Scavenging Bamboo Viper

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Scavenging Bamboo Viper

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » October 9th, 2010, 2:21 am

October usually still counts as herping season over here, but over the past ten days we've been pummeled by back-to-back cold fronts with endless rain that have driven the night temps down to 18°C(64°F). The upside, of course, is that we can sleep without A/C at night, and furthermore have a plausible argument for the children not to wear flip-flops and and tank tops to school anymore (nothing worse for the reputation than kids who look like mini-gangsters :mrgreen:).

The cold and the rain also means it's time for the Bamboo Vipers to flood the nocturnal forests with their verdant presence. Viridovipera s. stejnegeri is one of the most cold-tolerant snakes on the island and can be found at work all the way down to 14°C(57°F), as long as it's wet. Most other snakes go underground in this weather, so the Bamboo Vipers have all the frogs in the jungle for themselves, and each autumn they take advantage of it by staging mass rallies to fatten up for brumation. Two weeks ago, Mr. Onionsack and I went on a four-hour cruise along the Northern Cross-Island Highway, a beautiful road through a pristine highland forest devoid of human presence. It was pretty chilly, and apart from our breath, we also saw thirty-four (34) Bamboo Vipers hanging out by the roadside. Only three other snakes of two other species were found, and only during the early (and warmer) hours of the evening. V. s. stejnegeri is the most ubiquitous snake in Taiwan already anyway - 113 of the 372 snakes I've found so far this year were little green vipers - but that night truly bordered on the ridiculous.

Well, it sure is wet and chilly down here in the lowlands now, too, and true to the above, the only species I found during my jungle drive last night was the Bamboo Viper - but they made up for the monospecific experience in sheer quantity. I found eleven of them in two hours, all of them crossing the road. You can imagine for yourself just how many must have been prowling the forest. The last one was the nicest, because it allowed me some rare insight in this species' feeding behavior. Studies have proven that V. s. steijnegeri in Taiwan almost exclusively feeds on frogs, but I wasn't aware that DOR also count among the menu items. This here was serpentine TV dinner - pre-killed and pre-skinned by a mechanized process.

I observed the viper's meal from the beginning to the end, and apart from the scavenging bit, I also noticed two other interesting things I hadn't been aware of before:

1. The snake used its fangs to help move the frog into the gullet.

2. As soon as most of the prey (>50%) is inside the snake, the snake can (and will) take off surprisingly quickly to escape predation - or paparazzi, as the case may have been here. I had previously believed that the act of feeding immobilizes snakes for the time being.

For the scientifically minded, I've sorted all photos in chronological order.

PS: John C. Murphy's excellent new book on snakes has a section on scavenging. Seems that among snakes there are way more Eaters of the Dead than previously thought...

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herpseeker1978
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Re: Scavenging Bamboo Viper

Post by herpseeker1978 » October 9th, 2010, 5:16 am

very cool Hans! I am so jealous!! Those vipers are so beautiful!

Josh

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: Scavenging Bamboo Viper

Post by Mike Pingleton » October 9th, 2010, 5:26 am

Ah, that was pretty cool and what beauties those snakes are.

Risky business, road food is. From time to time someone will post a pic of a DOR snake what got that way from attempting to eat a DOR critter.

Do the Viridovipera go to ground completely in the winter, or are they still somewhat active?

-Mike

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dezertwerx
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Re: Scavenging Bamboo Viper

Post by dezertwerx » October 9th, 2010, 7:54 am

Awesome pics.... those snakes are pretty amazing looking.

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Scavenging Bamboo Viper

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » October 9th, 2010, 6:00 pm

Thanks, guys!

Mike, this species can be found all year round. Not in their summer numbers, of course, but I've seen some hang out in trees in January and February. (Sorry about the misidentification as Trimeresurus, I was using an old field guide back then)

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