Wildlife Sighting: Snake with Prey at MacLeish!

19 Jun

If the circle of life makes you squeamish, you might want to stop reading this post now. Otherwise, read on!


As a summer intern for MacLeish Field Station, I have the incredible luck to spend most of my workdays outdoors. This Wednesday, I spent some time planting some vegetation to screen the shed (aka the garage for the field station’s all-terrain electric-powered mini-vehicle) with my supervisor, Reid Bertone-Johnson (a landscape studies professor and Manager of the field station). As we were determining where to dig the next holes, I spotted a garter snake sliding through the grass near my feet. When I looked closer, I realized this was no everyday snake sighting: this little fellow had just caught some big prey!

Reid grabbed his camera while I kept an eye on the snake, but it wasn’t in any hurry. We got some great pictures while the snake slowly swallowed the unlucky amphibian that had just become its lunch. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen: it looked like the snake had bitten off more than it could chew, er, swallow. To make things more difficult, the prey was still alive, despite its entire head being engulfed by the snake.

snake eating from 6-5-2013 1-44-41 PM

This guy is a Common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, and its prey is a Fowler’s toad, Anaxyrus fowleri. Garter snakes are a very common venom-less snake that can be found throughout North America. They normally grow to about two feet long, but they can exceed four feet in length! The one we saw was about average, and its body was less than an inch in diameter. Fowler’s toads, previously considered a subspecies of Woodhouse’s toad, live mostly in the eastern United States, and generally grow to about 2-3 inches. Though the toad we saw was on the small side, it was still a generous portion for this small snake. You can see in the picture below that the snake’s body was already stretching to accommodate its prey, and that was only the head!

snake eating from 6-5-2013 1-44-47 PM

Our garter snake wasn’t too pleased to have an audience, and when we got too close it almost decided to abandon its meal. We backed off, and when we checked a few minutes later, the toad’s struggles had ended and the snake only had the back legs left to swallow. Yum!

Well, on that note, I’ll go finish my lunch now…although I think I’ll chew before I swallow!

-EJ Wald, ’15


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