Snakes are one of those animals that are feared by many but actually do a lot of good for the environment. Some of the most common insects that snakes eat include crickets, ants, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, pillbugs, moths, cockroaches, and grubs, especially beetle grubs!
Below, we’ll go over all of the main insects that snakes eat, why they eat them, and which snakes are most likely to eat them. Let’s get to it!
What Do Snakes Eat?
Before we get into all the insects that snakes are willing to track down and eat, let’s talk a little bit about the feeding habits of snakes.
Snakes are obligate carnivores. This means that they must consume meat to survive and do not eat any plant matter.
Insects may not seem like the typical prey for snakes, but there are quite a few species that make a habit of consuming bugs!
There are thousands of species of snakes out there, so there’s no way to define the diet of every single snake. However, in general, small snakes are more likely to eat insects than large snakes.
Large snakes are far more likely to consume rodents, rabbits, and small birds. Extra large snakes like Anacondas are big enough to take down deer, warthogs, and crocodiles. Thankfully, most extra-large snakes are only found outside of the United States, unless you live in Florida. Sorry Floridians!
How Much Do Snakes Eat?
For humans and other warm-blooded critters, surviving a whole day without eating sounds impossible, right? At the very least, it sounds unpleasant and like a hangry-based argument is inevitable.
Snakes can go weeks, months, and in some cases even YEARS without eating!
Yes, years! According to the University of Melbourne, large snakes like pythons and boas can go up to two years without eating.
How do they do it? The secret lies within their metabolic system.
Snakes are ectotherms, meaning they cannot generate their own heat. This is commonly called cold-blooded.
Being cold-blooded means that snakes don’t have to waste energy on keeping their internal body temperature constant which means they don’t burn a lot of calories when they’re just sitting there.
Well Then, How Does A Snake Get Enough Food To Eat?
While some snakes can go weeks or months without food, the majority of small snakes eat every day or at least a few times a week. A good rule of thumb is that the bigger the snake, the less frequently it eats.
To give you an idea of how many calories snakes need, we can use rattlesnakes as an example. According to the University of Cal Poly, adult rattlesnakes need 500-600 calories per year.
1 grasshopper is about 0.8 calories, so in a year a rattlesnake would need to eat 625 grasshoppers to get its necessary calorie intake for the entire year.
Where And When Do Snakes Eat Insects?
Remember how we mentioned earlier that there are thousands of species of snakes? This vast diversity means that there’s no single location where snakes go after insects.
That being said, there are a few places where snakes are more likely to go after insects. Snakes prefer to go after insects in areas with proper cover as opposed to out in the open on bare ground or rock.
- Trees: Some species of caterpillars, ants, and spiders are likely to be found in trees. Snakes that climb trees are more likely to go after these types of insects.
- Gardens: Snakes commonly raid gardens for spiders, ants, grasshoppers, grubs, and pillbugs.
- Grassy Lawns: Grubs and ants are easily accessible in the lawn. This is also a great place to find grasshoppers and crickets.
- Grasslands & brushy meadows: This is the perfect place to find grasshoppers, crickets, ants, spiders, and moths.
Depending on where the snake lives, there may be a certain time of the year that they intake all of their needed calories and simply rest for the remainder of the year.
Snakes that eat insects do so in the summer more than any other season. Summer is when insects are the most abundant and active. That being said, in areas where it stays warm all year, snakes may eat insects at any time of the year.
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered where snakes go in the winter, you can read about it here.
9 Insects That Snakes Eat
Snakes are a diverse group of animals that come in all shapes and sizes. Most insect-eating snakes are going to be small. Think of a garter snake, ring-neck snake, or rough green snake. Larger snakes like rat snakes, pythons, and rattlesnakes are more likely to eat rodents.
Like snakes, insects are also ectotherms which means that snakes using heat to locate prey will have a hard time finding insects. Instead, snakes rely on their sense of smell or even visual movement to locate insects.
Let’s check out the common insects that are on the menu for these slithery serpents.
1. Snakes Love To Eat Crickets
Crickets are portrayed as friendly helpers in cartoons and movies, but if you’ve ever seen one of these insects up close, you’d be more inclined to run away! Crickets are related to grasshoppers and have a slightly similar appearance with a pair of large legs used for jumping.
Like grasshoppers, crickets can make noise by rubbing parts of their body together. For crickets, this is typically the wings while for grasshoppers it is the legs. This is called stridulation.
Unfortunately, snakes cannot use this noise to track down crickets as they can only “hear” vibrations, not sound.
Common snakes that eat crickets include:
- Garter snakes
- Rough green snake
- Smooth green snake
There’s not a whole lot of information out there about the specific type of crickets eaten by these snakes, but field crickets are the most common cricket found across the United States and are likely to be in the diet of all three of these snakes and many others as well.
While on the prowl for crickets, snakes typically use vision and smell to locate their prey.
Rough and smooth green snakes are most active during the day, while garter snakes can be active at any time of the day or night.
Crickets prefer a variety of habitats from densely wooded areas to meadows and grassy fields. Snakes are most likely to prowl for crickets in areas with plenty of cover as opposed to out in the open.
2. Snakes Crave Caterpillars
Caterpillars may seem like the perfect meal for a snake: slow-moving and packed with calories and nutrients. The truth is, not a lot of snakes prey on caterpillars. The reason is probably that they are too big for many small snakes, and larger snakes are more inclined to go after warm-blooded prey.
Additionally, an article in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society notes that arboreal snakes (snakes that live in trees) may have a harder time gripping tree branches after a large meal. These types of snakes may opt for smaller prey like ants instead of caterpillars.
The garter snake, rough green snake, and smooth green snake are the top three contenders for caterpillars.
Caterpillars can be found in the greatest abundance on plants, which they feed on before creating their cocoons and pupating into butterflies or moths.
Snakes are likely to come across caterpillars as they are slithering past plants in a wooded area or fields. They may also scour your garden and flowerbeds for caterpillars.
If you come across a snake in your garden or flowerbed, it doesn’t always mean you have a snake problem! You can read more about why one snake doesn’t always mean there’s another here
3. Snakes Snack On Spiders
Alright, you caught us, spiders aren’t really insects. Technically, they’re arachnids, but they all have too many legs and we’ve decided to lump spiders in with insects in this article.
According to a thesis paper from the University of Texas at El Paso, the types of spiders that are most likely to be eaten by snakes are ground-dwelling spiders such as those that live in burrows, beneath rocks, or in leaf litter.
Some snakes are more likely than others to eat spiders. These include but are not limited to:
- Blind snakes
- Western hooknose snake
- Variable ground snake
- Blackheaded snakes
- Ring-necked snake
- Southeastern crowned snake
Rough green snakes will also eat spiders, but they tend to go after spiders that are on plants or in trees as opposed to ground-dwelling spiders.
Like other creepy crawlers on our list, snakes use a combination of visual and olfactory (smell) cues to find spiders in their environment. On the flip side, there are a few spider species out there that prey on snakes!
There are far more moths than there are butterflies, with a variety of over 150,000 different species. Moths are the adult form of caterpillars. Most species of moth are more active at night, but there are plenty that flit around during the day.
Moths are difficult prey to catch for snakes because of their ability to fly. Many snakes prey on moths during the day when the moths are inactive and hiding in leaves, beneath tree bark, or in dense brush and grass.
It may seem like common sense for a snake to hang out near electric lights at night to catch an easy meal, but this isn’t typically the case. Outdoor lights will neither attract nor repel snakes.
Moths range in size from just a few millimeters to several inches. Snakes are more likely to go after smaller moths than larger ones. Most insectivorous (insect-eating) snakes are small, while larger snakes aren’t likely to waste their time on moths and will go straight for mice or rats.
If you’re worried about moths attracting snakes to your porch, opt for an amber-colored outdoor light like Bluex Bulb’s LED Dusk to Dawn Light Bulbs. Amber is less attractive to bugs than bright white lights.
Also known as a larva, a grub is the immature form of a beetle. They are fat, white, and wormlike and typically live in the soil where they devour the roots of your grass, turning it brown.
Garter snakes, ring-neck snakes, and sharp-tailed snakes are three common consumers of grubs, but there are plenty of others.
Since grubs live underground, snakes are most likely to eat them in gardens and flower beds where the soil is loose or in recently-disturbed lawns.
Small snakes have an advantage when searching for grubs because they can fit into teeny tiny burrows and fit in small spaces where grubs are available. Larger snakes have a much harder time reaching grubs beneath the soil.
Like caterpillars, grubs are slow and defenseless, making them easy prey for snakes. However, they can also be quite large depending on the species of beetle, which can make them too big for some of the smaller insectivorous snakes out there.
I don’t think anyone is very sorry to hear that snakes eat cockroaches. These nocturnal pests are common problems in homes and apartment buildings.
Two common snake species that eat cockroaches include:
- Rough green snake: These slender snakes are found in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States.
- Ringneck snake: Ringneck snakes can be found almost anywhere in the United States. These snakes are also small and slender, perfect for eating insects.
Ringneck snakes may come into contact with cockroaches more than rough green snakes because ringnecks enjoy moist environments, just like cockroaches. Rough green snakes are more likely to crawl in plants, vines, and trees.
In the wild, it is more likely for snakes to eat field cockroaches than any other cockroach species in the United States.
This is because most other cockroaches live near or inside human dwellings. Field cockroaches prefer to live outside instead of sneaking around in people’s homes.
That being said, a snake can eat other species of cockroaches. They may even be attracted to your yard and home if there is an abundance of cockroaches available. In this case, it may be time to bust out a few traps like Black Flag’s Roach Motel Traps to get rid of those pesky beasts.
Once again, we’re asking you to excuse us for including a non-insect on our list. Yes, that’s right, pillbugs are not insects! They’re crustaceans. These somewhat adorable little crustaceans are referred to as “roly-polys” because they roll up into a ball when touched or disturbed.
Nonetheless, snakes have no problem gobbling up these little “pills” as an evening snack!
Pillbugs are nocturnal, but during the day they can be found under leaf litter, logs, rocks, or in the soil, making them the perfect prey item for ringneck snakes and other small ground-dwelling snakes.
According to the University of Florida, snakes may look for pillbugs in your garden since these roly-pollies will eat tomato plants, lettuce, peas, and radish plants.
It’s hard to believe that a ground-dwelling snake can catch a fast-moving, fast-jumping grasshopper, but snakes certainly do eat grasshoppers.
According to an article in the Journal of Functional Ecology, snakes target specific types of grasshoppers that show three very important characteristics:
- Large-bodied: Snakes prefer to prey on grasshoppers that will provide them with the most nutrition. This doesn’t necessarily correlate with the biggest grasshopper out there, more like the biggest grasshopper the snake can catch.
- Abundant: Most snakes will wait until summer when grasshopper populations are most abundant to go after them. This gives them the best chance of catching a meal.
- Poor escape abilities: Grasshoppers that are slow, poor jumpers, or flightless are more likely to become dinner than those that are extremely quick or far-jumpers.
The most common snakes that eat grasshoppers include our tried and true garter snakes, green snakes, and ring-necked snakes. These snakes are small and depend largely on insects for their meals.
Ants are a common insect found almost everywhere in the United States. These social insects live in colonies, numbering anywhere from under one hundred to over a thousand individuals in a single colony.
Snakes that use heat signatures to find their prey will have an easier time locating ants in colonies because there are so many individuals that they end up radiating heat. Other snakes tend to use the chemical trails left by ants to find them.
The most significant snake predator of ants is the blind snake, sometimes called the thread snake. These small, slender snakes can be found in the southwest and rarely exceed 12 inches long. They specialize in feeding near ant nests.
In addition to blind snakes, young snakes of any species may feed on ants until they are big enough to take down more respectable prey like mice and moles.
Why Do Snakes Eat Insects?
We’ve gone over all the insects that snakes eat, but what prompts a snake to prey on a bug rather than a mouse?
Here are a few reasons why snakes eat insects:
- Their size: Small snakes just aren’t big enough to take down a mouse. They still have to eat meat, so they rely on insects for food.
- Opportunity: Some snakes are lazy with their food and prefer to sit and wait for rodents to walk by. These ambush predators are not going to pass up a free meal if a cricket happens to crawl by.
- Behavior: Large snakes are typically sit-and-wait ambush predators. Small snakes, on the other hand, are more active and tend to look around for their prey instead of waiting for it to come to them.
- Abundance: There are TONS of insects out there. They’re everywhere! In the soil, on plants, in the air, and even in the water. No matter where a snake lives, some species of insect live near it. This makes them an abundant and sustainable prey source.
For some snakes, insects may not be their favored prey item. Instead, they may only eat insects if the opportunity arises or at certain times of the year. Other snakes rely entirely on insects to survive.
Snakes can influence insect populations in small areas, such as the population of grasshoppers in a single field. Otherwise, they are not likely to influence insect populations on a grand scale.
That’s A Wrap!
Insects are an important part of many snakes’ diets, with some snakes depending solely on insects for their food.
Most of the snakes that eat insects are small snakes that are incapable of capturing larger prey like rodents. Snakes are obligate carnivores, but if you’re small, you must rely on small prey. That means insects!
Now for a quick recap –
The 9 common insects that snakes eat include:
While on the prowl for insects, snakes rely on their sense of smell and their vision to locate prey. Some snakes, like pit vipers, may use heat signatures to locate large ant colonies, but pit vipers do not normally prey on insects.
Snakes may not be a welcome visitor in your yard, but they are great at keeping the bug population down!
Still, if you end up having problems with snakes or insects in your yard or home, you can always reach out to a professional using our nationwide pest control finder.
Baeckens, S., Van Damme, R. and Cooper, W.E., Jr. (2017), How phylogeny and foraging ecology drive the level of chemosensory exploration in lizards and snakes. J. Evol. Biol., 30: 627-640. https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.13032
Hendrick, A. V., & Kortet, R. (2006, November). Hiding behavior in two cricket populations that differ in predation pressure. Animal Behavior, 72(5), 1111-1118. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000334720600306X
Mizsei, E, Boros, Z, Lovas-Kiss, Á, et al. A trait-based framework for understanding predator–prey relationships: Trait matching between a specialist snake and its insect prey. Funct Ecol. 2019; 33: 2354– 2368. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13446
Tracy L. Crotty, Bruce C. Jayne, Trade-offs between eating and moving: what happens to the locomotion of slender arboreal snakes when they eat big prey?, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 114, Issue 2, February 2015, Pages 446–458, https://doi.org/10.1111/bij.12420
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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