In the world of snakes, there are impressive feats of swallowing prey whole. From Burmese pythons swallowing pigs to anacondas devouring deer, these creatures are known for their incredible ability to swallow large prey. However, when it comes to the ratio of snake to prey size, there is one species that surpasses them all – the Ghanaian egg-eater.
Native to West Africa, the Gansa egg-eater, scientifically known as Dasypeltis gansi, is named after herpetologist Carl Gans. As its name suggests, this snake’s diet consists solely of bird eggs. Unlike its larger brethren, the Gansa egg snake is harmless to humans: it is only three to four feet (about 1 meter) long.
A recent study by biologist Bruce Jain of the University of Cincinnati found that the Gansa’s egg-eater holds the record for swallowing the largest prey relative to its body size. Despite being slender compared to other egg-living snakes such as the rat snake, the Ghanaian ovipositor is able to swallow eggs three to four times larger than any of its brethren. This ability is due to the extensibility of the skin connecting the left and right lower jaw bones, as well as a nearly toothless, soft mouth that allows it to grasp the smooth eggshell.
Contrary to popular belief, the snake does not pass the eggs intact. Instead, after swallowing the egg, it curves its spine to open it up and digest the contents. The broken and flattened shell is then erupted.
This unique egg swallowing adaptation is thought to have arisen because of the lower caloric content of eggs compared to elongated prey such as rats, mice or birds. In order to obtain the same amount of food energy, the snake had to develop the ability to ingest larger eggs.
“It’s impressive, but on a small scale,” says Professor Bruce Jain. “People pay attention to the fact that big snakes eat big things, but if you make adjustments for their size, these little guys are pretty scary.”
The study by Prof. Jain and his team was published in the Journal of Zoology, shedding light on the amazing capabilities of the egg-eating Gansa.