What do pet snakes eat?
The most commonly available exotic fish eating snake in South Africa is the American Garter Snake. Other fish eating snake species include: Ribbon Snakes, American Water Snakes and European Grass Snakes. Snakes that eat fish are among the easiest non-rodent eaters to feed, as suitable prey is available in almost every pet shop in the form of goldfish and guppies. Goldfish and guppies are more expensive than mice and the price of a goldfish the size that an adult Garter Snake will require is currently around R20.00-R30.00.
Most fish eating snakes are active hunters with high metabolisms and will need to eat a suitability sized fish two to three times a week. This soon becomes a big expense for a snake that is under a meter in length. As is human nature, people start to skimp and start feeding whitebait or hake pieces. White bait and other oily fish contain an enzyme called thiaminase which causes a vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency. This deficiency results in a nervous system disorder which causes the snake to lose muscle control and the snake will usually die. This enzyme is also present in dried fish, so hake fillet must be sprinkled with a vitamin supplement that contains vitamin B1. When a snake eats a whole fish it digests the bones, internal organs and gut contents which provide calcium and vitamins; a hake fillet lacks this and does not provide enough nutrition.
A better alternative to hake is to purchase flat fish such as sole and cut a slice which contains bone and some skin. Whole fish of the right size make the best food item for fish eating snakes. Live fish such as goldfish can be placed in the snake’s water bowl; the snake will see the fish moving about in the bowl and move in for the kill. For fussy eaters place the fish in a shallow water bowl, this will cause the fish to flap around which makes it more visible to the snake and will result in a quicker feeding response. Fish are usually swallowed live, as once grasped by the snake they have no chance of escape and will suffocate if eaten on land. That said, Garter Snakes have very weakly toxic saliva which would help to subdue the fish while swallowing.