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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. 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.

  6. “Science” trying to apply human characteristics to animals is not science.

  7. 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.

  8. Don’t think I’d have a problem if these snakes died off… Just sayin’.

    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.

  9. Hey hey, scientists did a study and published a conclusion. The science is settled.

  10. 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.

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

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

  13. 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.

  14. Science is on a downward spiral. There is no end to the smart snake theories and such.

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

  16. 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.

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