How Long Can A Ball Python Go Without Eating?

After you get a ball python you’re naturally going to take care of that investment by feeding it, so if you have to go out of town for the weekend you’re going to wonder if it will be able to survive without food? I did some digging and found how long a ball python can go without food.

How long can a ball python go without eating? Snakes, or more specifically ball pythons, can go without food for about six months. They can lower their metabolism’s rate, which allows them to survive for an extended period of time without consuming food, as their body is using stored energy and they are also conserving energy.

Now that you have that answered, you might have other questions as to why snakes have the ability to reel back their metabolism. I have some thoughts to share.

Why Lower Metabolism?

Snakes have been studied throughout the years and one interesting trend is that they have the ability to lower their metabolic rates up to around 70 percent. This allows them to stay alive longer without food.

Ball pythons specifically have a very low energy demand regardless of time of year or place.

The ball python does not use very much protein when they are not eating.

They know how to regulate their energy.

But even so, you should be feeding them especially babies who are still growing. Feed them about every 10 to 14 days. Ball pythons can also go without water for about twelve days without having health issues.

While studying this, I wondered “why do they need to do this and in what circumstance?”

Most animals must preserve energy at one point or another in their lives. With snakes, in some areas, food is scarce. It’s not always available. The winter months roll in and the food disappears for a few months. They have learned to adapt and it’s by lowering metabolism and other things.

How They Preserve Energy

All animals to some degree preserve energy, especially during the winter. Some animals small animals like chipmunks store food for the winter and when they feel it is time to eat again, they go for a little snack. Penguins reduce physical and mental activity, basically lethargy, during the winter so as to preserve energy.

Snakes, on the other hand, have an incredible way of handling it. In 2007, Marshall McCue, a biologist who graduated from the University of Arkansas, did a study where he confined 62 snakes in cages without food or ability to move around to see how long they could go without food.

The snakes were of 3 different kinds: rat snakes, Western diamondback rattlesnakes, and ball pythons. He tested them for 168 days or 6 months. During this time, the snakes were forced to be inactive.

McCue learned more than he bargained for. He learned snakes go through stages in using their energy while in a lowered metabolic state. First and foremost, the snake will burn through all of the chosen fat stores. After that, it can depend on the snake and food choices. Ratsnakes break down proteins faster than pythons and rattlesnakes, because of the rodents that around for prey.

Snakes are fairly new when it comes to creatures on this earth, yet they cover most of the reptiles and we don’t know as much as we ought to.

Snakes will still grow despite their lowered metabolic rate!

That is another topic that researchers need to talk about and study. That shows that snakes are extremely efficient animals in using their resources. They know how to use their body to their advantage. Imagine that.

McCue explains it as a supply and demand. The “demand” for resources will be covered by lowering the metabolic rate so one does not need as much. The “supply” is covered by small calculated uses of resources which are held within the body.

Snakes are very successful animals in the time that they have been around. They can adapt to changes. They don’t have to use much energy to survive and because of it, they are successful in evolution.

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The Way Snakes Digest Food is Awesome

Snakes don’t have the teeth to chop and cut up their food. Venomous snakes have digestive enzymes in their venom that start to break down their dinner before it is even swallowed. They have powerful digestive enzymes that help contribute the nutrients of the meal.

Snakes are limbless creatures with a long tunnel for the digestive system. This extends from the around the end of the mouth to the anus of the snake. Frequently their digestive system is inactive when the snake is active and the digestive system is active when the snake is active.

Snakes come with incredible jaws that can extend beyond normal limits. Their lower jaw is cut in two to allow better maneuver when swallowing. Digestion starts in the mouth. The prey is coated in saliva that contains digestive enzymes. Swallowing actually takes up a quite large amount of time.

Similar to humans and other animals, snakes have an esophagus. The esophagus on a snake is long and muscley. Believe it or not, the esophagus is about one-quarter to one-half of the snake’s body. This large muscle helps with moving the meal down the length of the body to the stomach to be digested completely.

The spine and body will bend to make the snake’s ribs (and it has a lot) push the food on its way down. All of this is continued until the dinner is fully swallowed and enters the stomach which is waiting to break down the food even more.

After that, the liver and gallbladder work together to create bile that breaks down fat. The pancreas produces some digestive liquid. Eventually, the waste is exited at the end of the snake. The claws and hair of the prey are the only things not to be digested.

When choosing a meal, the snake has to be thinking about if they can even swallow the meal. You know the phrase, “Eyes are bigger than stomach”? Yeah, that’s something a snake really can’t afford to mess up on.

Snakes have to be able to swallow the creature whole. It can’t break it up. It will regurgitate the meal if it is too big. Another fact is that snake has to take into consideration if the meal can be digested before it starts to rot inside of it. Digestion could take days or weeks. It depends on the meal but if it doesn’t digest fast enough, it will rot inside the snake and harm it.

This causes distension. Distension is an enlargement or ballooning effect within the body that will harm or even kill the snake.

Other Factors of Digestion

Snakes generally consume food that is about 25% of their body weight. The larger the prey, the longer to digest. some snakes, like pythons, will eat much more terms of weight comparison. Upwards of 65% is known.

Some snakes eat little amounts frequently and others eat large amounts once in a while. It only makes sense. Some people just eat more than others and it’s the same with snakes. Those that don’t eat very often have significantly increased growth in their liver, intestine, and heart when they eat. The intake of oxygen in the animal is multiplied by 60. This takes so much effort from the snake that it will lay dormant for a long period of time.

Sometimes the snake will regurgitate or vomit food back up. The difference is vomiting is from food that is already being digested and regurgitating is from the esophagus. This usually happens because of stress or health problems. Other problems could be that the prey was too large or that the temperature was too low to be able to digest.

Ball Pythons Have Other Awesome Survival Skills

Think about how incredible snakes are. They are at a huge disadvantage evolutionary wise. They have no arms, legs, ears, and other things that humans and animals have. Yet despite that, they live perfectly fine and they have for many years.

They just slither around for days and still accomplish all that they need to do. Snakes are really an evolutional wonder.

Snakes use the sun to raise the temperature of their bodies.

 They are cold-blooded animals, meaning they can’t create or regulate their own heat. All reptiles are like this.

Their body temperature changes to that of the area in which they live. This is why snakes in colder areas have to hibernate during the winter. If they don’t, they would die from being too cold.

Since most things go to bed at night, snakes are nocturnal hunters. It is easier for them to catch something in the dark and it is harder to see them approaching in the dark.

They are efficient at this because they rely on quick movement and some snakes have heat vision. A combination of heat vision, vibrations, and movement detection are what helps snakes be incredibly efficient at hunting during the night.

Snakes will also shed their skin. They do this because their body will expand and grow larger. Another reason is to get rid of parasites that are on the old dead skin. They have a natural protective mechanism to protect their skin.

When swallowing food, some snakes have little gripping teeth that point backward, into the mouth of the snake. This is so that live prey can’t escape, making it easier for the snake to swallow its food.

Rattlesnakes have rattles. Go figure right? But honestly, they use it to protect themselves from predators or warn other animals. The rattle can be used to scare or persuade.

Western hognose snake will change its behavior. If it feels that it can’t intimidate the foe the nit will turn on it’s back and it will act as if it’s in pain and convulse. It will then act if it’s dead and then if you wait a few minutes, this sneaky snake will raise its head to see if the coast is clear and then move on its way.

What Else do I Need to Know About Feeding Ball Pythons?

Just because a ball python can go 6 months without food doesn’t mean that they should, so how often should you feed them? Look to your own snake and its patterns for the best advice. It’s a case by case kind of thing, but the general rule is once every 10 to 14 days. Young and baby snakes should eat more often. Once a week or every 5 to 6 days should work. That is common practice. Watch your snake and its patterns. It will tell you when.

When captive, ball pythons are feed rats and mice. That is the general rule of thumb. You can feed them other small animals like gerbils, hamsters, other breeds of mice. Some even will eat pre-killed mice. They can be bred or trained to eat that way. Honestly, any basic breed of rodent will work. They need that protein, so feed them that.

Pythons and boas are carnivores. Their simple diet is rodents.

 They need the protein for energy to swallow and digest food. If you don’t feed your snake the proper diet, your snake will probably not last long. You won’t be able to change the diet of your snake. They know what they want and its the natural circle of the food chain. It won’t eat anything besides protein filled rodents.

A lot of people wonder whether or not ball pythons can eat insects like spiders, but ball pythons are carnivores and they want to eat meat. They need the protein for digestion, so they will eat rodents and that is really all that you anyone needs to feed them.

It is important to know that you should generally  Wait about 48 hours after feeding to touch your ball python. You wouldn’t want to be touched after eating either so it makes sense to give the snake some space. If your snake gets nervous, it could regurgitate their food. This is potentially dangerous because they because their stomach acid is strong and could harm the outside of them. Allow them the time to digest and then you can interact with it again.

Related Questions

How long can a garter snake go without eating? Garter snakes hibernate during the winter months. Because of that, they will go without food for a period of time. About 2 or 3 months as you would expect. Also, they can go days or even weeks without eating sometimes when shedding their skin.

Do ball python bites hurt? Most of the time, ball pythons bite defensively. If handled gently and they have been tamed, you’re less likely to be bitten. A defensive bite from a baby won’t hurt much. I think you can rightly assume that a bite from anything is going to hurt a bit. Some have said it is surprising. Others have said that a scratch from a cat hurts worse.

Can snakes eat human food? They should not eat human food. Much of it is not in their diet. Snakes swallow their food whole. They eat rodents, so mice, rats, gerbils, etc. They are not vegetarian. There are no vegetarian snakes.

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