Most snakes eat rodents, lizards, birds, fish, and insects. These are all popular choices of food for virtually all snakes. However, the egg-eating snake survives on a diet of bird eggs. It is the nearest thing that you’ll get to a vegetarian pet snake.
Egg-eating snakes are easy to care for and docile. They’re non-venomous and toothless, so they can’t bite you. Sourcing eggs to feed your snake can be hard because they’re too small to eat chicken eggs.
We’re going to look at the pros and cons of egg-eating snakes as pets in detail. This includes the two different types, what they are, how they eat, and how to care for egg-eating snakes at home.
What Are Egg-Eating Snakes?
They are small-to-medium sized snakes in the family Colubridae. They feed on bird eggs. There are two main types:
|Type of Egg-Eating Snake||Information About the Species|
|Indian Egg-Eating Snakes (Elachistodon westermanni):||This is a rare species found in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They are around 31 inches long as adults. They are a shiny brown-black, with whitish flecks, and a single cream-colored stripe running from head to tail.|
|African Egg-Eating Snakes (Dasypeltis):||There are around 16 recognized species found across Africa. They all look slightly different, but the most common species (the common egg-eating snake) is greyish-brown in color with white bellies. They have dark markings along their backs and keeled (ridged) scales. Females can grow to 30 inches, but males typically remain much smaller.|
How Do Egg Eating Snakes Eat Eggs?
They are highly specialized creatures. They’ve evolved over the years to feed exclusively on eggs, and because of this, they’ve developed a precise way of doing it. This is as follows:
- Locate the eggs. They are good at climbing trees and rocky outcrops to locate birds nests. They can navigate through branches and over rough terrain to sniff out their food source.
- Select the fresh ones. They can detect an egg’s freshness just by smelling it. This is because they can’t digest older eggs that have fully or partially developed bird fetuses inside. According to a study in the Zoology journal, their digestive systems are designed to digest the liquids inside undeveloped eggs. They’ll only select freshly-laid eggs and ignore the older ones.
- Swallow. Egg eaters can stretch their mouths and necks to accommodate eggs that are up to 10 times the size of their heads. It’s a slow process, but they swallow the eggs whole.
- Break the egg. They have bony spikes at the back of their throats, on the inside of the spine. These serve a specific purpose. Once the egg is swallowed, these snakes will contort their bodies and use the spikes to crush the egg. They then drink the white and yolk.
- Regurgitate the shell. Finally, they have no use for the empty eggshell, so they regurgitate it.
Are Egg Eating Snakes Venomous?
Egg-eating snakes are non-venomous. Here’ some information on how to tell if a snake is venomous. As they subsist on a diet of bird eggs, there’s no need for them to produce venom.
Do egg-eating snakes have teeth? Most non-venomous snakes still have teeth, even though they don’t have fangs for injecting venom. The rat snake, for example, has several small, hooked teeth. These serve the purpose of holding prey still while the rat snake constricts them.
They don’t eat live animals. For that reason, egg-eating snakes have no teeth at all. So, even if an egg eater tried to bite you, you’d feel no pain.
Because of their extreme lack of defense mechanisms, wild African egg-eating snakes have an interesting way of protecting themselves.
Certain species, such as Dasypeltis scabra, mimic saw-scaled vipers, their venomous lookalikes. They rub their keeled scales together to produce the same characteristic sizzling sound that saw-scaled vipers make. This warns predators to stay away.
Are Egg-Eating Snakes Pets?
The Indian egg-eating snake is much rarer than the African egg-eating snake. It’s not usually kept as a pet, and in fact, we’ve never seen one for sale before. So, if you’re considering getting an egg eater, the African egg-eating snake is your only option.
Though they’re still wild animals, some experienced snake owners do keep African egg eaters as pets. You won’t find them in pet stores, but you can find African egg-eaters for sale on exotic pet sites. The species that you’ll find may vary, though the most popular species is the common (or rhombic) egg-eater, Dasypeltis scabra.
African egg-eating snakes are calm, docile creatures. Like all wild snakes, they may be flighty and nervous, to begin with. However, with regular handling, they come to realize that humans are no threat. They aren’t aggressive and will rarely strike. If they do bite you, of course, you won’t feel it.
The Basics of Egg-Eating Snake Care
Despite their exoticism, they are reasonably easy to take care of. Their natural environment is relatively dry, so they don’t require excessive humidity.
Like all exotic snakes, they will require temperatures generally above what you’d have your home’s thermostat set to, but that’s easily remedied by a ceramic heat emitter or under-cage heater.
And of course, feeding is probably one of the most appealing parts of owning this snake.
Setting Up the Vivarium
Choose a glass, plastic or wooden vivarium roughly as long as your snake.
Experienced snake owners and herpetologists tend to use plastic tubs. They retain humidity well, can be stacked, and are easily replaced when the snake grows too large.
They are not particularly demanding when it comes to moisture. Try to keep the humidity around 40-60%. This should easily be achievable by keeping a water bowl in the vivarium.
Provide a moist hide, filled with sphagnum moss, when your egg eater is shedding.
They are cold-blooded, so need a warm environment to thermoregulate.
The cool end of their enclosure should be around 73 degrees Fahrenheit, with the warm end at 85F. Provide a hide at either end, so that they can alternate between the two temperatures.
Egg-eating snakes do not burrow, so you don’t need a thick layer of substrate. Some owners choose sand, as this replicates their natural environment. However, aspen shavings are less messy.
Regularly remove feces and urine and replace the substrate entirely at least once a month.
In the wild, egg eaters climb trees and rocks to get to birds’ nests. Enrich your enclosure by providing lots of fake branches, rocks, and leaves for them to climb on. This is, of course, in addition to their hides and water bowl.
Feeding Your Egg-Eating Snake
Feeding is usually straightforward, but it can be tricky to find a source of suitable eggs. This is the part of keeping an egg-eating snake that experienced reptile owners sometimes struggle with, as it’s a very different experience compared to other snakes.
Choose a bird’s egg that is approximately the same size as the width of your snake. For fully grown female egg eaters, Coturnix quail eggs are often a good choice.
These are the kind of quail eggs that you can find at your local grocery store. They’re white to cream in color and blotched with brown.
If your egg eater is a male (or a juvenile), however, Coturnix eggs may be too large. Small, brown Button quail eggs are typically more suitable.
They can be challenging to find. Some owners of egg-eating snakes raise button quail or finches, to supply eggs for their snake.
Do not buy an egg-eating snake without ensuring that you have easy access to food for them.
How and When to Feed
Egg-eating snakes need to eat an egg every 7 days when they’re young. As they get older, they need to feed less often. Adult egg eaters may only need to be fed every 14 days.
As for how to feed your egg eater, it’s quite simple. Move your snake into a separate, empty container. This is to prevent your snake from swallowing any substrate from its vivarium.
However, if you choose to place the egg inside a false nest or bowl with no substrate inside, you’re generally safe feeding them inside the vivarium.
When your snake finds the egg, the feeding process will begin. He or she will slowly swallow the egg, and then contort their body to break the shell. Eventually, they’ll regurgitate the empty eggshell, which you should remove.
Always select an egg which is as fresh as possible. If the egg isn’t fresh enough, your snake may reject it. If it is refusing eggs, try again in a week or so. They can survive for relatively long periods of time without eating, so don’t worry.
Experienced herpetologists sometimes syringe-feed fussy egg eaters. However, never attempt this yourself, as it can be dangerous. If not done correctly, the snake could inadvertently inhale the egg.
How Long Do Egg Eating Snakes Live?
In the wild, African egg-eating snakes live for around 5 years. However, wild snakes could be eaten by predators, get diseases, or die when trying to eat an egg that’s too large. Egg-eaters live for up to 10 years longer in captivity than they do in the wild.
Their longevity will depend upon several factors, including:
- How often you feed it, and how successfully it takes eggs
- How well you maintain the vivarium’s temperature and humidity
- Whether the snake gets sick, and how promptly a veterinarian treats it
If you make sure to take care of the above factors, your egg eater will easily surpass their life expectancy in the wild.
The precise lifespan of the African egg-eating snake in captivity isn’t well documented. This is because it remains quite an unusual snake to keep as a pet, so there isn’t much data to go on.
According to the Animal Ageing and Longevity Database, common egg-eating snakes can live for up to 22 years in captivity. This is the maximum, though it suggests that your egg-eater could live for over 10 years if you treat it well.
Do Egg Eating Snakes Make Good Pets?
The advantages of keeping egg-eating snakes:
- They aren’t venomous, and they have no teeth.
- They’re suitable for squeamish people, as you feed them eggs, not rodents.
- Egg-eating snakes stay relatively small, around 2-3 feet as adults.
- They don’t require as much humidity or heat as other exotic snakes.
The disadvantages of keeping egg-eating snakes:
- Egg eaters start quite small, and male egg-eating snakes remain small as adults. For this reason, it can sometimes be hard to source food for them. Coturnix quail eggs, which are often the only ones available, can be too large.
- The temperament of egg-eating snakes can be a bit variable. Some are calm and docile, while others become stressed out by interaction. You really won’t know until you take them home, though regular handling should help to tame them.
As long as you’re sure you can source their food, and you’re an experienced snake owner, an egg-eater could be a great companion. Consider the advantages and disadvantages, and decide whether this fascinating snake would be right for you. Here are some other good beginner pet snakes.