Keeping a reptile can come with many surprises, especially for first-timers. Reptiles are different from other pets for many reasons including their environment, handling, and diet.
There are so many different diets in the reptile world that it’s hard to keep them straight! Some reptiles are herbivores while others are strict carnivores. It might surprise you to find out that many reptiles even eat fish!
In this article, we’ll list all of the reptiles that eat fish.
For the most part, only aquatic or semi-aquatic reptiles eat fish in the wild or as pets. Small snakes like garter snakes, aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders, and even some species of lizards will eat fish in captivity. The type of fish you feed your reptile depends on the size and species of your pet.
Before we start listing out all of the reptiles that eat fish, let’s talk about some of the methods involved in feeding fish to your pet reptile.
Should You Feed Live Fish To Pet Reptiles?
When you think about a reptile eating fish, what do you picture? Do you see a stimulating chase between an aquatic predator and prey, or do you imagine a cooked and filleted piece of meat on a platter?
Until you’ve done your research on feeding fish to reptiles, you probably don’t know what to imagine! Some people feed live fish to their pets while others only feed fresh or frozen and thawed fish. Whatever method you choose is up to you, but it’s important to know the pros and cons of feeding out live fish.
When To Feed Live Fish
There is definitely a time and place to feed live fish to your pets. The best reasons to feed live fish to your aquatic pets are to stimulate them to eat and to offer them enrichment.
Some pets have trouble eating unless they see movement. This trait is linked to predatory behavior. So predatory reptiles might need something that wiggles with their commercially prepared food. For turtles, that often means offering mealworms but fish can make a great occasional treat for these reptiles.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate live fish into your reptile’s feeding schedule as a source of enrichment. Live fish are exciting and can give your pet something to do for quite a while. It’s always best to make sure you’re putting the fish into liveable water with a hiding place that will make it a little more fair to the fish and more difficult for your pet to hunt them.
Even though live fish can be good for your pet reptile, there are also cons to using them.
When To Avoid Live Fish
Live fish aren’t always the best thing to give your pet reptile. More often than not, keepers chose to feed out frozen and thawed fish. Here are a few reasons why live fish aren’t always the best option.
The most readily available live fish might not be the best option nutritionally for pet reptiles. Goldfish are one of the cheapest and most widely accessible live fish.
Unfortunately, goldfish and other fish in the carp family are known to be high in thiaminase. Thiaminase is an enzyme that prevents or reduces the absorption of vitamin B1. For the most part, you’ll find that the type of fish you can buy frozen are lower in thiaminase levels than goldfish.
Another reason to avoid live fish is that the ethics of feeding out live fish a questionable. If your pet is a good hunter, feeding out a fish isn’t terrible. But if your pet is slow and clumsy and injured the fish before actually being able to catch it, it’s definitely frowned upon.
You also might want to avoid live fish if your pet needs a constant supply of fish protein. Keeping live fish fresh and healthy can be difficult whereas storing frozen fish is much easier. Frozen fish are also cheaper to buy and are more likely to be a species that your pet might actually encounter in the wild.
What Kind Of Fish Do Reptiles Eat?
Because of the thiaminase issue, certain types of fish are better to feed out to reptiles than others.
The highest quality fish you can feed out to your pets are things like capelin, trout, salmon, and tilapia. If you’re looking to feed out live fish to your reptile, minnows and guppies are preferable options to goldfish.
In captivity, you have to be mindful about what types of foods you give to your pets. Even if they might eat something in desperation in their natural habitat, that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate food for them. Feeding them the right proteins will help them to live a longer, healthier, and ultimately happier life.
Reptiles That Eat Fish
So, what kind of reptiles eat fish? And how did they adapt to be able to catch these quick little animals?
When you picture a reptile eating, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is a snake eating a rat or a mouse. The reality is that reptile diets are so much more diverse than this. Diverse diets can be even more extreme in the wild when reptiles eat what they have to do to survive. As pets, there are quite a few reptiles that eat fish.
Even though we talked about snakes traditionally eating rodents, there are tons of snakes that eat fish. What kind of fish these snakes eat depends on where their natural habitat is and what kind of hunting techniques they use.
For the most part, all of the snakes that eat fish are either aquatic, semi-aquatic, or spend plenty of time in water. Even though this might be obvious, it’s important to make this distinction.
If you own a species of snake that never spends time near or in bodies of water, you should never feed them fish in captivity.
Garter Snakes And Ribbon Snakes
Garter and ribbon snakes are some of the most well-known reptiles that eat fish.
Garter snakes are thin carnivorous snakes that are found in North America. These snakes are so small that they don’t eat the typical large prey that many other snakes hunt. Instead, garter snakes hunt things like amphibians, slugs, snails, insects, and small fish! In captivity, it’s a great idea to give these snakes a variety of animal proteins, including small fish like minnows and guppies.
Ribbon snakes are often confused with garter snakes and are found in the eastern U.S. Ribbon snakes have a very similar diet and hunting strategy to garter snakes and can also be fed the same diet as pets.
Water snakes are another species of snakes that eat fish. These snakes love to spend time near the water (as their name suggests). They’re non-venomous and aren’t dangerous to humans. Water snakes can sometimes be kept as pets but may require special permitting.
Water snakes are carnivores and mostly eat prey that is either aquatic or semi-aquatic. As you can probably imagine these snakes eat plenty of fish both in captivity and in the wild.
As opposed to water snakes, water moccasins, or cottonmouths, are incredibly dangerous to humans. These snakes are venomous and their bite can be fatal to humans. Water moccasins have a similar habitat range to water snakes and consume the same sort of prey, including fish.
Sea snakes are a family of snakes that are also called coral reef snakes. Sea snakes are the only reptile species that are entirely aquatic and don’t even come onto land to lay eggs or birth live young.
As you can probably imagine it makes sense that most of these snakes’ diets are made up of fish. In addition to fish, sea snakes have been known to predate fish eggs.
As you can see in the video below, sea snakes are top predators and are incredibly comfortable in an aquatic environment.
These snakes aren’t kept as pets but may be seen in aquariums or sanctuaries.
Just like snakes, most lizard species that eat fish are semi-aquatic or spend time near the water. When compared to snakes, lizards are typically omnivores or herbivores and have a diet made up of mainly bugs and or plant matter. But, there are a few special pet lizards that need animal protein in their diets.
Water monitors are a species of monitor lizards sometimes kept as pets. Water monitors are found in the wild throughout much of southern Asia. These lizards are top predators who are dependent on bodies of water.
Water monitors are carnivores that eat about any animal that crosses their paths. One of the most common prey items for a water monitor is fish. In captivity, water monitors can be fed fish as one of their many animal protein selections.
Chinese Water Dragon
Chinese water dragons are another lizard that is native to southern Asia. Water dragons are rare in the reptile world, but can make wonderful pets. These fantastic lizards spend most of their time living in freshwater and have a diet that matches their habitat.
These lizards thrive on a diet consisting of animal and insect protein with some fruits and leafy greens thrown into the mix. It’s common to feed water dragons fish in captivity. If you’re keeping your dragon in a paludarium, you might be able to feed them live fish as a treat from time to time.
Tegus are pet reptiles that eat just about anything you give them! These omnivorous lizards are opportunistic feeders and can handle an incredibly diverse diet. Tegus are one reptile that eats fish both in the wild and in captivity.
Even though they’re known to eat fish, many tegu owners will tell you that eggs are almost always a favorite of this species!
Turtles are one surprising group of reptiles that might not eat as many fish as you think!
Even though sea turtles live in, well, the sea, they often don’t eat fish! Instead, these massive reptiles live off of things like jellyfish, squid, and crabs, or algae and seagrass.
Terrestrial turtles like box turtles don’t often get a chance to eat fish in the wild. These turtles will eat things like slugs, bugs, snails, and plants. Despite this, some species of terrestrial turtles can be fed fish in captivity and will probably love it!
Freshwater turtles are probably the group of turtles with the most variety in their diets. Smaller freshwater turtles won’t always be able to eat fish and instead will prey on larvae, insects, aquatic plants, and algae.
On the other hand, large freshwater turtles are well-known fish predators and are often fed fish as pets. Aquatic turtles that eat fish in captivity include red-eared sliders, snapping turtles, and sideneck turtles. When it comes down to it, most turtles that are kept in paludariums or aquariums can be fed fish at some level of frequency.
Tortoises Actually Don’t Eat Fish
Tortoises are the one group of reptiles that don’t contain any species that are likely to eat fish. Tortoises are mostly herbivorous and may occasionally ingest insects.
Tortoises don’t hunt and consume prey like mice or fish. They aren’t adept hunters and really aren’t able to catch fast-moving prey. Plus, most tortoises would never encounter a fish in their natural habitat.
There are so many reptiles that eat fish both in the wild and in captivity.
Quite a few species of snakes, lizards, and tortoises are predators that will eat fish whenever they’re able to. In captivity, fish usually are fed out in a frozen/thawed form. Live fish can be used for stimulation and enrichment, but you’ll need to be selective about which fish you feed out.
Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into which reptiles eat fish (and how to feed the ones that do).