October 24, 2020
These snakes disembowel living toads for hours-long meals of their organs

These snakes disembowel living toads for hours-long meals of their organs

A kukri snake disembowels a toad in Thailand.

Winai Suthanthangjai

Snakes famously like to swallow prey in a big gulp, but snakes discovered in Thailand have developed a horrifyingly different feeding habit that involves disemboweling toads while they’re still alive.

A team led by Danish herpetologist Henrik Bringsoe captured this novel snacking strategy on camera. The researchers described it as “a hitherto unknown feeding mode among snakes” in a paper published in the journal Herpetozoa this month.

The small-banded kukri snake lives in Thailand and eats Asian black-spotted toads, which secrete a toxin on their necks and backs to deter predators. The snakes seem to have found a way around that complication. Bringsoe recorded three instances where a snake cut open the side of a toad, stuck its head inside and pulled out the organs one by one.

This is the kukri snake that swallowed a toad whole.

Kanjana Nimnuam

“The fights we saw lasted for up to a few hours, depending on the organs the snake would pull out first,” Bringsoe wrote in a blog post for the journal’s publisher Pensoft.

In a fourth instance, an adult kukri snake swallowed a toad whole, leading to plenty of questions about the feeding behavior. Are the snakes avoiding the toxin by going for the organs? Are smaller toads less toxic and safer to eat? The researchers don’t have answers yet.

If you made it this far and are worried about snake nightmares, you can take some comfort from this: “Perhaps you’d be pleased to know that kukri snakes are, thankfully, harmless to humans,” Bringsoe said. 

You still wouldn’t want to be bitten by a kukri snake, however. The reptiles inject an anticoagulant that causes wounds to bleed for hours “so your finger would feel as if cut apart.” Sleep well. 

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