Tetrapod Zoology

Continuing with the theme of over-eager swallowing of large prey, I thought I’d share the following case, reported in the literature by Clark (1967). A Horned or Sand viper specimen belonging to the subspecies Vipera ammodytes meridionalis (sometimes called the Eastern sand viper) was caught on the Greek island of Euboia. It looked fat at the time of collecting, and died an hour later.

i-cb0c3237472d0f8826281b8b1e24e691-Clark-1967-viper-vs-centipede-Dec-2009.jpg


Dissection revealed what you see in the photo: this small snake had eaten, whole, a centipede 140 mm long. Wow, ambitious. While the possibility exists that handling and subsequent bagging somehow damaged the snake or hastened its demise (Clark 1967), the most likely explanation for its death is that its meal was too large. Let that be a lesson for the festive season :)

Ref – -

Clark, R. J. 1967. Centipede in stomach of young Vipera ammodytes meridionalis. Copeia 1967, 224.

Comments

  1. #1 Dartian
    December 3, 2009

    Euboia

    Clark (1967) spells it that way, but the recommended modern spelling is Euboea.

    The centipede is some Scolopendra species, isn’t it?

    this small snake had eaten, whole, a centipede 140 mm long. Wow, ambitious.

    And a bit foolhardy too, I’d reckon; a centipede that big seems like a dangerous adversary for such a small snake.

  2. #2 David Marjanović
    December 3, 2009

    14 cm long centipedes! In Europe! Scary.

    the recommended modern spelling is Euboea

    That’s not modern, that’s Roman. In case it helps, the modern pronunciation is [ˈɛvia].

  3. #3 C. M. Koseman
    December 3, 2009

    Just another casualty in the eternal war between Centipede and Serpent.

    Arms-turned-into-poison-jaws clash with hypodermic teeth, a thousand legs scrape against mortal coils of muscle and scale, in a deadly battle of annihilation!

    This time there could be no peace… no remorse… only WAR!

  4. #4 cromercrox
    December 3, 2009

    ‘Let that be a lesson for the festive season’

    I’ll bear this in mind, should live, 14-cm centipedes appear on the festive table.

  5. #5 NoAstronomer
    December 3, 2009

    I know I certainly wouldn’t eat a 14cm long centipede. Or in fact any centipede.

  6. #6 johannes
    December 3, 2009

    > a centipede that big seems like a dangerous adversary for
    > such a small snake.

    Isn’t it possible that the centipede had bitten the snake before it was eaten, and the snake’s death was caused by the centipede’s poison?

  7. #7 anon
    December 3, 2009

    @David Marjanović “14 cm long centipedes! In Europe! Scary.”

    Oh, that’s just a little one. Per the archive of all truth aka Wikipedia:

    Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant centipede, is the largest existing species of centipede in the world, reaching over 30 cm (12 in) in length. It is known to eat bats, catching them in midflight*, as well as rodents and spiders.”

    *Molinari, J., Gutierrez, E.E., De Ascencae, A.A., Nasar, J.M., Arends, A., and R.J. Marquez. 2005. Predation by Giant Centipedes, S. gigantea, on 3 species of bats in a Venezuelan cave. Caribbean Journal of Science, 4(2): 340-346

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centipede#Largest_centipede

    There’s also apparently a Scolopedra gigas of Trinidad, nearly as big.

    The extinct (Carboniferous) Euphoberia reached 1 m long, but may have been a millipede.

  8. #8 tdh
    December 3, 2009

    I saw an apparently-dead centipede about that size in Dobrudja, never previously having seen one larger than about 4cm long, nor thicker than about 3mm, in the US. Of the two dimensions, thickness was the more striking; I’d imagined centipedes simply getting longer. I thought their feet were poisonous, though.

  9. #9 Neil
    December 3, 2009

    I was going to saw ‘bit of more than it could chew’ but the snakes dont really bite bits of and they certainly don’t chew.
    “shallowed more than its stomach could contain” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

    Mind you the snakes luck the centipede didn’t eat it!

  10. #10 Rose
    December 3, 2009

    Indigestion is a terrible thing.

  11. #11 cicely
    December 3, 2009

    “Eyes bigger than its stomache.”

  12. If you have a allergic reaction to the venom of this species it can be quite dangerous! I have captured one a little over 13″ in length on a entomology field trip in extreme Southeast Kansas! I have seen bigger but was not able to catch it and watched them capture and eat big lizards and field mice! http://bugguide.net/node/view/8213/bgimage

  13. #13 David Marjanović
    December 3, 2009

    I knew there are 30-cm-long centipedes in faraway lands. I didn’t know there are almost half that long ones in Europe!

    Euphoberia

    I think that means “truly scary”. :-)

    If you have a allergic reaction to the venom of this species it can be quite dangerous! I have captured one a little over 13″ in length

    That’s of course another species (your link says Scolopendra heros as opposed to S. gigas and… whatever the Greek one is), but I suppose the venom must be chemically similar.

  14. #14 David Marjanović
    December 3, 2009

    Forgot to add… are you sure about the length? 13″ would be longer than the 30 cm of S. gigas! Your link says 20 cm.

  15. #15 mlw
    December 3, 2009

    Having been bitten by a Scolopendra, I can testify that I wished I could die for about 24 hours afterward. Not surprised that the snake actually did. Damn, they hurt!

  16. #16 Dartian
    December 4, 2009

    Darren:

    whatever the Greek one is

    There seem to be five Scolopendra species in Greece: S. canidens, S. cingulata, S. clavipes, S. cretica (which is endemic to Creete and its adjacent islands, and can thus be ruled out in this case) and S. dalmatica. I’m guessing that this snake-eaten one from Euboea is an individual of the species S. cingulata*, which is known to reach a length of 15 cm (although 10 cm is more typical). I could be very wrong about this centipede’s specific identity though; I know sod all about invertebrates.

    * Scolopendra cingulata doesn’t seem to have an English wikipedia page, but it has one in French, Polish, and German.

  17. #17 Dartian
    December 4, 2009

    Er, that was, of course, in response to David’s, not Darren’s comment.

  18. #18 Dartian
    December 4, 2009

    Creete

    …and that spelling, instead of the correct ‘Crete’, was brought to you by Typos “R” Us.

  19. #19 johannes
    December 4, 2009
  20. #20 Jochen
    December 4, 2009

    What I find striking about all the cases Darren has thus far presented is the spiky character of the swallowed animals.

    I can very well imagine a situation where prey too large is swallowed which the predator realizes soon, yet due to the spikes there is no way it can regurgitate its prey, and therefore the only option is an attempt at complete ingestion – with fatal consequences.

    I got bitten once by a Scolopendra in Greece (roughly 5 cm long) and it seems I was lucky: the skin around the bite went numb for a few days and there was a bit of an initial burning sensation, but that was it – no death wish.

  21. #21 Darren Naish
    December 4, 2009

    I like giant centipedes, but they’re pretty horrific predators, at least when they eat tetrapods. Shudder. There are videos online where they eat mice, grabbing them with their maxillopods (not jaws: hollow first pair of legs) and inflicting massive wounds before munch munch munching away. Other times (like with the snake linked to above) they seem to kill the animal by eating it.

  22. #22 Christopher Taylor
    December 4, 2009

    maxillopods

    Maxillipeds. ‘Maxillopods’ are a taxonomic grouping of certain crustaceans.

  23. #23 Darren Naish
    December 4, 2009

    D’oh. Thanks.

  24. #24 Sordes
    December 4, 2009

    That looks really bizarre! Holy crap!
    I know this is not as extreme as the examples shown by Darren, but this fire salamander larvea (Salamandra salamandra) I found last year had also eaten a younger larvea of about 2/3 of its own length, and it was so large that the head was still partly visible, when I found it (it suddenly vomited the whole body of its smaller relative):
    http://bestiarium.kryptozoologie.net/artikel/bild-des-tages-kannibalismus-bei-feuersalamanderlarven/
    BTW, Darren did I ever send you the photo of the frog which had captured a goldfish larger than itself?

  25. #25 David Marjanović
    December 4, 2009

    not jaws: hollow first pair of legs

    Well, all arthropod jaws are ultimately legs. Pretty much anything an arthropod has is ultimately a leg pair.

    this fire salamander larvea (Salamandra salamandra) I found last year had also eaten a younger larvea of about 2/3 of its own length

    That’s nothing. The live-bearing ones do that before they’re born. I’ll post the ref on Monday or perhaps tomorrow.

  26. #26 John Scanlon, FCD
    December 5, 2009

    the recommended modern spelling is Euboea

    I was going to point out that that was Roman, but see that David got in first as usual; I’ve seen it on modern maps as ‘Evvia’ which is a good phonetic transliteration. Famous for the fossil Python euboicus, which comes from the town now known as Kimi (Classical Κυμι, Latin Cumae).

    A number of snakes are specialised centipede-eaters, but there are none in Australia despite our impressive scolopendromorph fauna. Some of the most brightly patterned snakes have also been suggested to be centipede mimics, though I don’t see much resemblance myself.

  27. #27 Dartian
    December 7, 2009

    John:

    I was going to point out that that was Roman, but see that David got in first as usual

    Hmm, apparently I chose my words poorly in comment # 1. I meant ‘modern’ in the sense that ‘It’s the spelling that we should use nowadays’; I did not mean that the word/spelling itself is some recent invention.

    Darren:

    they’re pretty horrific predators, at least when they eat tetrapods. Shudder.

    I get a pretty strong visceral reaction any time that I see or hear about cases of invertebrates preying on vertebrates. On some subliminal level, that just feels so very wrong to me (it’s quite unscientific of me to feel that way, I know, but I can’t help it).

  28. #28 Darby
    January 30, 2010

    Well, all arthropod jaws are ultimately legs. Pretty much anything an arthropod has is ultimately a leg pair.

    For mandibulates, which centipedes are, the jaws are homologous to annelid jaws. Everything else, pretty much, are modified legs.

  29. #29 Christopher Taylor
    January 30, 2010

    For mandibulates, which centipedes are, the jaws are homologous to annelid jaws.

    Not on your life. At present, it looks rather unlikely that arthropods and annelids are closely related. The mandibles are indeed a highly derived leg pair – specifically, they’re modified gnathobases.

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