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Snake eats its prey bite by bite

Infrared cameras used to monitor 'bashful' species

Infrared video images show a Gerard's water snake tearing apart a crab before eating it.
Infrared video images show a Gerard's water snake tearing apart a crab before eating it.  

CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- Snake-studying scientists have long thought the feeding behavior of the reptiles was simple to describe -- all snakes swallow their prey whole. But now researchers have identified a small tropical snake from Singapore that eats soft shell crabs by ripping them apart and swallowing the pieces bite by bite.

Bruce Jayne of Cincinnati University and colleagues describe the novel process in a paper published in this week's edition of the British journal Nature.

The hard part for the Gerard water snake in tearing apart its meal is just getting a firm hold on it. The snake clamps its mouth on the crab with relative ease. But with no limbs to use to pin the crab down, it's hard for the snake to pull it into pieces. So the snake makes itself into a loop and lassos the crab, holding it tight with its body while its head pulls off bites and swallows them.

"The snake literally rips the crab's body apart," said Jayne. "They'll tug and pull on it to tear it apart."

While researchers have observed this snake in nature before, and even knew that it eats crabs, they had never before observed the feeding process.

Jayne was able to confirm the feeding method by using an infrared camera to take movies of a snake chowing down on a crab in his laboratory, in the dark.

"They're kind of a bashful species," Jayne said. They wouldn't eat when I watched them, but when I used the IR camera I found out there was this stereotypical behavior."


• Nature

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