Thursday, March 19, 2009

A nocturnal Rat snake!

I think I can never get used to getting amazed by the natural world even though it happens very frequently.
We (the Croc Bank gang) had gathered in the canteen for dinner. I think the time was around 08:45pm. One of our watchman came and told us that he had seen a snake near the puppet theatre. I (as usual) got really excited and ran towards the puppet theatre only to recall that we need a torch to see! I came back to my room, got a torch, a snake hook and our dustbin (I took it because I was in a hurry + there was no container available + this bin had a lid and was good for a container!).
So soon we rush to the place and I could not believe my eyes. A Rat snake (Ptyas mucosa) feeding on a toad at 08:45pm!!!
That can't be right. I must go closer. I knew I can't mistake a Rat snake from 2 feet away but it still took some time to accept the fact that it was indeed a 6 - 6.6 ft Rat snake!
We didn't want to disturb it so we just left it alone and came back but THAT IS STRANGE. I wouldn't have believed it if I had not seen this with my own eyes. That is something I have never seen or heard or read (I don't read much though).
Like I said in my early articles, I was engaged in problem reptile removal activities. I must have caught at least 700 Rat snakes from strangest of places. I have caught them from people's bedrooms, kitchens, backyards, roofs, factories, cars, motor bikes, trees, etc. etc. Once I was called to remove a Rat snake from the Kitchen of a restaurant situated on the second floor right in the middle of the one of the busiest market place. 
No doubt they are highly adaptable and do survive in some of the strangest of urban habitats. People often say "how can a snake live in a city???" Well, they were always there when it was a jungle once. They were always there when it was turned into a farmland and then into a village and further on to a town and now an "urban city". Since they are so adaptive by nature, it is not at all difficult for them to survive in such environment. You just see them once in a while because of their way of living which is highly secretive. They were always there and they will be always there. There is not a single colony in new Ahmedabad from where we have not found snakes, year after year. We find snakes of all age and eggs during the breeding season, again year after year. This means that they have completely adapted themselves. There is always enough prey base for them most of which is rodents and insects followed by toads/frogs and lizards (thanks to our solid waste management system). What the residents (humans) might want to do is just learn to live with them! Seems tough with all sorts of misunderstandings but that is the only real solution.
We now know that removing snakes from one location and "releasing" in another "good habitat" (translocation) is not a good idea. Studies suggest that most of the translocated snakes die within a year of release. > I will be writing a full article on this so keep following. <
Coming back to the main subject of this article; all of the Rat snakes that I have caught were only during the day time which is fine as they are strictly diurnal snakes. There are snakes which are active by day and night, also sometimes called "Bi-diurnal" but not Rat snakes. I have kept Rat snakes in captivity for educational shows for a long time but I have never seen them active after dark.
The above is a photo of "Gabbar" with Akanksha at our rehab center. She is the largest Rat snake I have ever caught / kept. She was 8.6ft which is huge for a female. She was the star in many of our educational shows.

I think the after dark feeding behavior of a Rat snake here shows the amazing adaptational capabilities. There is no other explanation to this as the snake was feeding on a toad on a clear ground. It was really dark then. It obviously didn't just bump into a toad and started eating it. That was a proper hunt it had made. Croc Bank campus has a lot of frogs / toads and this could well be a switch in the feeding behavior which can and will result in the wellbeing of the snake by out-competing all the other duirnal predators. That is one smart snake!

Oh by the way, it might be interesting to know that all colubrid snakes including Rat snakes are venomous. They have true venom glands producing true venoms (not 'Duvernoy's gland' as it was earlier reffered to). Some of the species have venoms as complex as elapids and viperids.
For more information on this visit and click on "colubrids". You can also find the paper published by Dr. Bryan Greg Fry here.


It's a Jungle Out There! said...

great article, keep it up :)

Citraa said...

hey...this makes a damn good read man! keep it up:) i'v become a follower of ur blog now.