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the stuff of nightmares

Scientist observes packs of snakes engaged in 'coordinated hunting'

In case anyone needed another reason to be afraid of the slippery, slithery creatures that are snakes: They might hunt in packs. Well, at least one snake species might.

Vladimir Dinets, a scientist from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, recently observed the Cuban boa hunting fruit bats in caves — only to realize that if more than one snake was present, the snakes would engage in what seemed to be "coordinated hunting." "Snakes arriving to the hunting area were significantly more likely to position themselves in the part of the passage where other snakes were already present, forming a 'fence' across the passage and thus more effectively blocking the flight path of the prey, significantly increasing hunting efficiency," the study's abstract says.

Group hunts boasted much higher success rates than solo hunts, and a press release about the study noted that "the more snakes were present, the less time it took to capture a bat."

In case the mental image of snakes hunting in a pack weren't reason enough to stay inside, the snakes did this group hunting while dangling from the top of the cave. "After sunset and before dawn, some of the boas entered the passage that connected the roosting chamber with the entrance chamber, and hunted by suspending themselves from the ceiling and grabbing passing bats," the study said.

This isn't the first time a group hunting effort among snakes has been observed, though it remains unclear if this is actually a widespread serpentine phenomenon or if there's really any purposeful coordination between the snakes. "It is possible that coordinated hunting is not uncommon among snakes, but it will take a lot of very patient field research to find out," Dinets said.