It is natural that first-time snake owners have tons of questions about their pet feeding. The crucial ones are how long can snakes go without eating and what affects their ability to survive without food. Let’s see what experts say.
Snakes can survive an impressively long period without food, ranging from a few weeks to two years, like other reptiles. It primarily depends on their species, age, and living conditions. A regularly fed pet snake will have different needs than those surviving in the harsh surroundings in the wild.
This article aims are to find out how long snakes can live without eating. That period significantly varies between species living in the wild and your pet.
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How Long Can Snakes Go Without Eating?
Over 3,000 snake species live worldwide, including 20% venomous. Only a few can be pet snakes you can keep at your home. However, it is crucial to learn about their habits before adopting one. For instance, snakes’ eating habits remarkably vary, depending on species, their specific anatomy, and origin.
Even though some can consume human food, you need to follow established guidelines to keep your pet long-lived and healthy. Plus, you should check on time how long it can go without eating if necessary.
|Pet snake types||Regular feeding||How long can they go without eating?|
|Corn Snake||Once in 7 to 10 days||1 to 2 weeks|
|California Kingsnake||Once in 5 to 7 days in the first year Once in 10 to 14 days later||Up to 6 months|
|Children’s Python||Once in 7 to 10 days||A few weeks|
|Carpet Python||Once in 7 to 10 days||Weeks to a few months|
|Ball Python||Twice a week juveniles Once in 7 to 14 days adults||At least 6 months|
|Rosy Boa||Once in 7 to 10 days||14 days|
|Milk Snake||Once a week juveniles Once in 7 to 14 adults||6 weeks|
|Western Hognose Snake||Every 5 days juveniles Once a week adults||1 to 3 months|
|Garter Snake||Every other day juveniles Once a week adults||2 to 3 months|
|Smooth Green Snake||Once or twice per week||A few weeks|
|Cape House Snake||Once a week||A few weeks|
|Kenyan Sand Boa||Once a week||Up to a year|
|Rough Green Snake||2 to 3 times a week||A few weeks|
Snakes can survive for a long without food, but their feeding schedule depends on numerous factors. Let’s take Ball Python and Corn Snake, the most popular pet snakes in the US, as examples.
Since Corn Snake is relatively small, it needs food every 7 to 10 days and can live hungry for an additional week or two without any consequences.
On the other hand, you should provide an adult Ball Python meal once in 10 to 14 days. This large snake can starve for at least six months, but its juveniles will look for food twice a week.
When considering snakes’ feeding habits, you should pay attention to brumation, the specific period of slowing down snake metabolism.
Most reptiles will stop eating during the winter, so you shouldn’t worry about your pet’s immobility and disinterest in food in that period.
In fact, many owners prepare necessary conditions at a particular time of year to allow their pets to fulfill their instincts.
In the end, you should remember one thing. Even though your pet snake can starve for a long, it doesn’t mean you should let it without food for more than a week. This reptile needs a consistent eating schedule to stay healthy and prosperous.
What Affects Snakes’ Ability to Survive Without Food?
Be prepared that snakes occasionally lose their appetite. Reasons can vary, and most of them are a regular part of the reptiles’ natural life cycle.
Snake type and size
Snakes’ type and size are the most prominent factors that affect their metabolism. Smaller species with a faster metabolism will require more frequent meals, while larger snakes can survive months without food.
As usual, snakelets (baby snakes) and juveniles need to eat more frequently to grow. You should feed some of them daily, while sizable species offspring require to get food twice a week.
Most snakes stop eating during the breeding season. In fact, some males can stop eating for months or even a half of a year when smelling the ovulating females. On the other hand, females will stop eating shortly before laying eggs.
Snakes will refuse to eat in a period of shedding. If you notice that your pet has cloudy or milky eyes, a pink underbelly, or an ashy appearance, it is a sign that there is no reason to worry. It is only time to get rid of old skin.
Time of year
The season will significantly affect the snake eating frequency. Some species will enter brumation in winter, and you can expect them to stop eating.
It seems that these reptiles have an internal clock, and their metabolism slows down once the cold weather comes. That is why some large snakes enter brumation, although they live in warm enclosures in captivity.
Any changes in diet and feeding schedule or overfeeding can cause an eating disorder in your snake. Some will also refuse to consume frozen food, wrong prey, rodents of inadequate size, or freshly killed animals.
You should change your feeding technique if your pet stops eating. Keep in mind that some species require the food they are used to. If the snake can’t recognize the prey, it won’t eat it.
Inadequate environment conditions
Insufficient lighting – Some snake species prefer eating in the dark. Since these nocturnal animals often don’t feel safe when exposed to too bright lighting, they may refuse a meal.
Temperature – Most snakes native to equatorial climates will refuse to eat if they are cold. Keep in mind that the coldest temperature snakes can thrive in is 65 F (18.3 C). Ideally, it should be from 70 F to 90 F (21 C – 32 C), depending on the species.
Humidity – Inadequate humidity levels will result in respiratory diseases, skin disorders, and appetite loss.
Dirty terrarium – Snakes sometimes refuse their meals because of the dirty enclosure.
The stressed-out snakes will stop eating. Reasons are numerous and include:
- A snake feels insecure
- You handle your pet more than four times a week, especially during shedding or right after feeding
- A snake is enclosed with other snakes in a small terrarium
- Temperature or light changing
- Loud noises
Can Snakes In the Wild Go Longer Without Eating Than Pet Snakes?
According to Marshall D. McCueand and co-authors, starvation is a part of wild snake life, particularly those living on islands. Since food is only abundant seasonally, these reptiles need to adjust to limited food supplies.
Many long-term studies based on Radio Telemetry and mark-recaptured snakes showed changes in snakes’ body condition after extended starvation periods.
Most of them survive the winter months in a state of brumation when they stop eating and slow down their metabolism. That capability helps these animals live in the wild for a long regardless of the circumstances.
Even though many snakes species can survive months, even years of starvation, many details are still unclear to scientists.
For instance, the question of physiological, biochemical, and morphological responses of snakes’ bodies to food limitation is still insufficiently examined.
|Wild snake types||Regular feeding||How long can they survive without food?|
|Copperhead||One meal in three weeks in summer||All winter|
|Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth)||Whenever prey is available||For weeks|
|Rat Snake||Once in 7 to 10 days||At least 6 months|
|Western Diamondback Rattlesnake||Once in 2 to 3 weeks||At least 6 months|
|Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake||Once in 2 weeks||At least 6 months|
|Western Diamondback Rattlesnake||Once in 2 to 3 weeks||At least 6 months|
|Western (Prairie) Rattlesnake||Once in 2 to 3 weeks||At least 6 months|
|Mojave Rattlesnake||Once in 1 to 2 weeks||For weeks|
|Anaconda||4 to 5 times a year||Up to two years|
|Python||Twice a week juveniles Once every 1 or 2 weeks adults||At least 6 months|
|Boa Constrictor||Once in 5 to 7 days juveniles Once in 10 to 14 days adults||A few weeks to several months|
Thanks to biologist Marshall D. McCue’s examinations, scientists know that some snake species can survive without a meal for months. He was interested in three snake species:
- Twenty-two Rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta)
- Twenty Ball pythons (Python regius)
- Twenty Western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox)
After leaving 62 snakes without food for 168 days, he monitored starving snakes’ potentially adaptive strategies to cope with food limitations. The primary ones were:
- Lowering metabolic rates by 70% to 72%
- Reducing energy expenditures by 80%
- Putting circulating metabolites under control
- Increasing body length by tissue remodeling
- Prioritizing mass loss in particular organs
Amazingly, a hypometabolic state not only enabled snakes to survive harsh conditions without food, but they kept growing during that period. In other words, these reptiles were highly efficient in using available resources.
Once they stopped using food, these fascinating animals started burning belly fat stores to save structurally critical protein. After that, the way of generating energy depended on the particular species.
One of the earlier researches of the same biologist included 16 subadult Western diamondback rattlesnakes. They were deprived of food for 24 weeks under controlled conditions, and their bodies efficiently adjusted to the situation by:
- Reducing plasma glucose
- Increasing circulating ketones
- Increasing fatty acid burning to save amino acids
He also noticed a few fascinating things. For instance, water accumulation caused the snakes’ bodies to bloat by 7%. Over time, starving snakes started digesting their heart muscles.
Their hearts became smaller without negative consequences since the lower energy consumption required less circulatory demands.
Snakes lost approximately 9 to 24% of their initial body mass at the end of the experiment, depending on the species. Impressively, their hearts were quickly rebuilt after the first feeding.
Recent research showed the effects of starvation on snakes’ scales and excreta and changes in the carcass of reptiles starved to death. It was proven that stable isotopes could provide information for famine in reptiles, including snakes.
For instance, the carcasses’ isotopic composition didn’t show significant changes after starvation. On the other hand, the scales’ isotopic signatures vary slightly, while they significantly differ in excreta.
When Should Owners Start to Worry When Their Snakes Refuse to Eat?
Once you eliminate typical reasons for refusing food in your pet and the snake still doesn’t eat after all your efforts, it is time to visit an exotics vet. The tricky part is that no one can say the right moment for concern since it depends on a species.
Typically, there is no reason to worry if the snake loses some weight, but it is alarming when it becomes too thin. As soon as you can see its spine that forms a ridge typically covered by muscles, you will know that something is wrong.
Such changes will become visible after approximately six months in adults, but it is different with juveniles. They can’t starve for more than a month. After that period, you should suspect some pathological conditions, including the most common:
Mouth rot (infectious stomatitis)
It is a painful mouth infection appearing as a result of the immune system weakening. Probable reasons for such a condition are improper diet, oral injuries, and inadequate humidity or temperature in a terrarium.
According to Stephen J. Divers from Elands Veterinary clinic, ulcerative stomatitis is a significant problem in captive reptile populations, primarily snakes.
In the article published in 2017, Seven Mustafa and Teodora Popova found out that Enterobacter agglomerans can cause stomatitis in captured reptiles when the hygiene in a terrarium is poor.
Any respiratory infection, including pneumonia, is common in captive snakes and can be a possible reason why a snake stops eating. Scientists isolated 47 different gram-negative bacteria in 25 snakes suffering from pneumonia.
According to Christal Pollock, DVM, DABVP, the problem is that owners often fail to recognize this condition until it escalates.
Both ectoparasites and helminths will disturb your snake and negatively affect its eating habits. Keep in mind that some worms are common in reptiles, but their overpopulation causes this particular problem.
Is It Possible That a Snake Starves Itself?
Believe it or not, snakes sometimes starve themselves to death if they can’t get used to poor environmental conditions.
These reptiles living in captivity will quickly react to stress, inadequate temperature, light, and humidity in the terrarium. The first reaction is refusing to eat.
The primary problem is their inability to produce their own heat, so these poikilothermic animals depend on environmental conditions.
Without an adequate heat source, your pet’s metabolism will stop working regularly, its immune system will drop down, and the snake will become lethargic.
Another reason is a disease. So, it is OK when your snake stops eating for biological reasons, but the neglected or ill animal won’t begin eating at all, and you can expect it to starve itself to death.
Once you improve its surroundings and solve the health issue, your pet will give up starvation.
Keep in mind that scientists know snakes can survive for months or even years without food. Still, no studies can confirm the effects of physiological changes in their bodies after prolonged periods of starvation.
So, be careful and take good care of your pet.
Snakes are fascinating animals that can survive without food for weeks, months, or even years, depending on species and age. However, most pet snakes require regular feeding and a healthy diet, preferably whole prey.
Always check the feeding schedule for a particular reptile you want to adopt and learn to recognize typical reasons for refusing food before panicking.