These Snakes Don't Capture Prey Like You Might Expect
Cuban boas apparently coordinate the hunt
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2017 10:14 AM CDT
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A Cuban boa, perhaps getting ready to hunt for its dinner.   (Getty Images/Mr_Fu)

(Newser) – Time to nix that belief you've been clinging to that snakes are "mostly solitary and stupid," Vladimir Dinets tells Gizmodo. The University of Tennessee researcher has found one particular Caribbean species that apparently hunts together. Dinets' study in the Animal Behavior and Cognition journal details his research on Chilabothrus angulifer, or the Cuban boa, which Tennessee Today notes is the country's largest resident predator on land and which apparently hunts fruit bats in sinkhole caves in a coordinated way. Dinets observed the snakes for eight days in the caves of Desembarco del Granma National Park, where he had noticed they would hang from the ceiling near the entrance at dawn and dusk, ready to pounce when the bats flew in and out of the caves. But it wasn't just random positioning.

The snakes hunkered down in close proximity to each other, in seemingly strategic locations, so when the bats tried to pass, they were trapped by a "hissing, snapping curtain" of boas, as ScienceAlert puts it. What signified coordination and not just a shared preference for one location: No snake positioned itself in the same "segment" twice. Dinets also notes that one to three snakes were present for each hunt; only two boas failed to catch a bat, and both were hunting solo. When successful, it took one boa an average of 19 minutes to catch a bat, but three only 6.7 minutes. What's unclear is how rare this is: There are 3,650 snake species, but the natural hunting habits of just a handful have been studied. "It will take a lot of very patient field research to find out" if others hunt like this, too. (Here's how boa constrictors actually kill their victims.)

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