Snakes are great for the environment as they help control rodent populations and other small pests. They generally make great pets if given the proper environment, feeding requirements, heat and ultraviolet lighting.
Probably one of the most interesting things about snakes is how they consume their food.
First of all, snakes can not and do not chew their food. Instead, they have over 200 teeth, that point backwards (towards their throats), to prevent their prey from escaping. The snake will usually go to suffocate its prey by wrapping their bodies around them until they stop moving. They then proceed to ingest the prey headfirst. They have extremely flexible lower jaws that allow them to open their mouths wide enough to consume prey that is 75-100% larger than them, and because of this, snakes will only eat if they do not feel threatened and feel like they are in a safe place. To prevent themselves from choking, they push the end of their tracheas (windpipe) out of their mouths, to create a snorkel effect to receive oxygen as the large prey fills their mouths.
The warmer the snake’s body, the more quickly it digests its prey. Typically, it takes 3-5 days for snakes to digest a meal. The larger the prey, and the larger the snake, the longer digestion takes. The snake’s digestive system can dissolve everything but a prey’s hair, feathers and claws, which will then be excreted in the feces. If a snake feels threatened soon after eating, it will often regurgitate its food, in order to be able to escape.
Typically snakes only need to eat 6-30 meals each year to be healthy. Again this depends on the age of the snake, the type of snake, and the size of the snake.
Facts about Feeding Captive snakes:
In captivity, it is highly recommended that snakes be fed frozen/thawed rodents. Although snakes in the wild will only eat healthy, moving/lively prey, we advise against feeding live prey to your pet snake. Some of the reasons are that it’s more humane for the prey. Store-bought frozen mice and rats are humanely bred and euthanized for the consumption of your snake. They are fed appropriate diets to ensure they are “pre-loaded” with the proper nutrients of vitamins to ensure health to your pet. Live prey may have consumed something they are not supposed to, thus resulting in your snake consuming something it is not supposed to.
The other reason not to feed live prey is that the prey will often fight back. It results in trauma to your snake. Live rats/mice will fight for their lives, thus causing bite wounds to the snake’s head or body, and quite often their eyes, resulting in a potential for damaged eyes/blindness and complications due to infection.
Written by: Michelle Arrowsmith, RVT