During one of my recent hikes in the jungle next to lake Hodges, I chanced upon a California kingsnake who was about to eat a mouse it had just killed. Afraid of me, it slithered away. I looked at its prey, took a few pictures, and then thought: I wonder if it will come back to get its food. After all, it might be hungry enough to take the risk. So, I backed away and put down my backpack, unstrapped my tripod and started setting it up. I had just attached my camera to it, and was adjusting the zoom, when, lo and behold, the snake appeared in the corner of my viewfinder. And that’s how I shot the very first pic in the following gallery. Even though blurry, you can clearly see the snake in the top right corner.
The others images are a mix of video snapshots and some pics I took right after I finished shooting the video.
Snakes have this amazing ability to swallow their prey whole even though it can be much bigger than their mouth. Of course, in this case, the prey size is probably average, but I still found it fascinating.
You can see the whole operation in detail in this video. Notice how it sticks its tongue out on the mouse, like it’s licking it, before starting to eat it. I suspect it was checking that it is still OK to eat it.
Please don’t hesitate to comment, I would love to know what you thought about it.
Here is how the process works, (found at this website, unfortunately this site includes links which go to the wrong video but I liked the detailed explanation):
- After the king snake constricted and subdued its prey, it began the exhaustive “transport cycle,” to get the slithering snack into its belly. Called a pterygoid walk, the king snake opened up its jaw and alternately ratcheted toothy parts of its upper jaw over the surface of the prey, in turn“walking” its mouth over and around the prey.
- To help pull in its prey, the king snake compressed its own vertebral column into a series of concertina-like waves that shortened and lengthened its body.
- The king snake forced the prey’s vertebral column to bend into waves and compress as if an accordion. Even with eyes bigger than its stomach, the king snake could package its meal to ensure a perfect fit inside its gastrointestinal tract.
- With all that work, most of the king snakes regurgitated partially digested prey. Just one snake-snacker completely digested its prey, a feat that took 15 days.