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Small snake’s egg-swallowing prowess puts pythons to shame

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Small snake's egg-swallowing prowess puts pythons to shame

Burmese pythons are famously known for being capable of swallowing pigs whole, but you have to keep in mind, the snakes themselves are pretty darn big. When it comes to snake-to-prey-size ratio, however, nothing beats the Gans’ egg-eater.

Named after herpetologist Carl Gans, the Gans’ egg-eater (Dasypeltis gansi) is native to West Africa. As you might have guessed, its diet consists entirely of bird eggs. The snake is harmless to humans, as it’s nonvenomous and reaches a length of just three to four feet (0.9 to 1.2 m).

Nonetheless, according to a study recently conducted by University of Cincinnati biologist Prof. Bruce Jayne, the egg-eater holds the record for being able to swallow the largest prey relative to its own body size.

Although it’s skinnier than other snakes that opportunistically eat eggs, such as the rat snake, it’s capable of swallowing eggs three to four times bigger than any of those snakes can manage. The Gans’ is able to do so thanks to stretchy skin that bridges the gap between its separated left and right lower jawbones, along with a nearly toothless soft mouth that allows it to maintain a grip on smooth eggshells.

And no, the snake doesn’t eventually have to pass the eggs in their full, intact form. Instead, after swallowing an egg, the reptile contorts its spine to crack the egg open, so its contents can be digested. The broken, flattened shell is subsequently regurgitated.

The snake regurgitates the shells after the eggs’ contents are digested

Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

It is believed that the Gans’ evolved its egg-swallowing capability in response to the fact that eggs contain fewer calories than more elongated prey such as rats, mice or birds. As a result, in order to get the same amount of food energy, the snake has to swallow quite large eggs.

“It’s spectacular but on a small scale,” said Jayne. “People focus on big snakes eating big things, but if you correct for their size, these little guys are pretty scary.”

Prof. Bruce Jayne with a Gans' egg-eater
Prof. Bruce Jayne with a Gans’ egg-eater

Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Zoology.

Source: University of Cincinnati

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