The Snakes That Decapitate Termites

March 15, 2018 | Posted In: Termites

The Snakes That Decapitate Termites

Termites are talented insects as they are capable of creating state of the art nesting mounds. However, individual termites are generally not the most aggressive of insects, and since termites are relatively small insects, they are forced to endure heavy predation. Several ant species are well known for being termite predators, but termites must protect themselves from a variety of different animals. Termite predators can be found among mammal, amphibian, and even reptile species. The most terrifying of all termite predators would have to be the Brahminy blind snake. This snake species is officially named Indotyphlops braminus, and it enjoys decapitating its termite prey before eating them.

It may seem cruel for the blind snake to decapitate its termite prey, but this predatory behavior may have some practical advantages. Surprisingly, researchers have described four other animal species that decapitate their prey before eating them. Researchers have hypothesized that removing a termite’s head before consumption may be necessary in order to avoid illness. Researchers from Japan have recently conducted an experiment that sheds more light on this macabre predatory behavior.

The two researchers provided both termites and ants to a group of snakes. The snakes did not dismember the ant’s bodies before eating them, but eating termites required a bit of preparation first. The snakes first consumed the thorax and abdomen of termites, then they used the ground to scrape the termite’s heads clean off. The experiment included seven blind snakes and ninety five worker and five soldier termites. In total, the snakes decapitated termites two hundred and ten different times, which accounted for forty eight percent of all termite workers used in the study. Only two of the seven snakes consumed soldier termites, and not a single soldier termite was spared decapitation. Some snakes even regurgitated termite bodies that still included heads. The snakes then decapitated these termites and proceeded to consume them a second time. The researchers concluded that the snakes had decapitated the termites in order to save gut space, or to avoid toxic compounds that exist within termite heads. The researchers also believe that termite heads are much more difficult for snakes to digest. Decapitating termites slowed down the snake’s digestion speed as well, which may be an advantage as slower digestion means that snakes do not have to search for food sources as frequently.

Since the snakes in the study decapitated all of the soldier termites, and only half of the worker termites, do you think that soldier termite heads contain more toxic compounds than worker heads?