Keen photographer Jenny Hillman has captured video of a spotted black snake on a cannibalistic hunt and subsequent fight to the death.
Ms Hillman was walking at the rear of her property at Ballandean, in southern Queensland, when a red-bellied black snake emerged from a crack between two rocks.
“I had my camera ready and it unfolded right in front of my eyes,” Ms Hillman said.
“To my surprise there was another snake attached to it – the larger snake had got hold of the smaller snake’s tail.
“I am guessing he was hunting, and his intention was to eat the smaller snake.
“But because he got him so far down the tail, it wasn’t as easy as he thought it was going to be.”
The right place at the right time
When Ms Hillman realised the fight was keeping both snakes preoccupied, she edged a little closer.
“There was no way the bigger snake was going to let go of the smaller one. There was no way he was going to let go to come at me,” she said.
“Once I realised what the situation was, I thought the closer I can get the better.”
She watched the hunt over the course of an hour, up to the point where the spotted black snake dragged the red-bellied black snake away through a stream and into rocks.
“They had a lot of rests in between,” Ms Hillman said.
“There were times when they would both just stop for five minutes and take a rest.”
‘Like slurping down fettuccine’
Associate Professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, Bryan Fry, said seeing black snakes, in particular spotted black snakes, eat another snake was not uncommon.
“You can just think of it like slurping down a nice long piece of fettuccine,” Professor Fry said.
“Eating another snake is the easiest thing to do.
“It is a nice, convenient meal – it stretches out nice and long and is the same size as their stomach. It’s easier to eat than a bulky item like a rat.”
Professor Fry said the spotted black snake probably followed the scent of the red-bellied black snake until it found it.
“Red-bellied black snakes are a bit of an outlier in that they will occasionally take other snakes, but they are more specialised in eating frogs,” he said.
He said snakes kill other snakes by using their venom.
“Their venom damages muscles very severely – it would have eaten it after it despatched it,” Professor Fry said.
Snakes also impacted by drought
He said dry conditions were forcing snakes into shrinking territory.
“The entire ecosystem is under tremendous stress right now and life during drought centres around whatever water is available,” Professor Fry said.
“They are both snakes found typically in moist areas so it was not uncommon to find them near bodies of water.”
Professor Fry said the spotted black snake would not have to eat for another month after eating the red-bellied black snake.
“Snakes have exquisite senses of smell that they use to track down prey,” he said.
“Something may have recently passed and they will follow the trail of the smell until they encounter it and find out where it is hiding.”