Snakes are all carnivores or, at the very least, insectivores, depending on the species. But do all snakes consume the same foods?
The simplest answer is no. Snakes’ diets vary depending on numerous factors, primarily geographical area and the snake’s size, species, and age.
Today, we will discuss the latter, highlighting how snakes’ dietary preferences differ based on age. In short, we will look into the feeding habits and dietary preferences of baby snakes.
Baby Snakes Diet in the Wild
Snakes don’t change their diet as they mature since they are always carnivores, unlike some lizard species like bearded dragons, for instance, which tend to eat more veggies with time. Snakes always consume live foods, including babies.
The difference is that baby snakes cannot consume the same types of live foods as adults do because of the size difference.
So, they need to settle for small prey like insects, tadpoles, baby lizards, and rodents. This being said, not all baby snakes consume the same types of foods either. Their diet varies based on several factors, such as geographical distribution, species preferences, and the snake’s size.
For instance, baby garter snakes consume small insects and tadpoles during their first few weeks of life, while baby copperheads can even consume small frogs and lizards.
Larger species like anacondas and Burmese pythons can even consume various reptiles, mammals, and amphibians.
This is understandable if you consider that both species produce babies spanning over 1.5-2 feet, even as hatchlings.
Prey Size and Type for Baby Snakes
The prey size and type vary drastically for different baby snakes, depending on the snakes’ species and geographical distribution.
Here are several examples to detail this point:
- Garter snakes – As semi-aquatic snakes, garter snakes have a specialized diet consisting of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals that lurk around various bodies of water. Baby garter snake has a slightly different diet because of their small size, but they still rely on aquatic life for sustenance. They typically eat insects, tadpoles, and small fish and frogs, with larger prey going on their menu gradually as they grow.
- Corn snake – Corn snakes are renowned for their love for rodents, which is why their geographical distribution covers rodent-infested sectors primarily. It’s also why corn snakes are prevalent near human settlements and agricultural areas that are known to produce hotspots for mice and rats. Baby corn snakes follow the same dietary pattern, except they can’t consume mature live prey. So, they will settle for pinky mice primarily, along with small lizards, small frogs, and everything in between. Fortunately, corn snakes grow relatively fast, so they will upgrade their diets accordingly.
- Western hognose snake – As terrestrial reptiles, hognose snakes consume a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, eggs, and reptiles. Baby hognose snakes are too small to pursue the same dietary pattern, so they prefer small and large insects in the meantime. They will grow relatively fast and take on an adult diet fairly quickly.
- Ball python – Baby ball pythons can consume larger prey than you would expect from a baby snake. These small constrictors exercise their hunting tactics on fuzzy mice (slightly larger than pinky mice, with visible fur), small lizards, and frogs when near a water source. They hunt similarly to adults, relying on their camouflage to remain undetected in their habitat.
- Boa constrictor – Baby boa constrictors are even larger, so their dietary preferences vary accordingly. We include here mice, small rats, small birds, small reptiles, frogs, and even other smaller snakes.
It’s important to note that some snakes also consume each other and any unhatched eggs upon hatching.
This is an evolutionary feature, allowing for the survival of the fittest, with the surviving babies getting sufficient nutrients to boost their growth exponentially.
Feeding Baby Snakes in Captivity
Now that you know what baby snakes consume in the wild, for the most part, how can you use this information to feed them in captivity?
Here are some good general recommendations that you can apply to all baby snakes, no matter the species:
- Choose the right prey size – As we have already discussed, not all baby snakes consume the same type of prey. That’s primarily because baby snakes themselves vary in size and dietary preferences, depending on the species. So, your first move is to choose a type of prey of appropriate size. If the meal is too large, the snake won’t be able to eat it. As a general rule, make sure that the prey is no larger than the snake’s widest point, which is typically the midsection. You can use this metric to increase the prey’s size as the snake matures and grows thicker.
- Dead-prey only – Keep it safe at first because baby snakes can have difficulties feeding on live prey. On the one hand, they might feel intimidated and even scared by the prey’s movement. On the other hand, they might not know how to handle it properly, so they can get injured in the process. You can avoid these issues by feeding them pre-killed prey at first until the snake becomes more accustomed to the process of hunting and eating. You can serve them live food later down the line and supervise the process to make sure there are no incidents.
- Offer a variety of foods – Snakes rarely eat the same stuff in the wild. These animals have a varied diet, which you should mimic in captivity as well. The same applies to baby snakes, especially since they have higher metabolic rates, so they need to eat more frequently. Provide them with different foods to ensure optimal nutrient intake and prevent nutritional deficiencies. Cycle through different insects and animals with each meal, which will both teach the snake how to handle different prey and enrich its diet at the same time.
- Give the snake space – Baby snakes can be more prone to stress immediately after eating. That’s because they’re already small and vulnerable, which causes them to feel even more unsafe with a full belly. That’s because their body will direct all of their energy toward the digestive system, so they can’t be as active in defending themselves against predators. To prevent stress, give your baby snake some space after eating and avoid handling or petting it for 1-3 days after each meal.
- Have a strict feeding schedule in place – You should condition your baby snakes to eat at the same time of day, so they can develop a good eating routine. The timespan between each meal will naturally grow along with the snake. That’s because the older the snake gets, the larger the meal necessary and the more time it needs to digest it.
- Optimize the snake’s nutritional intake – Baby snakes are more prone to nutritional deficiencies, so you should always discuss this point with your vet just to be sure. You may need to consider supplementation in the form of gut-loading and dusting the insects and other meals before feeding them to your snake.
Hydration is also necessary here to keep your baby snakes in good condition and prevent them from experiencing digestive problems.
Precautions for Feeding Baby Snakes
Baby snakes may require feeding precautions that don’t apply to adult snakes.
- Using the right feeding tools – Feeding tongs and forceps are necessary to feed your baby snakes properly. This is so you can wiggle the prey in their face for a bit to stimulate their hunting instincts but also to minimize contact with the snake and its food. Baby snakes are known to be clumsy, and they might bite you on accident when aiming for the food. This isn’t exactly ideal if the baby snake in question is a rattlesnake or a viper because venomous baby snakes can be even deadlier than adults.
- Wash your hands before and after feeding – Always wash and disinfect your hands when handling the snake’s food. I recommend using latex gloves even to eliminate the risk of contamination. Your hands may have been contaminated with various chemicals that could transmit to your snake’s food and impact the reptile.
- Mind the prey type and size – We’ve already pointed this out in more detail previously. Mind the prey’s size and cycle different food items to ensure optimal nutrient intake.
Other safety measures include monitoring the snake during feeding and watching its pooping pattern to prevent constipation.
Your baby snake should also have a bowl with clean and fresh water always available to ensure adequate hydration.
Baby snakes are quite voracious compared to adults because they tend to eat more often.
But you should always adapt to their nutritional requirements and employ several safety measures to avoid eating and digestive problems.
And, if you have several different snake species, keep in mind that they don’t have the same feeding requirements.
Each about each species’ preferences and adapt to them accordingly.