How do snakes eat live crabs? By being finicky diners

ScienceDaily | 3/27/2018 | Staff
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But University of Cincinnati biologist Bruce Jayne found some water snakes that specialize in catching and consuming live crabs, without the benefit of mallets, bibs or utensils.

Snakes can't chew their food so anything they eat must be bite-sized, even if this amuse-bouche sometimes is an antelope. A species of water snake in Malaysia defies this limitation by ripping crabs into manageable bite-sized pieces, Jayne found.

Tigers - Prey - Snakes - Limit - Size

"Tigers can take huge prey. But for most snakes, the limit on prey size is what they can swallow whole," said Jayne, a professor of biological sciences in UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

Jayne studies the gape of snake mouths to determine how this physical limitation factors into a snake's hunting behavior and choice of prey.

Habits - Species - Water - Snakes - Side

He examined the feeding habits of three species of mildly venomous water snakes living side by side in southeast Asia: one that ate hard-shelled crabs, one that ate soft-shelled crabs and a third that ate snapping shrimp. He found that snakes that hunt soft-shelled crabs can take on prey four times bigger than they otherwise could swallow whole.

"These crabs are huge! The legs alone were nearly as big as the snake's gape. But they can consume the crab by pulling it apart when it's soft and vulnerable," Jayne said.

Study - February - Biological - Journal - Linnean

His study was published in February in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. He also presented his findings in January at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology's annual conference in San Francisco.

Most water snakes eat fish, but a family of snakes called homalopsid eats only crustaceans.


"They're quite the gourmets," he said.

Now Jayne is turning his attention to North American water snakes that eat crayfish. Like the Asian water snake Gerarda, queen snakes found in the eastern United States specialize in hunting softshell crustaceans, namely crayfish.


Jayne has always been fascinated by...
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