How do snakes eat?

San Jose snake

All snakes are meat-eaters — they are carnivorous. Some will eat small birds and birds eggs, others will eat rats, mice and other rodents. They will usually have a rather adaptable diet, all based on meat, and they use their clever tongues, alongside an added sense-system, as such, to figure out where the prey is, how big it is, what direction it is traveling in, and whether or not the snake has the power to overpower it.

If the snake feels like it's up for the challenge, it will hunt or chase down that prey item. It will get closer and closer, trying its best to stay undetected, until it gets within striking distance. At this stage, the journey will change depending on the snake species. Some use powerful venoms to overcome their victims, others will take a different, constricting approach. One thing is for sure; the snake usually wins if it has weighed up all the pros and cons first, and the victim is rendered powerless to fight back.

When the snake is sure the animal can't inflict any further damage than it may already have done, it's time to feed. If the kill has taken place in a dangerous and open area, the snake may drag the prey to a slightly safer spot. Larger prey items will take a while to eat and then digest, and when the snake has that large prey-shaped lump inside it, waiting for the meal to digest, they are lacking in energy and very sleepy. They are unable to move as fast as they usually would, and this makes them vulnerable. If larger predators were to come by, the snake wouldn't stand much of a chance of fighting back or getting away, the large lump slowing it down.

The clever structure of the jaw means that the snake can open it many times the width of its own body, therefore, allowing the snake to consume prey items that are larger than itself. Usually going in head-first, the snake will position its mouth around the animal, and then let the powerful muscles of its body drag it further down. Once entirely swallowed, hook-shaped teeth often lending a hand to drag the creature right in, the prey is then squeezed and contracted with the powerful muscles of the reptile. This essentially mushes the food as it is worked down towards the stomach, allowing the acid to then digest the meal further. This can take a few days. The colder the snake it, the longer it will take, and the larger the snake's meal, the longer it will take to digest fully. Larger snakes, such as anacondas, are known to prey on much larger animals, such as fully-grown pigs. Digestion can take weeks and, in some cases, months.

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