Snakes often have long lifespans, with some species outweighing most mammals in this sense. Multiple factors can impact a snake’s lifespan, but there’s one that no other animal can replicate: being a reptile, to begin with. Reptiles simply live longer than other animals precisely because they are reptiles.
To expand on the subject a bit, reptiles are cold-blooded animals that rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. These animals have naturally lower metabolic rates, which can decrease even further depending on the environmental temperature, food availability, season, etc.
Some snakes undergo torpor during the cold season, which is a hibernation-like state. During this time, their metabolism will drop to a crawl, effectively prolonging the reptile’s lifespan as a result.
But let’s discuss it more in-depth!
Factors that Influence Pet Snake Lifespan
There are various factors that influence the lifespan of pet snakes such as the size of the snake, species, environment, feeding and nutrition,
Now, lets see all these factors in details:
Species and Size of the Snake
Some snake species live longer than others for a variety of reasons. Some include genetic differences, while others have to do with environmental conditions, available food, potential threats, and even the animal’s size.
Studies have shown that larger snakes live longer than smaller ones, a characteristic that is seen in other animals as well.
As a general rule, the larger the animal is, the longer it tends to live. It’s why flies live for 24 hours, while elephants live for 70 years. But, you might say, humans live more than elephants, and they’re significantly smaller in size.
This is true, but remember what makes humans special. History has shown that the human lifespan has increased dramatically over time.
Several millennia ago, a 25-year-old’s body would’ve registered the same amount of cellular damage as that of a 70-year-old today.
The chances of you surviving past the age of 35 would’ve been very slim. It’s modern medicine and eating habits that boosted the humans’ lifespan dramatically. And artificially, you might say. But we digress.
Overall, you can use the snake’s size to determine its potential lifespan. Garter snakes, for instance, measure up to 2-4 feet and only live 3-4 years in the wild and up to a decade in captivity.
Ball pythons can reach 6 feet and live 10 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
Environmental factors can impact the snake’s lifespan dramatically. A long-living snake can experience a shorter lifespan, depending on the temperature, humidity, predation, habitat destruction, and available food and water.
Living in ecosystems contaminated by human-guided activity can also impact the reptiles’ lifespan and quality of life, leading to disease, among other issues.
You can see these effects even among captive-bred snakes. Snakes living in captivity also require specific living parameters to remain healthy and live long and happy lives.
Not caring for the snake properly will impact the animal’s well-being, cutting away at its lifespan and quality of life.
Feeding and Nutrition
Most snakes can live for weeks or even months without food. Despite their resilience, not having sufficient food regularly will eventually impact their immune system and overall quality of life.
This makes snakes more prone to disease and nutritional deficiencies, many of which can become deadly.
When it comes to reptiles, the biggest concern is a calcium deficiency, as all reptiles are prone to it. It’s why you should supplement your snake’s diet with calcium and vitamin D3, according to your vet’s recommendations.
Genetics and Inbreeding
The part about genetics is rather obvious. A snake’s lifespan is heavily influenced by its genetic makeup. In short, long-lived parents give birth to offspring with the potential to reach similar lifespans.
When it comes to inbreeding, though, the situation is a lot more delicate. Snakes don’t typically inbreed in the wild, but it can happen. One of the reasons is geographical isolation, where you have a snake species limited to one area only.
Combine this with habitat fragmentation, and you get snakes that are forced to live in smaller and more claustrophobic environments that increase the likelihood of inbreeding.
And there’s a reason why inbreeding is incompatible with a long-lived animal population. Inbreeding comes with lower genetic variation, which is more prone to produce malformations, many of which are incompatible with life.
The snakes that do survive their birth will experience a poorer quality of life and reduced lifespans.
Availability and Quality of Veterinary Care
This only applies to captive-bred snakes, but the difference is more than visible. In short, many snake species can live decades more than their wild counterparts.
The reason is closely linked to the overall care and veterinary assistance, providing the animal with:
- Lower risk of infections and disease
- Optimized diets to enhance nutrient intake and prevent nutritional deficiencies
- Eliminate the risk of predation
- Minimize the risk of territorial conflicts, given that snakes live alone in their enclosures, etc.
Stress Level and Living Conditions
All animals are subjected to stress, especially snakes. These reptiles can get stressed for a variety of reasons, including improper living conditions, lack of food, frequent predator activity, diseases, territorial fights, etc.
All these become non-issues for well-kept and well-maintained pet snakes.
Granted, pet snakes can still become stressed in the hands of inexperienced reptile keepers.
Allowing for the snake’s environmental parameters to fluctuate, not ensuring proper tank maintenance, handling the snake too frequently, and not optimizing its diet – all these can impact your snake’s well-being drastically. And increase its stress levels accordingly.
You should collect as much information as possible about your preferred snake pet before acquiring it.
Average Lifespans for Different Species of Snakes
We’ve already determined that snakes exhibit different lifespans, depending on the species, but what about some examples as well?
Here are a few:
- Garter snake – This popular North American snake can live around 3-5 years in the wild, 10 at most in ideal conditions, including in captivity.
- King snake – King snakes have longer lifespans, around 12-15 years in the wild. These snakes can reach 20-25 years in captivity with good care.
- Pine snake – Pine snakes are even more durable and adaptable, capable of reaching 20 years in the wild. However, that’s rather rare, as most pine snakes won’t go above 15 years of age. They can exceed 27 years in captivity with proper care and a bit of genetic assistance.
- Rattlesnakes – Rattlesnakes are extremely resilient and adaptable and can live up to 10-25 years in the wild, depending on the specimen and the environment. It’s normal for venomous snakes to live longer, given that they don’t have nearly as many predators.
- Vipers – Different viper species can live between 10 and 20 years in the wild, give or take.
- Cobras – Cobras are also champions in terms of lifespan, capable of reaching 20 years in the wild.
You may have noticed that I haven’t specified the respective lifespans in captivity because these are venomous and potentially deadly snakes.
So, you’re not recommended to raise them as pets. Furthermore, they are banned from the pet trade industry in many countries.
But, if you were to get a venomous species as a pet (which is possible, depending on where you live) expect the snake to live longer than its wild counterparts.
Most species of sea snakes have shorter lifespans than most land snakes. This is for several reasons, including the difficulty of finding food, the larger number of available predators, and a shorter reproductive cycle resulting in lower longevity.
The average lifespan of sea snakes sits between 2 and 5 years, depending on the species.
There are some exceptions, as is the case with the dusky sea snake, which can reach 10 years in the wild.
Common Causes of Death in Pet Snakes
Pet snakes can die for a variety of reasons, primarily:
- Injuries and trauma – The snake doesn’t need to experience massive injuries or damage to die. Even small cuts or abrasions are enough to jeopardize the snake’s life. The problem isn’t the damage itself but the subsequent infection that is more likely to occur in a warm and humid environment. Snakes can become injured for a variety of reasons, including improper habitat layout, overcrowded space, difficulties shedding, improper handling, etc.
- Malnutrition – This is one of the primary problems most captive-bred snakes have to contend with. Snakes require precise nutritional intake, depending on their species’ preferences and wild diets. You may feed your snake sufficient food, and the snake could still experience nutritional deficiencies if the food isn’t nourishing enough. The risk of calcium deficiency is especially concerning, which is why most reptile professionals recommend dietary supplementation. Always speak to your vet about this in advance. Food supplements may actually be detrimental to your snake if the animal doesn’t actually need them.
- Parasites/Diseases – These issues relate to poor environmental conditions, such as extreme humidity levels, excessively high or low temperatures, poor husbandry, contamination with various dangerous pathogens, etc. Because of these problems, snakes can experience respiratory infections, skin infections, organ failure, dehydration, anemia, etc. Many of these issues can be easily tackled by practicing impeccable care and maintenance routines and supervising your pet’s health status regularly. Also, contact your vet at the first sign of disease; even minor problems can develop into a life-or-death situation within days.
- Old age – Consider yourself lucky if your snake dies of old age. That means you did everything right up to the point where Mother Nature decided to take over. This is how all pet snakes should die: of old age. Unfortunately, the process is never easy or painless. As it gets old, the snake’s immune system weakens, causing the animal to fall sick more often and making the recovery more difficult. Your snake will eventually stop eating and become lethargic. You know the end is near if the reptile refuses to drink water.
Regarding the last point, you might need to discuss the situation with your vet. The expert may recommend euthanasia if the situation is irreversible and you want to spare your pet from suffering.
It’s a tough decision, but it beats witnessing your pet suffering and fading away one day at a time.
Snakes are some of the longest-lived animals on earth thanks to their slower metabolisms and resilience. But don’t count on that when it comes to caring for your own pet snake.
Many pet snakes live less in captivity than in the wild due to improper housing conditions, poor diets, and the lack of adequate care.
Don’t be that guy!