From ambush feeders and foragers to a new book

Getting to know the neighbours

Am I alone in thinking that everything put on this Earth pre homo erectus was put here for a reason? Surely from the smallest speck of dust to the largest animal, everything has a role? What would be the point in creating something that has no purpose?

While you’re listing all the useless things you can think of, let me continue.

My (our?) friends, the snakes, seem to have drawn the short straw. They’re predators and, as such, to stay alive they need to eat other living things, not necessarily everything they come across.

Their role is to help maintain a balance within the ecosphere and that could include, as with most living things on this Earth, ultimately becoming a food source for others, not necessarily by choice.

More columns by Pat McKrill: Oh What a Night!

Snakes are quite unusual in their field. Despite their lack of limbs or ears, they must carry out their function unassisted. They’ll procure, by various means, and consume their prey without outside assistance. They don’t gang up on their prey, so there’s no need to share the proceeds of their labours with other participants. There are none.

The bulk of our snakes are foragers – those that go out looking for their prey –who have the advantage in that they can pre-view their prey before procuring it. They seldom catch and kill food items that are too large to consume. There are no “doggy bags” in their world.

Rock pythons (main picture, top) and puff adders are ambush feeders, while night adders are foragers.

The ambush feeders, such as those adders who lie in wait, can, unfortunately, make mistakes because they don’t always have the luxury of pre-viewing their prey – hikers take note. There’s no time for second-guessing when you’re an ambush feeder. Your meal doesn’t hang around waiting for you to make a decision, a plausible reason for the number of “accidental” bites recorded annually.

I often get told (courtesy Nat Geo, no doubt) the fact (?) that puff adders are the fastest strikers in the world.

That could be true, although I’m not sure how they researched every one of the 2500 or so snake species on the planet to arrive at that conclusion, but it does make sense that, apart from the specialised feeders (eg egg and slug-eaters), every other snake would have to strike quickly if it wanted a meal.

Hence the second rule in snake encounters. Don’t fear them, but always respect them. You should know the first rule by now.

Talking of hunting

Talking of hunting, way back in 2009 I was privileged to be invited by the original owners of The Meander Chronicle, Phillippa Gordon Lycett and Caroline Richter, to write my column. Since taking the reins in April last year, new owners Nerissa Card and Garth Johnstone have kindly allowed me to continue with my crusade.

Thanks are also due to loyal readers. Getting to Know the Neighbours is now 10 years old and I’m planning to self-publish the writings in book form, for release by mid-June. Stay tuned.

Contact: Email herpet@eastcoast.co.za; 083 303 6958