North America’s rarest snake found biting off more than it could chew

by Jerald Pinson, Florida Museum
September 07, 2022

North America’s rarest snake, Tantilla oolitica (rim rock crowned snake), was recently spotted in a park in the Florida Keys after a four-year hiatus. While this would normally be cause for celebration among conservationists, the snake sighting was more a source of incredulous awe than anything else. The snake was found dead, locked in lifeless combat with a giant centipede it had managed to swallow halfway.

The fatal duel marks the first time that scientists have observed the snake’s eating habits. Closely related species are known to have a preference for centipedes, but T. oolitica is so rarely seen that, until now, no one had any definite idea of what it ate. Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History created CT scans of the interlocked pair and published their results this Sunday in the journal Ecology.

“I was amazed when I first saw the photos,” said co-author Coleman Sheehy, the Florida Museum’s herpetology collection manager. “It’s extremely rare to find specimens that died while eating prey, and given how rare this species is, I would never have predicted finding something like this. We were all totally flabbergasted.”

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