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Snake Eaten From Inside Out After Swallowing Centipede Alive

Apr 17, 2014 03:13 PM EDT
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Talk about an extreme case of biting off more than you can chew.

A new field study provides clinical evidence of a young nose-horned viper being eaten from the inside out by a centipede that it apparently swallowed alive.

As described in a report in the journal Ecologica Montenegrina, the scene occurred on what's locally known as Snake Island, which is located in Macedonia's Lake Prespa.

The snake (Vipera ammodytes) was found dead with the head of a Megarian banded centipede (Scolopendra cingulata) protruding through the body wall of its lower abdomen. The young female snake appeared to miscalculate the size and strength of its prey. Even though the snake managed to consume the centipede, it appeared to have taken its meal alive, which proved to be a fatal mistake.

The find was made by herpetologist Ljiljana Tomovic on May 14th, 2013, and in the report, published last month, Tomovic and her collaborators describe what happened when a two-fanged snake took on a hundred-legged centipede.

The centipede was only 5 centimeters shorter than the snake itself and actually weighted slightly more than the snake. The prey constituted 84 percent of the snake's trunk length, 112 percent of its body width and 114 percent of its body weight, the researchers said.

What's more, the centipede was essentially wearing its predator like a cloak; it has consumed or destroyed all of the snake's internal organs, leaving only the skin behind.

It is extremely tough to kill a Megarian banded centipede, the researchers said.

"[In] this case we assume the young snake gravely underestimated the size and strength of the centipede, which itself is known as a ferocious predator."

They concluded: "[We] cannot dismiss the possibility that the snake had swallowed the centipede alive, and that, paradoxically, the prey has eaten its way through the snake, almost reaching its freedom."

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