January 8, 2014
Zoo keepers got a big surprise last month when a tentacled snake in the Indonesian Rain Forest gave birth to seven babies overnight!
Zoo keepers knew that the female snake was pregnant, but weren’t sure when the babies would arrive. An ultrasound done in December revealed a tangle of little snakes inside the mother.
Dr. Kami Fox, the zoo’s veterinary intern states that the length of gestation and anticipated due date for tentacled snakes is difficult to determine. “We try to assess how far along they are via ultrasound but rarely do we witness the actual birth. In this particular case, the snake gave birth during the night and in the morning we observed the new babies.”
Tentacled snakes are ovoviviparous, which means they produce eggs inside their body, but instead of laying eggs they give birth to live young. Here’s how it works: The unborn snakes are nourished via egg yolk (the mother has no placenta), and the eggs hatch prior to birth. The mother snake then delivers live young.
Tentacled snakes are ambush hunters. According to Zoo Keeper Dave Messmann, “They use their tails to anchor themselves and wait for their prey.” At this point, the unique tentacles for which the species is named allow the snake to sense vibration from the unsuspecting prey – usually a small fish. Once the predator becomes aware of its prey it strikes with its mouth. The strike is lightning-fast, lasting only a matter of milliseconds.
Baby tentacled snakes begin hunting just hours after birth. According to Dr. Fox, “The babies come out hungry so we provide size-appropriate fish for them.”
The only known predator to tentacled snakes is humans.