The only meager consolation for those afraid of snakes was to think of them as shy and solitary predators. But now it turns out that these reptiles could be capable of coordinated hunting efforts, and not just of ambushes of single specimens competing with their own for the same prey.
Group ambushes. Vladimir Dinets, an ethologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, came to these conclusions by observing the behavior of the Cuban boas (Chilabothrus angulifer) in the Desembarco del Granma national park, in the Caribbean archipelago.
These reptiles, greedy for fruit bats, await their prey hidden in the rocky cavities of the walls and ceilings at the entrance to caves and sinkholes. Here they wait for the bats to pass through their daily raids. At the right time, they come out of hiding and attack.
Get there. Because Cuba's boas are often found in large numbers in these places, Dinets wanted to understand if their hunting efforts were coordinated: if, in practice, the animals know how to "agree" to form an impenetrable tent of crawling bodies that the poor bats are forced to cross.
Pass, if you can. In 8 days he filmed 16 different attacks, during which the boas, when present in quantity, all accumulated in the same points of the caves, even at the cost of leaving some areas undefended. In this way it was easier to form a wall trap: in fact, when more than one snake was present, the attempts were always fruitful. When instead the reptiles hunted solo, sometimes they remained dry-mouthed.
More cunning than expected. It may be that similar strategies - which imply the ability to understand where others will be positioned, and to position themselves accordingly - are more widespread than is believed among snakes. The array of creeping reptiles that hunted an iguana in a famous BBC documented pursuit, however, does not represent a group strategy. According to herpetologists, it is more a response of single individuals to the unmistakable smell of prey.