Snakes on the hunt- a question.

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salamanderhunter
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Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by salamanderhunter » December 31st, 2012, 9:43 pm

Has anyone had the opportunity to observe a snake on the hunt? Personally, I've observed several colubrids actively hunting (not waiting in ambush), but I've never seen a pit viper do this. I would love to hear about your experiences. Thanks!

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Owen
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » December 31st, 2012, 10:30 pm

I've seen kingsnakes seeking out gartersnakes along basking areas. I found a juvie once eating one:

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I've seen garters hunting tadpoles in creeks where they worked the bottom poking their nose under rocks to scare up yellow-legged frog tads.

This sequence is a little garter thievery (I saw it cruising in from about 2 feet from the bug eating the tiger salamander):

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This one was working the shoreline for newly transformed toads:

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These two Red-sided were working the shallows for small bullfrogs. When one would scare one up, they would both go after it:

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Mike VanValen
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Mike VanValen » December 31st, 2012, 10:52 pm

Owen, did you get these observations written up?

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by muskiemagnet » January 1st, 2013, 5:16 am

i've seen blue racers on the bluff prairies move around and elevate their heads, looking for movement i suppose.

-ben

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Raymond McConnell » January 1st, 2013, 7:24 am

Pit vipers are ambush hunters but about 25 years ago I saw a large eastern diamondback catch up with an obviously envenomated fox squirrel and eat him. The squirrel had eluded the snake's first attempt to eat him but the venom did him in.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by hellihooks » January 1st, 2013, 8:05 am

I watched a Ca. Striped Racer chasing a Sclop through large boulders...they were both moving at top speed, so I never even had time to get my camera out...before they both went 'underground'.

I also was watching a Ca King heading down to a small body of water, full of YOY baja treefrogs... but had to leave before having a chance to watch him hunt/eat. (A girl I know, who had gone to 'the falls' with my boys, had summoned up the courage to finally jump... and (as it turns out) had fractured her back, and I was there as an emergency pickup)

Next time for sure... :D jim

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by gbin » January 1st, 2013, 9:36 am

I've seen snakes (mostly Leptodeira septentrionalis) come out in the hundreds onto a lonely road to hunt the innumerable anurans frolicking there on certain rainy nights in Guatemala, and of course individual snakes scavenging roadkilled prey in various places. The most interesting hunt I've seen (only part of, unfortunately) was also on said lonely road in Guatemala: I was cruising it one night when I came upon an Ameiva sp. lying out in the middle of the pavement, looking dazed to the point of being nearly immobile. Before I could get out of my car to check it out, a huge mussurana (Clelia clelia) came gliding out of the forest onto the road, clearly tracking the lizard. I don't know whether the lizard was acting so sluggish simply because it had been disturbed from its slumber or because it had been envenomated, but as it stumbled off the other side of the road with the snake in pursuit I don't believe it couldn't have gotten far.

On a somewhat related note, I've also seen a couple of instances that I believed were male snakes tracking females of their species, presumably for the purpose of mating. But that's a different kind of hunt, isn't it? ;)

Gerry

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by PNWHerper » January 1st, 2013, 10:54 am

Joe,

Great thread on snake behavior!

I have seen a variety of snakes hunting, though did not get photos of most of them. Here is a few that I did photographs of... Sorry, some of them are not very good photos. But, I felt that capturing the behavior was more important.

Here are 4 different pit vipers hunting in their classic ambush posture near some noticeable small mammal pathways. In order, Pygmy Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth, Mojave Sidewinder and N. Pacific Rattlesnake neonate.


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Here is one that just succeeded! A big, black coachwhip with a huge male Desert Spiny Lizard. It closely observed this lizard coming towards me, then when it was within a distance of about 3 feet, the snake made a ridiculously fast dash for the lizard, and overwhelmed it within a very short distance.

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Here is a Desert Striped Whipsnake hunting whiptails. I had just interrupted the snake, by walking between it and a whiptail. I would have stopped sooner, had I noticed the snake. The snake stayed frozen in this position and let me get within about 6-8 inches of it. Then, at one point as I was getting closeups, it turned and bolted back into the brush. It was the first desert striped whipsnake I ever saw, and my excitement overcame my awareness of the situation. In hind signt, I would have just gotten some shots with my long telephoto and backed outta there to let the snake continue hunting.

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A Desert Kingsnake hunting for frogs and gartersnakes in New Mexico.

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A Valley Gartersnake having just captured and now consuming a Northern Pacific Chorus Frog.

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And lastly, this Coachwhip just got busted trying to ambush some Cactus Wren juveniles in a mesquite and prickly pear thicket. The bird alarms drew my attention to him. It was interesting in that, he narrowly avoided a run in with a hunting roadrunner, who was also trying to sneak in and grab one of the cactus wren juveniles. The parents were on it though, and did not let either predator sneak up without being alarmed at. The roadrunner would run by ever 10-15 minutes, doing its rounds. The coachwhip eventually gave up and popped out of cover. That's when I got this one voucher photo.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by mfb » January 1st, 2013, 12:35 pm

Fantastic idea for a thread!

I haven't seen vipers that were clearly on the hunt. However, I was sitting by a pond around noon one day in late April, and saw a big northern pacific rattlesnake cruise out of the chapparal and down to the edge of the pond, going rectilinear all the way. I believe it was looking for a drink.

I've seen lots of Thamnophis and Nerodia around ponds and streams hunting fish, frogs and other things. One of my favorite spots is a spillway between two wetlands. Lots of mudminnows (Umbra) swim up the shallow area, and are picked off by big and smallNerodia sipedon.

Below are a few photos from an afternoon watching a mountain garter snake eat pacific chorus frog tadpoles.

Snake looking at tadpoles:
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Snake going after tadpoles:
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Snake resting between mouthfuls of tadpole:
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » January 1st, 2013, 6:09 pm

Mike VanValen wrote:Owen, did you get these observations written up?
No, but one of my favorites (and I've seen this twice) are neonate CA Red-sided dragging around bullfrog tadpoles:

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Tamara D. McConnell » January 1st, 2013, 6:43 pm

I've seen Nerodia hunting minnows, and also eating toads. I can't watch them eat toads. My loyalties are torn.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by ZantiMissKnit » January 1st, 2013, 7:01 pm

I have seen, but not photographed, a garter snake eating a small frog (probably a small green or pickerel). The frogs cries alerted me to it.

I have also seen a garter snake eat an earthworm, and got a photograph (but not a clear one) of it at the very end:

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It appears to have had a few earthworms, or maybe a toad, before I got this shot.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by gbin » January 2nd, 2013, 6:37 am

I almost forgot this one: A couple of years ago my wife and I found a TX rat snake making a bee line across our backyard pool deck toward a small tree just on the other side in which a nestful of robin eggs had just hatched. I feel sure that it must have been tracking the scent of its prey through the air. I would have gone ahead and let nature take its course (though I'm very fond of robins), but my tenderhearted wife made a fuss on behalf of the birds so I diverted the snake. Wouldn't you know it, within a couple of days a storm came through the area that blew the nest to the ground and killed the chicks, anyway; I even had to fish one of their tiny carcasses out of our pool (yuck!). Wasted snake food. :(

Gerry

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by muskiemagnet » January 2nd, 2013, 6:46 am

you guys are all wrong with your viper pictures. they are sleeping. :) :) :)

-ben

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by salamanderhunter » January 2nd, 2013, 11:33 pm

Wow! Thanks for your responses and awesome photos. mfb...awesome that you witnessed a rectilinear gait. As a herp tracker, it's something I rarely see evidence of...and great blog btw! Owen, I wonder if your tandem garters were actually a male that wouldn't let the female out its sight. That was interesting either way. I've never heard of such a behavior. I've been writing recently on the idea of 'following' in nature. Below is an excerpt that's specifically related to herps (still under construction). Please read and comment if you feel so inclined. I started this thread to kinda see if folks experiences gel with my own. Thanks again for your input!

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by salamanderhunter » January 2nd, 2013, 11:34 pm

I’ve discovered that snakes can be followed when they are hunting, which isn’t as difficult as one might think because the snake can apparently be so intent on its objective that it doesn’t notice a person approaching if they are walking slowly and softly. One night I discovered that there were many Storeria dekayi (“Dekay’s” or simply “brown snakes”) out on the crawl that had become nocturnal to avoid the intense daytime heat. It had just rained and there were earthworms on the surface. The snakes were letting me follow so closely, apparently not noticing me, that I was able to hand feed several of the snakes by dangling earthworms in front of them.
It is commonly believed that snakes cannot hear airborne sounds since they lack external ear openings, but research is now showing that they have at least a limited ability to hear low frequency sounds by the conduction of vibrations through bone and skin. Their jawbones are especially sensitive since they are directly connected to the inner ear in the same way that a person’s eardrum is directly connected to their inner ear, and picking up vibrations in the substrate, such as that caused by footsteps of mouse or man, is a snake’s specialty. We still don’t have a definitive understanding of the subject, but why a snake wouldn’t hear or see me following it while it is hunting I do not know. I assume it is more a matter of attention than of limited sensory capacity since they have no problem detecting my presence outside of this circumstance.
My experience following snakes on the hunt has only been with the North American members of the family Colubridae, which includes the vast majority of non-venomous snakes found here. They crawl at about the pace of a human walking rather slowly, sometimes swinging their head from side to side and sniffing the air, and sometimes poking their heads under leaves or debris. They will also enter the burrows and tunnels of small mammals, and some do not hesitate to enter shallow water and prowl through emergent vegetation or hunt tadpoles or aquatic insects.
I was once following a black racer on the hunt when it suddenly elevated its head perhaps a foot off the ground in the classic pose of a snake being charmed, and then froze in position. A few feet directly in front of it in a small shrub was a green anole that noticed the snake at exactly the same moment. Neither one moved for several seconds. The anole jumped from the shrub and made a run for it, but only made a few feet before the racer caught it. The lizard wasn’t immediately eaten, but carried away in its captors mouth.
On a couple of occasions as I’ve followed a snake on the hunt terrestrially, I’ve observed it locate a buried frog by scent and then pull it out of sand or leaf litter. Snakes do sometimes follow the scent trail of frogs and other prey animals, but in the frog excavations that I observed, I’m not sure if the snakes were following a scent trail, or if the luckless frogs were discovered by chance.
One common response of a frog that has been seized by a snake is to inflate itself with air in an apparent attempt to make itself too big to swallow. Some snakes however, notably the toad-eating hognose species, have specialized, elongated teeth in the back of the mouth used for puncturing and deflating a frog that has utilized this defense mechanism.
Sometimes too the frog will ‘scream’, a behavior thought to be an attempt to attract other predators, the appearance of which may distract the snake enough to cause it to let go. I’ve located frogs that have been seized by snakes by following the screams, so the tactic is at least sometimes successful in attracting humans, although a fox or a bobcat would be more likely to take the kind of interest in the snake that would achieve the purposes of the frog. The inflation of a frog may slow the snake’s progress in swallowing it, allowing more time to attract other predators with its distress call, so maximum benefit is probably achieved by the pairing of the behaviors. Those extra few seconds may or may not be the difference in the frog’s escape, but the evolutionary advantage of the successes tallied over millions of such interactions in the history of the species is significant.
Lizards and snakes will sometimes follow the scent trail of others of their own species, for purposes of locating a group hibernacula as cold weather sets in, or by males following a pheromone trail of a female in the spring.
Evidence is sometimes encountered in the form of one lizard or snake trail superimposed on another in sand or dust or any other substrate soft enough to record their passing, and is a good indicator that the breeding season has begun for that species.

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Owen
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » January 3rd, 2013, 8:03 am

salamanderhunter wrote:Owen, I wonder if your tandem garters were actually a male that wouldn't let the female out its sight. That was interesting either way. I've never heard of such a behavior.
I watched these two Red-sided for about ten minutes and they were both hunting. Whether sex had anything to do with it, I can't say. I can however say that this was June and past mating season. Also, both snakes would go under the water and scare up small bullfrogs and the one on the surface would do most of the chasing as the frog was escaping.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by dery » January 3rd, 2013, 8:13 am

I've heard several yellowbelly watersnakes eating leopardfrogs. Unfortunately no audio, video, or pics were obtained of any find.
Yet due to most being in one season last year, I think I can this year.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by axeman2729 » January 3rd, 2013, 9:37 am

ive seen a queensnake looking for crayfish sadly got no photos as this was during the period of time i had no camera :cry:

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dery
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by dery » January 3rd, 2013, 9:44 am

axeman2729 wrote:ive seen a queensnake looking for crayfish sadly got no photos as this was during the period of time i had no camera :cry:
NICE. No herps eating crawfish for me yet :mrgreen: . I guess my spots crawfish are too smart. :lol:

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by ricrabt » January 3rd, 2013, 11:36 am

I was looking at. Desert igy when a coachwhip came out of nowhere and grab it. He grab it sideways and tried to retreat down a hole but lizard was to wide and he released it. Another one (I really wished I had ny camera handy) we drove up on was a large coachwhip,head and neck a good foot and a half of the ground, faces off with a large hawk standing fifteen feet away. It was an awesome sight....

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by ricrabt » January 3rd, 2013, 11:40 am

I guess I can't edit my typos. why????

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by dery » January 3rd, 2013, 12:09 pm

Idk, but some of my posts I still can. Others I can't. It's sortof the case like the delete button now.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by mfb » January 3rd, 2013, 6:17 pm

salamanderhunter - that is an interesting story about the Storeria. I wonder why they weren't scared by your approach? I've been able to closely approach a number of snakes in the middle of a meal, but when they are hunting, I've found them to be much more wary.

More photos and info that you may find interesting can be found on the snakes eating in nature group on Flickr.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by cbernz » January 3rd, 2013, 6:37 pm

The only pitvipers I've seen actively hunting were Cottonmouths, slowly gliding through the swamp and poking their noses into and around exposed buttress roots. Much more often I'll come across a snake that already has finished hunting. I've twice come upon water snakes dragging catfish three times their width by the head, and wondered how they were going to get the pectoral spines to go down. On a birding trip to South Texas once I heard a snaky rustle in the leaf litter followed by a screaming Rio Grande Leopard Frog, and looked down in time to see a huge ribbon snake swallow the frog whole in about 5 seconds, while the frog continued to call from inside the snake as it continued on its way. Like Axeman, I was pre-camera in those days, which sucks because I had two indigoes on that trip.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Coluber Constrictor » January 3rd, 2013, 7:50 pm

I've seen Nerodia catching fish and frogs. I once observed 4 Nerodia fasciata on the prowl at the same time, but I am pretty sure they were looking for a mate, not food.

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Dan Krull » January 3rd, 2013, 9:33 pm

Plainbelly watersnake. Nerodia erythrogaster

It was actively foraging in a pool where crawfish frogs were calling. It's eating a baby bullfrog. :)

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Nearby:

Lithobates areolatus
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Dan

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » January 3rd, 2013, 10:43 pm

Here's Diablo Range Gartersnakes () hunting small toads (). Sorry for the bad shakiness... video first timer:


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Owen
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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » January 3rd, 2013, 10:48 pm

Not sure why the Youtube button is not worling, but I'll try again.

Here's Diablo Range Gartersnakes (Thamnophis atratus zaxanthus ) hunting small toads (Anaxyrus boreas halophilus). Sorry for the bad shakiness... video first timer:


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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by El Garia » January 3rd, 2013, 11:09 pm

Excellent video, Owen! You accidentally typed https, rather than http :D

Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RE_VYj88f1w[/youtube]

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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Owen » January 3rd, 2013, 11:27 pm

Thanks, but I copied my link from the status bar. Trying o-n-e l-a-s-t t-i-m-e and... VIOLA! Thanks! :beer:


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Re: Snakes on the hunt- a question.

Post by Rags » January 4th, 2013, 12:00 am

This 'Blue' Eyelash Pit Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii). was found in path side vegetation at Cahuita N.P. in Costa Rica.


We returned to the same spot sometime later and watched as it moved into an ambush position. There were plenty of Whiptail lizards among the undergrowth and the snake actually struck at one that passed underneath it but missed.

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Second sighting.
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