Vine Snake Bites Off More Than It Can Swallow

Vine snake tries to chow down on male Anolis longitibialis. Photo: M. Muñoz

Snakes are one of the most important predators of anoles. Recently on this blog, a beautiful series of photos were posted, showing an eyelash pit viper make quick work of an ill-fated Anolis limifrons. This makes sense, right? The viper has a quick strike, a potent dose of venom, and the anole is quite small relative to its predator.

What about when the tables are turned, and the lizard seems the better contender? On a trip to the Dominican Republic I came across a vine snake (Uromacer frenatus) trying with all its might to make a meal of an enormous male Anolis longitibialis. This feisty male was at least 7 centimeters in body length and my impression is that the lizard put up a good fight. Although it was dead, its nuchal crest was still raised when I came across this grim spectacle. In Jaragua National Park the habitat is composed of big limestone rocks with lots of nooks and crannies. Male A. longitibialis defend these rocks as their territories, and my guess is that when the snake came knocking, this guy stayed and held his ground. How the puny snake managed to capture and subdue the lizard, however, is still a mystery. I came back a few hours later to check on the snake’s progress and, to my surprise, the snake had completely abandoned the project, leaving the lizard to rot on the rock. It’s possible that my photo snapping had put him off his meal, but I think he may have bitten off more than he could swallow. The snake may have won the battle, but he didn’t win the war. Keep reading to see more pictures of this interesting encounter.

Photo: M. Muñoz

Photo: M. Muñoz

Photo: M. Muñoz

Vine snake cannot handle the anole. Photo: Juanita Hopwood

About marthamunoz

Martha is working on her PhD on the thermal ecology and evolution of anoles in the Losos Lab at Harvard University.
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2 Responses to Vine Snake Bites Off More Than It Can Swallow

  1. Paul Hime says:

    What a battle! On several occasions, I’ve watched Hispaniolan xenodontine snakes (Uromacer and Hypsirhynchus) in captivity capture and subdue relatively large lizards, and it seems that their “mild” venom acts rather quickly on anoles. These snakes seem to initially cue into “anoline” movement, and once they approach their prey, a few tongue flicks confirm that the meal is worth grabbing. The strikes are usually to the lizard’s neck, and the snakes immediately engage their rear fangs and seem to “chew” on the lizard, presumably speeding the delivery of venom. After only a few minutes in the jaws of a vine snake, anoles appear to become sluggish, have difficulty breathing, and quickly succumb. I would wager that the snake pictured here would have been physically able to eat that anole…

  2. marthamunoz says:

    Very interesting, Paul! I thought the anole might have been just a little too big, but you never can tell. It’s likely my field assistant and I put him off his meal by taking pictures, although we tried to keep our distance. When we left, he was still trying to ingest it, so he gave up some time after that.

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