by Justine Alford
Researchers on Golem Grad Island, Macedonia, stumbled upon a rather intriguing and wholly disgusting find whilst looking for snakes – a dead young viper with the head of a huge centipede protruding through its body. What a way to go! The report has been briefly described in the journal Ecologica Montenegrina.
Nose-horned vipers (Vipera ammodytes) are venomous snakes found in southern Europe, the Balkans and certain parts of the Middle East. They can grow up to 95 centimeters and possess a characteristic “horn” on the snout, hence the name. They’re also considered to be the most dangerous European viper because their venom is highly toxic, but they’re a pretty docile species that tend to only bite when provoked.
Adult nose-horned vipers usually feed on lizards, smaller snakes and rabbits on Golem Grad, whilst the juveniles eat lizards and a particular species of centipede, the Megarian banded centipede (Scolopendra cingulata). It is not uncommon for snakes to consume potentially dangerous prey, and there have been numerous reports of death due to them “biting off more than they can chew”. Although, as mentioned, these vipers are known to eat this particular species of centipede, it seems that this cocky snake may have underestimated his dinner this time.
S. cingulata can be pretty savage killers themselves; they’re opportunistic carnivores and will eat almost anything that’s not larger than themselves. The authors of the paper note that it’s exceedingly difficult to kill a full-grown Scolopendra. Some people even keep these creepy crawlies as pets. Each to their own I suppose.
The team measured the viper and the centipede; the centipede was found to be 84% of the viper’s trunk length, 112% of its body width and 114% of its body weight. This isn’t hugely impressive compared to the size of animals that snakes have been found to consume previously. But what is interesting/disgusting is that upon dissection, the snake was missing all of its visceral organs- the centipede was occupying the entire volume of the snake’s body. They think it’s possible that the snake swallowed the centipede alive, but the centipede ate its way through the snake in an attempt of freedom, bursting its way through the snake’s abdomen (I am going to have nightmares now…). But unfortunately the poor little guy didn’t make it and died inside the snake with his head poking out. So close… Yet so far…
If you’re scarred for life from reading this, have some emergency comedy of a rare bird humping a photographer’s head.