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Snake v snake

January 21, 2014

Snake v snakeKay and Neil from Strath Creek, who have alerted us to several interesting wildlife sightings, have done it again. Kay and her children spotted this tangle of snakes close to their house last week and managed to record a fascinating sequence on video, some of which is shown in the clip below. It took a few moments for them to realise that it was, in fact, an Eastern (or Common) Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) eating a Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudachis porphyriacus).

The Eastern Brown Snake feeds on a wide range of vertebrates, with reptiles forming a large part of its diet. It often holds its prey in tight coils of its body, as in this case, while its powerful injected venom takes effect.

This is a noteworthy observation because : a) the Eastern Brown Snake is a relatively slender snake compared to an adult black snake (so this is probably a young black snake)  and b) there is a commonly held belief that black snakes are aggressive towards other snakes and will keep them away from the immediate vicinity (perhaps we have busted that myth?)

The video ends rather abruptly when the brown snake became aware of its audience who rapidly retreated as it unravelled and took off with half the black snake trailing from its mouth !

Kay’s report reminded us of a similar incident back in 1991 (showing our age !) when we observed one  brown snake consuming another of the same species, prompting us to seek an explanation for this cannibalism from the Questions and Answers section of the excellent magazine Australian Natural History put out at the time by the Australian Museum. The lengthy response (ANH Vol 23 No 9) provided some interesting information. “Many Australian snakes do eat other snakes as a normal part of their diet.”, and “The eating of the same species has been observed in [among others] the Copperhead, Red-bellied Black and Eastern Brown Snakes.” Allan Greer from the Australian Museum who penned the reply also raised the possibility of the eating of another snake being accidental, ie “… should two snakes start feeding at the opposite ends of the same prey animal, one of the two is very likely to engulf the other, as if it failed to distinguish where the prey left off and the competitor for the prey began. This seems to be due in part to an apparent obsessiveness evident in many species of snakes to finish feeding once it has begun. This single-mindedness may be related to the relatively infrequent feeding opportunities snakes (and other carnivores) often have: when prey is captured, its consumption becomes an almost total, short-term priority.”

Allan finished with the words “… almost everything we know about snake diets comes largely from three sources: the detailed examination of museum specimens, the careful observation of captive specimens and chance observation in the field. The third source shows the importance of serendipitous observations, often made by members of the general public, in advancing scientific understanding.”

So, well done Kay and family – keep on being observant and adding to our knowledge of native wildlife !

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