Oh, God, Some Snakes Hunt in Packs

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These snakes from “Planet Earth” mean business. Photo: BBC Earth

Snakes: Even if many of them are harmless, they’re still pretty scary. Most people have accidentally stumbled upon one at one time or another, and when that happens the experience tends to elicit a jolt of deep, primal fear — one which is likely rooted in mammals’ longstanding beef with reptiles. The one upside of snakes, if you can call it that, is that they tend to be fairly solitary when it comes to hunting and feeding. Although some snakes can be dangerous on their own, you are unlikely to be carried away by a ravenous pack of them.

Except: A new study in Animal Behavior and Cognition by Vladimir Dinets, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers what he believes is the first-ever evidence that some snakes do coordinate their hunting. And the study includes an image likely to haunt the dreams of anyone who is even a bit herpetophobic.

To the press release:

Many Cuban caves shelter large bat colonies, and in some of them small populations of boas regularly hunt the bats as they fly out at dusk and return at dawn. Dinets noticed that the boas hung down from the ceiling of the cave entrance and grabbed passing bats in midair. He found that if more than one boa was present, the snakes coordinated their positions in such a way that they formed a wall across the entrance. This made it difficult or impossible for the bats to pass without getting within striking distance of at least one boa.

Such group hunts were always successful, and the more snakes were present, the less time it took each to capture a bat. But if there was only one boa, it sometimes failed to secure a meal.

That’s right: A bunch of squirming, hungry snakes hanging down from a cave entrance, forming a living wall designed to snatch bats right out of the air. It’s like something out of a bad LSD trip.

The release goes on to note that “to date, only a handful of snakes have been observed to hunt in groups, and coordination among them — or among any other group-hunting reptiles — has never been proven,” according to Dinets. So this is definitely an interesting finding — even if it is likely to cause a nightmare or two.

Oh, God, Some Snakes Hunt in Packs