Thought to be loners, snakes coordinate hunts together, study finds

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Snakes have long been thought to be loners when it comes to securing a meal, but scientists from the University of Tennessee made a surprising discovery that might prove otherwise. In a new study of Cuban boas, researchers determined the snakes actually coordinate hunts together in order to capture more prey.

Very few of the world’s 3,650 species of snakes had been observed in hunting in the wild prior to the study, according to lead researcher Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor of psychology at the university. But Dinets and his team traveled to Cuba to observe the eating habits of the country’s largest native terrestrial predator in some of the nation’s bat caves. Cuba’s massive ancient caves, such as the Cuevas de Bellamar, have long been attractions for visitors.

Close-up shot of a snake
A new study finds that although it’s widely believed snakes seek out prey alone, some species actually coordinate hunts together.

For the Cuban boa, the caves are ideal spots to catch prey because of the many bat colonies found living inside them. The researchers found that instead of going on individual hunts for bats, the Cuban boas actually participate in attacks together. When the bats leave the cave at night and return at dawn, Dinets discovered that the boas gather at the entrance to the caves and hang from the ceilings — literally snatching the bats in their mouths as they fly in.

But what really struck Dinets in terms of the study was the way in which the boas would work together to secure their meals. The snakes would actually coordinate their positions in a way that when they’d hang down, they’d almost form a “wall” of sorts, ensuring a greater success rate for capturing bats and making it nearly impossible for the winged creatures to escape.

The researchers observed that the more boas participating, the less time it took for each to find a meal. Conversely, when a boa attempted to catch a bat solo, the accomplishment was significantly more difficult.

Though the finding is an exciting one for scientists, Dinets points to the fact that little is known about hunting rituals among snakes because just a handful of species have been observed by researchers.

Cuban boa
Are Cuban boas coordinating together when they hunt bats, or are they simply grabbing the next open spot on the cave ceiling? (Credit: University of Tennessee)

“It is possible that coordinated hunting is not uncommon among snakes, but it will take a lot of very patient field research to find out,” Dinets says in a university press release.

As for the Cuban boa, seeking out the snake was no easy task for the researchers. The team says that the snakes are frequently poached by hunters in the country and are now only found in the most remote caves. Dinets warns that if the population dwindles, the boas won’t be able to hunt together and thus could die off if capturing the bats becomes more difficult.

The study’s findings were published open-access in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition.


  1. I think the conclusions drawn in this study are suspect to say the least. Wouldn’t a simpler and more likely explanation for the snakes’ behavior be that snakes, like most living things, learn where the food is and how best to catch it, rather than assuming their behavior is coordinated in any way? For instance, bears hunting salmon in the rivers of the Northwest US all gather at the same time to feed; but there is no indication that they are “coordinating” the hunt. Indeed the bears get extremely antagonistic when another bear encroaches on their spot.

    1. You mean…. all those bears concentrated in one area aren’t supporting each other by driving the salmon into the clutches of another bear? Sigh… science is flawed!

      1. Not intentionally, no. It is simply opportunity, location and circumstance. Not like they have a little powwow and draw up plans. They benefit from the circumstance, they don’t create it. And often science IS flawed. Evidence often doesn’t point to a clear cause and effect.

        1. Richard writes : “Not intentionally, no. It is simply opportunity, location and circumstance. Not like they have a little powwow and draw up plans. ”

          To the contrary, the daily science publication The Far Side illustrated a number of these occurrences. The most notable was the coordinating of spiders to catch a child where they conversed that if they pulled it off they would “eat like kings”. I’ve been far more wary of spiders ever since.

    2. Had the same thought when reading the article. It’s nice to see that so many others are also thinking these things through even if reporters and ‘scientists’ are not.

    3. I read a scientific study that showed how clouds coordinate to block the sun from people they don’t like.

      This is similar to a study done by Richard Adams who conclusively proved that clouds will follow some people around out of respect and worship.

  2. This is not news to anyone who’s ever read the classic American novel, “THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN”, by Samuel Langhorn Clemens, a.k.a., “Mark Twain”.

    It’s how the runaway slave, Jim, came to be bitten by a rattlesnake after Huck had killed its mate.

    1. These scientists would be much more well learned if they had read Huck Finn! Could have saved lots of $$. Wonder how long they studied these snakes hanging from the cave ceilings as they caught bats…. 2, 3 minutes? Probably studying bat guano and hurriedly ran past the snakes – then decided to write about the snakes… who’s interested in bat guano?

  3. Copperheads, a species of poisonous snake endemic to the Southern US, mate for life and hunt together. When you find one copperhead the mate is not far off, usually within 10 feet.

    1. Yes, I saw about 30 babies suckling to their momma copperhead once too, she was so gentle with them.

    2. Yeah, yeah, yeah…… Birds of a feather flock together, but it does not imply that they have intelligence for a coordinated effort. By the way, I just read up on Copperheads, and no they do not mate for life. Wherever did you get that silly notion? Vipers are solitary animals who only gather together when it is time to hibernate for a period of time.

      1. If you’ve ever been to the rural areas, of which I live in, and spend time in the woods or areas where Copperheads thrive you’ll notice that most of the time you’ll find what “Grammar Nazi” says is true. From my anecdotal experience over the past 40+ years mating age Copperheads do seem to travel in pairs, whereas other species tend to hunt on their own. For example, it’s rare to find a Black Rat snake (aka king snake) traveling with another of the same species unless it is near hibernation season and travel to a winter den. Although you may see a king snake near another snake species, hunting it, as king snakes derive their name from eating other species of snakes. Making them the “king” of the snakes.

    1. This was a university study, not a government one. At least it wasn’t spent on a cultural center with safe spaces and play-doh.

        1. More likely state sales taxes. I didn’t say it was money well spent, but anything is better than wasting it on a “cultural center”, which is all the rage these days.

  4. Anecdotal at best and does not prove snakes have anything close to a communicative effort. Do those researchers, (of psychology yet), really believe snakes can communicate, except through pheromones at breeding time. What a stretch by an unwitting moron. Next thing you know, rabbits will be planning another plague on Australia.

    Americans need to stop thinking of college professor as the height of intelligence. They are just as fallible and human as the rest of us, so I give this article a thumbs down for trying to give the impression that these idiots have discovered something new and interesting. NOT !!!

    1. Professors are just students that did not have enough ambition to leave school and do something ,after graduation .

  5. “The snakes would actually coordinate their positions in a way that when they’d hang down, they’d almost form a “wall” of sorts, ensuring a greater success rate for capturing bats and making it nearly impossible for the winged creatures to escape.”

    Or…It could be the snakes all found themselves a good feeding spot and were simply situating themselves in positions just far enough away from each other, that they wouldn’t trigger other snakes’ territorial aggression response, leading researchers to make a possibly erroneous “conclusion,” about snakes “coordinating their hunts.”

    1. And coordinated too. Civil War forward Democrats have given us slavery, partial citizenship, KKK, Eugenics, Jim Crow, abortion, civil unrest. 47% support them, why?

  6. A psychology professor reaching conclusions on snakes sounds a bit out of his area of expertise. Also the fact that snakes gather where the food is and it happens to be beneficial to all isn’t coordination it’s just a side effect of their individual actions.

  7. Another useless boondoggle that gives money to a country under sanctions. It must be very hard to figure out what is the MOST useless subject to study.

  8. I’m calling bull manure on this. That’s like saying that bears ‘coordinate’ their hunting while fishing for salmon in a stream. “Hey! Look! A lot of bears fishing in the same spot! They must be coordinating!” No, this is simply a good spot, the bears are giving each other space and there are a lot of them. Benefit of numbers, not coordination, and there’s no where else for the fish to go. But whatever.

  9. No, snakes do not hunt in parties or with buddies…”Maybe’ the Cuban Boa does, I am not sure of that one.

  10. Maybe they don’t want to get bit by another snake, or compete for the same bats. Do they hang in curtain formation when they could be spacing themselves up and down the cave instead? Now *that* would suggest coordination.

  11. The “loner” behavior of snakes has been the consensus opinion of herpetologists for decades. It is settled science. This article was obviously written by a loner-snake denier.

    1. Those snakes are not bothering me. I ain’t going in no bat cave. The only thing in there is bats, snakes, and guano.

  12. It is quite a stretch to claim that the snakes are making a consciously coordinated hunt. The snakes have learned when the bats enter and leave the caves. The snakes find an unoccupied position. The fact that there are so many snakes dangling from the ceiling provides a fortunate outcome for the snakes.

    That said, I think more tax payer funding should be shoveled into research to make sure. I’m sure these scientists have already applied for research grants.

  13. Bat population will explode if all the snakes are killed off…then comes a increase in rabies.

  14. Does one snake drive the bats to a certain spot where the other snakes capture and kill them. Then share the proceeds ?

  15. Nothing new here…I’ve witnessed black racers in Florida hunting in pairs many times. Hmmmmm…I guess I missed my chance to get published. Anyone else with similar stories?

    1. You missed your chance for grant money provided by the ever so generous tax-payers. But then again, you can probably still apply for a research grant to study the Black Racers hunting strategies.

  16. I don’t see how it would be effective. Snakes do no share the kill. They swallow it. They cannot divide it up

  17. The snakes were forced to adopt this coordinated hunting behavior due to Global Warming caused by the evil Americans driving their SUVs.

    The science is settled.

    Deniers will be silenced and/or dealt with appropriately.

  18. The food is available for a few minutes at dusk and dawn at the entrance to the cave. What collusion is needed to learn that you need to be there at that time and place or potentially perish from hunger?! What a silly leap to assume they are working together because they line up to eat in the incredibly limited times- and the singular place- that there is given to them by the bats ingress and egress!!

    1. True. To show they are coordinating you’d have to show they modify their behavior in the presence of other snakes possibly in a way not immediately beneficial any one individual.

    1. Not an example of a coordinated hunt. This is very much an every-snake-for-itself scenario. Every snake in the area spotted the movement of the iguana and reacted independently. Luckily for the iguana those were not venomous snakes.

  19. Thought To Be Loners, Snakes Coordinate Hunts Together, Study Finds
    Substitute “Muslim extremists” for “snakes.”

  20. Pingback: Unspun News 170526

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