February 2018

Fast food for a hungry snake

A chance encounter between two reptile predators was a stroke of luck for one but ended vary badly for the other. It is indeed fortunate that this rarely seen spectacle was actually filmed.

With their slender bodies and large eyes, Lesser Black Whip Snakes are extremely swift, keen-eyed predators. Burton’s Snake-lizards prefer to catch their prey by ambush. When the two met, the larger and more powerful whip snake made an easy meal of the legless lizard.

Answer

Whip snakes (species of Demansia) are extremely swift, slender snakes with very large eyes and keen vision. At more than a metre long, the Lesser Black Whip Snake (Demansia vestigiata) is one of the largest of 14 species. Whip snakes have been described as the ‘cheetahs of the snake world’. With acute vision and a burst of speed across open terrain, they locate, chase and capture their prey. Most whip snakes are almost exclusively lizard-eaters, though the Lesser Black Whip Snake is known to include frogs in its diet.

The Burton’s Snake-lizard (Lialis burtonis) is a member of the family Pygopodidae, known as flap-footed lizards. These are unlikely close cousins of geckos, yet they appear very snake-like with long bodies, no fore-limbs, and hindlimbs reduced to minute scaly flaps. However the acute, wedge-shaped snout of the Burton’s Snake-lizard is quite unlike that of any Australian snake. This is Australia’s most widespread terrestrial reptile species, covering most of the mainland except parts of the south, and reaching north to New Guinea. Burton’s Snake-lizards prey exclusively on other lizards, particularly skinks, which are ambushed and grasped with the distinctive narrow snout, held firm with sharp backward-curved teeth, and swallowed head-first.

When these two predators came together near Rockhampton, there was a predictable outcome. The whip snake in the video is clearly a hungry one. Skin folds along the last third of its body indicate that it is well below its optimal weight. It is also much larger than the Burton’s Snake-lizard, and armed with immobilising venom.

Chance encounters like this one must occur frequently but they are seldom witnessed, and only rarely filmed.

You can read more about Burton’s Snake-lizards on this fact sheet (1067 KB) pdf document icon.

 

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