There are several cannibalistic snake species, some of which mostly feast on other snakes. Even some popular pet snake species will kill and eat other snakes if housed together, and certain circumstances were to apply.
A snake that eats other snakes is known as an ‘ophiophagic’ snake. There are many snake species that frequently eat snakes. These include kingsnakes, king cobras, racer snakes, and eastern indigo snakes.
Cannibalistic behavior in snakes may seem unusual or abnormal, but it can easily be explained. These explanations range from stressful situations to the need for food to maintain survival.
Table of Contents:
What Is an Ophiophagic Snake?
An ophiophagic snake eats other snakes. These snakes may be of the same species, or of other species. The term ‘ophiophage’ comes from Greek, ophis meaning ‘snake’ and phage meaning ‘one who eats’.
An ophiophagic snake attacks and eats snakes in the same way it does other types of prey. If it’s venomous, it will attack with venom. If not, it may constrict instead. Other species do neither, and swallow the other snake whole without even killing it.
There are many species that attack and kill other snakes. The most famous are kingsnakes, which were given their name because they attack and kill other snakes. King cobras are named ‘king’ cobras for the same reason.
There is no such thing as a snake that only eats other snakes. King cobras are perhaps the closest to a truly ophiophagic snake, as the majority of its diet is other snakes. But even the king cobra varies its diet by eating rodents, lizards, and eggs.
Why Do Snakes Eat Other Snakes?
Snakes are prey for many animals. Like all prey animals, they are food sources that offer a mixture of protein, carbohydrate and fat, vitamins, and minerals. This is the basic reason why snakes eat snakes.
A snake may eat another snake by accident. A snake’s biting reflex is tied to its feeding reflex. When it bites, it may coil and reposition its head to swallow its prey more easily. And once it starts, it won’t stop unless interrupted. So, a strike in a fight can turn into a feed unintentionally.
Animals don’t let food go to waste. If a snake kills another snake in a fight, then if the victor is hungry, it may eat the other snake. Provided that it’s big enough, it makes sense to eat a meal where it’s possible to do so.
List of Snakes That Eat Snakes
Not all snake species are ophiophagic. Some snake species have a highly regularized diet, which means they will eat only one or two kinds of food.
Other snakes eat a wide range of prey, and it’s these types of snakes that are most likely to consume their own species.
There are many species of kingsnake, which are all medium-sized and non-venomous. They kill by constriction, not with venom. The most common species of kingsnake that are found in the wild include:
|Eastern kingsnakes:||Shiny black snakes with chain-like bands across their backs. Found across the east coast from NJ to Florida.|
|Black kingsnakes:||Entirely black and found from southern Ohio to southeastern Illinois.|
|Speckled kingsnakes:||Black/brown scales with yellow/white speckles. Found further west, from Illinois to Iowa and south to Texas.|
|California kingsnakes:||A small species with shiny black scales and bright white markings. Found in the wild across the west coast.|
|Scarlet kingsnakes:||Look like coral snakes. Found in the southeast states.|
Kingsnakes will eat other snake species, but can also attack other kingsnakes. If a kingsnake does attack another member of its own species, it will pick one that’s smaller than itself. Otherwise, it would struggle to eat it.
They even eat pit vipers like rattlesnakes, and have done for thousands of years. Doing so has given kingsnakes an immunity to rattlesnake venom.
According to Brain, Behaviors & Evolution, this has led to certain crotaline species have developed defense mechanisms like head hiding, thrashing, and ‘body bridging’ as well as regular biting and freezing.
King cobras have long been known to eat other snakes. Their scientific name, Ophiophagus hannah, reflects that.
Unlike kingsnakes, king cobras use venom to subdue other snakes. Their venom is both cytotoxic and neurotoxic, which means it will paralyze any snake it attacks. It will then eat the snake whole. It will eat other snake species such as:
- Indian cobras
- Banded kraits
- Rat snakes
- Banded wolf snakes
- Malabar pit vipers
King cobras reach between 10 and 13ft., with the longest ever caught at 19ft. This is more than long enough to eat the snakes it finds in its native habitat.
Racers are another kind of snake that eats other snakes. There are many species and subspecies of the racer, although they aren’t officially classified as a group of their own.
Eastern racers, for example, are found across most of the U.S. Black racers are found in the southeast. Other species include:
- Brown racers
- Tan racers
- Blue racers
- Green racers
Racers get their name from their speed. They use their speed to catch their prey or to escape from predators. This serves racers well, because it means they don’t have to use constriction. They pin their prey down and eat it whole, alive, instead.
As reptiles, snakes are less vulnerable to constriction anyway. This is all despite racer species having scientific names which indicate that they do use constriction (e.g. Coluber constrictor).
According to the journal Copeia, the snakes which black racers feed on have learned to identify black racers base on smell.
A test on garter snakes found that they tongue-flick at the scent of black racers far more than other snakes. This helps the garter snake avoid its potential predator.
Eastern Indigo Snake
The eastern indigo snake is another snake species from Florida. It’s officially the longest native U.S. snake species, with the longest ever found measuring 9.2ft.
This snake uses its size to subdue and kill other snakes, even venomous ones. Like kingsnakes, the eastern indigo snake can feed on venomous rattlesnakes. It has long grown immune to their venom.
These snakes are thin-bodied, and have small heads with large eyes. They vary greatly in color, but are typically a deep brown. There are several subspecies, each of which is properly camouflaged for its environment. They are found throughout the southern U.S. from coast to coast.
Like the other snakes, the coachwhip doesn’t only eat snakes. It has a wider diet than the average snake, eating insects, amphibians, lizards, birds, and rodents as well as snakes. It eats its prey without constricting it first.
Do Pet Snakes Eat Other Snakes?
A pet snake that lives alone won’t get the chance to eat other snakes. But if you housed it with one or more other snakes, it ‘may’ decide to eat them.
That could be because it’s naturally ophiophagic, or be due to a fight. Kingsnakes are a common pet snake. If you housed two together, a kingsnake would eat the other snake eventually.
Snakes attacking and biting each other can make their feeding reflexes kick in. So, one snake could eat the other snake in error.
This is especially likely to occur if one of the snakes is much smaller than the other. Snakes of a similar size are more wary of each other, while a large snake will dominate and attack a small snake frequently.
Do Corn Snakes Eat Other Corn Snakes?
Like all other snake species, corn snakes live their lives alone. They hunt alone, they hide from predators alone, and they bask alone.
So, when you put two corn snakes in an enclosure, they will each become stressed. This stress is based on each snake’s need to survive.
Each snake feels that it needs to fight for its share of shelter and food. This drive will cause the snakes to fight.
If the fighting isn’t resolved by separating the snakes, one can kill the other. When this happens, a corn snake may eat the other smaller snake.
Do Ball Pythons Eat Other Ball Pythons?
According to General and Comparative Endocrinology, the ball python has a suppressed stress response compared to other snake species, so it likely won’t become as stressed as a corn snake.
But despite that, ball pythons still don’t want to live in groups. They will still become stressed and may start fighting eventually.
One could kill the other, and again, a ball python could eat the other ball python if it is smaller than itself. So, avoid housing ball pythons together.