Can Snakes Drown?

Are you worried about your snake drowning in its water dish? Is this even possible? Read on to learn about the perils of water concerning your snake.

Snakes have lungs that they use to breathe in air. This means that they are capable of drowning, though they are equipped to handle being underwater for extended periods. It is paramount to maintain a safe enclosure to prevent accidental drownings. 

All snakes are equipped with the innate ability to swim in the water. Some snakes are buoyant enough to glide on the surface of the water. Others hold just their head above the waterline, allowing their body to sink below the surface. A general rule of thumb is that venomous snakes tend to swim on the surface of the water. Non-venomous snakes tend to have just their heads submerged above the water. The rest of their body will be swimming at an angle just below the surface. It should be noted that this does not hold for all snakes, and this theory should not be tested during a real-world scenario. 

Snakes swim with speed and precision, whipping their flexible bodies back and forth in an S pattern. This smooth motion begins with their heads and travels the length of their bodies. This provides the forceful propulsion needed to move them through the water with ease. Certain breeds of snakes can submerge themselves underwater for extended periods, such as the common garter snake. 

Garter snakes are semi-aquatic snakes that make excellent pets. They are popular amongst novice reptile keepers due to their low maintenance husbandry requirements and slender frame. They thrive in enclosures that house a prominent water feature. Known for their docile disposition, these submarine predators enjoy diving in their warm bath, searching for guppies to eat or plants to hide in. During brumation, these snakes slow their Oxygen requirements down and have been known to submerge during this time. Brumation can last 6 months for these snakes, so this is quite the phenomenon!

“Some species of snakes thrive in the aquatic environment.”

Garter snakes, and other semi-aquatic snakes, can feed underwater. They are capable of opening their mouths to hunt prey in an aquatic environment without drowning. Snakes have a glottis that separates their mouth from their windpipe and the rest of their respiratory system. This glottis remains closed until the snake decides to breathe. This ensures that the snake is capable of swallowing its prey underwater without the risk of taking water into their lungs. If the glottis were to malfunction, it would have critical consequences for the snake, as they would be inhaling water. 

So if some snakes can live underwater for this long, can a snake drown? The short answer is yes, all snakes are capable of downing. Even though all snakes are born with the innate ability to swim, they still need air to survive. They are equipped with lungs that require the exchange of oxygen through their blood to provide them with energy. Not only do snakes have lungs that aid them in breathing, but they also have nostrils for the task. 

This means that they can drown, similarly to any other animal that relies on their lungs for Oxygen exchange. Although snakes have specifically adapted to thrive in the water, that does not mean that they are capable of breathing in water for their source of energy. They are not equipped with gills, which would make this feat possible. 

“Most snakes enjoy a water feature within their enclosure, as it helps maintain the humidity needed to produce a complete shed.”

A snake can drown in captivity if their water dish is too deep, and the edges are too steep. This prevents them from being able to climb out when they are done soaking. While snakes can swim, the snake can become exhausted from their effort and sink below the surface, drowning. 

The same situation can happen when a snake is allowed to soak in a tub. If they are not given a platform to rest on, they may become overcome with exhaustion from swimming. Whipping their entire bodies back and forth to stay afloat is labor-intensive. Without allowing them to rest properly, they can deplete their energy stores and drown. To prevent accidental drownings, owners should never leave their pet snake unsupervised in the bathtub. The water should also be shallow, never deeper than an inch. Platforms should be provided that allow the snake a place to climb out and rest. 

On average, snakes can spend about 10 to 30 minutes underwater at a time. Though this time varies greatly, as seen by the garter snake. It’s important to maintain a safe enclosure if a water feature is present. If there are loose components of the enclosure, they could fall on your snake, pinning them underwater. It is important to never place any heavy rocks or ledges unsecured within or at the edge of a deepwater feature. Aquatic plant matter is more suitable for this type of setting, as it is less likely to accidentally pin your scaly friend underwater. 

Final Thoughts

While snakes are innately born with the ability to swim, it is of utmost importance that handlers provide their reptile with a safe aquatic environment to prevent accidental drownings. Snakes can remain underwater for around twenty minutes. However, if they become pinned below the surface for an extended time, they will drown. Snakes can become exhausted from treading above water, which can ultimately cause them to drown as well. It’s important to have platforms jutting above the surface so your scaly pet can rest when needed. Ensure that their enclosure has shallow water dishes that your snake can climb out of and that all decorations are well anchored surrounding any water features. Finally, never leave a snake in the bath with water unsupervised.