All snakes live for longer in captivity than they do in the wild. Wild snakes have their lives cut short by predation, illness, or difficulties finding food. But the life of a pet snake can be lengthened by feeding your snake correctly, optimizing humidity levels, and keeping the enclosure clean.
Garter snakes have the shortest average life expectancy, rarely surviving for more than 8-10 years in captivity. A pet corn snake will live for 15-20 years, and boa constrictors and ball pythons live for 20-30 years. The lifespan of all snakes is reduced by about 40-50% in the wild. The oldest recorded snake was a ball python which lived for 48 years.
We’ll look at the average longevity for several of the most common species of pet snake. We’ll examine their lifespans in the wild and captivity. We’ll also take a look at which factors can affect how long snakes live, and how long a snake can survive without food.
What Are the Stages of a Snake’s Life?
Before we look at the lifespan of each snake, let’s take a quick look at the different snake life stages.
|The lifecycle of a Snake|
|Eggs:||Before snakes come into the world, they grow inside eggs, which take around two months to hatch (species-dependent). Some snakes (such as rattlesnakes) keep the eggs safe inside their body until they hatch. Other snakes (such as boa constrictors) are viviparous, meaning that the young develop attached to a placenta, instead of inside eggs.|
|Juvenile:||When the snake hatches from the egg (or is born), it’s considered a juvenile. Juvenile snakes are quite small and grow extremely quickly. They must eat and shed their skin rapidly to keep up with their growth.|
|Sub-adult:||Once growth starts to slow down a little, snakes are considered sub-adult. For most snakes, yearlings (one-year-old) are considered sub-adults, though it does depend on the species.|
|Adulthood:||This is the life stage that snakes enter once they become sexually mature. Most types of snake reach adulthood between age 2 and 4. Adult snakes can go longer without eating and have the ability to mate. Snakes do not stop growing once they reach adulthood. They continue growing very slowly throughout their lives.|
But how long do snakes live in the wild, and how long do snakes live as pets? Let’s find out.
How Long Snakes Live By Species
How long snakes live depends on two factors. The first is the snake’s species. Some types of snake can live for decades, whereas others are lucky to reach 10 years of age. Secondly, snake lifespan varies depending on whether the snake is captive (kept as a pet), or free (living in the wild).
Captive snakes tend to live longer, as they aren’t at risk of being eaten by predators. Here’s a table of the average lifespan of snakes in the wild vs. captivity.
|Snake||Lifespan (Wild)||Lifespan (Captivity)|
|Ball Python:||10-15 Years||20-30 Years|
|Corn Snake:||6-8 Years||15-20 Years|
|California Kingsnake:||10-12 Years||15-20 Years|
|Boa Constrictor:||15-20 Years||20-30 Years|
|Garter Snake:||3-4 Years||6-10 Years|
|Western Hognose Snake:||9-12 Years||15-18 Years|
|Reticulated Python:||15-20 Years||20-25 Years|
These numbers are averages. How long your pet snake lives will depend entirely on how you treat it.
Each snake has different care and husbandry requirements which you must meet to ensure your snake reaches its maximum age potential. Most of the time, pet snakes die of illness or stress due to improper housing conditions.
How Long Do Ball Pythons Live?
Ball pythons are one of the most popular species of snake kept as pets in the US. They are also one of the longest-lived snake species in the world. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, ball pythons enjoy tropical climates and can thrive in captivity if treated well.
Ball Python Lifespan in Captivity
If looked after well enough, a captive ball python can live for 20-30 years. The record for the longest living snake in captivity belongs to a male ball python that lived at the Philadelphia Zoo.
According to a bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society, he died at the ripe old age of 48. So, if you’ve ever wondered “what is the maximum lifespan of a snake?” it’s probably around there. So, what health considerations can affect a captive ball python’s lifespan?
- Heat. Because ball pythons come from Africa, they need consistent temperatures of 70-80F at the cool end and 90-95F at the warm end. Cold temperatures can result in respiratory infections. Malfunctioning heat mats can cause burns, which can be fatal.
- Feeding. Ball pythons can be picky eaters and have been known to go “off” their food for months at a time. Any stressor, illness or husbandry issue can cause ball pythons to refuse food.
Ball Python Lifespan in the Wild
In the wild, ball pythons do not live as long as they do in captivity. The lifespan of wild ball pythons averages around 10-15 years. The reason that it’s shorter is there are many factors about a wild environment which may trigger the untimely death of a snake. Amongst many other things, wild ball pythons can die from:
- Predation. Birds of prey, big cats, wild pigs, and other animals often hunt and eat ball pythons. The smaller the snake is, the more likely it’ll be eaten.
- Hunting by humans. Native tribes in Africa frequently kill ball pythons for both their meat and their skins. They are also captured for export into the pet trade, and often die from stress.
- Infection. Ball pythons eat rats, which can be quite vicious. Rat bites can lead to infections which, of course, cannot be treated in the wild.
How Long Do Corn Snakes Live?
Corn snakes are another extremely popular snake kept as a pet. Unlike ball pythons, corn snakes can be found in the wild in the US, too. They thrive in temperate climates and so do well in captivity. However, they don’t tend to live as long as ball pythons.
Corn Snake Lifespan in Captivity
A pet corn snake will live for roughly 15-20 years. As with all snakes, this depends largely on how well you treat your snake. That being said, corn snakes are one of the easiest types of snake to look after. They don’t require particularly high temperatures or much humidity and tend to eat well.
Corn snakes can eat too well. One problem which corn snakes are particularly notorious for developing is obesity, as they will overeat if offered the chance to. This can lead to:
- Regurgitation issues. When corn snakes overeat, they may regurgitate their food. On rare occasions, this can cause fatal problems, such as inhaling stomach acid.
- Obesity. As well as their high food drive, corn snakes are active snakes in the wild. When kept in small tanks, don’t get the chance to exercise as much as they should. An obese snake is not likely to live for very long.
Corn Snake Lifespan in the Wild
Wild corn snakes typically do not live for more than 6-8 years.
Corn snakes do not grow very big compared to some of the other snakes you’ll find in the wild. Their maximum length rarely exceeds 5 feet, and their bodies are quite slender. Because they have no venom with which to protect themselves, they are hunted and eaten by wild animals such as:
- King snakes (snake-eating snakes)
- Hawks and other birds of prey
- Domestic dogs and cats, coyotes and wildcats
Humans have also been known to kill corn snakes, mistaking them for venomous snakes. Their orange coloring can fool people into thinking they’re copperheads, which can be dangerous to children and pets.
How Long Do California Kingsnakes Live?
California kingsnakes are another popular choice of pet, and also native to the US. They are common in the western states, including (of course) California. Kingsnakes are famed for their diet – they hunt other snakes, including rattlesnakes. In captivity, though, they do well on rodents.
California Kingsnake Lifespan in Captivity
Just like corn snakes, California kingsnakes can live for 15-20 years in captivity. They have similar care requirements in terms of temperature and humidity. They also subsist on the same diet as corn snakes (mice, moving up to small rats when they get big enough).
- Because California kingsnakes like a slightly drier atmosphere, they can get scale rot if humidity is too high (above 60%).
- Some people choose to “adopt” California kingsnakes from the wild, as they are commonly found in yards. This is inadvisable because it can be difficult to establish wild-caught California kingsnakes on frozen-thawed rodents. This can lead to refusal of food, and premature death.
California Kingsnake Lifespan in the Wild
In the wild, California king snakes tend to fare better than corn snakes. On average, they tend to survive for 10-12 years. They risk being preyed upon by American wild animals as mentioned above (birds of prey, wild cats and canids, etc.).
California kingsnakes can be injured or killed by their prey. As they eat other snakes, including venomous species such as rattlesnakes, the risk is high. California kingsnakes which live in the colder parts of the US, such as Oregon, are also at risk of death from low temperatures in the winter. They brumate (hibernate) to conserve body heat, but they do not always survive.
How Long Do Boa Constrictors Live?
Boa constrictors, native to South American countries such as Brazil, are some of the most well-known snakes. Though they are happiest in tropical rainforests and grow to quite considerable lengths (up to 13 feet), they have become a popular pet among experienced snake owners.
Boa Constrictor Lifespan in Captivity
In captivity, boa constrictors do extremely well. The oldest reported boa constrictor was 40 years old when he died in 1977 (again, at the Philadelphia Zoo). However, this is an extreme example. With correct care, most pet boas can reach 20 to 30 years old, like ball pythons.
Boa constrictors are slightly harder to care for than other popular snakes. Some of the issues that may reduce your boa constrictor’s lifespan include:
- Humidity and heating. It’s often quite hard for reptile keepers to simulate the boa constrictor’s natural environment. Letting humidity drop below 60%, or the temperature to get below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, can be fatal. It can introduce issues such as respiratory infections, regurgitation, and anorexia.
- Inclusion Body Disease (IBD). This is a common disease affecting the Boidae family of snakes. It results in neurological problems such as loss of motor control and is eventually fatal. According to The Veterinary Journal, over 40% of captive boa constrictors contain the virus (though not all of them will develop the disease).
Boa Constrictor Lifespan in the Wild
Like ball pythons, boa constrictors live for around 15 to 20 years in the wild. It’s not common for them to reach the same age that they would in captivity. This is because South American rainforests pose all sorts of dangers for these snakes.
Boa constrictors have natural predators which will happily hunt and eat them. These include birds of prey, reptiles (e.g., caimans) and mammals like the jaguar. Juvenile boa constrictors are the most at risk of predation as they’re smaller and unable to defend themselves.
Arguably the biggest predators of boa constrictors are humans. Their skins are often harvested to fashion shoes, bags, and clothing.
How Long Do Garter Snakes Live?
These harmless backyard snakes are endemic to North America and can be found in almost every contiguous state. There are many species which are referred to as “garter snakes,” and they all belong to the genus Thamnophis.
Garter Snake Lifespan in Captivity
Because garter snakes remain quite small and are non-venomous, they make popular pets. Garter snakes don’t live for as long as other snakes, yet they can still live for several years if treated well. Most captive garter snakes live for 6-10 years. Some have reached 15 years, though this is rare.
There are a few considerations which can affect the lifespan of your pet garter snake:
- Transmissible illnesses. Many people choose to keep several garter snakes in one tank, as they’re social creatures. However, contagious illnesses can spread quickly among snakes living in the same enclosure.
- Fighting. Though garter snakes can live happily with others, they have been known to fight. Garter snakes usually fight over food, physical space, or the right to mate. Rarely, they may eat each other, especially if one is smaller. Wounds can also become infected, which can be dangerous.
Garter Snake Lifespan in the Wild
Sadly, garter snakes in the wild do not live very long. The average lifespan of a wild garter snake is just 3-4 years. This is usually due to:
- Fighting with other garter snakes
- Predation by various birds, mammals, and other snakes
- Failing to survive very cold winters. Garter snakes are well adapted to harsh winters and can survive freezing temperatures for at least two days, according to a study in Cryo-Letters. However, younger snakes are not able to handle cold weather as well as adults. Though they brumate (hibernate) in large groups, this is not always enough to prevent injury or death from cold weather.
How Long Do Western Hognose Snakes Live?
Western hognose snakes are extremely popular pets due to their small size, unique appearance, and placid temperaments.
They are identifiable by their upturned “snout,” which they use for digging around in the sandy soil, in search of prey. Western hognose snakes are native to the US, Canada, and Mexico.
Western Hognose Snake Lifespan in Captivity
Captive-bred Western hognose snakes usually do extremely well as pets, providing all of their needs are met adequately. You can expect a well taken care of Western hognose to live for 15 to 18 years. Females will grow much larger than males, but they should have an equal lifespan.
Some of the struggles that you might face when keeping your Western hognose include:
- Feeding. Some hognose snakes are only interested in frogs and toads and have a hard time adjusting to a diet of mice. Wild-caught toads can carry dangerous parasites.
- Burrowing. Western hognoses love to burrow in their substrate. This can rarely result in ingesting or even inhaling substrate, which can be fatal. Aspen and other “chunky” bedding pose fewer problems than sand.
- Humidity. Hognose snakes do not require much humidity. If the moisture in your hognose’s enclosure is too high, this can result in problems such as scale rot.
Western Hognose Snake Lifespan in the Wild
In the wild, hognose snakes live between 9 and 12 years. They can live longer than other small American snakes – such as garter snakes – due to their elaborate defense mechanisms.
When threatened, hognose snakes “play dead” by rolling onto their backs and secreting a foul-smelling musk. This dissuades predators from attacking.
When this dramatic display fails, however, hognoses are preyed upon by the same animals that threaten the other US native snakes. This includes birds of prey, wild cats and dogs, and king snakes.
How Long Do Reticulated Pythons Live?
Reticulated pythons, native to Southeast Asia, are famed for being one of the largest snakes in the world. They can reach lengths of 20 feet or more. Despite the colossal size of this snake, they are also kept as pets by adventurous reptile enthusiasts. 20-25 years in captivity.
Reticulated Python Lifespan in Captivity
Reticulated pythons (or retics, as they are nicknamed) have an impressive potential lifespan which matches their length. It is not unusual for a retic to live for 20 to 25 years, or even longer, in captive care. Of course, this does depend on the level of care that is provided. Pay particular attention to:
- Stress. Reticulated pythons start small, but grow extremely large within the first few years. Many retic owners are not prepared for just how big their snake is going to become. Keeping a reticulated python in a vivarium which is too small can result in a considerable amount of distress. They are active, inquisitive snakes that need a lot of space and enrichment activities.
- Food can also be an issue. As reticulated pythons grow, they quickly become too large for rats. Fully grown retics often do best on a diet of chickens and rabbits. If you can’t provide adequate food for your snake, this could cause them to become stressed, thin and nutrient deficient.
Reticulated Python Lifespan in the Wild
As you can imagine, there’s not much that preys on fully-grown reticulated pythons. Even the babies start at a respectable size (at least 2 feet long). Reticulated pythons can easily survive for a respectable 15-20 years in the Southeast Asian wilderness.
Hatchlings and juveniles can be preyed upon by birds of prey, big cats, king cobras and the like. However, once retics reach their full size, they are considered apex predators.
Unfortunately, reticulated pythons are still vulnerable to predation by humans. Like boa constrictors and ball pythons, reticulated python skins are used to fashion goods such as bags, purses, and shoes.
How Long Do Snakes Live Without Food?
As you now know, snakes kept in captivity can live for many years. The better you treat them, the longer they’ll live. Make sure you research your snake’s requirements thoroughly, as the following factors can all influence their longevity:
- Insufficient heat or humidity can lead to illness. Extreme heat can result in burns, brain damage or death. Stress can also shorten your snake’s life. Make sure your snake’s vivarium is not too big or too small, and that you don’t handle them too often or house them with other snakes.
- Failing to diagnose an illness. Regularly monitor your snake’s health and condition. If you notice any sign of ill health, take your snake to a veterinarian.
- If you feed your snake prey which is too large, or too often, this can significantly shorten your snake’s life. Feeding your snake too infrequently, or too small prey, won’t give them enough nutrients to thrive on.
If your snake goes on a “hunger strike,” don’t worry. Snakes are designed to go for a long time without eating. According to the Zoology journal, snakes can survive a lack of food for at least six months by slowing down their metabolism.
The only time that you should be concerned about is if your snake starts to lose weight, or show other signs of illness. At this point, take him to a veterinarian for a medical check over.