Monday, February 23, 2009

Egg Eating Snake

Moving to a new continent is a simulataneous joy and frustration for those with a naturalist bent. On the plus side there is a whole new fauna and flora to discover. On the downside until you become very familiar with it you often haven't got a clue what you find is. This happened to me on a recent short field trip to Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The trip was a total washout, heavy rains and bad weather made it unpleasant in the field and had caused a rockfall that obscured much of the site we wanted to investigate. However while scrabbling around the rockfall I found this beautifull little snake. I didn't know it at the time but I had found a rhombic egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra), a member of a fascinating group of snakes I had always wanted to see. Sadly I thought it was a night adder so treated it cautiously I didn't give it a very close look. Night adders are quite venemous whereas egg eaters are virtually toothless and quite harmless (unless you happen to be a small bird egg). Only later when I was back home did I identify what it really was.

A little about Dasypeltis snakes for those who don't know. They are an african genus of colubrids that are adapted to feeding exclusively on bird eggs. They are capable of swallowing eggs up to three times the width of their head. They have highly reduced dentitions and use ventral projections from the vertebrae in the gullet region to pierce the shell. The liquid contents are swallowed and the collapsed shell is regurgitated. I would love to see this in action, but my little guy was just sheltering from the bad weather when I found him.


Edward said...

Hi Adam:

Off topic: Absent an email address, I'm posting this invitation as a comment.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty neat. How large do they generally get?

Adam Yates said...

Not much bigger than this one. They aren't big enough to take chicken eggs.

Eduard - I'm mulling over your invitation

Alan said...

One other point - from the articles I have read from those who have maintained captive specimens, they rarely defecate. The diet contains no solid items (the shell is regurgitated) and the egg contents are fully absorbed, so there is only a small amount of nitrogenous waste for the snake's digestive system to cope with.

Anonymous said...


Not to contradict you, but my understanding derives from Gans' work on this taxon, and he says it only ate eggs during seasonal periods, but wasn't off eating other food, including involving active predation.

However, fascinating animals and very well adaptive, especially having such a low tooth count comparatively.