Cuban Boas Observed Hunting in Groups

Posted on June 1, 2017

Cuban boa slithering in a cave

Snakes are considered solitary hunters but a new study indicates the hunting patterns of some types of snakes may be more complex. Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, observed boas hunting in groups in caves in Cuba.

Cuban boas hunt bats by hanging down from the ceiling at the entrance of a cave and waiting for a bat to fly out. The boas try to grab a bat out of the air as it flies out of the cave. Dinets found that if more than one boa was present for the hunt, the snakes would coordinate their positions to form a wall across the cave entrance. This wall made it much more difficult for a bat to escape and more likely it would become a meal for one of the boas. The boas were much less likely to capture a bat without the help of other boas.

Creating a wall to keep bats from escaping is a clever move by the boas and requires coordination and group hunting skills. Dinets says only a few of the world's 3,650 snake species have ever been observed hunting in the wild so not much is known about snakes' diverse hunting tactics. An article on the coordinated hunting by the Cuban boas was published here in the journal, Animal Behavior and Cognition.

Dients says, "It is possible that coordinated hunting is not uncommon among snakes, but it will take a lot of very patient field research to find out." He says observing the Cuban boa is becoming increasingly difficult because they are being hunted by humans for food and possibly pet trade. He says, "I suspect that if their numbers in a cave fall, they can't hunt in groups anymore and might die out even if some of them don’t get caught by hunters."

Image: Vladimir Dinets