While most snakes swallow their prey whole, one species of snake on Borneo island in Malaysia uses its left and right lower jaws like a knife and fork to separate the nonedible parts.
Yosuke Kojima, a research fellow at Toho University, was among a research team that fed river snails to blunthead slug snakes to study how they eat their prey.
“When I first saw it, I had no idea what the snake was doing because it did not swallow its prey immediately,” said Kojima. “I’m surprised at how skillfully the snakes cut off only the parts that they can’t digest.”
The team conducted its ecological research on Borneo island in 2018. Each snake, native to Southeast Asia, measured about 80 centimeters in total.
The snakes pulled out the bodies of the snails from their shells by using their lower jaws. They then held the bodies using one of their jaws to prevent them from moving and cut off the snails’ hard “lids” with the other jaw.
In most species of snakes, the bones of their left and right jaws are not conjoined and can move separately. As a result, they can open their jaws widely to swallow their prey whole.
But it was the first reported discovery that a species of snake can use its lower jaws to cut apart its prey, according to the team.
Since the species feeds mainly on conchs, its jaws have likely developed the ability to pull the bodies of the prey from their shells.
The team's findings were published in the British journal Scientific Reports.