What do snakes eat in the wild
By far the greatest number of questions are asked in the forum on the subject of "feeding and refusal to feed". Beginners in particular feel overwhelmed if a snake does not eat immediately or takes a break from eating for a few weeks. The reasons for this are varied and, rarely, a serious illness is the cause. The following article describes reasons for refusing to feed and is intended to be a guide on how to get the snake to feed again.
In contrast to other reptiles, snakes are not as dependent on regular food consumption, although there are species-specific differences. A boa, for example, can eat one meal every 2-4 weeks without the animal having to go hungry. Water snakes (including Thamnophis) have a much faster metabolism and are more active than the larger species. In addition, the prey animals of these species are easier to digest, so more frequent feeding is necessary. A garter snake often completes its digestion after 2-4 days, boas or pythons need a few more days for their digestion, as the larger prey are more difficult to digest.
In the terrarium, most snakes can be switched to frozen food, which is usually accepted as replacement prey without any problems, provided that it is served warmed up. Most bred animals eat frozen food right from the start. This is an advantage because it allows you to keep the food frozen for a long time and thaw it if necessary. If you feed live prey, you always run the risk that the snake itself will be injured, be it by an unexpected mouse bite while catching prey, or by gnawing because the prey themselves are hungry. The risk is particularly high in live rats and hamsters, also due to their aggressiveness and defenselessness. For this reason, live prey may only be fed under supervision!
However, every prospective snake owner should ask himself one important question in advance: Am I able to feed live prey if there is no other option? In some cases a snake will only accept live food, so one must be able to reconcile it with one's conscience to put a live animal in front of a snake and to supervise the killing and the eating process.
Of course, less caution is required when feeding live fish, but it can happen that the fish jumps out of the water bowl and dies somewhere in the tank and is overlooked. If the snake does not catch the fish within an hour, it should be caught again as it perishes quickly in the oxygen-poor water basin.
The frequency of food consumption is an often discussed point among terrarium keepers, as everyone has to develop their own feeling. Fish-eating species should be offered food about every 4-7 days (young animals more often), climbing snakes after 7-10 days (see corn snakes) and larger boas and pythons about every 14 days (older animals eat at even longer intervals).
Overfeeding must be avoided at all costs, either the feed will be regurgitated after a while or the animals will become fat. This happens very quickly, especially with boas, as these snakes move little compared to other species, but can eat a lot if you let them. Overfed or too fat animals are not only inactive, but also unwilling to mate.
Occasionally, the question of “alternative feed options” arises, as it is not for everyone to feed small rodents. However, one can only recommend trying a vegetarian pet. There is no substitute food with which a snake can be fed in an animal-friendly manner in the long term.
Another point of discussion concerns the place of feeding - should snakes always be fed in the terrarium, or better in feeding boxes outside the tank?
It is significantly less stressful for most individuals if they should always be fed within their familiar surroundings. Many animals eat poorly or not at all in the unfamiliar environment and due to the stress of catching them. This shows the sense of keeping individual animals, because this problem is of course only encountered when keeping several animals in groups.
Of course, there are also counterexamples in which long-term fosterlings can be fed in external containers without any problems. Even for young snakes who are not willing to volunteer, feeding in small cricket tins is often an effective means, as frequent contact in the narrow box can lead to voluntary feeding. However, this trained behavior does not correspond to the natural conditions.
Many keepers argue that the snake should not eat any substrate when feeding. But why not choose a substrate that is harmless to the snake, such as fine bark litter, wood granulate or terrarium soil? A little bit of swallowed soil passes through the digestive tract, for example, without any problems.
Since we want to offer the animal a living space that is as close to nature as possible, the animals should either be kept alone or, if kept in pairs, be consistent and feed the animals under supervision in the pool. Of course, care must be taken that the animals do not get in each other's way while eating, but this should hardly be the case in a sufficiently dimensioned tank that meets the needs of the respective species.
When the snake doesn't want to eat ...
But what do you do when an otherwise voracious snake suddenly stops eating? First of all, you shouldn't panic right away, because snakes have great individual differences in terms of eating behavior and feeding breaks are completely natural. If natural causes such as mating behavior or hibernation are the reasons for the refusal, there is generally no cause for concern. Just like eating, sporadic refusal to feed is part of a snake's natural behavioral repertoire. More experienced owners of larger animal populations are therefore hardly impressed by this behavior over time, while beginners often worry and unnecessarily take the animal to the vet.
The reasons for a feed refusal are now discussed in detail here:
* If the feed refusal occurs in late autumn, this usually means that the animals are preparing for their winter dormancy. This should also be granted to them in order to ensure that they can eat in the spring.
* If a snake does not eat anything shortly after hibernation, but roams restlessly through the basin, you are mostly dealing with a male ready to mate.
* Pregnant females refuse food either during the entire pregnancy or at least shortly before birth / oviposition. Even after laying eggs, many females do not eat immediately, but shed their skin one more time.
* Snakes in the moulting phase are usually reluctant to access the food. In this case, feeding should be postponed to 1-2 days after molting.
* Nocturnal animals should best be offered the food 1/2 to 1 hour after the lighting has gone out. Many ball pythons are hardly interested in their prey at the time of day, which is understandable since the snakes are usually rest at the time.
* You have to make sure that the necessary preferred temperatures prevail in the terrarium so that the snake can digest its prey.
* If the snake still does not eat, you should offer all kinds of prey (alive or dead). There are snakes that do not eat white mice, but prefer color mice or young rats. However, you should not experiment with prey that are too exotic, otherwise you will later face the problem of always having to procure a special prey.
* Water snakes that refuse to feed almost always eat earthworms or large tawworms, a special "delicacy" for almost all Thamnophis species. Unfortunately often difficult to digest and also a source of intestinal parasites.
* It is of course possible that the food offered does not correspond to the natural prey animals. Many snakes (mostly reptile or snake-eating snakes) would rather starve themselves to death than accept unfamiliar prey. As a beginner, it is better to keep your hands off such species.
If none of these points apply and the animal begins to lose weight, a faecal sample (if available) or a cloacal swab should be examined by the veterinarian as soon as possible. A gastrointestinal disease may make it impossible to eat. Therefore, every newly acquired animal should be checked for parasites before experiencing an unpleasant surprise.
Before you initiate forced feeding, it must be clarified in any case whether an illness is the reason for the refusal to feed, as the animal can be harmed by the forced feed. If a snake is seriously ill, it will hardly be able to digest large chunks of food anyway. For this reason, force-feeding should be carried out as gently as possible and, ideally, the animal should be given a liquid nutrient solution of egg yolk, scrape meat and vitamins using a probe. In addition, it is important to fight the disease first and only then to rebuild the animal. Force-feeding only makes sense when an animal begins to visibly lose mass. Unfortunately, this point in time is often difficult to recognize for beginners, as is the first symptoms of the disease. A snake can still look healthy to the inexperienced observer, but it can already be very sick. If the animals are already lying around limp and stretched out, any help usually comes too late. Therefore, such veterinary examinations should be carried out routinely, they cost little, and if z. B. an infestation with worms is recognized early, you can fight them easily (see "Diseases in snakes").
However, if the reason for the refusal to feed is the season or the mating mood, one should under no circumstances think about force-feeding or persuade the animal to eat with exotic and unfamiliar prey (e.g. gerbils instead of mice). On the one hand, the animals will not want to eat anyway and will only be stressed; on the other hand, such an action can lead to a snake suddenly accepting only these prey animals. Forced feeding is just as inadequate; in the winter dormancy phase, the metabolism is not adjusted to digest feed and accordingly produces little digestive fluid or enzymes.
Feeding young snakes
Many snakes are already available in stores when they have just been born or hatched, e.g. B. corn snakes or peanuts.
When rearing young snakes one often has the problem that they do not want to eat voluntarily and, in the worst case, starve themselves to death. The reason for this is the natural range of prey. In the wild, the young will hardly get baby mice as their first food. Rodent eaters are more likely to refuse to feed, as most juvenile snakes prefer amphibians and small lizards as their first food. In this case, fortunately, there are a few tricks that can be used to get the snake used to prey for mice. Before considering force feeding, work through this checklist:
* Many snakes do not eat before the first molt, but live on the remains of the yolk sac that has been pulled in. The first moult takes place in the first 1-2 weeks of life. Only then should you offer food for the first time
* Newborn animals are best kept in smaller containers, so the food offered can be recognized more quickly. Frequent encounters with the food animal also usually lead to the snake snapping at the prey at some point.
* The animals should be kept alone (at least in the first few weeks), some young snakes can be prevented from eating by the presence of another young animal.
* It is just as important not to disturb the snakes all the time. Young animals are particularly sensitive to stress and should not be taken out of the container all the time.
* The temperatures should be slightly higher than with the old animals (especially at night). Young snakes take in a lot of food in relation to their body size and therefore tend to choke up the prey again. It must therefore be ensured that the temperatures in the container correspond to the natural conditions.
* Since many young snakes are very nervous and shy, there should be several suitable hiding places. It is advantageous to put a little moss in the breeding container as the snakes can always crawl into it to feel protected. In nature, many baby snakes are themselves a sought-after prey for other predators, which also explains the irritability and viciousness of many young animals.
* Stimulus feeding is another tool to induce unwilling snakes to eat food voluntarily. You tap the snake with a prey animal on the tweezers lightly in the flanks until it is irritated enough that it hits the prey with defensive bites. Sometimes you are lucky and the snake does not come off immediately after the defensive bite. If you now have a steady hand, it will start to eat in a few minutes, but will immediately drop the food again at the slightest disturbance. You should hold the food animal in front of the snake with long tweezers and make sure that the snake bites the prey's head. Most successful feedings are not caused by hunger, but rather arise from a bite. When the snake has the mouse's head in its mouth, one should remain calm and wait, even if it takes a long time and the arm falls asleep. Usually the animal begins to eat after a few minutes, but spits out the prey immediately if it feels disturbed.
If after repeated attempts the snake escapes or hides its head in the noose, one should stop and try again a few days later.
* If you have chosen a frozen food baby mouse as first food, you should hold it briefly to a lamp and then present it directly to the snake. This often leads to positive reactions from otherwise uninterested young animals.
* Water snakes usually do not cause any problems when they first eat food and often take even the smallest pieces of fish as their first food. If there are problems, you can offer live fry - e.g. small guppies.
* If you lock the unwilling snake overnight with a naked mouse in a small container, you will often only find the snake in the container the next morning. You should only test a dead prey, if that doesn't work, a live one.
* Many young animals seem particularly attracted to the smell of a mouse that has previously had its skull opened. What in practice proves to be extremely stomach-straining for the breeder, often leads to success with the first feed intake.
* If the young snake is still not interested in a naked mouse, it should be rinsed off with soap and water to remove the strong rodent odor that may prevent the young snake from eating.
* If you have the opportunity to get hold of a discarded lizard skin or pieces of it, you can test the food mouse with it and present it to the snake. Young tree pythons are often stimulated to eat with "Indians". To do this, the mouse is "disguised" with one or more chuck feathers. So-called "weathering sprays" have not been tested by the author, but may have promising results. At some reptile dealers you can buy, for example, "Lizard-Makers" and similar preparations that make the prey smell of "lizard".
If the snakes have not yet eaten independently 4-6 weeks after hatching / birth, you should think about force feeding, which is not an easy matter with many young snakes. You should definitely let an experienced terrarium keeper guide you. Often success is achieved after 2-3 actions and the animals eat independently. Therefore, before each forced feeding, you should first test again whether the young animal has ended its "hunger strike".
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