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 (3)

sort by
newest
oldest
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
close this reply
Write your reply to sara's comment All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

dianne cutmore 29 July, 2015 09:42
I have a diamond pithon he hasent eatin in 6 weeks what should I do
reply
Discovery Centre 30 July, 2015 15:51

Hi Dianne

In winter, reptiles often slow down in activity and food intake as their follicles develop. This applies to all relevant reptile species in the wild in southern Australia, and can also apply to reptiles kept indoors. They may take their cue from nearby windows (and the changes in photoperiod), daily temperature fluctuations, or their internal clock. In this case a python that doesn't eat for six weeks is not a problem - it's normal behaviour that should change as spring approaches.