In some parts of the world, snakes are an everyday part of life so if you live in Africa, Asia, parts of Europe, or the United States, and are less than thrilled at the thought of finding a viper in your laundry basket, you might be glad to have some of these creatures around to help control the snake population. Although a formidable presence, snakes are far from the top of the food chain.
Some of the following creatures are not naturally inclined to predate upon snakes and only eat them after defending themselves from a snake attack! Don’t think that other snakes are off the menu, either! Read on to find out which creatures from around the world are brave enough to challenge this fierce opponent.
Animals That Eat Snakes
Most people think of snakes as fairly robust creatures who are more likely to be predators than preyed upon, but you might be surprised to learn just how many creatures eat snakes. For some of them, it is a question of killing or being killed and they will end up in a battle with a snake simply defending themselves. Some others do not normally seek out snakes for a snack but have an opportunistic approach and if they happen to stumble upon a snake, they will devour them given the chance!
Scientific name: Lynx rufus
Found in Canada, through the USA into Northern Mexico, the bobcat is also known as a red lynx or wild cat and is renowned for being elusive. They are nocturnal so it is rare for a human to spot them as they roam the deserts, swamps, or even residential neighborhoods. They have long legs and paws and tufted ears and are typically brown or brownish red with a white underbelly. Generally solitary, are extremely confident hunters and will take on animals larger than themselves. Bobcats will attack and eat snakes and contrary to folklore, are not immune to their venom. They try to get around this by perfectly timing their strikes – they can jump over 10 feet for an attack – and slapping the snake’s face downward, avoiding the deadly sting.
Scientific name: Crocodylidae
Crocodiles are found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and also at the top of the food chain! They are carnivorous creatures eating other mammals and that does not exclude other reptiles. It is fairly common to see a crocodile consuming a snake but it is usually if it was in its path, ie an easy kill. Both the snake and the crocodile possess the extraordinary skill and outstanding hunting abilities so when they clash, it can be quite the spectacle. For this reason, crocodiles are generally likely to target smaller snakes who stand less of a chance to fight back.
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Foxes are known for being sly and sneaky but we have fairy tales to blame for that! Foxes are an important part of the ecosystem and eat plenty of rodents, frogs, and even fruit. They live on every continent apart from Antarctica. They combine hunting and scavenging and so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that whilst rummaging around for leftovers they might stumble over an unsuspecting snake. Foxes are not stupid, though, and know to stay away from the more venomous snakes, especially if there are mice or chickens nearby.
Scientific name: Strigiformes
Owls live in coniferous forests, deserts, mountains, and plains. They like hollowed-out trees, barns, and woods in fact, you might be amazed at how adaptable they are when it comes to where they make their homes and nests. They are very opportunistic hunters and will try their luck with most creatures that are silly enough to appear in their eyeliner and that doesn’t exclude snakes, especially for some species such as the great horned owl, the eastern screech owl, barred owl, and burrowing owl. The types of snakes they will hone in on are small to medium-sized ones which they can easily over-power for instance: common garter, rat snake, ribbon snake, eastern hognose, and smooth green snake.
Scientific name: Erinaceinae
Hedgehogs are distributed throughout Africa, Asia, Eurasia, and Europe. They are small, spiny mammals and share a distant ancestry with shrews. Interestingly, they have been very consistent and barely changed at all in the last 15 million years. They are nocturnal and are omnivores feeding on insects, snails, frogs, toads, mushrooms, bird eggs, and snakes. In fact, hedgehogs are lucky that they are one of the few small mammals that snakes will avoid as their shape and sharp spines make them a less-than-appetizing meal. Hedgehogs are born with toxic immunity and this means they are well-placed to try their luck taking on small species of snake. The most likely species to find itself a target is the viper.
Scientific name: Mellivora capensis
Also known as the ratel, the honey badger is widely distributed throughout Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Don’t be misled by the name, the honey badger does not resemble the badger at all and is actually closer in appearance to a bear. Honey badgers love to eat insects, mammals, roots, berries, fruit, and reptiles, including snakes! In a fascinating evolutionary twist, experts have discovered several mutations in the honey badger’s DNA which mean the deadly snake’s neurotoxin sits in the adapted receptor rendering it harmless. A honey badger is made for fighting and will climb, squeeze, jump and claw its prey!
Scientific name: Lampropeltis getula
The kingsnake comes in a variety of patterns and may be black or dark brown, with yellow or white stripes, spots, rings, or crossbars. Its scales are smooth and shiny and they enjoy brushy hillsides, woodlands, pine forests, swamps, deserts, and rock outcrops through Canada, California, and Ecuador. Kingsnakes have a very varied diet consisting of frogs, turtles, turtle eggs, birds, rodents, and other snakes which brings us to where the ‘king’ part of its name: kingsnakes love feasting on other snakes, even venomous ones such as the cottonmouth, rattlesnakes, and copperheads. The venom doesn’t affect them at all and they will even devour snakes of their own species.
Scientific name: Ophiophagus hannah
The king cobra is a familiar snake in jungles in Asia. Its sheer size marks it out from other cobras but also its distinct markings. It holds the rank of the world’s longest venomous snake. The color variations depend upon the habitat and can be anywhere from black with white stripes to unbroken brownish grey. Other snakes are not just an opportunistic snack on the side for the king cobra, they are in fact the meal of choice and preys chiefly on other snakes, including its own species. It is actually fairly rare for a king cobra to prey upon other small mammals such as rodents or lizards.
Scientific name: Herpestidae
Mongooses are known for their long faces and bodies, petite, rounded ears, short legs, and long tails. Generally, they have a brindle pattern but a few have strikingly marked coats. They are champion diggers and have perfectly adapted claws to make light work of any earth they want to plow through. Mongooses have remarkable eyes which have been compared to goats both having narrow, ovular pupils.
They are well distributed throughout Africa and some species occupy parts of southern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. Wild mongooses enjoy traveling in groups. They hunt together, especially when hunting venomous snakes. They are versatile and will hunt from treetops and rocky terrain. Mongooses are known for their ability to kill snakes. They are incredible hunters because they can strike very quickly. When moving in on a snake, the mongoose will crush the skull after biting down on its head with its impressive set of teeth.
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
The red-tailed hawk is about 60 cm (24 inches) long, varying in color but generally brownish above and somewhat lighter below with a rust-colored tail. This wiley hunter preys mainly on rodents, but it also catches other small mammals. Red-tailed hawks are known to hunt snakes by gliding low to the ground and checking the area for potential prey. If a snake is identified, the red-tailed hawk will swoop down and snatch it up in its talons and take it to a high-altitude perch to eat it. The “Harlan’s Hawk” breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada, and winters on the southern Great Plains.
Scientific name: Agittarius serpentarius
The secretary bird is a very distinctive bird, firstly because of its size – it is a very large bird with an eagle-like body. It also has crane-like legs. Altogether, it can reach 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in).in height. Males and females share similar characteristics. Adults have an orange-red face without feathers; the plumage is mostly grey with black flight feathers, black thighs, and a dark crest. They breed all year round but favor dry spells. The nest is built at the top of a thorny tree, and a clutch of one to three eggs is laid. In years with plentiful food, all three young can survive to fledgling. The secretary bird hunts and catches prey on the ground, often stomping on victims to kill them. Insects and small vertebrates make up its diet but their snake-killing abilities are renowned. They can kill cobras, black mambas, and other highly venomous species. The secretary bird was given its name because the black crest resembles a clerk with a pen behind their ear!
Scientific name: Circaetus gallicus
Adults snake eagles are 59 to 70 cm (23 to 28 in) long with a 162 to 195 cm (5 ft 4 into 6 ft 5 in) wingspan and weigh 1.2–2.3 kg (2.6–5.1 lb), an average weight of the species is about 1.7 kg (3.7 lb).
The snake eagle spends an awful lot of its time in flight. It likes to soar over hill slopes and hilltops on updraughts, and it does much of its hunting from this position at heights of up to 500 m (1,600 ft). When quartering open country it frequently hovers in a manner similar to a kestrel. This species is distributed widely in Africa, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Guyana. Snake eagles are considered the top predators in their area and a powerful wingspan gives them an advantage over most other species. Their diet is dominated by snakes and birds, including storks, larks, swallows, pigeons, and lizards.
Scientific name: Chelydra serpentina
This species of large freshwater turtle is distributed from southeastern Canada, southwest to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and as far east as Nova Scotia and Florida. The common snapping turtle is noted for its combative disposition when out of the water with its powerful beak-like jaws, and highly mobile head and neck.
Snapping turtles in more northern populations mature later (at 15–20 years) and at a larger size than in more southern populations (about 12 years). We know little about lifespan in the wild but long-term data from Ontario, Canada, has indicated a maximum age over 100 years. As omnivores, snapping turtles feed on plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, small turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plant matter accounts for about a third of the diet.
Scientific name: Panthera tigris
Tigers generally have an orange, white, and black pattern of stripes, some are black with tan strips and others are white with tan lines. They are found in amazingly diverse habitats: rainforests, grasslands, savannas, and even mangrove swamps. Tigers are native to Asia, and historically they had a distribution from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia in the north and Indonesia and even in Borneo and the Philippines in the south, populating most of Asia and the Indian subcontinent. However, their distribution range has reduced dramatically in just one century.
If they can find them, tigers will eat large and medium-sized snakes alike. Black mambas and pythons are two of their favorite reptiles. Snakes are not necessarily a staple part of a tiger’s diet but they will attack and eat one if the opportunity arises or if indeed, they are being attacked by a snake and are defending themselves. Tigers are large animals and require a substantial amount of meat to sustain themselves, this is another reason why snakes are not a particular priority!
Scientific name: Gulo Gulo
This fascinating creature can be found in the remote reaches of the Northern boreal and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in Northern Canada, the US state of Alaska. The wolverine population has sadly declined since the 19th century owing to trapping, range reduction, and habitat fragmentation.
You are likely to have heard about the wolverine in relation to its notorious temperament and insatiable appetite!
In appearance, wolverines have been said to combine the look of a dog, a skunk, and a bear, with short legs, long hair, and elongated snouts. They do like to eat snakes because they are a great source of protein and they will attack it by biting it in half and then crushing its body with their formidable jaws!
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