Herpetophobes beware: Some snakes found to hunt in unison

Snakes, central characters in many a nightmare, may have just added to their bad reputations: Researchers have found that some of the slithering reptiles attack in packs.

Cuban boas hunt as a team to increase efficiency, providing evidence of the creature’s intelligence, a University of Tennessee scientist has found.

“Coordinated hunting requires higher behavioral complexity because each animal has to take other hunters’ actions into account,” said Vladimir Dinets, the study author and an assistant research professor in the school’s psychology department.

While increased food consumption is believed to be the main reason for the behavior, it’s also possible there is a social function linked to working together, according to RedOrbit.com.

Snakes have been observed to hunt together previously, but the amount of coordination was questionable, and Dinets’ research is the first scientific recording of such behavior.

A recent much-viewed video by the BBC’s Planet Earth showing a young iguana barely escaping a seemingly endless number of attacking snakes would seem to be evidence of the reptiles working toward the same goal, though necessarily in a coordinated effort.

The new research showed how individual snakes take into account the location of others.

The snakes Dinets studied were hunting fruit bats in Cuba. At dawn and dusk, they positioned themselves around the mouth of the cave in such a way as to increase the chances of catching prey.

“Snakes arriving to the hunting area were significantly more likely to position themselves in the part of the passage where other snakes were already present, forming a ‘fence’ across the passage and thus more effectively blocking the flight path of the prey, significantly increasing hunting efficiency,” an extract from the study explained.

The Cuban boa can reach 6 feet in length, which makes the fact that they hang upside down from the roofs of caves even more remarkable.

“After sunset and before dawn, some of the boas entered the passage that connected the roosting chamber with the entrance chamber, and hunted by suspending themselves from the ceiling and grabbing passing bats,” Dinets said.

Dinets observed that the positions taken up by the snakes lowered the chances of bats getting out of the cave. Brilliantly, those hanging positions also meant they behaved like the bats they were trying to catch, according to RedOrbit.com.

For the 2 percent of us that like snakes, this is fascinating; for everyone else, it’s more fodder for bad dreams.

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11 thoughts on “Herpetophobes beware: Some snakes found to hunt in unison

  1. I have always liked snakes since my father took me to a zoo in Scotland where the keeper showed me how to handle them without upsetting them.
    I could do without the fer de lance that live here…but since we have moved to the top of the finca and brought the chickens with us they seem to be less in number…
    Fascinating study!

    • I’ve always been fascinated by snakes. I’ve made a point of catching them and having my daughters hold – or at least view them up close, so they don’t grow up completely petrified of them. I’ve also helped them learn to identify venomous snakes, so they realize not every snake can “kill them.” I’ve had varying degrees of success, but they do pretty well compared with their contemporaries.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. I’ve seen some of the video and just assumed the snakes were hunting in “every snake for hiss-self” (sorry) fashion, rather than as a team; I suppose more research will tell us for certain. Although I do find snakes fascinating, upside down snakes in a bat cave might be a bit much for me. 🙂

  3. Cotton Boll, You do find some interesting topics. This makes me think of the rat snakes that seem to have solved my problem with mice. I’ve learned it’s illegal to sell native rat and king snakes in Georgia, a DNR rule. They eat copperheads (the snakes do, not the DNR, which is a different can of predators), which are a problem in the drainage ditches around here. So I got some free snakes who decided on their own to move in. Saw a rat snake the other day, but he didn’t have any friends with him.

    • I love me some snakes. Rat snakes and black racers – which may or may not be the same thing – I find aplenty, and, boy, are they quick on the bite. King snakes are good at taking on copperheads, as well, I believe. I have no problems with copperheads; anything that keeps the rodent population down, specifically rats, is ok by me.

      And thank you for the kind word.

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