A team of conservationists made a surprising discovery when out surveying in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, as they walked in on a steamy scene unfolding between three banded snail-sucking snakes. Little is known about the breeding behavior of Tropidodipsas fasciata, making the discovery all the more exciting. The findings were published on ResearchGate.
The team of researchers were walking a transect when they came across two banded snail-sucking snakes, a male and a female, entwined in a small tree. The two had not yet begun copulation but it certainly looked as if romance was on the cards. The male appeared to be smelling the female when a third snake was spotted slithering towards the lovers through the leaf litter. This late entry to the party was scenting the air with its tongue, likely in search of females who emit chemical cues that amorous males can pick up on.
The third snake began his ascent and once in the tree aligned his body with the female’s, forcing the other male further up the tree though his tail remained in line with the female. The new arrival then intertwined his tail with the female's, and they began mating without so much as a cursory sniff to imply courtship prior to the main event. Typical.
“As a field biologist, nothing gives me more pleasure than those ephemeral moments where you are able to observe organisms in their natural environment displaying interesting interactions or behaviours,” said co-author José António Barão-Nóbrega in a press release from Operation Wallacea. “As a whole, snakes are very elusive, and so being able to witness and describe such an interesting behavior in a species whose reproduction is still poorly known was a privilege.”
Banded snail-sucking snakes are found across parts of Mexico and are so named for their love of quite literally sucking down snails. They have an adapted jaw morphology that enables them to shove the snail’s entire shell in its mouth before sucking out the unfortunate occupant. They strike the unsuspecting mollusks using their long, delicate teeth and then retract their lower jaw to draw them out using suction.