What do Water Snakes Eat? (Fish, Toads, Salamander, more)

What do Water Snakes Eat

Since they live in and near water bodies, the diet of water snakes is primarily made up of aquatic prey animals. Their main food items include small fish and amphibians- frogs, toads, and salamanders.

On rare occasions, these snakes will also feed on invertebrates like crayfish and insects. On even rarer occasions, water snakes have been found to consume small animals such as shrews and mice.

What do Water Snakes Eat?

Typical of all snakes, water snakes will eat any available food in their habitat. That said, they mostly feed on aquatic animals like fish and amphibians.

One of their hunting tactics involves waiting at a strategic location with their mouths wide open and snapping their jaws shut as soon as they capture prey.

They also go hunting for food at the bottom of the river or lake, in crevices, and beneath rocks. These serpents swallow their prey alive.

Water snakes feed on the following animals:

1. Fish

Fish is the primary diet for water snakes and the main source of food for young water snakes.

Since they inhabit freshwater, water snakes prey on fish like minnows, smallmouth bass, hogsuckers, and bullhead catfish. Water snakes have a special preference for small, slow-moving fish because not only are they easy to catch, but they are also easy to swallow.

Water snakes have been observed to herd a school of fish towards the edge of water bodies to increase their odds of getting full on the prey. Typically, they wait with their mouths wide open and shut their jaws when the unknowing, swimming fish.

2. Toads and Frogs

Water snakes start feeding on amphibians when they grow to a length of about 1.5 feet because then, their bodies can sustain bigger animals.

These amphibians include frogs and toads that lounge inside or around the water bodies.

A water snake’s trick for catching frogs and toads is ingenious. As its lower jaw is not attached to the upper one, it can easily open its mouth and strike at a frog or a toad. At the same time, it releases the venom-like anticoagulant that makes it impossible for the bitten prey to stop bleeding.

So, the snake will trail the animal, and when the prey finally dies, the snake swallows it.  The swallowing process is made easier by the ability of the water snake to inflate like a balloon to accommodate the prey.

Related Article: What Eats Toads?

3. Salamanders

Salamanders fall under the amphibian group of animals. Just like frogs and toads, they live in and around water bodies, making them easy targets for water snakes.

One characteristic of salamanders that makes them favorable prey is that they are slow. So, the snakes can easily mark them, charge and strike within a moment’s notice.

As they are relatively small, salamanders are easy to swallow. Also, their skin is smooth and fragile, making it easy for the snake to bite and hold onto them underwater until they suffocate and the snake swallows them whole.

Snakes and salamanders share a common ancestor. Snakes possess vestigial limbs, making them tetrapods similar to modern-day lizards.

4. Invertebrates (Crayfish and Insects)

Insects and crayfish are small and easy to swallow. Furthermore, they are readily available inside the water, and insects can be found pretty much anywhere.

While they are not the first choice of food for water snakes, the serpents will go for these invertebrates to acquire proteins and calcium, which are essential in the growth and strength of the snakes.

Invertebrates are also pretty popular with small water snakes. Since they can’t eat bigger animals at this stage, small water snakes complement their fish diets with these invertebrates. Furthermore, at their size, the water snakes can easily fit through the small spaces where these prey species hide.

5. Small Mammals (Mice and Shrews)

Mice and similar rodents are a favorite of most snake species because they are easy to kill prey.

Still, it can’t be said that mice are a favorite of water snakes because they are only an occasional meal. They do not always make it to the menu.

Even so, whenever water snakes want to eat mice and shrews, they can easily find them in mounds or burrows that are close to the water bodies. These snakes will not ambush the prey. Instead, in its fashion, it will lay waiting at the mouth of the mouth with its mouth wide open until an unsuspecting mouse or shrew falls prey.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do water snakes catch their prey?

Water snakes are known for choosing strategic positions and opening their mouths in wait until prey comes by, after which they snap their jaws shut. Water snakes use this technique to catch fish in water and small mammals outside the water.

Even so, they also know how to hunt, as they often search for prey in the water, through crevices, beneath rocks and even the bottom of the river or lake. Often, water snakes swallow their prey alive.

What do baby water snakes prey on?

All snakes are carnivorous, and therefore, just like adult water snakes, small water snakes prey on small fish due to their small body size and the fact they are not yet mature enough to feed on giant frogs. They also hunt small insects, worms, and crayfish that they can easily tackle and swallow.

If a baby water snake tries to feed on larger prey that might fight back, it may end up with a mouth injury. It may further result in inflammation of the mouth and throat and a health condition of mouth rot or stomatitis, leading to death.

Do water snakes kill prey using venom?

Water snakes are non-venomous. Therefore, they cannot possibly kill their prey using venom. Instead, water snakes produce a venom-like protein in their saliva that acts as an anticoagulant. This means that when the snake bites its prey, the prey will bleed to death. This makes it easier to catch bigger prey that have the ability to escape even after a bite.

Do water snakes eat turtles?

Water snakes do not eat turtles. For one, turtles are too big for water snakes to swallow. Instead, water snakes feed on small fish and amphibians, which they can easily catch, swallow and digest.

Do water snakes eat other snakes?

Water snakes do not eat other snakes. If anything, they hardly eat any reptiles. The diet of water snakes is limited to aquatic prey and the occasional invertebrates and small mammals. Snakes that are known to feel on other snakes are king snakes. If anything, water snakes are lone animals and only hang with fellow water snakes right before and after hibernation.

Do water snakes eat chicken eggs?

Water snakes usually stay in and around water, where there is hardly any chicken. So, we can’t say for a fact they do or do not eat chicken eggs. Even so, it is imperative to keep your chicken and chicken eggs under a watchful eye if you live close to a freshwater body.

When do water snakes eat?

Water snakes hunt and feed at all hours but are mostly diurnal, especially when the night is too cold. Their diet changes as they grow and become bigger. Smaller water snakes feed primarily on fish, specifically the small, slow-moving kind, such as minnows, brook trout, and sunfish.

Final Thoughts

Water snakes live and hunt in and around water bodies. Therefore, their diet primarily consists of aquatic prey like fish and amphibians. They also feed on invertebrates and small animals like shrews and mice, albeit rarely.

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