Typically, snakes don’t like showing themselves and are thought of to be solitary by nature. But a new study on Cuban boas suggests that that particular species of snake hunts in packs, with each snake in a pack helping each other out in tracking down and stalking their prey. This also marks the first time any kind of reptile has been spotted hunting in a group.
Earlier this week, University of Tennessee assistant professor Vladimir Dinets published a study in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, where he detailed his rather unusual findings, which were based on extensive observations at the Desembarco del Granma National Park in eastern Cuba. According to Popular Science, there was one cave in the aforementioned park with nine Cuban boas, all of which were distinguishable through their markings for the “snake whisperer” Dinets.
For eight straight days, Dinets camped out at the cave, watching each of the boas hunt. And based own what he saw, the boas would move up the walls at sunset and shortly before dawn, hoping to catch some bats as they hung upside down from the ceiling. This, as Popular Science noted, is a process that takes place in near-darkness, with precious little light to allow humans to make observations.
It was a hard task for sure, but Dinets patiently sat for all those days’ worth of observations, recording all the movements made by the Cuban boas inside the cave. With the cave having several passage areas, the University of Tennessee researcher divided them into sections, allowing him to see how close each of the boas were to each other, and to notice the presence of new snakes joining the hunt. Dinets also recorded all of the times the snakes caught a bat, also noting the specific snake which caught a bat at a given time.
Cuban boas coordinate their strikes from cave ceilings https://t.co/UXGMu8Atv5
— Atlas Obscura (@atlasobscura) May 24, 2017
Based on the observations, boas who would hunt in solitary were the exception rather than the rule, and they typically fared worse when it came to catching bats. When there were three Cuban boas hunting together, each of the snakes caught about one bat per animal and caught their prey in less than seven minutes. Snakes who hunted by themselves caught only about 0.33 bats per snake and took 19 minutes to draw their prey in and catch them. There were even some boas that “gave up and went home” after failing to achieve any success while hunting alone, Popular Science wrote.
All in all, the boas were generally capable hunters due to their ability to hunt by touch and catch bats whenever they would brush against them. And the Cuban boas were even better when hunting next to each other, forming “a kind of barrier” that made it harder for the bats to elude their predators.
Speaking to Tennessee Today, Dinets said that it’s hard to say whether there are other species of snake that are able to hunt as a group like Cuban boas do. He added that “a lot of very patient field research” would be needed, as only a small percentage of the 3,600-plus snake species in the world have been observed in the wild hunting for prey. Dinets also warned that it may become harder going forward for people to observe the Cuban boa in particular, as they are frequent victims of poaching for food and pet trade.
“I suspect that if their numbers in a cave fall, they can’t hunt in groups anymore and might die out even if some of them don’t get caught by hunters. A few of these caves are in national parks, but there’s a lot of poaching everywhere.”
While Cuban boas are indeed peculiar for their ability to hunt in packs, the UT study stressed that that doesn’t mean the snakes are sociable animals — it’s all about the hunt and getting as much food as possible, and not for social reasons like wolves and other predators.