How Do Snakes Catch Their Prey And Subdue It?

Do you wonder how snakes hunt?

What do snakes do in the wild to get their food?

Snakes are one of nature’s most vicious predators. 

Depending on size and requirements, they attack and eat a wide variety of prey.

But how do snakes catch their prey?

While some snakes actively stalk and attack their prey, most will patiently wait for prey to get closer before striking. They then use constriction and venomous injection techniques to subdue and kill the prey for consumption.

As pets, snakes are given their food and don’t need to hunt. 

However, snakes are entirely responsible for finding their sustenance in the wild.

how do snakes catch their prey

How Do Snakes Find Prey?

The most active sense used by snakes in hunting is the smell. 

In addition to a sense of smell similar to our own, snakes have another more specialized sense called the vomeronasal sense. 

Their tongues can pick up chemical traces in their environment, which are analyzed by Jacobson’s organ located on the roof of the mouth. 

A notch on the upper lip called the rostral groove allows a snake’s tongue to flick out and enter the environment without the mouth opening. 

The tongue’s forked nature allows the snake to detect the exact direction from which a “smell” is coming.

Snakes also use infrared vision at night, which relies on heat to illuminate prey in the vicinity. 

They can see their prey’s raw image and shape, an adaptation that allows them to find warm-blooded mammals in the wild with little light. 

The vertical pupils notorious in snakes help with this night vision by enhancing the images. 

In the daytime, their sight of prey relies more on movement, which is easier to detect. 

Snakes will often completely miss prey if they remain stationary and motionless.

Snakes also detect prey by sensing vibrations with their jawbones. 

They can register movement and identify the location by tracing those vibrations.

How Do Snakes Catch Their Food?

Snakes must be patient when hunting for food. 

Their low metabolic rates mean they do not have the energy to chase after prey for extended periods. 

Instead, they depend on the art of waiting, often letting the prey animals come to them. 

Snakes are great at identifying spots where prey animals tend to hang out, like basking rocks, the entrances of caves, and near food or water sources.

They’ll stay near these spaces, waiting patiently. 

They’ll use camouflage techniques or make sure they’re well-hidden to avoid detection. 

This includes burying themselves in the sand or lying dormant, with most of their bodies underwater. 

While some snakes will stalk their prey and follow them until capture, most others will wait for the prey to get within a close enough range, then strike. 

Snakes that have more energy to expend may forage for easily targeted food, like eggs.

How Do Snakes Kill Their Prey?

After snakes have found and caught their prey, they must next move to consume it. 

Sometimes they’ll eat their prey live, and sometimes they’ll kill their prey. 

In the circumstances where they leave their prey alive, the snake focuses on overpowering its victim. 

Once the snake gets the prey into its mouth, it’s challenging for the prey to escape. 

The teeth in a snake’s mouth are curved inward, effectively trapping the prey. 

This method is dangerous for the snake, as prey can struggle and fight inside. 

Sharp claws can damage the inside of a snake’s mouth, which is painful and takes time to heal. 

The open wounds can get infected, detrimental to the snake’s health.

On the other hand, snakes sometimes choose to kill their prey first. 

This requires more work upfront but means the actual eating process will be much easier. 

The most popular method is constriction, where snakes will coil themselves tightly around the prey to crush them and restrict breathing. 

It’s a slower process of killing but effective. 

Every time the animal exhales, the snake will coil tighter, making it more challenging to inhale until they are entirely unable to. 

They first become unconscious then die. 

Pythons and boa constrictors, an apt name, are notorious for this type of killing. 

They use constriction because their prey is generally larger and could cause serious harm if left alive for consumption.

Venomous snakes can utilize the fatal properties of their venom to their advantage. 

It’s more efficacious for smaller prey animals, where constriction is less effective due to their size. 

Depending on the venom’s properties, the animal will either immediately become immobilized or slowly find it taking effect. 

Neurotoxic venom is a kind of venom that paralyzes the animal, resulting in paralysis of the respiratory muscles, which leads to a quick death. 

On the other hand, hemotoxic venom works more slowly by affecting the animal’s blood and causing it to bleed internally or seize up. 

Some snakes have venom, which contains both properties.

Should I Feed My Pet Snake Live Prey?

Usually, no. 

Even though snakes in the wild pursue live prey, it’s better to feed your critter at home with prey, which is already dead. 

As mentioned before, live animals can cause damage to your pet snake. 

Scratches in their mouth can lead to a disease called mouth rot, which is potentially fatal if left untreated. 

To save the hassle, give your pet some already dead food and not dangerous. 

If you have frozen mice, you should thaw them first, so they appear “warmer” and, therefore, more closely resemble the prey they’d encounter in the wild.

Check out our post on how to thaw frozen mice to ensure it is being done correctly.

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Now you know what your pet snake does to catch its prey in the wild. 

Watching a snake consume its food can sometimes be boring, as snakes take a long time to ingest their meals. 

However, a snake’s process of hunting and catching prey in the wild is one of the many reasons why snakes are such intimidating and fascinating creatures.

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