Snake feeding habits

12 October, 2008

Question: I’ve heard that snakes can go for months without food. Is this true?

Answer: Yes, it’s true.

Reptiles have much lower energy requirements than mammals, roughly ten times lower in fact. Most mammals keep their bodies at a constant high temperature, regardless of how hot or cold their environment is. Humans, for example, remain at a fairly constant 37 ˚C. This takes a lot of energy and our energy comes from the food we eat.

Eastern Tiger Snake, Notechis scutatus

An Eastern Tiger Snake, Notechis scutatus, basking in the sun.
Photographer: Peter Robertson / Source: Wildlife Profiles

Reptiles do not keep their bodies at a constant temperature: their body temperature is determined by the temperature of their environment. When the weather gets cold, reptiles’ bodies are cold but they can get just as hot as a mammal on warm sunny days.

Reptiles regulate their body temperature behaviourally by moving into different parts of their environment. When they want to warm up, they move into the sun; when they want to cool down, they move under thick rocks, underground or even into water.

Eastern Small-eyed Snake, Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens

An Eastern Small-eyed Snake, Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens, cooling off under a rock.
Photographer: Peter Robertson / Source: Museum Victoria

When reptiles are cold, their metabolism slows down. They become quite sluggish and their rates of growth and reproduction are considerably reduced. Most snakes enter a period of inactivity during the winter months: they find somewhere safe to hide and stay put. During this time they require very little energy and can go for months without food.

When it’s hot, everything speeds up: reptiles move faster, their metabolism speeds up and they need to eat more.

The Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre’s resident snake, came out of his winter fasting period this week. Murray, a Murray Darling Carpet Python, ate three mice – his first meal in 9 months! He was a little overweight at the end of last summer, but now he’s looking nice and trim.

Murray Darling Carpet Python being fed a mouse

Murray, the Discovery Centre's resident Carpet Python, about to have his first meal in 9 months.
Photographer: Jo Philo / Source: Museum Victoria

A Murray Darling Carpet Python eating a mouse.

Murray, the Murrary Darling Carpet Python, eating his mouse.
Photographer: Jo Philo / Source: Museum Victoria

Comments (1)

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sara 27 May, 2013 18:55
I have a snake at home and when it eats it scares the creep out of me. The life of a snake is so interesting to know about
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