So I"ve been having a little of writer"s block lately (hence my reduced activity) because of the chillier weather and also general lack of herptile activity. However, on mine last short article
beatminister left a comment that I believed would be a good subject for a post.

You are watching: Is a snake a herbivore carnivore or omnivore

 Reading this, that made me wonder: is there any snake species that is herbivorous - at the very least partially? I know it appears unlikely, however I have found that over there is a exemption to nearly any preeminence in nature.Did you ever hear anything favor that about a snake? 

When it involves snakes,
beatminister is right: over there is an exemption to basically every dominance in the book...except when it comes to what form of food lock eat. The fact that snakes space carnivores might be the one consistent among all snake species; absolutely no one feed even partially on tree matter.


Classifying every snakes together carnivores may not sound weird at first, till you really prevent to think around this fact much more in depth. Think around how usual herbivory is amongst the various groups of vertebrates. Obviously a large percentage the mammals feed specifically on plant issue (with many an ext known to occasionally incorporate it right into their diets; even pets that were once believed to be specifically carnivorous space now recognized to eat tree matter). Numerous birds feeding on the seeds and fruits that plants, and the bizarre Hoatzin in the Amazon container even feeds solely on leaves. Fish favor koi, goldfish and also parrotfish are known herbivores, and also others, such together catfish, space omnivores that aren"t too choosy around what castle eat. Most amphibian tadpoles space herbivores, and also some adult amphibians, favor the salamander sirens, will feed on birds all throughout their lives. Even other reptiles are herbivores; while most lizards will sometimes eat some vegetation, some like the maritime iguana (which feeds ~ above algae) are exclusive herbivores. Turtles and also tortoises frequently largely eat only plant matter, and also now even crocodilians are known for your habit of feeding on delicious fruits! 


Yet there space no herbivorous snakes. End 3,400 species of snake exist approximately the world, do up an ext than 10% of all tetrapods top top Earth... And also none have evolved to eat tree matter.

To understand why this is, we need to understand how herbivores process the tree they eat...or rather just how they perform not. Herbivores that feed on pipeline (or sections of plants v a high cellulose content) don"t in reality digest the food the they eat. Animals cannot develop cellulase enzyme to break down the bonds in cellulose and also obtain the monosaccharide glucose, i beg your pardon they would metabolize because that energy. Instead, they count on symbiotic microbes that live inside their guts (in her gut too!).


In young herbivores, these microbes don"t just appear on your own; they need to come native somewhere. This microbes are normally passed on indigenous parents and other members the the varieties through life procedures such as birth, nursing and also coprophagy (eating poop) and later social interactions. Many herbivorous animals live in huge herds or at least decently sized family groups which facilitates the spread out of these microbes. Even among herbivorous reptiles, choose the naval iguana, these animals rely on larger social teams to assistance their herbivorous way of life (even a partially herbivorous spider was freshly discovered, and also has been uncovered to be an ext social than most other spiders). Snakes yet are not rather social enough for the spread out of the microbes; if 15-20% give live birth, some administer parental care and also even socialize occasionally, there simply isn"t quite enough interaction to assistance the spread out of crucial microbes.

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The other difficulty is your physiology. Snakes have actually very devoted skulls and large teeth, well occurred for swallowing huge prey whole. Your teeth room wholly unsuited because that chewing, which hervivorous pets must execute to begin breaking down plant issue for digestion by microbes (think of a cow having to chew that is food over and over and over). Digesting plants likewise requires a lot longer, and much more convoluted, gut to residence all the microbes the are forced for herbivory. To compare the organs of a carnivore and a herbivore and there is a substantial difference in their interior structure; a snake"s body simply doesn"t have actually the room to house such a complicated organ system.

There have actually been instances the plants transforming up within snakes (or your feces) however. In most instances, these have been attributed to inadvertently ingestion, perhaps consumed with a food item or mistake for food by scent. One interesting instance was uncovered by Harvey Lillywhite in a study released in the journal BioScience in 2008. Researching the scavenging behavior of pitvipers in the intertidal zone, Lillywhite it was observed cottomouth droppings that were composed almost entirely of seaweed. This was too much plant material to have been consumed secondarily or by accident, and he suspected the there was some other reason for the snakes come be eat it (it absolutely wasn"t for power as the seaweed was passing through fully undigested. Lillywhite wondered if that was feasible the snakes to be feeding top top seaweed simply due to the fact that it smelled favor fish. An interesting laboratory experiment confirmed their theory correct; they available various tree to cottonmouths, some through fish and also others without. The tree without fish to be investigated by the snakes, but ultimately left uneaten. Those that did contain fish were easily devoured. Even when the fish was removed, the line ate the remaining seaweed simply since it smelled like their prey!


While the snakes may be ingesting the tree material, this is no herbivory. The snakes space still can not to process the vegetation, so they space not able come extract any nutrients or energy from it. Snakes may be rather distinctive in the truth that every known varieties are carnivores, but they remain among some of the many well adjusted predators top top the planet!