How Can Snakes Eat Large Prey?

Are you mystified by your snake’s ability to swallow food whole? 

How do they fit large animals in their smaller bodies?

If you’ve spent any time watching a snake during feeding time, you’ve probably wondered: 

How can snakes eat large prey?

Contrary to popular belief, a snake’s jaw does not dislocate while feeding. Instead, it has ligaments and a unique jaw structure, which grants it better flexibility for eating.

Snakes are fascinating creatures, which include their ability to eat large prey without breaking a sweat. 

The rest of this article will dive further into the world of snake feeding.

how can snakes eat large prey

How Do Snakes Eat?

To understand this, we need to first talk about the anatomy of a snake’s jaw. 

Snakes do not have teeth capable of chewing and must eat their prey whole. 

Their mouth and digestive system have evolved accordingly.

The bottom jaw of a snake has two lower jaws, which move independently. 

At the front, they are not joined together like a human jaw. 

Instead, they have an elastic ligament connecting the two, which can stretch to spread them apart. 

The upper jaw and lower jaw connect by the quadrate bone in the back, which works like a hinge, allowing the snake’s mouth to open as wide as 150 degrees.

When a snake is ready to ingest its prey, it opens its mouth wide and pulls the prey in. 

Sharp teeth with hook-like ends puncture the prey and pull it further and further in; one side of the jaw works to “walk” its way up the prey while the other half reaches forward for another bite. 

As it does this, it lubricates the prey with a lot of saliva, which helps to ease the prey’s progress into the digestive tract. 

When the food finally reaches the esophagus, the snake can utilize its muscles to contract and relax to crush the food and push it down the line. 

Even this action can take a considerable amount of time and effort, especially considering snakes are horizontal and don’t have the added benefit of gravity in their favor.

Venomous snakes are at an advantage because they can inject venom into their prey, which helps to immobilize and kill them. 

In contrast, non-venomous snakes may need to fight to subdue their prey. 

Ingesting live prey can sometimes be dangerous, as they can claw and damage the inside of the snake’s mouth, which can lead to dangerous diseases like mouth rot. 

One method of subduing prey involves constricting it; the goal is to constrict the prey so tightly they can’t inhale, resulting in a loss of oxygen.

How Long Does It Take For Snakes To Digest Food?

A snake’s digestive system relies heavily on the snake’s temperature regulation. 

Enzymes in the body operate optimally at a very particular range of temperatures and become inactive outside this range. 

A cold snake does not have the energy required to stimulate its digestion. 

This is why it’s incredibly important to ensure your snake’s enclosure remains within the recommended temperature for its species; dropping too low could result in inadequate digestion, constipation, and malnutrition. 

Food can actually rot in the stomach if digestion becomes too long, leading to regurgitation.

A warm snake is a happy snake in terms of digestion. 

Higher temperatures are more favorable for the actions of the enzymes we were discussing before. 

When the food reaches the stomach, it generally sticks around for a few days. 

Strong digestive enzymes and stomach acid can then get to work breaking down the animal, including bones. 

Interestingly, snakes are unable to digest fur or feathers. 

This is because snakes do not have the enzymes necessary to break down keratin, the substance which makes up fur and feathers. 

Keratin is the same material found in nails and hair. You’ll often find these components leftover in the snake’s feces after done digesting.

After the food digests, it passes into the gut, where most nutrients are absorbed. 

Snakes have a relatively shorter gut considering their food is thoroughly digested by the time it reaches there.

Depending on the size of the prey, it can take anywhere from a few days for smaller prey to a few weeks for larger snake species which ingest large prey.

How Long Can A Snake Go Without Eating?

Snakes can last a while in between meals. 

First is the amount of time needed to digest its original meal. 

A snake will not feed while it is currently digesting. 

After it’s done with this process, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to eat again. 

Generally speaking, the larger the snake and the larger the meals, the longer a snake can go without eating. 

This is because larger snakes have greater stores of fat they can utilize for energy.

Additionally, snakes have a low metabolic rate. 

They’re relatively inactive and do not have to expend any energy on producing body heat because they don’t have this ability. 

This results in lower energy consumption and, therefore, lower energy requirements.

Rodents provide a balanced nutritious meal for snakes, which allows them to thrive in between meals. 

They obtain calcium from digesting the bones.

The muscles provide an adequate amount of protein. 

Finally, the internal organs store most of the necessary vitamins and minerals, which the snake can absorb.


Watching a snake eat large prey is fascinating, and it wouldn’t have happened without owning a snake. 

Owning and handling a snake opens up a whole new world of information and concepts. 

Learning about the way they process and utilize their environment is essential to being a good snake owner. 

Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of how and why your snake eats and digests the way it does, which should make it a lot easier to anticipate your snake’s needs moving forward!