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Cannibalism of Liophis lineatus (Linnaeus) (Serpentes: Colubridae) in natural conditions/Canibalismo de Liophis lineatus (Linnaeus) (Serpentes: Colubridae) en condiciones naturales.


The cannibalism is a reported phenomenon for snakes of the families Colubridae, Elapidae and Viperidae (Polis and Myers 1985, Engeman et al. 1996, Krysko 2002, Martinez et al. 2006, MocinoDeloya et al. 2008, Capella et al. 2010). It is considered a relatively common trophic behavior among snakes, which is important in the ecology of many species (Polis and Myers 1985). In 2006, Bonfligio and Lema published the first record of ophiophagy in the genus Liophis, after these authors encountered a junior of Helicops infrataeniatus Jahn, 1865, inside the stomach of a female Liophis miliaris Linnaeus, 1758. In this same year, Pereira et al. (2006) reported cannibalism for the same species in captivity.

Several authors (Vitt 1983, La Marca and Garcia 1987, Dixon (1989), La Marca and Soriano 2004, Outerial 2005, Esqueda et al. 2009, Figueiredo de Andrade 2009, Albarelli and Santos-Acosta, 2010), have reported the feeding habits of some Liophis snakes, which included earthworms, arthropods, fishes, lizards, little amphibians (Anura and Caudata, including in some cases anuran larvae) and rodents. Most Liophis snakes are known for their ingest preference for frogs; however, they are characterized among xenodontine colubrids for being generalist species (Vitt 1983).In this note, I report the first case of cannibalism in Liophis lineatus.


Two specimens of Liophis lineatus Linnaeus, 1758, were seen ingesting the same frog prey (Leptodactylus sp.) at mid-day, on 4 august 2008. These were among contructing debris near a house in the "Puerto Rico" farm, 75 Km NW of La Fria town in Tachira state, Venezuela (8[degrees]14'26"N, 72[degrees]16'19"W; 98 m.a.s.l.). After the simultaneouslous predation event was detected, both snakes along with the captured prey were placed on a flat surface for to be observed and to gather the photographic record. The bigger specimen was ingesting the amphibian's head first, while the smaller was swallowing at the same time one of frog's posterior extremities (Fig. 1a); since the beginning of this observation the prey was motionless, with ventral surfaces showing up. Both snakes were apart from each other, trying to obtain the prey, but only the largest specimen managed to ingest a large portion of the frog (Fig. 1b). The bigger snake Anally ingested all of its prey, at the same time ingesting its competitor (Fig. 1c).


Because most of the natural history of Liophis lineatus is unknown (Dixon 1989), this report is important to tell us about one of its types of prey and give us an idea about some feeding behavior. Although several xenodontine species ingest frogs, there is certain specificity in the kind of prey species among these snake species. The later has been attributed to be a consequence of its adaptive morphology, expressed in the wide and large of head, for example (Vitt 1983), which suggest that several of these species are not adapted to ophiophagy. Due to the fact that one of the reported ingested specimens was a co-specific to the snake swallowing all the prey items (Fig. 1) and considering the above reasoning, it is reasonable to think that it was an accidental cannibalism event consequence of the competition involving a prey item in common. However, the apparent facility with which the specimen swallowed its co-specific open questions like: are other snakes usually prey item of this species? Is this a non-accidental behavior? These questions reflect our current status of knowledge on the natural history of Liophis lineatus.



I thank my family for all their support , to Sara and Salome for being my life's motor, to Javier Garcia and Andres Mora for helping in the field, to Amelia Diaz for her corrections and support adding to my knowledge, and to Enrique La Marca for his style comments and corrections and for providing bibliographic material.


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Bonfiglio, F. and T. Lema. 2006. Ofiofagia em Liophis miliaris (Serpentes, Colubridae). Biociencias 14(2):221-222.

Capella, J., J. Mateo, J. Mayol and J.M. Pleguezuelos. 2011. Canibalismo en Macropotodon mauritanicus en la isla de Mallorca. Boletin de la Asociacion Herpetologica Espanola 22:44-46.

Dixon, J. 1981. The Neotropical colubrid snake genus Liophis: The Eastern Caribbean Complex. Copeia 1981(2):296-304.

Dixon, J. 1989. Prey items of 20 species of the neotropical colubrid snake genus Liophis. Herpetological Review 20(2):39-41.

Engeman, R., G. Rodda, D. Rodriguez and M. Linnel. 1996. Brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) cannibalism. The Snake 27:149-152.

Esqueda, F., M. Natera-Mumaw and E. La Marca. 2009. First record of salamander predation by a Liophis (Wagler, 1830) snake in the Venezuelan Andes. Acta Herpetologica 4(2):171-175.

Figueiredo de Andrade, C.A. 2009. Predation of Scinax alter (Anura: Hylidae) and Leptodactylus ocellatus (Anura: Leptodactylidae) by Liophis miliaris (Serpentes: Colubridae). Anais do IX Congresso de Ecologia do Brasil, 13 a 17 de Setembro de 2009, Sao Lourengo--MG.

Krysko, K. 2002. Seasonal Activity of the Florida kingsnake Lampropeltis getula floridana (Serpentes: Colubridae) in Southern Florida. The American Midland Naturalist Journal 148:102-114.

La Marca, E. and J.E. Garcia P. 1987. Habitos alimentarios de dos especies de culebras "reinitas" de Venezuela (Feeding habits of two "Little queen" snakes from Venezuela), Liophis melanotus and L. epinephelus opsthotaenia. [Resumen/Abstract]. XXXVII Convencion Anual ASOVAC, Maracaibo, 22-27 Nov. 1987:268.

La Marca, E. and P. Soriano. 2004. Reptiles de Los Andes de Venezuela. Fundacion Polar, Conservacion Internacional, CODEPRE-ULA, Fundacite Merida, BIOGEOS. Merida. 173 pp.

Mocino-Deloya, E., K. Setser, J. Pleguezuelos, A. Kardon and D. Lazcano. 2008. Cannibalism of nonviable offspring by postparturient Mexican lance-headed attlesnakes, Crotalus polystictus. Animal Behaviour 77:145-150.

Navarrete, L., J. Lopez-Johnston and A. Blanco. 2009. Guia de las Serpientes de Venezuela: Biologia, venenos, conservacion y listado de especies [Caracas]. 103 pp.

Outerial, A. 2005. Historia natural de uma comunidade de serpentes da Serra do Sudeste do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis. Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. 72 pp.

Pereira H.B., P., Hess, M., Texeira and M.F. Domingues. 2006. Liophis miliaris (common water snake): Cannibalism. Herpetological Bulletin 97:36-37.

Polis, G. and C. Myers. 1985. A survey of intraspecific predation among reptiles and amphibians. Journal of Herpetology 19(1):99-107.

Vitt, L. 1983. Ecology of an anuran-eating guild of terrestrial tropical snakes. Herpetologica 39(1):52-66.


(1) Estudiante, Departamento de Biologia, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Los Andes, Merida, Venezuela.

(2) Send correspondence to / Enviar correspondencia a:
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Author:Escalona, Moises
Publication:Herpetotropicos: Tropical Amphibians & Reptiles
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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