they are both able to ignore the effects of venomous snakes!
Alligators are cold-blooded just like snakes and rely on sunbathing to warm their bodies. A hot, sunny spot may be another location where alligators prey on snakes.
10. Snapping Turtles
There are just two species of snapping turtle out there to contend with over 3,000 snake species. The common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle both prey on snakes and are both large reptiles that, like alligators, haven’t changed much over the millennia.
Snapping turtles are ambush predators that like to sit and wait for their prey to come to them. Most encounters with snakes will happen in the water as snapping turtles rarely leave the water if they don’t have to.
Despite their ability to catch snakes, studies like the one reported in the Southeastern Naturalist show that fish are the main prey item of snapping turtles.
Alligator snapping turtles have an interesting way of speeding up the wait time for prey to come near. Their mouths are equipped with an appendage that mimics a worm, thus drawing snakes and fish closer before they are snatched up in their jaws.
How Do Snakes Defend Themselves?
Snakes are at a bit of a disadvantage in the animal kingdom. They lack arms and legs after all! Despite this, they have a large arsenal of tools to use against potential animal predators.
1. Snakes Flee When They Can
Snakes enjoy hiding in tall grass, beneath bushes, in wood piles, and under porches. These areas offer them protection from predators but still allow them to check out their surroundings.
When confronted by an animal predator, snakes will often try to flee to a safe location.
Fleeing is one of the most often-used defense mechanisms. The size, age, sex, and state of the snake can make it more likely to flee or fight, but in general, snakes will flee before they try to strike or bite at a potential predator.
You may be surprised to learn that snakes aren’t very fast. According to the Davidson College of North Carolina, snakes typically top out at around 6mph.
To put that into perspective, mice and some of the fastest humans can run at around 8mph, while opossums top out at just 4mph.
2. Snakes Hiss And Rattle To Warn Predators
Snakes can be hard to see when they hide in tall grass or blend in with the leaves on the ground. Not all predators (or people!) are aware they are there.
Before a predator approaches too close, snakes will use noise deterrents to let the predator know they are NOT welcome to come any closer.
Some of the most common noises that snakes make include:
The noises that snakes make are typically generated by air blowing over a vent inside the snake’s head or body. Think of the wind blowing over an empty bottle…
You can read more about the sounds and noises that snakes make here.
3. Snakes Use Theatrics To Trick Predators
Predators learn from their parents and through collective knowledge which animals to stay away from. For example, coral snakes have loud coloration to warn predators that they are venomous.
Snakes have a few theatrical innovations to use against predators that help them survive a possible encounter.
- Play dead: Snakes will flop over and pretend to be dead when faced with a large predator. The idea is that if the snake appears dead, the predator will stop pursuing the snake and stop trying to bite or otherwise harm the snake.
- Puff up: Snakes have a lot of air sacs and vents on their body that allows them to puff up when approached by a predator. This makes them look bigger than they are, similar to how a cat puffs up when frightened.
- Color mimics: Some snakes mimic the colors of venomous snakes to trick predators into thinking they are more dangerous than they really are. Coral snakes are often imitated.
- Head triangulation: When approached by a predator, some snakes will flatten their heads to make them appear triangular like that of a venomous viper.
A study reported in the Journal PLoS One reported that, out of the 148 decoys they put out that had triangular-shaped heads and color mimics, only 9 were attacked. Compare that to the 22 that were attacked that had regular shapes and were not color mimics.
4. When Backed Into A Corner, Snakes Will Strike
If they can’t get away with playing dead or hissing, snakes will strike and bite as a last resort. This might also happen if the snake is startled or surprised.
Venomous snakes pack an extra powerful bite that a predator won’t soon forget if it survives. Non-venomous snakes will bite as well if they feel threatened.
Snakes strike fast. Like, super duper fast! Snakes can strike fast enough to produce 28 G-Force. To put that in perspective, most people black out at just 5 G’s!
That’s All We’ve Got!
Snakes can be found all over the world in a wide range of habitats. While we humans tend to give them a lot of space, animal predators aren’t so wary of these slithering reptiles.
To recap, 10 common natural predators of snakes include:
- Other snakes
- Birds of Prey
- Snapping Turtles
Some of these predators such as opossums and alligators are specially equipped with proteins that neutralize snake venom, meaning they can go after both venomous and non-venomous snakes.
If you’re having problems with snakes around your home or yard, you can use our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a local professional.
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Maillet, Z., Halliday, W.D. & Blouin-Demers, G. Exploratory and defensive behaviours change with sex and body size in eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) . J Ethol 33, 47–54 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-014-0416-2
Marcio Martins, Otavio A. V. Marques, and Ivan Sazima “How to be arboreal and diurnal and still stay alive: microhabitat use, time of activity, and defense in neotropical forest snakes,” South American Journal of Herpetology 3(1), 58-67, (1 April 2008).
Young, B. A. (2003, September). Snake Bioacoustics: Toward a Richer Understanding of the Behavioral Ecology of Snakes. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 78(3). https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/377052
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