How Do Snakes Digest Their Food?

Have you been considering a snake as your next pet? 

Do you wonder how they eat and digest their food?

While choosing the right snake may seem like a daunting task, it’s best to start more high-level by learning some things all snakes have in common. 

In fact, one of the commonalities shared amongst all snakes is the almost identical manner in which they eat.

However, as you start learning about how a snake eats, you’ll want to know how snakes digest their food.

Once a snake’s prey is fully inside its mouth, the snake will soak it in saliva and push it down its esophagus. As the food moves down, the snake’s muscles will crush the food and keep it moving until it reaches the stomach, where it will slowly be digested.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the exact method a snake employs to eat and digest its prey.

how snakes digest

How Snakes Digest Their Food

Snakes are carnivores, and as such, have an appetite, which includes live animals. 

However, they do not have the appropriate teeth needed to chew and swallow their prey. 

As a result, snakes need to swallow their prey whole and slowly digest the food, which they can only do through a few evolutionary advantages. 

Expandable Jaw

Unlike humans, which have their upper jaws fused to the base of their skulls, a snake’s jaw is only attached by ligaments and muscles. 

This allows for greater mobility and expansion, something vital for the snake if it wishes to eat larger prey. 

In addition, the lower jaw can dislocate from the upper, giving the snake the ability to open its jaw 150 degrees.

“Walking” Over Prey

As a result of its amazingly flexible jaw, a snake will often employ a “walking” method to consume larger prey. 

During this process, a snake will “walk” its lower jaw over the prey as its curved teeth hold the animal in place, waiting for the snake to move more of it into its mouth. 

The larger the prey, the more times a snake will need to “walk” over the target.

Soaking And Sliding

After the snake has pushed the entirety of its prey into its mouth, it will drench the prey in saliva. 

This ensures the prey will smoothly move down the esophagus, where the snake’s powerful muscles start to crush it. 

These muscles make up for the lack of teeth in a snake’s mouth, as they will crush any bone in the snake’s prey.

Venom Injection

While all snakes possess the same biological means for consuming prey, venomous snakes have an advantage. 

By sinking their fangs into an unsuspecting victim first, these snakes will release venom to paralyze and kill their prey. 

After doing so, consuming the animal is much easier since it isn’t squirming about anymore. 

Additionally, the venom starts the digestion process earlier, so it will be broken down quicker in the snake’s stomach.

Although a snake has many advantages for eating larger prey, you should keep in mind some key things if you are thinking about purchasing a pet snake.

Ensuring Your Snake Eats

Although all snakes eat and digest the same way, not every snake species eats the same thing. 

While it’s vital to research the kinds of food your snake eats, you should also keep these general rules of thumb in mind.

Avoid Live Prey

When housing a captive snake, it is good practice to ensure all food is already dead. 

Aside from the gruesomeness of feeding your snake a live rodent, there is the potential your snake may be injured. 

As your snake tries to consume the prey, there’s a risk your snake may endure scratch and bite marks. 

The snake will often win the battle, but you may need to provide medical attention to the snake afterward.

Additionally, many find it unnecessary to put the prey through the trauma and pain associated with feeding time. 

It is considered safer and more humane for both the snake and prey if the food is already dead.

Disclaimer: There is some debate on if the better nutritional value of live prey outweighs the danger of getting bitten. 

Opt For Frozen Food

Ideally, if you are taking the safer route and feeding your snake dead prey, it is a good idea to make sure it is frozen as well. 

The freezing process will kill off any bacteria and ensure the food will not make your snake ill. 

However, it’s important to thaw the food and warm it before giving it to your snake.

Check out our post on how to thaw frozen mice for snakes to ensure it’s being done correctly.

Avoid Plants As Food

As previously mentioned, snakes lack the proper teeth needed to chew their food. 

While the muscles in their esophagus help crush any bone in its prey, they provide no benefit if a snake decides to munch down on some grass or leaves. 

Also, plants cannot be appropriately digested by a snake and provide little to none essential nutrients.

Adapt As Necessary

While these general rules apply to all snakes, you will still need to adjust the feeding schedules and types of food as necessary. 

You will need to research the snake species you want to purchase to determine if it has a preference for rodents or insects. 

Even then, your snake may reject frozen forms of this food at first. 

It may take time for your snake to adjust, but if you keep its environment clean and tend to it daily, your snake will start to eat on a regular schedule.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a solid grasp of how snakes digest their food. 

Even though these reptiles are often small and skinny, their expandable jaw, strong esophageal muscles, and prolonged digestion periods allow it to feast on much larger prey.

If you are in the market for a pet snake, understanding the mechanics of its mouth beforehand will blunt the shock you may experience from witnessing your tiny critter swallow an entire mouse. 

Just remember to follow the above rules of thumb to ensure your snake stays healthy and well-fed.

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