Perentie tries to swallow echidna. Echidna too spiky, Perentie gets horribly injured. Dies.

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...

i-90ca966be569acaf96e647b5151f48cb-Kirschner-et-al-perentie-vs-echidna-Dec-2009.jpg

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 RamÃrez-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.

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

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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."

By Anonymous (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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 :)

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".

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

Well, he will never try that again.

By Jeff Johnson (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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').

What a charmin topic this is Darren XD

By Zach Hawkins (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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, :-( ...

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

"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.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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)...)

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

"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.

By Jeff Johnson (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

"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......

By Jeff Johnson (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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

By gray Stanback (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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....

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.

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.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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."

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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?

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 www.zestforbirds.co.za/skuasquid.html, and there are pictures as well, though not exactly pretty ones.

By Pedro Cardia (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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.

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.

By John Scanlon, FCD (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

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!

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

By Tim Morris (not verified) on 04 Dec 2009 #permalink

Oh, I've been scooped!

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

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".

By J.S. Lopes (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

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...

By Lars Dietz (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

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.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

...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.

By Noni Mausa (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

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.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

*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. :)

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

It's a monitor lizard (goanna).

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 15 Mar 2010 #permalink