Food is a huge driving force for all snakes. Reptiles focus exclusively on staying alive, and they need to eat to do so. Snakes eat each other more than you may realize.
Not all snakes eat other snakes. Examples of cannibalistic snakes include King Cobras, Kingsnakes, Eastern Indigo Snakes, and various Colubridae breeds. This is known as ophiophage.
In some respects, it makes sense for a snake to eat another snake. While snakes can eat animals that are considerably larger than themselves, consuming other snakes will cause fewer digestive issues.
Do Snakes Eat Snakes?
Not every snake breed will eat another snake, but it’s relatively common. Breeds hunt in a variety of ways, and have different dietary requirements.
Take the Inland Taipan Snake, for example. Native to Australia, this is the world’s most venomous snake regarding sheer toxicity. In theory, this means that the Inland Taipan could have its pick of prey. In practice, however, this breed of snake subsides exclusively on small mammals.
This is partly due to the smaller stature of the snake, and partly due to biology. It hunts almost exclusively through heat sensors, meaning that cold-blooded animals will not pique its interest.
That is not to say that all venomous snakes are friendly toward their fellow reptiles. The King Cobra, for example, is famously hostile and has no qualms about eating another snake. There is a reason why the King Cobra has sat atop their crown for some time.
Even nonvenomous breeds of snake can engage in cannibalism. Kingsnakes, for example, are members of the constrictor family and eat any other breed. As a result, Kingsnakes top the food chain of snakes native to the USA. If you keep them as pets, never put two kingsnakes together.
A List of Snakes That Eat Other Snakes
The list of carnivorous snakes includes:
- Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
- King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
- Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), and following sub-species:
- Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida)
- California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae)
- Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki)
- Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigra)
- Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigrita)
- Florida Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula floridana)
- Apalachicola Lowlands Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula meansi)
- Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi)
- Common Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
- Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum)
- Racer (Coluber constrictor)
New species of snake, and a deeper understanding of their diets and behaviors, are discovered every day. This means that they may be yet more cannibalistic breeds to be found. Additionally, even docile snakes can eat each other in times of duress or confusion.
Why Would a Snake Eat Another Snake?
To humans, it may seem strange that snakes eat each other. After all, we do not eat our friends or family. Likewise, elsewhere in the animal kingdom, a tiger would not feast upon another tiger.
What we need to remember is that snakes are creatures of pure instinct. They cannot forge emotional bonds. This is why snakes usually live and hunt alone.
They are focused purely on staying alive. This means hiding out of sight of potential predators, and eating wherever necessary. Most snakes prefer rodents, but if food is scarce, they do what is necessary to survive.
It’s also worth noting that the unique physiology of snakes dictates that cannibalism could ease digestion. Most traditional prey is substantially larger and wider than the snake itself. It is obvious when snakes have recently eaten, and it takes them some time to digest.
If a snake were to eat a reptile, they would struggle a little less. After all, it will be one long, wide animal devouring another. It is easier for a snake to force a similar shape into their stomach for digestion.
Does the Snake Need to Be Smaller Than Itself?
Not at all. A brave and hungry snake can take down and eat entire deer or crocodiles. Likewise, a determined snake can eat a breed larger than itself.
The Kingsnake is the most notable example. These reptiles can eat fellow snakes at least 20% larger than themselves. This means that Kingsnakes will be able to eat a rival of six feet in length.
How Does a Snake Kill Another Snake?
This depends on how the snake hunts its usual food. A venomous breed, such as the Black Mamba, will strike and inject their poison. This may work, but it depends on the breed of their prey. Kingsnakes, for example, are immune to almost any kind of snake venom.
Of course, Kingsnakes themselves are nonvenomous members of the constrictor family. This means they immobilize snakes through asphyxiation. This takes a very long time, as snakes cope with restricted breathing far better than mammals.
Eventually, however, the Kingsnake will win out. This breed does not enjoy additional muscle mass compared to other snakes. The Kingsnake does have superior technique, however. It will be able to subdue the other snake completely, who may even be eaten alive.
Even the Kingsnake will prefer to look elsewhere for a meal before eating another snake. In a pinch, however, this is arguably the breed best equipped to survive a food shortage.
Do Snakes Eat Venomous Snakes?
The Kingsnake will be able to at venomous breeds due to toxic immunity. This is not the only breed that enjoys such a privilege, however. The King Cobra is also immune to every other snakebite in the world, even that of the Black Mamba.
Most snakes are immune to the venom of their own species. This is partly down to biology, but also naturally immunity built over time. Snakes of the same species will fight for female approval during mating season. They’ll also bite each other while mating. This means that they will need to be able to endure some attentions safely.
It’s not just venomous snakes that need to be watched carefully, however. In the spirit of self-preservation, some snakes eat toxic animals that they are personally immune to.
This could be a particular breed of frog, for example. Eventually, aspiring predators will learn that eating this snake will also involve eating the toxic frog. It’s a hugely effective defense mechanism, in addition to meeting a snake’s dietary needs.
Do Pythons Eat Other Snakes?
Pythons can eat other snakes if they must, but this extremely rare. Pythons subside almost exclusively on mammals, and will largely ignore other snakes.
This is at least partly because Pythons hunt using heat-sensing pits in their head. This means that warm-blooded prey is much easier to detect.
Also, Pythons can be fussy eaters. This breed can do weeks without feeding if not in the mood. This means that Pythons would often rather go hungry than settle for a substandard meal.
Does a King Cobra Eat Other Snakes?
The King Cobra has been appointed this title because it eats all other breeds of snake. This highly toxic breed actively enjoys hunting and eating other snakes. It can also eat lizards, birds, and rodents.
The King Cobra is largely immune to the venom of other snakes, including fellow Cobras. This means that they will not fear any other breed, viewing all of them as prey. As King Cobras are the largest venomous snake, there are plenty of reasons to fear them.
Do Black Snakes Eat Copperhead Snakes?
This depends on the breed of Black Snake that is taken into consideration. The two most common Black Snakes in the USA are Black Rat Snakes and Black Racers.
While Black Racers may feed upon Copperheads and Rattlesnakes, it’s rare. They will only really be brave enough to hunt a hatchling. Black Rat Snakes, meanwhile, are very docile and fearful. They will never tackle or eat another snake.
Black Snakes often set up nests in barns, so it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Despite what you may have heard, Black Snakes will not act as wardens to your yard. They will eat plenty of rodents, but not necessarily keep your property free of venomous invaders.
Also, forget what you may have heard about Black Snakes mating with Copperheads. It’s a myth about snakes borne from hatchling Black Snakes possessing copper markings that quickly fade.
Snakes That Eat Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are the bane of many people. We are hardwired to fear these reptiles, due to their sizable fangs and noisy organic alarm. Also, rattlesnakes are incredibly venomous and one of the most dangerous snakes in America. Surely this protects them from fellow reptile predators?
The answer is no – the Rattlesnake is considered a delicacy for a handful of snake breeds. An Indigo Snake, for example, will ambush and potentially overpower a Rattlesnake through sheer brute force.
Even though they are very large, the Indigo Snake will rarely bite anything. They prefer to use their strength to prevent a Rattlesnake sinking their teeth in. Not that a bite would matter to the Indigo Snake; they’re immune to Rattlesnake venom.
Members of the Colubridae family, such as Racers and Coachwhips, will also eat Rattlesnakes. Despite their swift speed, however, these breeds will not pose much threat to an adult Rattler.
Baby and hatchling Rattlesnakes, however, are a common delicacy for these breeds due to their easy digestion. They enjoy hunting such reptiles using their speed.
This ability to move quickly also spares the snakes from Rattlesnake venom, helping them evade strikes. It is not clear whether these breeds are immune to the toxins found in Rattlesnake fangs.
Of course, Kingsnakes will also make a meal of a Rattler given half a chance. These snakes will not be affected by Rattlesnake venom, and will overpower them when they attack.
The Common and California breeds of Kingsnake are the most likely to eat a Rattlesnake.
Would Two Pet Snakes Try to Eat Each Other?
It’s certainly possible, if you keep a cannibalistic breed as a pet.
Snakes are solitary creatures at the best of times, and should be kept in separate vivariums. The only exception would be during the mating season, if you’re interested in breeding.
Even then, however, keep a very close eye on breeds such as the Kingsnake. If they get hungry, there is no way of knowing what could happen.
Even some of the snakes that we have not profiled may eat each other, though. Popular pets such as the Garter Snake and Corn snake can turn on each other. This is not necessarily a matter of instinct for these breeds. However, they can become stressed and disconcerted.
These reptiles are not used to sharing their living space. If Snake A encounters Snake B’s tail, they may bite it in an act of territoriality. This, in turn, can escalate into something more serious.
If two snakes are kept together, and one gets hungry, it may eat the other. Alternatively, if two snakes are fed together, they can enter something of a frenzy.
The scent of prey food will confuse. One moment a snake is eating a mouse, the next they are eating their tank mate’s tail. If you insist on housing your snakes together, you should at least feed them independently.
A snake eating another snake is not an everyday occurrence, but it happens. These reclusive reptiles seek safety at all times, avoiding predators by living and hunting alone.
Birds of prey and large mammals feed on snakes, but sometimes danger is closer to home. Keep this in mind if you have multiple pet snakes, and keep all of them safe.