Can a ball python starve itself to death? (Yes or No)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Can a ball python starve itself to death? We will talk about the alimentation of snakes and more about their metabolism. 

Can a ball python starve itself to death? 

A ball python will starve itself to death if the conditions in which it lives are deplorable and if its owner does not take care to provide a favourable environment and a proper diet. However, cases in which a ball python will starve itself to death (for a reason other than negligence and carelessness) are quite rare.

In general, snakes, especially a ball python can go even 6 months without food. The reason they do this is survival. Snakes in the wild are used to living without food for a longer period. Thus, they slow down their metabolism and conserve their energy. 

So, if your snake does not eat for a few months, even if you take great care of it, you should not worry too much. Now that I have answered your question, we will talk more about the snake diet. Keep reading to discover the different types of food that exist, how often they usually eat and how it is best to feed them.

Metabolism and energy preserving of the snake

Because snakes do not have claws to hold onto their victim by swallowing slowly, they must swallow it whole. Thus, their metabolism is very slow and digestion can take weeks or even months. The key to digestion lies in its gastric juices and in its poison, in the case of poisonous ones. The gastric juices of these reptiles have an extremely acidic and powerful pH that allows them to digest even the bones.

In addition, they use their poison as a complement to digestion, since it allows them to break down the tissues before the gastric juices act.

Having a slow metabolism, they feed infrequently. This periodicity will depend on the age, the environmental temperature and the size of the ingested prey, so the period between bite and bite varies from 15 days to a month. For example, large snakes, such as anacondas, feed every 3 to 4 months. The diet of the different species is relatively varied: they are mostly carnivorous and must stalk, kill and ingest their freshly killed prey.

Most of the snakes feed on warm-blooded animals mainly rodents and small birds, while others eat frogs, insects and even others of the same species. Some species base their diet on the eggs of birds and reptiles.

The digestive system of snakes

In most species of snakes there are 6 rows of teeth, one on each side of the jaw and 2 on each side of the maxilla. These teeth will be replaced throughout the snake’s life. In some snakes the fangs bend back when you close your mouth.

Venom glands (when they exist) are modified salivary glands and vipers can control the amount of venom they inject into a prey or enemy. The tongue performs olfactory functions, so if a snake loses it it can refuse to eat. 

The digestive system is quite simple and usually consists of an almost linear tube between the mouth and the cloaca, although it has differentiated organs. The intestine does not have a developed musculature, as it is very compliant and food is propelled by the axial muscles. At the end of the intestine of snakes is the cloaca, where the genital, urinary and digestive systems converge.

On the other hand, its digestion is slow too, it can last days or months, and the secret lies in the gastric juices and in their poison, in case it is poisonous. The gastric juice of snakes has a very acidic pH, which allows it to digest even the bones of its prey. Also, venomous snakes use their venom to break down tissues before gastric juices kick in.

Snakes should eat between 6 and 30 meals per year, about one meal every two weeks. However, some snakes can shut down their digestive system and not eat for many months, yes, after a big meal.

The oral cavity can increase in size to swallow large prey due to the lack of fixation of the bodies of the mandible, since they are united by elastic ligaments with great distension capacity. Snakes do not chew their prey but swallow it whole. Its teeth are used to retain prey.

The teeth of the maxilla are placed in four rows. In general, they do not present great morphological variations in relation to their location, shape and sizes. Teeth are continually replaced throughout the life of the animal. Species with large fangs have a sheath-like fold in their oral mucosa to protect them when not in use. 

For example, the Viper can bend their fangs, leaving them lying down and sheathed when the mouth is closed, while the Snake and Cobra present their static fangs, unable to bend when the mouth is closed.

Classification of snakes according to their type of diet

More and more people are taking in unusual pets. Snakes, although they have shared their lives with us for many years, are becoming more and more frequent in homes. If you share your life with a snake, you may have already learned a lot about snakes as pets.

One of the most important aspects that we must know is their diet.  All snakes are carnivorous, but depending on the species of snake that we have as a companion, we must offer it to eat some animals or others. Therefore, below, we are going to comment on the different groups of snakes according to their diet:

Mammal and Bird Eating snakes

The vast majority of snakes that can be kept as pets are from this group and feed on small mammals and birds. Although it depends on the size of the snake, they usually eat rats and mice, but they can also eat gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, quail, chickens, etc. Most of this type of snake accepts dead prey, pieces of meat and specially prepared meals as well. 

This group, in turn, can be divided into two subgroups:

  • Small Snakes: Snakes and those that can be considered as small snakes, usually measure between 60cm and 140cm. Some of the best known are king snakes such as Lampropeltis Alterna, Lampropeltis Mexicana, Lampropeltis pyromelana, and Lampropeltis getula. Other also very common is the false corals Lampropeltis triangulum and the corn snakes or mouse traps Pantherophis guttatus.
  • Boas and Pythons: They are the largest snakes, some specimens can exceed 8 meters although in captivity they do not usually exceed 5 meters. Besides, they are constrictors and they are also what most people look for as a pet. The best known are the Python regius, the Python molurus and the Boa constrictor.

lizards & reptiles eating snakes

These snakes are saprophagous, that is, they eat lizards, and coprophages, which eat other snakes. This type of snake is not very common as a pet and the only one that you can have is the Lampropeltis, which has also become used to eating mice.

Insect and arachnid snake eaters

The snakes of this group are insectivorous, that is, they feed on insects and also very diverse arachnids. Above all, they eat small grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, worms of various types, fly larvae, spiders, etc. They are snakes that, even though they are small in size, are not the most suitable for beginners. 

Well, they need much more care than other snakes. Not many insectivorous species are traded. The most common that we can find to have as a pet is the Opheodrys aestivus aestivus or northern rough green snake.

Fish eating snakes

The latter group of snakes are ichthyosaurs, so they feed on freshwater fish, whether alive or dead, such as goldfish, carp, guppies and other small aquarium fish. They are one of the easiest species to keep and therefore are suitable for beginners. The most common in stores are the Thamnophis sirtalis, known as the garter snake or striped snake.

Now that we can identify what type of food our snake has, we will have to make sure that we provide it with the food that corresponds to it and not another because it will surely not eat it.

How often do you have to feed the snakes?

First of all, we must bear in mind that reptiles are one of the animals that can go the longest without eating food. Unless they must drink, they can spend quite long periods without eating anything and with little effect on their health.

Next time you are wondering: “Can a ball python starve itself to death?” remember that the frequency of feeding in a snake depends mainly on its size. In a very general way, since there will always be exceptions, snakes of less than 1 meter, such as land snakes and insectivorous and piscivorous shingles, usually eat between 1 and 5 times a week. 

In contrast, small pythons that are between 1 and 2 meters long, eat once a week. Larger pythons such as Indian and Caribbean pythons or boas are snakes of between 2 and 6 meters that eat once every two to four weeks, that is, once or twice a month.

Lastly, snakes over 6 meters, although rare in captivity, eat even less frequently. For example, they can eat large animals two or three times a year and thus have more than enough food.

Likewise, we must know that in general, snakes are more active in spring and summer, on the other hand, in winter and autumn they are less active so they tend to eat less. You also have to take into account when giving them food, that most prefer to eat at dusk or dusk.

How should I feed my snake?

Regarding how to feed your snake, it will depend on whether it is already used to a specific shape or not. Snakes taken from nature, there are still some in certain zoos, they will rarely get used to eating dead prey, as they have great hunting instincts and no matter how much the prey is prepared as if it were alive, they will not accept it, so it will always be necessary provide them with live prey so they can capture them.

On the other hand, snakes born in captivity and commercialized can be easily fed from small bites to dead prey, pieces of meat and meat derivatives prepared especially for them.

The prey and the prepared pieces are sold frozen and must be kept that way until before offering them to your snake. This is to guarantee good conservation of the piece and prevents your snake from eating something in bad condition that could make it sick.

 It will be necessary to let the dead prey or the piece chosen to feed it thaw and, if our hissing friend is a species without thermoregulatory pits, it will be enough to stimulate it by moving the food in front of it with a rocking movement.

On the other hand, if our snake does have thermoregulatory pits, the temperature of the dam will come into play, so defrosting will not be enough and it will have to be heated minimally in the microwave or in a similar way.

It should be kept in mind that whole prey, whether dead or alive, offers many more nutrients than pieces of meat and meat preparations. This is why a whole prey provides the snakes with calcium, digestive enzymes, necessary bacteria, etc. since it has bones, organs, fur or feathers.  Instead, the “ready-meals”  or pieces of meat will only have the protein of the meat.

What is normally done to compensate for these deficiencies when our snake is not fed whole prey, is to administer nutritional supplements indicated for them, introducing them in the pieces of meat or sprinkling them over the prepared food. 

FAQ on Can a ball python starve itself to death?

How long can a ball python go without eating before it dies?

A ball python can go about six months without eating before it dies. Snakes are used to living without food for a longer time. Thus, they slow down their metabolism and conserve their energy. 

Will snakes starve themselves to death?

Snakes will not starve themselves to death unless they are neglected or ill. Some of the reasons why a snake may starve itself is overfeeding is their breeding season or they are stressed. The stress comes from living in poor conditions or because of being neglected. 

How long does it take for a snake to die of starvation?

It may take about six months for a snake to die of starvation. However, in the wild, snakes are used to living for many months without eating anything. Snakes don’t usually starve themselves unless they are stressed or ill. 

What can I feed my ball python?

You can feed your ball python with frozen rodents, thawed/warmed to above room temperature. This type of snake accepts dead prey, pieces of meat and specially prepared meals as well. 

How long do Ball Pythons fast?

Ball Pythons usually fast up to 6-8 months. However, there is a record of ball pythons fasting for up to 22 months. Fasting is not recommended as it can make your pet ill or cause unnecessary stress.

How long do ball pythons live?

Ball pythons can live up to 30 years in captivity. 

 

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: Can a ball python starve itself to death? We talked about the different types of food for snakes that exist, how often they usually eat and how it is best to feed them.

The most important things to remember are that one of the most important aspects that we must know is our pet’s diet.  All snakes are carnivorous, but depending on the species of snake that we have as a companion, we must offer it to eat some animals or others. 

Also, the frequency of feeding in a snake depends mainly on its size. In autumn and winter, a snake’s metabolism slows down, so they can go even months without eating anything.

If you have more questions or any comment on the content, please let us know!

References

PetMD – What Do Snakes Eat?

Animal Corner – Snake Characteristics

MSD Manual – Nutrition in snakes

Hi, I am Martin, I am a pet lover! I own a Golden retriever and a Long-eared Owl. They keep me company & I often had questions about them which I couldn't find answers for online. I put this hub together for people like me & you.

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