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Home > Snakes > What Do Snakes Eat in the Wild and as Pets? Vet-Reviewed Nutritional Information

What Do Snakes Eat in the Wild and as Pets? Vet-Reviewed Nutritional Information

corn snake eating a mouse

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Snakes are becoming more popular as exotic pets, and some breeds like the ball python and corn snake are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, making them even more desirable. A common question from people looking to purchase a snake is: What do they eat? It depends on what type of snake it is, but most snakes mainly eat animal protein because they are all carnivores.

If you are thinking about adopting a snake for your home, keep reading as we look at a few of the most popular kinds to see what they eat in the wild and as pets so you can see if you can stomach their diet.

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Please note that many states and jurisdictions have legislation that prohibits owning, breeding, purchasing, or selling snakes or certain snake species. Always make sure you have permission to legally own an exotic pet before deciding to adopt one. If you are in the U.S., please refer to state laws before deciding to adopt an exotic pet. Elsewhere, please refer to the relevant laws where you reside.

Capturing wild animals to keep as pets is not advised, as this disrupts local ecosystems. Likewise, releasing exotic wild pets back into the wild is not advised, as this can also disrupt the balance of local ecosystems.

Snakes are a long-term commitment and are generally not considered safe around children. They are also not compatible with other pets, including cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, and other exotic pets. They are opportunistic hunters that may attempt to strike or constrict anything that they perceive as a potential meal, including their handlers.

What Do Small Snakes Eat?

Natural Diet

Small snakes like the ring-necked snake, garter snake, and the California green snake typically eat a diet of insects but will also eat salamanders, lizards, frogs, worms, rodents, and other smaller snakes. Many of these smaller snakes are not dangerous to humans, but you should always use caution around any snake, especially if you are inexperienced because some bites can cause serious injury even if they are non-venomous.

green snake eats a squirrel
Image Credit: I PUTU ARNAWA, Shutterstock

Captive Diet

You will primarily feed your small snake a diet of crickets, earthworms, and mealworms. Since these insects don’t have bones, you may need to provide your captive snake with a calcium supplement, and even if you use UVB lighting, you will also need a vitamin D3 supplement. Luckily, these two nutrients are often packaged together in commercial supplement preparations.

You will dust the insects with the supplement shortly before feeding them to your pet. The insects you feed your snake will need to be gut loaded, which means they should be fed with nutritious food at least 24 hours before giving them to your pet. Always purchase your insects instead of finding them around your home because wild bugs can harbor pathogens that could cause health problems for your pet.


What Do Medium-Sized Snakes Eat?

Natural Diet

Medium-sized snakes like the green unicorn, the Honduran milk snake, and the corn snake are a little too large for crickets and worms, but they will still eat them if they can’t find anything else. They prefer larger prey like mice, frogs, lizards, and birds. Some snakes will even eat eggs if they can find them. Some of these snakes are venomous and can cause serious health issues in humans.

corn snake eating mice
Image Credit: Marek Velechovsky, Shutterstock

Captive Diet

Your medium-sized captive snake will primarily eat mice. Most experts recommend feeding frozen and thawed captive-bred mice for the best results. Wild mice caught on your property may excite your snake and engage their hunting instincts, but they can also transfer parasites and bacteria to your pet, which can cause health issues, so they aren’t recommended. Since your snake eats the mice whole, including the fur and bones, you will not need to dust the food with a supplement powder.


What Do Large Snakes Eat?

Natural Diet

Big snakes like the green anaconda, Burmese python, and boa constrictor primarily eat fish, birds, reptiles, smaller snakes, squirrels, rabbits, and even larger game, like deer. Luckily for humans, most of these large snakes are slow moving and non-venomous, so they make fantastic pets.

closeup shot of a common boa constrictor snack eating a gray rat
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

Captive Diet

Large captive snakes will primarily eat rats. Rats are a good-sized food that your snake can easily digest, and they contain all the nutrients your snake requires to stay healthy. Like mice, you can purchase rats frozen, so they are easy to find and store. Plus, there is much less risk of accidentally transmitting bacteria or parasites to your snake if you choose captive-bred rats. Also, as with mice, you should not feed wild-caught rats to your snake.
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Final Thoughts

In the wild, snakes are opportunistic feeders that will eat just about anything that they can fit their heads around. In fact, snakes have the amazing ability to open their mouths 150 degrees to fit in food larger than their bodies. Small snakes will stick to primarily insects and worms, but as the species gets larger, the food that it eats does too. Some of the bigger snakes can consume large animals like deer, but they primarily stick to smaller prey like rabbits, squirrels, and rats. We recommend using only commercially purchased captive-bred insects, mice, and rats for your snake to promote optimal health.

Featured Image Credit: Jan Hejda, Shutterstock

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