Most herpetoculturists feed their snake mice and rats, as they’re easy to come by and have good nutritional value. But some people find feeding snakes live food unpleasant and want to know if there is such a thing as vegetarian snakes. Feeding snakes vegetables would be much easier.
Snakes are obligate carnivores, which means that they eat rodents. Some, like green snakes, are insectivores. Water snakes and garter snakes prefer to eat fish. Egg-eating snakes are close to a vegetarian snake. They’re a good choice of pet if you want to avoid feeding snakes rodents altogether.
We’ll explore what snakes typically eat in the wild, and why snakes are obligate carnivores. We’ll then take a look at some species of snake which eat fish, insects, and eggs to survive.
Are There Such Things as Vegetarian Snakes?
So, are there any vegetarian snakes? By definition, no snakes are herbivores.
Unlike some other reptiles, like tortoises and iguanas, all snakes are “obligate carnivores.” This means that they must consume animal matter to survive. Although there are thousands of different species of snake, they all have this particular trait in common.
Most snakes typically eat mammals as a substantial part of their diet. In captivity, snake owners usually choose to feed their snakes frozen-thawed rats and mice. In the wild, a snake might feast on voles, chipmunks, gophers or even bats, for example.
However, it’s uncommon for a snake to feed exclusively on mammals. Wild snakes often have diverse diets and eat a wide variety of animals. These can include the following:
- Insects (such as termites, cockroaches, and worms)
- Other snakes
- Amphibians (such as frogs, toads, and tadpoles)
Some snakes also eat eggs, including bird eggs, fish eggs, reptile eggs, and even insect eggs. Though most snakes will eat eggs in addition to other food, some snakes feed exclusively on eggs.
So, it depends on what you consider “vegetarian” or “vegan.” If you consider eggs suitable for a vegetarian or vegan diet, then there are, strictly speaking, some vegetarian snakes.
Why Are Snakes Obligate Carnivores?
To start with, let’s look at the three main types of diet that animals can have.
- Herbivores (such as horses and tortoises) strictly eat plants and plant materials. Their diets may include grass, tree bark, fruits, vegetables, and foliage. Their digestive systems are designed to digest plants, and extract nutrients from them.
- Omnivores (such as humans and bears) can digest both plant and animal matter. Some species are primarily herbivorous, only eating small amounts of animal matter from time to time. Others are the other way around.
- Carnivores (such as dolphins, lions, and snakes) consume purely animal flesh and other animal matter (such as eggs). Obligate or “true” carnivores feed solely on animals, and cannot digest any plant matter. Facultative carnivores (such as dogs) thrive on meat but can survive on plants.
Snakes are obligate carnivores. They can only digest animal matter and don’t have the physiological ability to process plants. Because of this, snakes will only view animals and animal products (like eggs) as food. If you offered a snake a carrot, it wouldn’t recognize it as a meal and would ignore it.
If a snake did eat plant matter, it wouldn’t have much success. Snakes swallow their prey whole and do not have teeth capable of chewing. For this reason, they can’t grind or break down plant matter.
We must also consider snakes digestive systems. Plants take a long time to break down inside the gut, which is why herbivores have very long intestinal tracts. Snakes’ intestines are short and incapable of digesting plants.
For that reason, feeding your snake vegetables or fruit could kill it. It wouldn’t be able to extract any nutrients from the food, and would eventually starve.
Which Snakes Don’t Eat Rodents?
So, we now know that the answer to the questions “do snakes eat fruit and vegetables?” and “can you buy vegetarian snake food?” is a firm “no.”
Snakes are carnivores, and can only eat animal matter. If you’re vegetarian or vegan and this doesn’t sit well with you, you might want to choose a different type of pet.
As you know, most snake owners usually choose to feed their snakes rodents. This is for two main reasons:
- Nutrition. Rodents are the staple diet of most snakes commonly kept as pets. This includes rat snakes, gopher snakes, boa constrictors and ball pythons, to name a few. For these popular pets, rodents provide all the nutrition that they’ll need. They’ll gladly accept a frozen-thawed rodent, and there’s no need to supplement their diet with anything else.
- Availability. Because rats and mice breed rapidly and are easy to care for, they’re widely available. There are many sites online selling pre-killed frozen rats and mice, ready to be shipped to your door.
However, not all snakes have to be fed rats and mice to thrive in captivity. If you view rodents as friends and can’t bear the idea of feeding them to your pet snake, there are some alternatives out there. Certain species of snake can subsist on diets of fish, insects, and eggs.
Snakes that Eat Fish
Some species of snake live near bodies of water and naturally hunt for food there. These species naturally feed on fish and fish eggs as part of their diet in the wild.
Not all of them are suitable as pets, but some make great companions. Examples of fish-eating snakes include the following:
1) Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins)
If you live in the US, you’ve probably heard of cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins). They’re certainly not suitable as pets, because they’re highly venomous.
However, they’re a prime example of a fish-eating snake. Their species name, piscivorus, literally means “fish-eater.” As they live in and near the water, fish and frogs make up the majority of their diet. That being said, they also eat mammals and birds opportunistically.
2) Water Snakes
Water snakes are commonly confused for cottonmouths in the wild, according to the University of Florida. However, they’re much more docile and non-venomous.
Again, like cottonmouths, a water snake’s diet consists primarily of fish. In captivity, water snakes live on guppies, silversides and even cut-up pieces of larger fish like trout. Water snakes are not especially common as pets, but you may be able to find them from specialized breeders.
3) Garter Snakes
Garter snakes are one of the most common wild snakes across the US, according to Pennsylvania State University. They’re small in size, usually not exceeding 3 feet in length as adults.
Garter snakes make great pets and enjoy a varied diet, including fish. A pet garter can live on guppies, earthworms, and pieces of larger fish. However, it’s good practice to feed garter snakes the occasional pinkie (baby mouse), too. If you don’t, you must supplement their diets with calcium and vitamin powder (which you can use to coat their food).
Snakes that Eat Insects
If you don’t fancy feeding your snakefish, perhaps insects would suit you better. Some snakes are insectivores by nature, and happily gobble up bugs in their natural diet.
Again, not all insectivorous snakes make excellent pets, but some of them can be kept in captivity.
1) Green Snakes
These adorable small snakes make great pets and can sustain themselves easily on a diet of insects. There are two varieties. The smooth green snake grows to about 2 feet long, and the rough green snake is larger (3 feet). Both feed primarily on insects in the wild.
You can feed them on crickets, with occasional supplementation of earthworms, moths, and spiders. You should also dust their food with calcium occasionally.
2) Brown Snakes
Brown snakes are also known as De Kay’s snakes. Like green snakes, brown snakes are quite small and primarily feed on insects.
In the wild, they’d eat invertebrates such as slugs, snails, caterpillars, and earthworms. If you can get your hands on a steady source of these bugs, brown snakes make good pets.
Both green and brown snakes, though, are quite shy and prefer not to be handled.
3) Brahminy Blind Snakes
Brahminy blind snakes are rarely kept as pets but may be suitable for people who want a small snake that stays small.
Native to Africa and Asia, these tiny snakes are only about as big as earthworms – 2-4 inches long. They’re blind and feed exclusively on insect larvae, pupae, and eggs.
Snakes that Eat Eggs
Finally, some snakes consume eggs as a natural part of their diet. However, most snakes can’t live on eggs alone. Corn snakes, hognose snakes, bull snakes, and garter snakes will all eat eggs in the wild.
But eggs don’t provide enough nutritional value on their own for these snakes. Even if you kept them as pets, you’d have to feed them meat from time to time.
There are only two kinds of snakes in the world that eat eggs alone. They are the African egg-eating snake (Dasypeltis sp.) and the Indian egg-eating snake (Elachistodon westermanni). If you consider eggs to be vegetarian-friendly, then these are the only vegetarian snakes in the world.
Indian egg-eating snakes are quite rare and are not kept as pets. However, African egg-eating snakes are occasionally up for sale as pets and are relatively easy to care for.
African Egg-Eating Snakes
As their name suggests, African egg-eating snakes feed exclusively on bird eggs. They don’t have any teeth, and instead, have bony spikes on the inside of their spines.
They swallow eggs whole, then crush them and regurgitate the shells. African egg-eating snakes span across several species but are all quite similar. They range in color from yellowish-tan to brown, to black. Most species don’t exceed 3 feet in length.
Unlike any other snake in the world, bird eggs provide egg-eating snakes with all their nutritional needs. If you can find them for sale, they’re an ideal choice for those who wish to own a snake without having to feed it dead animals.
The only trouble can come from sourcing their food. Chicken eggs are too big, so you’ll have to find a source of quail eggs or smaller.
African egg-eating snakes make good pets for vegetarians and vegans.
Which Kind of Snake Should I Get?
So, let’s recap what we’ve learned. Snakes are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat animals to survive. There’s no such thing as vegetarian snake food, and you can’t feed your snake fruits or vegetables. If you want to keep a pet snake, you’ll have to feed it an animal product.
Most species of snake do best on a diet of frozen-thawed rats and mice. If you think you could get used to this, good starter snakes include corn snakes and ball pythons. They are both quite docile, tolerate being handled, and easy to care for.
If you’d like to avoid rodents, the rough green snake or smooth green snake may be good choices. They’ll happily live on crickets, worms, moths, and spiders. They become stressed when handled, though, so they’re best left alone.
Garter snakes are also popular. You can feed them on fish and insects, though may need to introduce the odd baby mouse (or a calcium supplement).
If you can get your hands on one, the African egg-eating snake makes for a fascinating pet. You’ll need to purchase quail eggs for them, as chicken eggs are a bit too large.
If you want to avoid all animal products, then snakes are not pets for you. Instead, consider keeping a guinea pig or rabbit. They are herbivores and make wonderful companions.