Even for the animal world, this is pretty savage.
The vast majority of snakes consume prey whole, but a group of stunned scientists have found that one species gets its meals in a much more brutal fashion: by gutting living toads with their teeth and then diving headfirst into the body to eat the internal organs.
In a study titled “Eviscerated Alive: Novel and Macabre Feeding Strategy in Oligodon Fasciolatus,” a group of four researchers from Denmark and Thailand reveal that the species — also known as the small-banded kukri snake — has developed an incredibly metal way of dining.
The study, published this month in the journal Herpetozoa, establishes “a first for science,” lead author Henrik Bringsøe writes in a blog post about his findings.
The feeding behavior of the kukri — common in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam — “differs from anything ever described in snakes,” Bringsøe writes. The serpent uses its teeth “to cut open the abdomen of large poisonous toads, then inserts its entire head into the cavity to pull out and eat the organs one by one, while the prey is still alive!”
Researchers managed to film the kukri in action once in August 2016 and twice this year, in April and June. “During those macabre attacks, we managed to capture on camera three times, the toads struggled vigorously to escape and avoid being eviscerated alive, but, on all occasions, this was in vain,” writes Bringsøe.
The toad-on-snake battles could last for a few hours, the scientist said, “depending on the organs the snake would pull out first.”
The toads being demolished by the snakes are of a common species called the Asian black-spotted toad, known for secreting a “potent toxin” from glands across their neck and back. In one graphic photo from the researchers’ recordings, the snake’s body is visibly entering and exiting the toad’s as it releases its poison, which appears like a white liquid.
While the snakes generally employed their gut-and-nosh method, researchers are aware of one case where a kukri ate a toad whole — but it was a child, meaning its poison was possibly not as potent.
“Could it be that the snakes have adopted this sophisticated and gory approach to avoid being poisoned?” Bringsøe asks in his post, before acknowledging that he and his team do not know.
He concludes his post on a reassuring note, though.
“Perhaps you’d be pleased to know that kukri snakes are, thankfully, harmless to humans,” he writes.