On the Seventh Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!
The 2900 species or so of snakes are incredibly diverse in terms of colors, size, and habitat. However, they all share certain common characteristics. One of these is that all snakes are carnivorous and must consume whole prey. Snakes have a very highly modified skull which allows them to consume very large prey items.
The type of prey consumed and method of capture is quite diverse. Some snakes are sit-and-wait ambush predators while others actively hunt for their food. Some, like boas and pythons, kill their prey by constriction. Contrary to popular thought, venomous snakes use their venom as a prey capturing device, and not as a means of defense. Next time you are visiting The Houston Zoo, please visit the Reptile and Amphibian building. Check our keeper chat board and you might be able to see one of our staff feeding some of our snakes!
Some snakes are generalists, and will eat a wide variety of other animals; others are more specialized and consume only specific prey items. For example, wild King cobras consume only other snakes. They have even been known to eat each other on occasion! Others, like the Aruba Island rattlesnake pictured here, will eat several types of different lizards and rodents. Several species of snakes are known to eat only eggs, while one species eats only snails.
Although snakes in the wild consume live prey, here at the zoo we have trained most of our snakes to accept previously euthanized food items. Most eat rats and mice while our large pythons eat rabbits. While the amount varies, the Herpetology section uses around 165 rats and 588 mice of all sizes to feed our animals each month.
The size of the food item and the amount depends upon the species of snake we are talking about. Snakes have a lower metabolic rate than mammals or birds, so consequently they need less food. Most of our snakes eat only once a week, while others might go several weeks to a month between feedings. During periods of hibernation, snakes may go several months without eating.
Some of our snakes are more finicky or are more specialized in their diets. In addition to rodents and rabbits the Herpetology Department also receives dietary items such as quail, lizards, frogs and toads, and even other small snakes! For these species, a detailed knowledge of the snake’s natural history and considerable training in methods of herpetological husbandry is required. This is where the skills of our highly experienced and knowledgeable staff are employed.
Written by Stan Mays
Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our snakes and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo! Our reptilian friends thank you in advance for your support.
Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!