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Vine snakes: Unique video of them feeding at Academy of Sciences

By Gary Bogue
Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 7:07 am in Snakes, Steinhart Aquarium.

Hello Gary:
At feeding time in the California Academy of Sciences’ vine snake exhibit, one blink and you might miss the action.  These pencil-thin snakes hunt fish swimming in the water below, striking with lightning speed.

We recently captured a feeding on film  and I thought you might be interested in sharing it with your blog readers.  A piscivorous arboreal (fish-eating and tree-dwelling) snake is extremely rare, and the Academy was the first aquarium in the world to display this species, thanks to our ongoing research on the reptiles and amphibians of Myanmar.

Vine snake. Photo by Flickr user oli23000 used under a Creative Commons License
vine snake oli23000

A contingent of Academy researchers just returned from Myanmar in November, and are gearing up to go again in April 2010 – this time to the Tanintharyi Division. Here is some more background on that research and how we came to have this unique display:

Myanmar and its Southeast Asian neighbors have been designated as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hot spots.  As such, the country exerts an irresistible pull on Academy scientists. Over the course of 13 years and 24 expeditions to Myanmar (the most recent of which just returned in November 2009), researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco have discovered and described 23 new species of reptiles and amphibians, with an additional 50 awaiting formal description.

Along with data that aid conservation efforts, sometimes scientists come back with other surprises. During a 2000 expedition, the team collected a group of Burmese vine snakes (Ahaetulla fronticincta) — pencil-thin tree-dwelling snakes that mimic vines — and brought them back to the Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium with the goal of displaying them for the public.

So little was known about these snakes that when they first arrived, aquarium biologists were unsure what or how to feed them. As an experiment, they introduced guppies into the snakes’ holding tank. The snakes immediately took notice, slithering into position with gazes fixed on the water. When an unsuspecting guppy swam to within striking distance — bam! One of the snakes flung its head into the water and grabbed the prey in a single, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it motion. The biologists had figured out how to feed them.

To date, the Academy is the only aquarium in the world to have this species on display.  Visitors to the Academy can find the snakes in the Water Planet exhibit.

The Academy research team plans to return to the Tanintharyi Division of Myanmar in April 2010. As they continue to find and document species in this Southeast Asian country, Academy researchers are building a model of scientific discovery and conservation for biodiversity hotspots around the world.  When they started in 1997, approximately 350 reptile and amphibian species were known in Myanmar. When all is done, they estimate that the final total will be close to 500 —  not bad for a country the size of Texas. By comparison, the entire continental United States has approximately 460 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Let me know if you have any questions.
Helen Taylor, Communications Specialist, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco

*** More about the Academy of Sciences:  http://www.calacademy.org

Helen:
Thanks for sharing this great video with my readers. What beautiful little snakes! /Gary

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