Tetrapod Zoology

In case it isn’t obvious, I’ve decided to do a little series on ‘over-eager swallowing’. And here’s the latest instalment. Here’s an unfortunate Perentie Varanus giganteus that died after trying to swallow a Short-beaked echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus

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The photo is from Kirschner et al. (1996), and the accompanying text is…

Auch freilebende Warane können sich einmal verschätzen. Dieser Riesenwaran wurde Opfer seiner Gier. Beim Versuch, einen Stacheligel zu fressen, fügte er sich tödliche Verletzungen zu.

… which basically says that the lizard was a victim of its own greed, and died after getting impaled on the echidna’s spikes (though the text seems to use the German word for hedgehog… which word is used in German for echidna?). So far as I can tell, it isn’t known whether the perentie tried to eat the echidna when it was alive, or found it dead. The echidna’s spikes obviously pierced the lizard’s throat, and from then on the carcass couldn’t be successfully ejected from the mouth, death (by starvation?) being the result.

This isn’t the only case where spikes on the prey have caused the death of the predator: Klauber (1982) noted that the spikes of horned lizards (Phrynosoma) sometimes kill snakes that try to swallow them, and Ramírez-Bautista & Uribe (1992) reported a case where a Lyre snake Trimorphodon biscutatus died after the tail spikes of a Spiny-tailed iguana Ctenosaura pectinata pierced its stomach and gut. And, yes, there are cases involving catfish spines, antelope horns and so on, but hold fire, we’ll deal with those later…

Another one tomorrow!

For previous instalments in this series see…

Refs – –

Kirschner, A., Müller, T. & Seufer, H. 1996. Faszination Warane. Kirschner & Seufer Verlag, Keltern-Weiler.

Klauber, L. M. 1982. Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London.

Ramírez-Bautista, A. & Uribe, Z. 1992. Trimorphodon biscutatus (Lyre snake): predation fatality. Herpetological Review 23, 82.

Comments

  1. #1 Anonymous
    December 4, 2009

    I suppose you’ll have to do one on that infamous Burmese Python picture where the python in question has burst upon swallowing an alligator. I can just see the title now…

    “Python tries to swallow alligator. Alligator way too big. Python dies.”

  2. #2 Moritz
    December 4, 2009

    Quite an awesome pic. Can’t wait to see the next part of your “X too Y, Z dies” series.

    (though the text seems to use the German word for hedgehog… which word is used in German for echidna?)

    It’s “Ameisenigel”, literally meaning “ant hedgehog”. No one ever said that trivial names are reflective of phylogeny in any way :)

  3. #3 Lars Dietz
    December 4, 2009

    The German word for echidna is Ameisenigel (ant hedgehog) or Schnabeligel (beaked hedgehog). Stacheligel, the word used in the text means “spiny hedgehog”. Obviously a mistake, the author probably misremembered the word “Schnabeligel”.

  4. #4 Jeff Johnson
    December 4, 2009

    Well, he will never try that again.

  5. #5 Lars Dietz
    December 4, 2009

    The comment by Moritz hadn’t yet appeared when I started writing mine, so sorry for repeating the same thing.

  6. #6 Dartian
    December 4, 2009

    If you’re referring to erinaceids, you can also just use the more general word Igel, as Stacheligel*, strictly speaking, doesn’t apply to all erinaceids. The spineless gymnures are collectively known as either Rattenigel (‘rat hedgehogs’) or Haarigel (‘hairy hedgehogs’) in German.

    * As Lars said, the word Stachel means spine or quill; incidentally, the German word for porcupine is Stachelschwein (literally: ‘spiny pig’).

  7. #7 Zach Hawkins
    December 4, 2009

    What a charmin topic this is Darren XD

  8. #8 CS Shelton
    December 4, 2009

    I’ll be happy when this topic is done. To sad! Especially the roadrunner and lizard, but really all of them are just tragic. Hence, :-(

  9. #9 CS Shelton
    December 4, 2009

    “too sad” … stupid typos. Anyhow, yes, I can’t help but feel a little sad for all the animals involved, though maybe less so for the invertebrate. Prejudice.

  10. #10 shiva
    December 4, 2009

    Interesting that there seems to be a lot more left of the echidna than there is of the monitor, despite the echidna’s spineless underbelly (presumably more attractive to scavengers than a scaly lizard) being exposed. Any idea why?

    (and yes, all of these reminded me of the famous python/alligator pic. All involving squamates, too (albeit in one case as the bitten rather than the biter)…)

  11. #11 Joshua A.C. Newman
    December 4, 2009

    This series is really charmingly macabre.

  12. #12 cicely
    December 4, 2009

    I thought this was the entire point (haha) of having spines in the first place?

  13. #13 Jeff Johnson
    December 4, 2009

    “Interesting that there seems to be a lot more left of the echidna than there is of the monitor, despite the echidna’s spineless underbelly (presumably more attractive to scavengers than a scaly lizard) being exposed. Any idea why?”

    Maybe the scavengers were smarter than the monitor! Also of interest, the closer you get to the echidna, the more the the monitor is left untouched.

  14. #14 Jeff Johnson
    December 4, 2009

    “the more the the monitor is left untouched”

    Jeeze, should read “the more THAT the monitor is left untouched”. Didn’t make the coffee strong enough today……

  15. #15 gray Stanback
    December 4, 2009

    Haven’t pufferfish or porcupine fish sometimes pierced the throats of sharks?

  16. #16 rose
    December 4, 2009

    I’m sure there are scientific papers which explain why we find these gruesome topics so fascinating. Some link to our survival instinct somewhere – some evolutionary reason.

    This must be a warning for the festive season – oh, but I can’t resist a mince pie….

  17. #17 Alan Kellogg
    December 4, 2009

    It’s really very simple, we like grody shit.

  18. #18 retrieverman
    December 4, 2009

    This has to be more common than you would think.

    I wonder if any ethologists have looked at the predatory motor patterns of snakes and large lizards to see why they sometimes do this.

  19. #19 David Marjanović
    December 4, 2009

    The famous python/alligator pic… wasn’t that suspected to be the outcome of a collision with a speedboat?

    literally: ‘spiny pig’

    Well, porcupine.

    I think there’s also French épine = spine = Stachel in there.

  20. #20 Allen Hazen
    December 4, 2009

    Re: spiny pig / porcupine etc–
    This is a very common pattern of word-borrowing in German: start with the word in Latin or French or…, break down the compound into components, translate each component into German, recombine. Useful: my German is subrudimentery, but I can often figure out enough words this way to get the gist of something. … The Oxford English Dictionary says that ‘echidna’ means viper in Greek, nthen tells us that the best-known species of Echidna is Echidna hystrix (that’s an obsolete name, isn’t it?), the “Porcupine Ant-eater.”

  21. #21 Dallas Krentzel
    December 4, 2009

    What I’d like to know is whether the moniter would have survived even if it was eating a spineless animal of the same size. It looks as though it’s too big for him to actually swallow, let alone digest (I realize that the echidna is bloated so it appears larger, but regardless, it’s still very large for a lizard to swallow).

    Do moniters have a the ability to swallow organisms whole that are much larger than their own head and neck, like snakes do?

  22. #22 Pedro Cardia
    December 4, 2009

    Hi,

    There is also the case of a Subantartic Skua (Catharacta antarctica) that ate a cephalopod and its (last) meal almost ate its way out of the birds gut. I’ve read this history at http://www.zestforbirds.co.za/skuasquid.html, and there are pictures as well, though not exactly pretty ones.

  23. #23 Albertonykus
    December 5, 2009

    Ouch! These are some horrific deaths. But I have to say: the whole X tries to eat Y, Y too Z, X dies (or X gets injured, dies) title cracks me up for some unfathomable reason.

  24. #24 John Scanlon, FCD
    December 5, 2009

    Interesting that there seems to be a lot more left of the echidna than there is of the monitor, despite the echidna’s spineless underbelly… Any idea why?

    Echidna skin is incredibly tough, as I mentioned here.

  25. #25 moom
    December 5, 2009

    Saw a couple of echidnas in the last couple of days (South Coast NSW). The first time I saw them in the wild. Amazing that anything would try to swallow that!

  26. #26 Tim Morris
    December 5, 2009

    I’ve seen this, it’s still on display at the Brisbane Museum.

  27. #27 Joel
    December 5, 2009

    Oh, I’ve been scooped!

    But I will note that it’s actually in the Queensland Museum, which is in Brisbane. Very cool though.

  28. #28 J.S. Lopes
    December 5, 2009

    It’s interesting to know that Greek ekhidna and German igel are cognates, because share a common origin in the indo-european root *eg^hi- “hedgehog”, cf. Greek ekhinos “hedgehog” and ekhis “viper”.

  29. #29 Lars Dietz
    December 5, 2009

    Allen Hazen:
    “The Oxford English Dictionary says that ‘echidna’ means viper in Greek, nthen tells us that the best-known species of Echidna is Echidna hystrix (that’s an obsolete name, isn’t it?), the “Porcupine Ant-eater.” ”

    And to confuse things even more, the scientific name Echidna is now used for a moray genus…

  30. #30 Jim Thomerson
    December 5, 2009

    A little off topic, but interesting. I was driving down the highway between Mason and Llano, TX. Saw, in the distance, this puzzled turkey vulture by the side of the road. I thought it remarkable that I could tell the bird was puzzled, and from some distance. As I drove by, I saw that the bird was trying to figure out how to eat a dead porcupine.

  31. #31 Noni Mausa
    December 5, 2009

    …and then there was the time my python tried to eat my arm…

    Well, it was my fault. I had been handling the gerbils before I went in to clean the python cage. She sniffed my arm, then struck, rather diffidently. Realizing something was wrong, she paused, then with a “oh the hell with it” effort, tried to throw a loop around my wrist, to subdue me. She finally decided it just wasn’t worth it, and let go.

    Total harm to her — disappointment. Total harm to me– a half-circle on my hand, of the tiniest blood droplets I have ever seen, like minuscule rubies.

    Happy ending. I figured we could use one.

  32. #32 David Marjanović
    December 6, 2009

    And to confuse things even more, the scientific name Echidna is now used for a moray genus…

    Not so much “now” as “since before the mammal was named”. Just like how Platypus is preoccupied by a (guessed it) beetle.

  33. #33 Ace
    January 6, 2010

    *grins*

    Come to the Queensland (Australia) Museum and you can check it out for yourself; the preserved remains sit in a glass case as they were found. In the holidays you always get wide-eyed young kids staring at them. :)

  34. #34 mariel d. kirlington
    March 15, 2010

    what are the other types of these snakes?

  35. #35 David Marjanović
    March 15, 2010

    It’s not a snake. Can’t you see its legs?

    It’s a monitor lizard (goanna).

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