If one day you find yourself either the proud owner of your new legless friend
or you are asked to take care of some creepy monstrosity
by a friend, roommate or enemy, here are some basic tips that will help you feed the serpent now in your care.
First, know what the snake eats. 99 percent of snakes kept in captivity consume rodents as their sole source of food, but be aware if you have somehow been rooked into caring for a lizard-eating, egg-eating or lemur-eating individual. If so, immediately call either the pet store, breeder or your friend/enemy and given them the appropriate haranguing. Given that that is unlikely in the extreme, however, we'll just consider rodents.
Now, for the most important lesson and message in this write-up1:
Never Feed Your Snake Live Food!!!
Mice and rats have teeth, people! Strangely enough, when they are bitten by a snake, the often bite back (yes, this happens in nature too). There are innumerable stories of snakes kept in captivity that have horrible scarring along their sides or back, or that have lost an eye, because their owner was too lazy to buy frozen rodents or kill the mice themselves. You must feed your snake pre-killed food.
Now that we have established the need for pre-killed food, a word about thawing. Don't use the microwave. Your snake doesn't not want roast of mouse. It will refuse rat wellington. You will have on your hand one smelly, cooked rodent and one indifferent snake if you try to defrost with the microwave. The same applies to thawing under water. While this is faster than leaving the frozen morsels on the counter or window sill, it also washes away all that wonderful rodent aroma that drives snakes so wild. Have you seen the tv commercial where the woman, at her dinner party, serves her guests a nice plate of chicken and then douses the plates with water? Sounds gross? Well, your snake thinks so too. Finally, when thawing the rodents on the counter, please, please, please, people! Lock your cats out of the room! Believe me, partially dismembered rodent carcasses and cat vomit do not a pleasant-smelling kitchen make.
The size of prey to be consumed is of utmost importance. If you try to feed a snake a prey item that is too small for it, it may either ignore the food or eat literally dozens of the little beasts. As a general rule, a food item should be between 1 and 2 times the width of a snakes head. Don't worry about length (within reason), the snake will rotate the food in its mouth and orient the rodent so it is swallowed head down.
Normally, a snake will eat between 1 and 3 rodents of this size. If you are feeding a corn snake, king snake or milk snake, be aware that they are notorious pigs and will eat way more than is reasonable. If you don't limit the food they consume, you'll be cleaning vomited rodent from the glass of the aquarium within hours.
Unlike the aforementioned piggies, some snakes are very reticent feeders. If your snake doesn't want to eat it's prey right away, don't worry. Try wiggling the rodent in front of the snake (with tongs!). If that doesn't interest your new friend, leave it alone for a couple of hours and normally the food will disappear. If after two hours the snake continues to ignore the food, take it out and wait another week (or two days, if we're talking about a baby snake). Many snakes may go months without eating. If the snake refuses again, lock the two of them in a cozy cotton bag for an hour or two. Consider playing some Barry White or Primus, to get them in the mood ... oh, wait, that's the How to get your snake's groove on node. Don't put any music on. But do put them in the bag together. That often works. As a final recommendation, you can try braining the rodent. That means, with a scalpel, slice open the skull of the rodent between the eyes, and exert a slight pressure on either side of the skull to get the gooey, delicious grey matter to the exterior. This drives snakes wild. Think beer-battered, deep-fried, sublimely-delicious-sauce slathered, wonderful ambrosia-soaked food-of-the-gods kind of wild. If that doesn't work, consider a veterenarian, since the snake is likely sick.
Finally, know that two to four days after ingestion you'll have some serious cage cleaning to do. Do so earlier rather than later. Snakes are not cats, and they have no problem wallowing in their own excrement.
Oh, and take the time to watch your snake eat, if it will let you. The jaws of a snake are one of evolution's greatest accomplishments, and watching a snake eat is a fascinating experience.
1 Incidentally, this is also the reason I decided to create this node. This w/u scared and angered me.