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Research Update: the Unique Hunting Strategy of the Tentacled Snake

Southeast Asia’s bizarre tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) is a long-time favorite of mine and I’ve kept and bred a great many in zoo collections over the years.  Despite watching them intently for so long, I’ve never quite been able to figure out how they manage to so effectively catch fast-moving fishes while striking out in a direction that seems designed to insure that they miss the intended target.

A Unique Escape Strategy

Recently published (Vanderbilt University, Tennessee: June, 2009) research has provided the answer.  Many fishes, it seems, utilize an escape maneuver known as the C-Start.  Upon sensing danger, the body contorts into a “C” shape, the tail is flicked and the fish, in a millisecond, darts away.

Exploiting the Defensive Maneuver

Tentacled snakes, anchored to submerged objects by their tails and resembling water-logged roots, lie in wait for passing fishes.  The snake always holds itself in a very distinctive “J” shaped position.  As a fish approaches, the snake “feints” with its body by sending a ripple of water towards the fish.  This incites the C-Start reaction and propels the fish directly toward the snake’s jaws.

Once initiated, the C-Start maneuver cannot be altered, so the hapless fish is doomed.  The snake’s “J” position allows it to strike not at the fish but rather where the fish will be once it flees.  What’s more, the strike nearly always catches the fish in the head region, assisting the snake in swallowing its slippery prey.

Further Reading

To learn more about the natural history and captive care of tentacled snakes, please see my article The Tentacled Snake, an Unusual Pet Serpent .

 

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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