As mammals, it seems perfectly natural to use that an animal would use its own milk to feed its young. This is a behaviour and ability that runs across thousands of species but have you ever seen a baby snake suckling at its mother for sustenance?
If not, this comes as no surprise, but if you’re a snake breeder or simply curious about this mysterious animals, you may have wondered do snakes nurse their young?
Snakes are reptiles and as such, are unable to produce milk as, unlike mammals, they have no mammary glands and so are physically unequipped for this. However, some species of snake will closely guard and mother their eggs before they hatch but it is very uncommon for these reptiles to take care of the young once they have hatched.
That said, there are a few rare instances where mother snakes have stayed around to protect their young even after they have hatched. But this largely depends on the species.
For example, the African rock python has been noted to have doted on its young for a certain time which is not common of many other species. Let’s learn more!
Do Snakes Produce Milk?
In a recent social media post that went viral, a mother rattlesnake was pictured suckling her young. However, this image was fake and there was a rather dark origin to it.
According to Reuters, the photo has been created using a beheaded adult snake along with several deceased young, arranged to look as though they were feeding on the mother. As disturbing as this may be, it is about as far away from fact as you could get.
As reptiles, snakes do not have the correct anatomy to produce milk. Mammals, aptly named because of their mammary glands which are used to make milk, are the only animals that can make what is known as true milk.
There are a few other species and classes of animals that produce a fluid for their young, but this is not milk.
These animals, including the discus fish and the pigeon, make fluids that are used to sustain their young but this liquid is not created using a mammary gland. What’s more, snakes are not among these animals.
What Do Baby Snakes Eat?
When snakes hatch from their eggs, they are pretty much alone in the world and have to fend for themselves. The mother will usually disappear before the eggs have even hatched, although this isn’t always the case (more on that later!)
But for the babies, they need to be able to feed themselves and become adept at doing so pretty quickly. While many of these babies will grow up to be among the very best hunters in the wild, at this stage of life they are weak and vulnerable to predators.
But unlike human babies or other mammals, baby snakes are geared to hunt from the moment they emerge from their eggs.
Newborn snakes will hunt small animals like mice, insects and even eggs. Of course, what they go for will depend on the species but as they grow, their hunting abilities will improve as well.
If you are breeding snakes and have a clutch of eggs ready to hatch, you won’t need to worry too much about providing a totally separate diet than you would provide for your adult snakes.
The young will eat smaller foods like pinkie mice and small insects but otherwise, they’re ready to eat from day one.
Do Mother Snakes Care For Their Eggs?
When a female snake lays her eggs, she is one of the few animals that doesn’t waste time creating the perfect nest for her young. Instead, she will find some sort of sheltered ground; perhaps a disused termite nest or a shady burrow and lay her eggs here. She’s all about convenience.
Many females will remain with their eggs up until the point of hatching but some will leave before this point. However, what is most interesting is that recent studies observing snake behaviour have noted that some species will stay with the young for a couple of weeks after they have hatched.
Vipers are known to exhibit this type of behaviour and the African rock python is a very maternal snake who will do anything it takes to protect her eggs and her young.
These snakes will quickly lash out at you if you make an attempt to go near her eggs and it is believed that this strong bond and protection at the beginning of their lives gives the young a much greater chance at thriving and surviving.
As many as 30% of snake species give birth to live young.
These snakes will almost always abandon their babies from the moment they are born. But with such a high predatory drive from birth, they are typically able to find their own way and flourish.
Do Snakes Eat Their Own Eggs?
There is a myth that female snakes eat their own eggs but this isn’t necessarily correct. When in captivity, it isn’t unheard of for a female to attack her eggs and for this reason, most owners will remove them as soon as they are laid.
In the wild, female snakes will normally lay their eggs and move on, they have no reason to devour them and will slither off to get on with their life.
That said, it isn’t uncommon for females to eat any infertile eggs within the clutch as a way of preventing them from contaminating the healthy ones.
Moreover, if a snake is sick or stressed, there is a risk of them eating their eggs. When snakes feel vulnerable, they will go into panic mode and they may be anxious about a predator eating their eggs.
In its way of thinking, the snake believes that eating her own eggs is far better than allowing another animal to do the same.
Snakes may not be the most loving or maternal animals on the planet but this is what makes them so unique and special. The behaviours they display during mating, laying and thereafter are incredibly interesting.
While some females may remain with the young after they hatch, the majority will leave before there is any sign of a baby.
What’s more, even the mothers that do stay the course are unable to feed their young using milk since they do not have the correct physical makeup to produce milk.