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Snake News – Function of Tentacled Snake’s Unique Appendages Revealed

Tentacled snakeHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Looking much like a waterlogged root, Southeast Asia’s Tentacled Snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) is one of the few fully aquatic serpents available to pet keepers.  This fascinating creature is unique among snakes in possessing a pair of scaled tentacles sprouting from its head…the function of which has puzzled herpetologists for more than a century.

Fishing in Murky Waters

Building on earlier work at Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University, biologists there have now completed nerve impulse studies on the Tentacled Snake’s unique appendages.  In doing so, they discovered that tentacles are every sensitive to water movement, and likely assist in locating the fishes upon which the snake feeds.  This makes good sense when one considers that the Tentacled Snake typically inhabits thick vegetation in murky, tannin-stained waters where visibility is quite limited.

Other proposed uses of the tentacles – camouflage and prey or mate attraction – remain to be investigated.

A Unique Hunting Strategy

All who keep Tentacled Snakes, I included, invariably comment on their unique method of striking at fishes.  Holding their upper bodies in the shape of a “J”, the snakes seem to strike in a somewhat backward direction, and not directly at the fish. 

Earlier studies at Vanderbilt University revealed that the odd snakes actually “feint” in order to startle their prey, and then strike at the spot where the fish will be a fraction of a second after it attempts to escape (please see the article and video below for further information).

Further Reading

Please see this Vanderbilt University article for more on the Tentacled Snake’s hunting strategy.

Natural History Info – Introducing the Tentacled Snake.

Don’t miss this Vanderbilt University video - slow motion shots of a Tentacled Snake “scaring” fishes right into its mouth!

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

8 comments

  1. avatar

    Interesting hunting behavior to say the least. Its almost reminiscent of the Stiletto snakes wouldn’t you say? Also I would be curious as to the actual dentition of the Tentacled Snake to learn if this possibly plays a role in how it strikes prey items. Something else that came to mind was the fact that all the fish I know of have what we call the lateral line which detects weak electrical signals in the water and I believe pressure changes as well could the snake be using this knowledge to its advantage somehow? Just some random thoughts. Thanks for another great post!

  2. avatar

    Hello John, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I don’t believe anyone has identified any specific adaptations regarding their teeth, but they do have a mild venom that acts on fishes. A co-worked who was bitten had quite a bit of swelling in the area, but others have experienced no symptoms.

    The water movement caused by the snake almost certainly acts upon the lateral line organs, and causes the fish to swim away from the source and towards the point where the snake will strike – very unique strategy!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    One of the most bizarre snake species on the plant and no one car argue on that! seen some videos on youtube on how the feed.. lightning fast reprocess .Nice article !

  4. avatar

    Hello Mike, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Yes, I’m fortunate to have worked with them for some time now, in zoos and privately, with a few breedings. They never fail to fascinate me.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    We always had really good success breeding them in large aquariums of very murky, almost “dirty” water.. Thanks for an article on some great snakes!

  6. avatar

    Hello Tom, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words and your observation. I’ve had similar experiences…some people add blackwater extract and/or peat to their tanks. They definitely are less stressed in dim conditions; one contact in Thailand finds them in silt-laden waters, mud-bottomed canals, etc.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    yeah, tea bags can work too.

  8. avatar

    Hello Tom, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback; I haven’t run into anyone who has tried tea, good to know. An unrelated aside: I raised a brood of African Clawed Frog tads on nettle tea (diet used in Europe long ago); most morphed but all died within a few weeks, which is odd given their resilience.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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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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