Snakes That Eat Snakes

SUMMARY:

  • Snakes are an important part of the ecosystems they inhabit as predators of other species that would otherwise proliferate unchecked

  • In addition to rodents, lizards and amphibians some snakes also eat other snakes in a surprising twist of evolutionary fate

  • We explore this phenomenon with a particularly riveting real life encounter with the ‘King’ of snake eating snakes

“Ophiophagus”, the Greek-derived word which translates to ‘snake-eater’ is the term most closely associated with, you guessed it, snake eating snakes. It also happens to be the Genus name of the largest venomous snake in the world, the King Cobra - Ophiophagus hannah. So it goes without saying that the King Cobra does in fact eat other snakes but there are several other species in Hong Kong that also engage in this behavior. They are:

 Many Banded Krait -  Bugarus multicinctus

Many Banded Krait - Bugarus multicinctus

 Banded Krait -  Bungarus fasciatus

Banded Krait - Bungarus fasciatus

 Chinese Cobra -  Naja atra

Chinese Cobra - Naja atra

 Mock Viper -  Psammodynastes pulverulentus

Mock Viper - Psammodynastes pulverulentus

For those in the snaking world the first three species listed won’t be a surprise, but a little known fact is that the Mock Viper is also known to eat small snakes from time to time. On that point snakes are all predators and there may very well be examples of other local Hong Kong species eating other snakes so we look forward to informed comments to this article in the interest of accuracy.

With that said, the two Krait species, Banded and Many Banded, are prolific snake eaters whose diets are heavy on their slithery kin. The Chinese Cobra has a varied diet but also definitively enjoys meals of the snakey sort when the opportunity presents itself.

If you think about it this behavior actually makes a lot of sense. Snakes are perfectly shaped to be consumed by other snakes, they live in similar places and have similar habits based on their physiology.

So how does a snake fight and subdue another snake? Well in the case of the Mock Viper they tend to choose much smaller prey and may also benefit from their mild venom when they land a solid bite. For the other species mentioned they depend on their snake fighting skills developed through evolution and their highly potent venom. The King Cobra in particular is well suited to this task for two reasons. First, they are capable of delivering a large amount of venom with a single bite, and two they attain a very large size when fully grown giving them a physical advantage in a fight to the death. The King is also known to first bite and then stalk their snake victims, which although not completely unique can also be an advantage in terms of avoiding injury.

As luck would have it we actually got to observe this behavior between a juvenile King Cobra and a juvenile Indo Chinese Rat Snake. We have a long and short video of the encounter. The short version is embedded below and the long version can be found on our YouTube Channel.

As you can see the Rat Snake doesn’t make it easy for the Cobra but eventually the King takes his prey.

This is just one of countless interesting behaviors exhibited by the snake species of Hong Kong and we were very fortunate to have a chance to observe and document it here for your benefit.

We will continue to explore other behaviors in other species and look forward to your comments and feedback to this post.

For more information on each of these species stop by the ‘All Snakes Page’ on www.HongKongSnakeID.com.

If you enjoyed this post please share with anyone you think might like to read about our adventures and feel free to leave a comment if you have thoughts or ideas on this or future posts.

As always the opinions included here are solely those of the author(s). You should never handle or approach a snake in the wild and if you are bitten contact emergency services at '999' immediately. See our Practical Venomous Snake ID Guide if you plan to be out and about with nature in Hong Kong, and scroll through the page to obtain more advice on what to do if you are bitten as well as for snake removal services.