Scientist Discovers Snake Able to Swallow Largest Prey Relative to Size of Any Snake

Close up footage of egg eating snake (Dasypeltis gansi) in defensive posture
© TKBackyard/Shutterstock.com

Written by Megan Martin

Published: August 29, 2023

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When you think of the impressive meals snakes are able to consume whole, you most likely consider massive constrictors devouring deer and similar prey. However, despite their large size (and that of their prey), when you put things into equal perspective, a smaller species of snake reigns victorious in catching the largest prey. In fact, it is Gans’ egg-eater.

The Gans’ egg-eater (Dasypeltis gansi) is a species of snake native to much of the western regions of the African continent. As their name suggests, their diet is made up completely of eggs. In a study published in the Journal of Zoology, Biologist Bruce Jayne describes the interesting eating habits of this little snake. The results? Gans’ egg-eater snake is able to consume the largest prey (when you consider respect to body size). 

Undoubtedly, larger species of snake, such as pythons, are able to consume larger prey. For instance, another one of Jayne’s studies found that pythons could consume prey weighing over 100 pounds. However, Burmese pythons can grow to be several feet long and up to around 200 pounds. Gans’ egg-eater only grows to be around three feet long, with a thin frame. As a result, while the prey they capture is much smaller than that of large snake species, it is still the largest with respect to body size. 

How Does Gans’ Egg-Eater Eat?

In order to consume prey so large, the Gans’ egg-eater snake has adopted specialized anatomy. This is true for many of the Dasypeltis species, each with a diet heavily featuring eggs.

First, Gans’ egg-eater has very few teeth. This helps increase space in the mouth while also providing fewer obstacles that could damage the egg or prevent smooth consumption. They also have stretchy skin between the left and right lower jawbones, allowing them to swallow larger prey. 

What is most interesting about this species of snake, however, may be their vertebrae. Gans’ egg-eaters have specialized vertebrae that, when contorted, can crack the swallowed egg. This allows the snake to digest the innards of the egg while regurgitating the shell. 

Species Profile: Gans’ Egg-Eater

Gans’ egg-eater is a non-venomous snake species native to West Africa. Here, they thrive best in savanna habitats. They are named for Carl Gans, an American herpetologist. On average, they grow between 28 and 40 inches in length. While other egg-eating species may consume a variety of eggs, this species eats only that of birds. 

Close up footage of egg eating snake (Dasypeltis gansi) in defensive posture
Dasypeltis gansi

has specialized anatomy to aid in the consumption and digestion of eggs.

©TKBackyard/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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