A new study found that Cuban boa snakes engage in what’s called “coordinated hunting,” meaning they can hunt in “packs.” The findings were published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition.
Coordinated hunting is different from hunting in groups, which is most common in the animal kingdom. Organized hunting occurs when animals relate to each other in both time and space to chase prey. It is a form of strategic hunting in packs.
The study, which was conducted by Vladimir Dinets, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, found that Cuban boas pay attention to each other’s positions in caves when they are hunting bats, and choose hunting sites based on that location information to maximize efficiency.
Cuban boas remained near the cave’s passage to attack passing bats
Dinets was guiding a bird and mammal watching tour through Desembarco del Granma National Park in Cuba, when he first noticed the boas’ behavior around caves, so he decided to dig in further.
He noticed that boas could all be found waiting near the cave’s entrance during the day, while the bats slept in an adjacent chamber. When daylight faded, some of the boas would move into the passageway connecting the cave with the bat’s chamber.
Then, they would prepare to hunt any flying bats that came near them. Other snakes would take other hunting positions and attempted to catch bats as they returned to the cave. Dinets recorded the position of the snakes and their hunting success -or failure- during each feeding opportunity.
Cuban boas can coordinate attacks taking advantage of each other’s positions
After eight days of recording the snakes, Dinets concluded the snakes coordinated their hunts. He identified the hunting pattern: the first boa would take its place, then, when the next appeared, it would position itself near the first. Dinets considered that the boas might all just prefer the same areas of the passage, but none of them chose the same segment twice during the study, suggesting coordination and not similar taste was at play.
“Visual observations suggested that most bats were able to avoid flying near boas when there were one or two boas present, but with three boas present the bats had to fly either within striking distance from one of them (often colliding with the boas) or very low above the passage floor,” Dinets said in the paper.
Dinets noted that although the boas coordinated with one another the attacks, it’s not accurate to say they hunted in a “pack” like wolves, as doing so implies a social aspect he didn’t see. He believes the snakes just take each other’s positions into account.