Snakes That Love Eating Other Snakes

Kingsnakes feed on other snakes, and are nature’s answer to serpent population control.

Photo: Pixabay

Lately I have been thinking about snakes. This was prompted by the sighting of a python by my parents during a customary evening stroll on the streets of our gated community. They didn’t see the snake right away, to be sure. My mother saw the cat first. It was sitting on the sidewalk. When suddenly my father, with great alarm, exclaimed “snake! Snake!” My mother’s gaze traveled from the cat’s position a few meters back. Sure enough there it was, a big python, eyeing the cat. Dinner!

But I digress.

When I first heard the name Kingsnake I envisioned a majestic serpent. I was not disappointed; for they are a very colorful family. However, upon further study (read Wikipedia), I was enlightened to the fact that the word “king” when used as part of a snake’s name, carries the implication that that snake eats other snakes. By that logic, I assume King Kong eats other apes?

The kingsnake can be found in subtropical North America. They are constrictors by nature and eat other snakes by choice; only when food is scarce will they consider rodents, talk about condescension! What’s interesting about kingsnakes in particular is their evolved immunity. They are for the most part impervious to the venoms of other snakes within their locality; having within them anti-proteins (a word of my own invention) to counteract the effects of venom, a complex mixture of active proteins. Here, watch for yourself, as this oily kingsnake slowly gulps down a rattlesnake, whole and alive, on camera. It is disturbingly fascinating to watch. I don’t think I’ve cringed this much since season 1 of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of snakes and Game of Thrones, how badass is Ellaria Sand? Paramour of Red Viper, Mother of Sand Snakes, Usurper of Dorne, and ally to the Mother of Dragons. Recall when Prince Doran Martell realizes that Ellaria has betrayed him, and she stabs him in the chest with a tiny dagger, then pulls him out of his wheelchair forcefully, it is not unlike how the kingsnake in the video clip above used its mouth to clamp down on the mouth of the rattlesnake and drag it out of its nest, then slowly gobble the rattler from head to tail.

If you found the diet of kingsnakes interesting, than you’re in for treat, for yours truly will now slither onto (ha ha) the topic of their saucy mating rituals.

During the pheromonal months of Spring, a male kingsnake, upon coming across a female kingsnake, will perform a series of nonrandom motor movements (jerk, writhe, wave) on top of her. It is not uncommon for the male to repeat his moves multiple times before the female becomes receptive to his advances; at which point the female kingsnake will relax her body, and their tails will press tightly together. Neck biting is sometimes used as part of the courtship.

Aside from kingsnakes, there is another famous snake-eating serpent that you should be familiar with, namely the infamous King Cobra from the jungles of Asia. Unlike kingsnakes, king cobras are venomous, and immobilize their prey by injecting a powerful, incapacitative toxin via bite (and not the sexy Vampire kind, mind you). Like kingsnakes, king cobras swallow its victim whole and alive. These kings really like their meals served squirming don’t they?

As a side note, surely all this swallowing cannot be pleasant for the gulper let alone the gulpee. Though this copperhead snake might hiss otherwise, judging from the gusto it displayed while slurping down one of its own brethren, as if it were a fat string of spaghetti. A rivetingly disturbing image to be sure.

And speaking of disturbed thoughts, one that comes fast to mind is the lurking python in my neighborhood with the exceptionally large frame. It could be in my backyard! Indeed, the serpent (or as my mother now calls it Kaa, as in Kaa the hungry python from “The Jungle Book” animation), has put the entire community on red alert. Am I concerned? You may be sure that I most certainly am. But I think we can all take some comfort in the fact that there is no king large enough to swallow a python, whole and alive.

By Boripat Lebel

Boripat Lebel is a research coordinator at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University. He authored the eBook “A Vomit of Diamonds.” Boripat can also be found on LinkedIn .