Saturday, September 8, 2007

Snakes as Scavengers

In the picture you can see a Sea snake scavenging on dead fish, the most unusual behavior of the snakes. Although it is widely known that most species of snakes readily accept carrion in captivity, the notion of scavenging by wild snakes historically has been rejected or ignored. Herein, we review the literature describing instances of scavenging by snakes and consider the implications of carrion use on their ecology. Thirty-nine published accounts yielded 50 observations of scavenging by snakes (43 from field observations and seven from laboratory studies). Thirty-five species from five families were represented, but pitvipers and piscivorous snakes were represented more frequently than other groups. Scavenged material varied widely and included rodents, birds, fish, frogs, and snakes. Olfaction appears to be the overriding sensory modality used for carrion detection. Some species may use scavenging as a deliberate feeding strategy that supplements their regular modes of prey acquisition. Additional knowledge of the scavenging behavior of snakes should provide new insights into the fundamentals of the ecology of snakes.

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