How Do Snakes Eat?

Reader Contribution by Elizabeth Gatto
article image

The way snakes eat can be confusing to people because snakes eat prey that is much larger than their mouth.  Also, they don’t have limbs to help them capture their food.  Sometimes, it appears that they eat animals much bigger than their body’s entire girth. When it comes to how these animals feed, there have been lots of explanations of the mechanics of the jaw, digestion cycle of the prey, as well as how the food travels through the gastro-intestinal system and all of these factors play a part. The major aim of this post is to help you learn how snakes are able to get their prey in their mouth.  Also, it is important you know that there are professional wildlife experts who can handle snakes, should you ever need help relocating a snake from your property.

Snakes are carnivorous animals by nature which means that they feed on other animals in order to survive. They don’t have the appropriate type of teeth or limbs to enable them to eat other animals in pieces the way that most carnivores do.  As a result of a lack of a proper set of teeth, they eat their prey whole. Whenever they want to eat, they will identify their prey by picking up its scent with a flick of their tongue. Young snakes will eat smaller animals for survival. These could be rats, lizards, eggs, earthworms, birds, frogs as well as other rodents. For those bigger snakes which are matured, they will eat monkeys, pigs, deer and other big animals.

To capture the animal, some snakes rely on venom while others squeeze the animal until it suffocates.  So, what allows them to distend their jaw so incredibly wide once they have captured their prey?  Their jaws have an elastic ligament connecting the two sections of the lower jaw, so whenever they want to swallow their prey, their lower jaw will stretch and split in half so the mouth will become wider as compared to their entire head. Essentially, it is holes in their bone structure as well as other anatomical adaptations that allow them to have their prey swallowed whole rather than in pieces.

Two things will aid in having the swallowed animals pushed into their stomachs. They have muscles and teeth which tend to be hook shaped, just past the mouth. The muscles work to push the food down while the teeth make sure it stays down.  Digestion isn’t a process which happens instantly as it can take a very long period of time. The warmth of the snake and size of the prey will determine the time frame required for digestion to actually take place.

In conclusion, snakes are truly fascinating creatures with several adaptations for survival.  Their unique bone structure and elastic jaw allows them to eat animals much larger than themselves.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.