Boa Constrictors Form Hunting Parties and We’re Totally Fine with That

himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
himmelskratzer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scientists have observed Cuban boas lining up, suspending themselves from cave ceilings in a “curtain” of bodies, and waiting for their bat prey to fly through. A report on this never-before-seen behavior was published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition [PDF].

At 3 to 6 feet long, the Cuban boa (Chilabothrus angulifer) is a hefty customer, the largest in its genus and one of the biggest in the West Indies. It’s a skilled hunter both on the forest floor and the cave ceiling, dangling like a fanged party streamer and snapping passing fruit bats out of the air.

Cooperative hunting is not uncommon in nature. Wolves do it, as do dolphins, apes, some birds, crocodiles, and even a few species of fish. Snakes … not so much. Scientists have seen snakes hunting in the same place, at the same time, but it was sort of an every-snake-for-itself situation. (In that nightmare-inducing scene in Planet Earth 2, for instance, researchers viewed the snakes as coordinating, not cooperating.) Or so we thought.

Yet when researcher Vladimir Dinets of the University of Knoxville settled in near a sinkhole cave in Cuba's Desembarco del Granma National Park to watch the snakes’ nightly bat-feast, he noticed something unusual: The snakes seemed to be making room for one another.

For eight nights between sunset and dawn, an apparently fearless Dinets watched the cave’s nine snake inhabitants position themselves on the roof of the cave. His first thought was that each snake just had its own favorite or assigned spot on the ceiling.

But over time, he realized that they were rotating, each arriving snake filling in gaps in the curtain space to ensure maximum bat-flightpath coverage.

This wasn’t just a bunch of snakes hunting in the same place at the same time. This was a bunch of snakes hunting together. And it was working. The boas stuffed themselves with little furry bodies.

“It is possible that boas are not unique among snakes, and that coordinated hunting is not particularly rare,” Dinets writes in his paper. “This possibility suggests that at least some snakes are not the ‘solitary animals’ they are commonly considered to be, and that they are capable of high behavioral complexity required for such hunting.”

This is fine.

This Wall Chart Shows Almost 130 Species of Shark—All Drawn to Scale

Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Shark Week may be over, but who says you can’t celebrate sharp-toothed predators year-round? Pop Chart Lab has released a new wall print featuring nearly 130 species of selachimorpha, a taxonomic superorder of fish that includes all sharks.

The shark chart
Pop Chart Lab

Called “The Spectacular Survey of Sharks,” the chart lists each shark by its family classification, order, and superorder. An evolutionary timeline is also included in the top corner to provide some context for how many millions of years old some of these creatures are. The sharks are drawn to scale, from the large but friendly whale shark down to the little ninja lanternsharka species that lives in the deep ocean, glows in the dark, and wasn’t discovered until 2015.

You’ll find the popular great white, of course, as well as rare and elusive species like the megamouth, which has been spotted fewer than 100 times. This is just a sampling, though. According to World Atlas, there are more than 440 known species of shark—plus some that probably haven't been discovered yet.

The wall chart, priced at $29 for an 18” x 24” print, can be pre-ordered on Pop Chart Lab’s website. Shipping begins on August 27.

Can You Really Suck the Poison Out of a Snakebite?

iStock
iStock

Should you find yourself in a snake-infested area and unlucky enough to get bitten, what’s the best course of action? You might have been taught the old cowboy trick of applying a tourniquet and using a blade to cut the bite wound in order to suck out the poison. It certainly looks dramatic, but does it really work? According to the World Health Organization, approximately 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes each year worldwide, about 81,000 to 138,000 of which are fatal. That’s a lot of deaths that could have been prevented if the remedy were really that simple.

Unfortunately the "cut and suck" method was discredited a few decades ago, when research proved it to be counterproductive. Venom spreads through the victim’s system so quickly, there’s no hope of sucking out a sufficient volume to make any difference. Cutting and sucking the wound only serves to increase the risk of infection and can cause further tissue damage. A tourniquet is also dangerous, as it cuts off the blood flow and leaves the venom concentrated in one area of the body. In worst-case scenarios, it could cost someone a limb.

Nowadays, it's recommended not to touch the wound and seek immediate medical assistance, while trying to remain calm (easier said than done). The Mayo Clinic suggests that the victim remove any tight clothing in the event they start to swell, and to avoid any caffeine or alcohol, which can increase your heart rate, and don't take any drugs or pain relievers. It's also smart to remember what the snake looks like so you can describe it once you receive the proper medical attention.

Venomous species tend to have cat-like elliptical pupils, while non-venomous snakes have round pupils. Another clue is the shape of the bite wound. Venomous snakes generally leave two deep puncture wounds, whereas non-venomous varieties tend to leave a horseshoe-shaped ring of shallow puncture marks. To be on the safe side, do a little research before you go out into the wilderness to see if there are any snake species you should be particularly cautious of in the area.

It’s also worth noting that up to 25 percent of bites from venomous snakes are actually "dry" bites, meaning they contain no venom at all. This is because snakes can control how much venom they release with each bite, so if you look too big to eat, they may well decide not to waste their precious load on you and save it for their next meal instead.

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