Fast and agile Tiger ratsnakes: puffing but not bluffing
Author: Roel de Plecker.
Fast and agile are the two words for describing the beautiful tiger ratsnakes (Spilotes pullatus). This name refers to their distinctive black and yellow tiger-like pattern. Although some adult individuals are almost entirely black, others from dry forests, are seemingly more yellow, this to blend in more to their environment.
They have a wide distribution, from southern Mexico to Argentina, in Costa Rica on the Caribbean versant and the Pacific side. They are sometimes seen in gardens, in lowland rainforests, lowland dry forests, forest edges, in savannas, even in swamps or simply crossing roads, and when disturbed, they move at high speed showing only a glimpse of them. But once in a while, you can observe them basking in the morning sunlight hanging out on branches and the treetops.
These diurnal species like to chase their prey, this being mostly mammals but also lizards, birds, and bats are on its menu. They are a non-venomous species. Instead of constricting its prey, they mainly crush it to death by pushing it against rocks or branches. Sometimes, they swallow their prey alive, head first, and grab them with their powerful bites. Like most snakes, they will rather flee when disturbed.
When cornered, these animals become impressive opponents! First of all, they will inflate their throats and front part of their body, exposing the black skin between the scales, which makes the dark body markings even bigger caused by lateral compression of the body. They will move their tongue slowly in and out of their mouth while vibrating their tail strongly. If this doesn’t help back you off, they will puff themselves more up, lift their front body from the ground (or branch), and repeatedly strike.
Some individuals reach a length of 2.5 meters. Another species from South America, the Amazon puffing snake (Spilotes sulphureus) can even reach a length close to 3 meters. Both snake species are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Clutches can have up to 10 eggs laid in the dry season and the young hatch at the start of the rainy season. Hatchlings have a more banded pattern, and this fades when they get older. Neonates of tiger rat snakes measure approximately 50 cm in total length.
The Amazon puffing snakes have a more yellowish to creamy coloration. The lower part of the body and tail are greyish brown like their name reveals they have the same impressive defensive display as our native puffing tiger rat snakes.
Interestingly, a study showed that the species from South America does have a venom gland and enlarged teeth at the back of its mouth, proving this snake being a rear-fanged species. This adaptation allows the animal to kill and consume larger prey. You can admire both of these species at Parque Reptilandia in totally remodeled enclosures!
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