As it turns out, endangered species aren’t afraid of a fight. According to a new paperresearchers found strange edge rock crowned serpent specimen in Florida pine rocks for the first time in four years.
Even stranger, this rare species of snake died with a centipede stuck in its throat — forever stuck in a vicious battle.
Although pine rocks have covered much of Florida and the Florida Keys for millions of years, the region has since shrunk as a result of human habitation and activity. This has almost wiped out many of its unique plant and animal species. Among these unique species is the endangered one Tantilla oolitica, also known as the cliff’s edge crowned snake. Scientists say this snake is the rarest snake in all of North America and is potentially on the brink of extinction once and for all.
The new copy of T. oolitica, which has now been meticulously photographed using CT scanning technology, reassures experts that the species still survives. It also offers new insights into the species’ body, behavior and diet, presenting the first real evidence of the centipede snake’s dramatic feeding.
“I was amazed when I first saw the pictures,” said Coleman Sheehy, study author and collection manager at the Florida Museum, in press release. “It is extremely rare to find specimens that have died while eating prey, and given how rare this species is, I would never have expected to find anything like this.” We were all completely blown away.”
A charming find
A visitor originally spotted the specimen along the trail at Key Largo Island State Park in the Florida Keys. A team of researchers was ready for detailed analysis after the specimen arrived at the Florida museum.
Although the researchers immediately considered suffocation as the cause of death, this condition is relatively rare among snakes thanks to their flexible jaws and their ability to swallow prey several times the size of their own bodies. So, in an effort to determine the specific cause of death, the research team deployed state-of-the-art scanning technology to get a closer look at the snake without causing any irreversible damage to the specimen itself.
“We were able to perform a digital autopsy that allowed us to examine the centipede and the snake, including their injuries and gut contents, without ever picking up a scalpel,” Jamie Gray, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Florida Museum, said in a news release .
Taking the results of this “digital autopsy”, the team constructed a detailed virtual model of the snake and the half-devoured centipede. Although the model showed minor trauma to the side of the snake’s body, possibly caused by the centipede’s powerful pincers, the deciding factor behind the fight (and the snake’s subsequent death) appeared to be the centipede’s sheer size. In fact, researchers say the centipede’s body blocked the snake’s trachea completely, cutting off the endangered creature’s supply of fresh air.
Ultimately, the preserved condition of the specimen and the detailed CT scans provide ample room for future research into other aspects of the snake’s anatomy and for new discoveries about the strange, largely unknown snake.
“This study is just the beginning of what will be learned about this enigmatic species,” Sheehy concluded in a press release.