Rare Florida Snake Feasts on Giant Centipede, Dies As a Result

by Sean Griffin

Scientists rarely find a rim rock crowned snake (Tantilla oolitica) in the wild in North America. However, one of the rarely-seen snakes was discovered in a state park in Florida. The sight wasn’t exactly what scientists were hoping for, though, because the snake had died in a grotesque way.

When a visitor to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo found the dead snake on Feb. 28, they saw a strange sight indeed. The snake had choked on a giant centipede that was still lodged partway down its gullet. The centipede, which had been swallowed headfirst, was also dead.

Many believe the snake choked on its large meal considering the centipede was about one-third the size of the reptile. However, the snake also could’ve died due to a lethal does of the centipede’s venom, researchers suggested in the journal The Scientific Naturalist.

Rim rock crowned snakes are nonvenomous snakes. They have black heads and pinkish-tan bodies that measure 6 to 11 inches (15 to 28 centimeters) long. They can be found only in the Florida Keys and along the state’s southeastern Atlantic coast, according to the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

The creatures have been on Florida’s list of threatened species since 1975. The last living specimen was spotted in 2015. However, the last recorded sighting was a dead one killed by a cat. This is according to lead study author Kevin Enge, an associate research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Rim Rock Crown Snake Found Dead While Eating Centipede

“Rim rock crowned snakes have never been easy to find on Key Largo or elsewhere,” Enge explained. These small snakes spend most of their time hiding under leaf litter or burrowing in soil pockets. Typically, they’re only seen after heavy rains force them to the surface.

“For snake lovers who keep a species life list, this is the Holy Grail in Florida — but most hunters have never seen one despite weeks of searching,” Enge said to Live Science.

Apparently, the find is extremely rare, as animals normally don’t die in these circumstances. “In our entire collection, I think we may have two other snake specimens of other species that died while eating prey,” Coleman Sheehy told Live Science. Sheehy works as a snake biologist and researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Scientists used enhanced CT scans to peer inside the animal and see why it died. The CT scan shows the creature’s last meal without physically damaging the specimen. It was unknown how long it had been lying on the path after it died.

However, another possible cause of death may have been a venomous sting from dying centipede while in the snake’s throat. When the study authors examined the scans, they detected a wound that was barely visible externally, yet internal damage was worse. Many scientists speculate that the centipede may have delivered enough venom to kill it.