Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

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Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Broomstick » 2016-09-19 06:40pm

Lots of stuff in books and on line about how a snake can eat an animal of X size and then go Y period of time before eating again, but that's not what I'm interested in.

This is what I'm interested in:

1) OK, we know snakes can eat a REALLY BIG meal... but do they eat smaller ones? If a snake is big enough to eat a rabbit, but can't find a rabbit, will it eat smaller rats instead?

2) Would a snake take rats over rabbits even if a rabbit was available?

3) Presumably, if a snake is eating smaller than the maximum meals it would want to eat more often. Is that correct?

4) Would a snake eat two small critters (say, two rats) one after the other until they "add up" to an adequate or maximum size? Or does a snake always wait and extended period before eating again no matter how small the meal?
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-19 07:11pm

Well... IANAH (I Am Not A Herpetologist-- paging Alyrium!) but...

1.) I think the answer to that is 'yes'. If it's hungry and a target of opportunity comes along, why not.

2.) It depends on which is easier to catch at the moment, I think, and whatever the individual snake is habituated to think of as edible targets.

3.) I believe that is correct, yes. It takes them a while to digest their meals, after all, and they digest rather slower than warm-blooded animals.

4.) I... don't know.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Lord Revan » 2016-09-19 07:56pm

I'm not a snake expert either but IIRC snake eating habits are eat then rest then eat again, with the rest period being essentially the snake digesting its meal. As for catching prey at least the finnish snakes will eat rats, mice or other small rodents even if rabbits or other bigger prey is technically avaible but is harder to catch. I've never heard of snakes catching several prey animals in a row without resting to digest their meals.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Kelp » 2016-09-20 12:25pm

4) A black snake got into my dad chicken coop and ate a clutch of eggs but failed to escape through the chicken wire again. I don't know if it counted eggs as individual meals or the clutch as one meal. I'm sure the result would have been the same if it were chicks rather than eggs.

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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Elheru Aran » 2016-09-20 12:36pm

Probably the latter. But eggs are a bit different as they're inanimate food, they take less energy to chase down. With live prey you're more likely to see individual meals.

EDIT: For example, if you put two live rats into a snake's cage versus two frozen rats, it's more likely that the snake would only eat one live rat (unless the other one was easy enough to catch) but eat both frozen rats.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Borgholio » 2016-09-20 01:10pm

Broomstick wrote:Lots of stuff in books and on line about how a snake can eat an animal of X size and then go Y period of time before eating again, but that's not what I'm interested in.

This is what I'm interested in:

1) OK, we know snakes can eat a REALLY BIG meal... but do they eat smaller ones? If a snake is big enough to eat a rabbit, but can't find a rabbit, will it eat smaller rats instead?

2) Would a snake take rats over rabbits even if a rabbit was available?

3) Presumably, if a snake is eating smaller than the maximum meals it would want to eat more often. Is that correct?

4) Would a snake eat two small critters (say, two rats) one after the other until they "add up" to an adequate or maximum size? Or does a snake always wait and extended period before eating again no matter how small the meal?


1. Yes, they will eat whatever they can catch if they are hungry. Just like a pack of wolves might bring down a bison...a hungry wolf would be just fine catching a rabbit or a squirrel.

2. Depends on a bunch of factors. Snakes have preferences just like we do. If it finds rabbit to be tastier it might go for the rabbit. Or if it doesn't care and just wants food, it might attack the closest prey or whatever seems to be the easiest's catch.

3. Correct. All the stories about snakes not eating for weeks at a time require a fairly large meal. If it can't get a large meal, it will eat more often.

4. It depends on how hungry it is. Snakes can and do eat more than one small meal at a time if they're hungry. I used to have a garter snake that ate feeder goldfish. It would sometimes swallow two or three small fish one after the other until it was full, then curl up on a hot rock and snooze for several days. I also heard stories of snakes getting into someone's house in Brazil and eating half a litter of the family's kittens at once before being discovered.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-20 04:42pm

Broomstick wrote:Lots of stuff in books and on line about how a snake can eat an animal of X size and then go Y period of time before eating again, but that's not what I'm interested in.

This is what I'm interested in:

1) OK, we know snakes can eat a REALLY BIG meal... but do they eat smaller ones? If a snake is big enough to eat a rabbit, but can't find a rabbit, will it eat smaller rats instead?


Ok. Here we get into a complicated physiological question. It depends on the physical condition of the snake. A snake that is well-fed will happily take small prey. It does not cost them anything. But a snake in starvation mode might not take small prey (unless there is a whole nest available) because it is not worth it. When they are poorly fed, snakes livers and a lot of other organs basically atrophy, and digestion of a prey item actually costs them a lot of calories to bring those organs into full operation. So a small prey item can actually cost them more than they get.

2) Would a snake take rats over rabbits even if a rabbit was available?


Optimal foraging theory: probably not, unless there was substantially more risk to go after the rabbit. A snake that is only juuuust big enough to eat a rabbit risks significant injury and will take a long time to consume and digest the rabbit. During that time, it is vulnerable, so it would probably go for the rat. A bigger snake does not have that risk. A starving snake would probably also go for the rabbit over a rat for the reasons given above.

3) Presumably, if a snake is eating smaller than the maximum meals it would want to eat more often. Is that correct?


Yes.

4) Would a snake eat two small critters (say, two rats) one after the other until they "add up" to an adequate or maximum size? Or does a snake always wait and extended period before eating again no matter how small the meal?


They will eat small prey items in a manner like we eat potato chips if available.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Broomstick » 2016-09-20 08:07pm

I suppose that last one leads to the question of whether or not snakes can become obese?
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-20 08:54pm

Broomstick wrote:I suppose that last one leads to the question of whether or not snakes can become obese?


Yes. Yes they can. It is not common in the wild, but it can happen.
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Dominus Atheos » 2016-09-20 09:31pm

Broomstick, a crazy thought just popped into my head, please dispel it for me.

You definitely aren't thinking of buying a snake and then letting it loose into your house to kill the rodents in your walls, right? :|
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-20 09:40pm

Dominus Atheos wrote:Broomstick, a crazy thought just popped into my head, please dispel it for me.

You definitely aren't thinking of buying a snake and then letting it loose into your house to kill the rodents in your walls, right? :|


Pfft. She lives in Indiana (if I recall correctly). There are probably already rat snakes living in the attic, and if there are not she can just go catch them (if not in Indiana, dont worry. you still have rat snakes available).
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-09-20 11:27pm

A nonpoisonous snake to go after rats isn't necessarily a bad idea.

Broomstick already has birds.

I can't imagine snakes are very good at preying on adult birds, but I thought I'd mention it as a potential issue, IF DA's conjecture is true.

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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-21 02:14am

Simon_Jester wrote:A nonpoisonous snake to go after rats isn't necessarily a bad idea.

Broomstick already has birds.

I can't imagine snakes are very good at preying on adult birds, but I thought I'd mention it as a potential issue, IF DA's conjecture is true.


If the wings are clipped, rat snakes would be VERY good at it. In fact they are pretty good at it without clipped wings...
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Dominus Atheos » 2016-09-21 02:34am

Really? I was googling it after you said it wasn't crazy, and found this video:



That looks like a perfect snake to kill rodents, but should have a hard time munching on a full size parrot.

Mind you, I'd burn my house down if I ever had one of those loose in it, but lord knows Broomstick is made from really really stern stuff. :P
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Dominus Atheos » 2016-09-21 02:40am

Wait, you said that there may already be rat snakes in her house (unless you were joking about that), so would releasing a rat snake into her walls\attic be a bad idea or not?
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Alyrium Denryle » 2016-09-21 02:59am

Dominus Atheos wrote:Wait, you said that there may already be rat snakes in her house (unless you were joking about that), so would releasing a rat snake into her walls\attic be a bad idea or not?


Rat snakes are disgustingly common, and they like places where people live. There actually is a decent chance that some of them live in attic space and the like.

But I dont know what sort of parrots she has. If she has actual macaws, that is less of a problem. If she has an african gray or lovebird or something....
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Re: Question about Snakes and Their Eating Habits

Postby Broomstick » 2016-09-21 05:39am

My birds are too small for us to have rat-eating snakes in the household. Interesting idea, but not going to happen here. "Parrots" have a considerable range in size and ours are on the small side of the spectrum.

Just curious about the questions in the OP, that's all.
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