All snakes are carnivores, and some snakes are picky eaters, but gopher snakes will eat any kind of animal, egg, or fish you put in front of them.
What Do Gopher Snakes Eat?
In the wild, as you might imagine, gopher snakes are famous for eating gophers.
They eat the eggs of birds and lizards.
Kept as pets, gopher snakes will eat almost any kind of animal food you put down in front of them.
They will eat uncooked, unbreaded chicken tenders. They eat chicken eggs, once they are large enough to swallow them.
They can eat chicks and ducklings, pinky mice, adult mice, and rats.
Gopher snakes eat voraciously at every opportunity. It is important to limit feeding for your adult gopher snakes to one a week so they do not gain too much weight.
Now, let’s consider what you need to know about how to feed your pet gopher snake.
Different Kinds of Gopher Snakes Have Different Appetites
All gopher snakes have strong appetites, but some gopher snakes get hungrier than others.
Gopher snakes have thick, muscular bodies. A hatchling just emerging from its egg may be as much as a foot (30 cm) long.
Adult gopher snakes usually grow to lengths of 3 to 6 feet (76 to 152 cm), but there is a record of an adult bull snake that was 8-1/3 feet (100 cm) long.
Most gopher snakes reach a length of about 4 feet (102 cm), or maybe a little more.
Males are almost as long as females, although females weigh more, around 2 to 4 pounds (900 to 1800 grams).
Gopher snakes spend their lives at ground level. They ambush their prey, holding it with their teeth until they kill it by constricting themselves around it.
Gopher snakes eat their prey whole.
They are dependent on external heat sources to activate the digestive enzymes they need to break down their food into nutrients.
Without heat, the prey animal will decay inside the snake, releasing toxic bacteria.
Gopher snakes only need to eat about once a week, but they will never pass up an easy meal.
It is very important not to offer your snake more food before it has fully digested and absorbed its last animal prey.
The appearance of snake poop is an indicator that your gopher snake could eat again, but there is no need to overfeed your snake.
The Size of the Food Depends on the Size of the Gopher Snake
Gopher snakes need to be fed whole animals that are about as wide as the snake. The gopher snake’s jaws aren’t hinged and can move independently of each other.
It can expand its mouth just enough to swallow food as wide as its mouth is.
Even hatchling gopher snakes are big enough to swallow a pinky mouse without the owner having to cut the mouse into parts.
Young gopher snakes can also eat quail eggs, crickets, mealworms, and small fish.
Adult gopher snakes are only limited to prey that is not wider than they are. But not all foods work equally well for feeding gopher snakes.
It’s Usually Best to Keep Gopher Snakes on a Steady Diet of Rodents
Rodents, a progression from pinky mice to fuzzy, hopper, small, medium, and jumbo mice, are usually the best option for feeding a gopher snake.
Whole rodents provide a gopher snake with all the nutrients it needs.
Gopher snakes even get all the vitamin D they need from the liver and blood of their prey animals, so they don’t need a special UV light source to stay healthy.
Of course, if you love snakes but you hate handling dead mice, you can feed your gopher snake almost any kind of animal food (never plants).
However, gopher snakes cannot get all the nutrition they need if they eat any of the following prey animals as their sole food source:
- Chicken tenders don’t provide heme iron, vitamin D, copper, and zinc, although chicken gizzards do.
- The white in raw eggs contains a compound called avidin that breaks down the B vitamin biotin in the gopher snake’s body. Cooking the egg destroys avidin, but your gopher snake cannot digest cooked eggs. Offer eggs only on rare occasions, when other foods are not available.
- Many raw fish contains a different enzyme, thiaminase, that breaks down thiamine, vitamin B1. Giving your gopher snake too many fish will cause it to have neurological problems triggered by thiamine deficiency. An occasional raw fish is OK, but not more than every eight to ten feedings.
Gopher snakes should not be fed live prey. The problem with live adult mice is that they can fight back.
Mice can injure your snake.
Previously frozen dead rodents that you thaw at room temperature (never in the microwave) before feeding to your gopher snake are best.
What About Feeding Your Gopher Snake Actual Gophers?
It is never a good idea to feed your pet snake any kind of animal you catch in the wild. Wildlife often carries skin mites that can jump off the prey and onto your snake.
They may have intestinal parasites which will in turn start growing in your snake’s digestive tract.
And you can have the same problem with a live gopher in a trap that your snake has with a live mouse in its enclosure. The gopher will likely try to bite you.
You likewise never feed your snake mice or rats you have caught in traps.
These rodents may carry parasites, and they may have been exposed to poisons that made them easier to catch.
The poison that slowly kills a mouse or rat may make your snake sick.
How to Feed Your Gopher Snake?
A baby gopher snake needs to be fed after its first shed. When you find dead skin in your gopher snake’s enclosure, it is time to offer your pet snake its first meal.
Never feed your pet snake from your fingers. Snakes become extremely excited by the scent of food.
They don’t see very well.
They detect food by its temperature, and your fingers may have a stronger heat signature than they detect in the recently defrosted mouse you plan to feed them.
The safest way to feed a gopher snake is to pick up the rodent with tongs, and then display the food in front of the snake.
As soon as your pet snake has noticed its meal, replace the lid or door on its enclosure so it will not escape.
Don’t try to feed two gopher snakes in the same terrarium at the same time. They may both try to strike at the food at the same time.
One snake will miss, potentially biting the other snake or biting your hand.
Feeding bites from gopher snakes are painful because they use all of their teeth when they are holding on to the food.
You may have to pry a snake off your skin or its companion in its cage to get it free. Some of the snake’s teeth may break off in the process, and you will be left with a painful wound.
Always feed gopher snakes separately. Even better, provide your gopher snake with a second enclosure used exclusively for feeding.
Your snake will come to associate being picked up and placed in the second enclosure with mealtime.
It will be more eager to be held, and less likely to bite you when you need to reach into its cage.
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