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… a snake’s belly

November 22, 2019

A grisly and sad sight confronted local farmer Terry while out on his tractor on the Broadford-Flowerdale Road. A Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) had been run over by a vehicle and the impact had dislodged its stomach content – an Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis). The brown snake was about 3/4 the length of the very fat black which was estimated at just under 1.5 metres long.

According to the Australian Museum, many Australian snakes eat other snakes as a normal part of their diet. The technical term for this is ophiophagy. True cannibalism – that is the eating of the same species – has also been observed in a number of snakes, including the two involved here. Many years ago we came across an Eastern Brown Snake with the tail end (1/2 a metre or so) of another of the same species trailing from its mouth. The half-coiled predator snake was shaking its head from side to side in an attempt to finish swallowing its victim.

The reverse of Terry’s encounter was experienced by Kay at Strath Creek back in 2014 when she watched, and recorded on video, an Eastern Brown Snake consuming a Red-bellied Black Snake. The dramatic video can be seen on a previous Focus on Fauna post Snake v snake.

There is still much to learn about snake diets, and chance observations like Terry’s, despite an unfortunate outcome, help to fill in the knowledge gaps. Citizen science at work!

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