Dying is always going to be a bit of a bummer, but there are undeniably better ways to go than others. A new study published in the journal Herpetozoa has reported the unfortunate fate of a group of toads preyed upon by the Small-banded Kukri snake in Thailand, and it might just top the charts for grisly demises. After capture, these snakes use their long, sharp teeth to slice open the toads, before inserting their entire head into its abdomen and pulling out the organs one by one. Just to add to the horror, the toad is still alive as this happens. Delightful.
The gruesome feeding strategy has never before been recorded in a serpent species, as most simply swallow their prey whole. It was recorded on three separate occasions by a Danish-Thai research team led by Henrik Bringsøe, who documented this macabre predator-prey interaction. In each of the encounters, the toads struggled vigorously in vain to escape but, on all occasions, ended up being eviscerated alive. The length of the ordeal varied depending on which organs the snake pulled out first, lasting in some instances for several hours.
The unlucky toads belong to a common group of Asian Black-spotted toad, Duttaphrynus melanostictus, infamous for their potent toxin which is excreted from glands on the neck and back. It’s possible therefore that the snakes’ novel approach to dissecting their prey has evolved as a means of avoiding the toads' deadly poison.
However, on one occasion an adult snake was observed swallowing a small toad whole. It’s possible that the smaller toads are less deadly than the others, or it could be that the kukri snakes have adapted a tolerance to their poison. If the latter is true, then it could be the dissection is a means of making larger prey easier to digest, or perhaps the individual snakes are just wrong’ uns. According to a post from LiveScience, since the first discovery of the Small-banded kukri snake practicing the behavior, two more species of Kukri have been found to feed in the same way. Curiously, both snakes then eat the whole dead amphibian after gutting it raising questions as to why they bother with the invasive feeding strategy at all?
"At present, we cannot answer any of these questions, but we will continue to observe and report on these fascinating snakes in the hope that we will uncover further interesting aspects of their biology," said Bringsøe in a statement.
“You'd be pleased to know that kukri snakes are, thankfully, harmless to humans. However, I wouldn't recommend being bitten by one. [T]hey can inflict large wounds that bleed for hours, because of the anticoagulant agent these snakes inject into the victim's bloodstream. Their teeth are designed to inflict lacerations rather than punctures, so your finger would feel as if cut apart! This secretion, produced by two glands, called Duvernoy's glands and located behind the eyes of the snakes, are likely beneficial while the snakes spend hours extracting toad organs.”