Non-invasive techniques to measure body composition are critical for longitudinal studies of energetics and life histories and for investigating the link between body condition and physiology. Previous attempts to determine, non-invasively, the body composition of snakes have proven problematic. Therefore, we explored whether dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) could be used to determine the body composition of snakes. We analyzed 20 adult diamondback water snakes (Nerodia rhombifer) with a DXA instrument and subsequently quantified their body composition by gravimetric and chemical extraction methods. Body composition components scaled with body mass with mass exponents between 0.88 and 1.53. DXA values for lean tissue mass, fat mass and total-body bone mineral mass were significantly correlated with observed masses of lean tissue, fat and ash from chemical analysis. Using regression models incorporating DXA values we predicted the fat-free tissue mass, lean tissue mass, fat mass, ash mass and total body water content for this sample of water snakes. A cross-validation procedure demonstrated that these models estimated fat-free tissue mass, lean tissue mass, fat mass, ash mass and total-body water content with respective errors of 2.2%, 2.3%, 16.0%, 6.6% and 3.5%. Compared to other non-invasive techniques, include body condition indices, total body electrical conductivity (TOBEC) and cyclopropane absorption, DXA can more easily and accurately be used to determine the body composition of snakes. © 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.