INDOTYPHLOPS BRAMINUS is a particular type of blind snake that decapitates its termite prey. To eat food in one gulp or not? That is the question. Slice it into smaller pieces first and it becomes easier to swallow. Gulp it whole and there is less chance your food will escape, if it is still alive that is.
Most snakes swallow their prey whole, as they have no limbs to tear food apart and have an incredible ability to swallow food whole, even if it is much larger than they are. But there are some exceptions. The INDOTYPHLOPS BRAMINUS breaks the head off its termite prey before swallowing the rest of the body.
First, the snake swallows the termite’s body while its head remains outside the snake’s mouth. The snake then rubs the termite’s head against a surface —– its cage — until its head is separated from its body. It swallows the rest of the termite after its head is disconnected. This process only takes three seconds and the decapitated heads are left uneaten.
Occasionally, these small snakes will even “regurgitate” a termite after swallowing it whole. Only then will it decapitate it before swallowing it again. This is an unusual “feeding behaviour” for a snake and is completely unexpected, says lead order of a study —– Takafumi Mizuno of the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan.
“Taken together with brief reports from 1950s and 1960s on similar behaviour in other blind-snakes, our finding implies that “prey-dismembering” behaviour may be widely used in “poorly-known” basal (ancient) snakes,” he added. It did not take longer to eat a decapitated termite instead of swallowing one whole. The researchers therefore proposed 2 reasons why the snakes may be doing so at least some of the time.
The heads contain “toxic chemicals” which could be bad news for the snake. The reptiles may leave the termites’ heads to avoid swallowing these unpleasant toxic compounds. But, those that swallow them appear unaffected. The termite heads remain “undigested”. They come out the other end in the same physical state. So, perhaps foregoing the heads saves space in a snake’s gut.
Blind-snakes will always try to decapitate, says Mizuno, but it can be difficult for them to do so. As a consequence, decapitation rates are about 50%. Though tearing food apart before eating it is rare, blind-snakes are not the only ones to do so. Two species of Asian “crab-eating” snakes break the legs off their prey before eating them. The blind-snakes and the crab-eating snakes are genetically different. They are separated by a common ancestor which lived 100million years ago. Their “prey-tearing” behaviour could therefore have evolved independently in these two lineages, the team proposes.
More research is needed to discover just how many other snakes have similar “dietary preferences”. What we don’t know about these snakes could fill an entire library, says Andrew Durso at Utah State University, US, who was not involved with the research.
It’s very exciting. These researchers were able to discover something brand new about the snake, almost by accident, something that makes it stand out among 3,000 or so species of snake. It could also be present in many of the other 400 species of blind-snake, becoming another unusual habit they can add to their name. They are also the only known snakes where “all species are females”. That is they are PARTHENOGENS ———– THEY HAVE VIRGIN BIRTHS. —– PARTHENOGENESIS —— type of reproduction, occurring in some insects and flowers (here the blind-snake) in which unfertilized ovum develops directly into a new individual.
———- Melissa Hogenboom (BBC Earth)