Snakes, as a general rule, swallow prey whole.
But a new study published in the scientific journal Herpetozoa, there is a small species of snake named Kukri in Thailand is an exception.
Using its specialized incisors, the kukri (scientific name is Oligodon fasolatus) tore a hole through the belly of the large poison toads, then shoved their entire heads into the compartment to “pull and eat their organs while their prey is still alive,” said Henrik Bringsøe, a biologist. amateurs from Denmark and the first author of the new study, wrote.
The Kukri snake is a small and medium snake that is harmless to humans. Their teeth are designed to cut, not puncture, and they are capable of causing major tear injuries in animals, including humans, in rare cases. The name “kukri” itself is derived from the curved kukri (dagger) knives used by Gurkha soldiers in the Royal Army. Furthermore, their bites contain an anticoagulant that causes the wound to bleed for hours, which can help these snakes as they leisurely enjoy their meal.
A Kukri snake is enjoying its meal. Photo: H. Bringsøe et al., 2020
The victim of the Kukri snake is the Asian black spot toad (scientific name is Duttaphrynus melanostictus), can be up to 20 cm long. These toads are common but poisonous, and they often secrete white toxins from the glands located on the neck and back. This poison could be the reason for the very “unorthodox” eating strategy used by Kukri snakes, although researchers are not entirely sure.
Bringsøe and his colleagues witnessed these gruesome scenes on three separate occasions in the province of Loei, northeastern Thailand. The recorded episodes happened in August 2016, April 2020, and June 2020. In some cases, the toads tried to resist and escape, but none survived. “These hunting sessions are not short,” Bringsøe wrote, “lasting up to ‘a few hours’, depending on which agency is chosen.
An excerpt from an article describing the 2016 attack:
“The snake used its teeth to cut through the left part of the abdomen, just below the left front leg. Its head rotated from side to side as it cut through the toad’s skin. The snake inserts its head to the left of the toad’s abdomen and then it pulls out organs such as the liver, heart, lungs and part of the digestive tract. During retraction, the head is moved in different directions with one part the mouth opens, allowing teeth to cut the organs into smaller pieces and then swallowed. “
In all cases, the snakes eat only the organs of the toad, leaving their empty corpses empty. Similar feeding patterns are observed in the other two examples, but as in the second, sometimes the toads fight back.
During this battle, a badly injured toad sprayed its poison “like a fine mist”, with some of them landing on a snake’s head. This causes the snake to pull away and rub its face against some of the fallen leaves and rocks to remove the toxin from its eyes and mouth. This happened twice in the struggle. At one point, the toad was able to escape by jumping into a nearby pond and hiding under a log for nearly 30 minutes. But the miracle didn’t happen. The snake, once recovered, moves with its prey and completes its job.
A Kukri snake is rubbing its iron and stone after being exposed to the toad’s poison. Photo: H. Bringsøe et al., 2020
As noted above, this unusual foraging behavior could be an adaptation to prevent the Kukri snake from ingesting the toad’s toxin. But another observable case complicates this hypothesis. In this case, an adult Kukri snake attacked a smaller toad and ate it whole. According to the authors speculated, it is possible that the young toads are less toxic than the adults or the Kukri snake is immune to the poison.
“Currently, we cannot answer any of these questions, but we will continue to observe and report on these fascinating snakes in the hope of discovering more interesting aspects about these snakes. their biological behavior “, Bringsøe wrote.
Research is quite haunting, but not only Kukri snakes but other animals also often do no less chilling things. For example, birds stab prey living on the thorns of trees to eat gradually, or North American short-tailed shrews use the venom to paralyze mice and then swallow them slowly. It has even been observed that eagles have confined small birds in rock crevices in an attempt to keep them fresh and ready to eat later.