Bull snakes are opportunistic.
If they can catch it, kill it, and swallow it, they will eat it.
That means they will go after any prey that’s available, as long as it is not too large for them to overwhelm and swallow.
And since bull snakes get quite large, that makes for a pretty long list of potential food.
Keep reading to find out what kind of things the bull snake can eat, and what it prefers to eat and feeds on most commonly.
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What Do Bull Snakes Eat?
A bull snake is a “constrictor”, which means it wraps around and suffocates its prey to kill it. Once the target is dead, it swallows it whole.
Like many constrictors, bull snakes will eat almost anything they can kill and fit in their mouths, such as rodents, lizards, eggs, birds, rabbits, and other small animals.
Bull Snake Diet
Bull snakes are not picky eaters. Whether in captivity or the wild, the only thing that limits their diet is their prey’s size in relation to their own size.
For example, if a bull snake’s chosen prey is too big, it could cause the snake to choke. Also, if a bull snake attempts to constrict something too big, it might break free or even injure the snake during the fight.
Bull snakes mostly stick to birds, small mammals, reptiles, eggs, and amphibians. While they are opportunists, they don’t usually eat other small animals such as insects and fish.
Baby Bull Snakes
Like many animals, a bull snake’s diet changes as it matures from a baby into a full-sized adult. This leaves a lot of room for development since bull snakes can reach up to eight feet in length!
Because of their smaller sizes, baby bull snakes depend on small prey to survive, such as baby mice, small birds (and their eggs), small lizards, and frogs.
In captivity, it’s easiest to feed your baby bull snake a diet of frozen baby mice (thawed, of course), as these are readily available from your local pet store.
As any snake owner should know, it’s always best to feed your pet meals that have been pre-killed. While many snakes will readily kill and eat live prey, this can pose a danger to your pet bull snake!
Even a fight with a small mouse can leave your snake injured, and you wouldn’t want that to happen to your reptilian friend, especially when it’s a baby.
Adult Bull Snakes
As you might expect, due to their larger size, adult bull snakes have a lot more choice in what they can successfully kill and eat.
Impressively, some bull snakes will kill and eat other snakes – even venomous rattlers. At least the baby rattlesnakes. Since they eat harmful snakes and other small vermin, many people consider them to be welcome houseguests.
I wouldn’t recommend keeping a bull snake in your home unless it’s your pet. However, they don’t always make excellent pets, as they are not known for their docility and friendliness.
While taming one is possible if you handle it and socialize it frequently, unsocialized adults tend to be defensive and unfriendly. Read our comparison with the fox snake for more on how suitable it is as a pet.
While we are fortunately not on the bull snake’s extensive list of prey, that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
Bull snakes are non-venomous, so a bite from one will not send you to the hospital, but it’ll still hurt. Additionally, as with any large constrictor, if a bull snake were to wrap its body around your neck and squeeze, it could put you in danger.
However, you can rest assured that even adult bull snakes won’t attack a human unless provoked. Bull snakes tend to avoid confrontation, especially with creatures that are too big for them to eat.
If you do plan to keep a bull snake as a pet, keep in mind that a large bull snake could be dangerous around small children, babies, or other pets, even if they’re not the bull snake’s usual prey.
Speaking of usual prey, if you’re curious about the extensive list of animals that an adult bull snake will eat in addition to those already mentioned, the list includes:
- Pocket gophers (bull snakes are actually a type of gopher snake)
Surprisingly, bull snakes are excellent tree climbers. They love to snack on birds, eggs, and other tree-dwellers when they get the chance.
Feeding A Pet Adult Bull Snake
One of the other reasons why bull snakes don’t make the best pets is their size. Even the babies are pretty big, and they can emerge from the egg already at up to 18 inches long!
Unlike snake breeds that stay relatively small, such as hognose snakes or milk snakes, bull snakes can quickly outgrow a small enclosure.
If you want any chance of giving a bull snake a good life, you’ll need to build it an extensive and specialized habitat that’s at least eight by four feet.
What do you need for a large, specialized habitat? Lots of money, of course, as well as a space to keep it in.
What do bull snakes eat as adults? Well, if your bull snake reaches an adult size of four to six feet long, it’ll need larger prey than just frozen mice. Eventually, you’ll need to upgrade to rabbits, squirrels, rats, or whatever else is appropriate for your snake.
Baby bull snakes need to eat around once per week, while adults can wait up to two weeks before their next meal. A good rule of thumb is to feed your adult bull snake once every ten days or so, because it takes them a long time to swallow and digest their food.
Bull Snakes Vs. Rattlesnakes
Believe it or not, bull snakes in the wild are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. Part of the reason for this is that bull snakes and rattlesnakes live in the same geographic areas, and they compete for similar prey, too.
The two snake species look similar – they have similar color patterns, and the bull snake even mimics rattlesnake behavior by flattening its head and rattling its tail when a threat gets close.
They are one reason why it is difficult to figure out how to tell if a snake is poisonous. There are a few characteristics that tend do indicate a snake is venomous, but then you have species like the bullsnake that imitate those characteristics.
But, as we mentioned before, a bull snake bite isn’t venomous. They might imitate rattlesnakes, but they are far less dangerous. Furthermore, bull snakes don’t have an actual rattle on the end of their tails.
And finally, bull snakes are known to snack on rattlesnakes when necessary. So if you see a bull snake in the wild, try and give it space to do its job. That bull snake is hard at work keeping the populations of nearby nuisance animals in check!
What Bull Snakes Eat: Final Thoughts
Bull snakes have a varied diet that mainly depends on their size relative to their prey’s and availability. Basically, they will eat anything they can kill and swallow.
If the bull snake sounds great, but you prefer a smaller snake that also eats smaller food, smaller types of gopher snakes might be a good alternative. Read our article comparing gopher and bull snakes for more.
Carol Harper says
The bull snake will also hiss, which sounds like a rattlesnake. But they do need to stop to take a breath, which ruins the effect.