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Nature. 2002 Jul 11;418(6894):143.

Snake circumvents constraints on prey size.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, 45221-0006, USA.


For animals who are unable to take bites out of their food, the size of the food item that can be consumed is constrained by the maximal size of the mouth opening (gape)--snakes are an example of gape-limited predators and they usually swallow their prey whole. Here we describe unique feeding behaviours in two closely related species of snake, which circumvent their gape limitation by removing and consuming pieces from newly moulted crabs that are too large to be swallowed intact. This evolutionary innovation is surprising, as the needle-like teeth and highly mobile bones that facilitate the capture and engulfment of large, whole prey by snakes are ill-suited both to cutting and to generating large bite forces.

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