When we think of snakes, we generally consider them carnivorous predators that kill small animals through constriction or venom. For most snakes, that would be true, but not all. There is a group of snakes known as “egg-eating snakes” that have evolved to live exclusively on birds’ eggs. Imagining a snake swallowing an egg three times its width is rather comical, but it truly exists out there in the wild! Today, we are going to learn and discover all about these egg-eating snakes and get their complete story— you may just learn something new!
What Is An Egg-Eating Snake?
In short, an egg-eating snake is simply a snake that survives by eating eggs. However, that isn’t the entire picture.
Egg-eating snakes are a recognized group of snakes belonging to two different genera (scientific groups). These genera are Dasypeltis and Elachistodon, each with its groups of species within the genera. Each species within the group has special adaptations that allow them to find and eat a diet that is entirely made up of eggs.
All members of both groups are non-venomous and have adapted to live in locations with lots of birds (to provide enough eggs for their diet). Many of these snakes are relatively common, but there are a few species that are quite rare!
Let’s learn some of the things that make these snakes so unique, plus a bit about how they became the egg-eaters that they are today.
Where Do Egg-Eating Snakes Live?
Egg-eating snakes live in two primary regions across the world, mostly according to their genera.
Dasypeltis is the more common of the two groups, and all of its species can be found in continental Africa. There are 17 species of Dasypeltis, and they all prefer wooded and forested regions with lots of birds. As eggs are their exclusive food source, having lots of birds nearby is rather important. The 17 different species of Dasypeltis can be found across different regions of Africa and generally stay within their localized region.
Elachistodon is the rarer of the two groups and is known as a “monotypic” genus, meaning there is only one species within the category. That species is known as the Indian egg-eating snake but is occasionally referred to as the Westermann’s snake. Indian egg-eating snakes can be found in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, making their range much smaller than Dasypeltis. These snakes also prefer forest and shrublands and generally reside at altitudes between 130-3,280 feet.
How Do Egg-Eating Snakes Hunt And Eat?
Part of what makes egg-eating snakes so successful is their ability to climb. These snakes are some of the most adept climbers in the world, which allows them to scale rocks and trees with ease. When you pair their climbing ability with their sense of smell, these snakes can quite literally sniff out eggs in distant trees without a problem. Their sense of smell allows them to tell if an egg is too far developed to eat or if it is rotten, all without having to break it open.
Once they have found an egg, things get really interesting. In order to consume the egg, they begin by wrapping their entire jaws around it and drawing it into their throat. All snakes have flexible jaws, but egg-eaters have especially stretchy ligaments in their mouths and necks, giving them an added advantage. Additionally, egg-eaters don’t have any teeth, allowing them to swallow the egg without any hangups.
After they have swallowed the egg, another evolutionary adaptation is up next. Egg-eaters push the egg to their stomach using strong muscles and then press it against enamel-capped bony protrusions in their spine. These bony protrusions are an adaptation unique to egg-eaters and allow them to internally break the eggs without spilling any of the valuable calories. After crushing the egg and squeezing it dry, they regurgitate only the shell. The entire process is remarkably efficient and doesn’t allow any egg nutrients to go to waste.
How Do Egg-Eating Snakes Behave?
Most egg-eating snakes are rather timid in nature and are often described as “nervous” snakes. When they are scared, they rub their scales against one another to create a hissing sound, hoping to scare off predators. These snakes can alternate between diurnal and nocturnal behavioral patterns, depending on the region and the need.
Interestingly, egg-eaters are becoming more common in the pet trade. Since chicken eggs are generally too big for them, quail eggs are often fed to them. After an egg-eater eats, it may not eat for at least another month. As generally hardy snakes with little food needs, they make easy pets for many reptile owners. The main drawback to having these snakes as pets is that they currently aren’t being bred. Almost all of the current pets are wild-caught, but that is likely to change as breeders learn how to breed them successfully.
The 18 Species Of Egg-Eating Snake
- Dasypeltis abyssina
- Dasypeltis arabica – Arabian egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis atra – montane egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis bazi
- Dasypeltis confusa – confusing egg-eater
- Dasypeltis congolensis
- Dasypeltis crucifera – cross-marked egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis fasciata – Central African egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis gansi
- Dasypeltis inornata – southern brown egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis latericia
- Dasypeltis medici – East African egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis medici lamuensis
- Dasypeltis medici medici
- Dasypeltis palmarum
- Dasypeltis parascabra
- Dasypeltis sahelensis
- Dasypeltis scabra – common egg-eating snake
- Dasypeltis scabra loveridgei
- Dasypeltis scabra scabra
- Dasypeltis taylori
- Elachistodon westermanni
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Becky Sheridan/Shutterstock.com
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