You do not have to even leave the confines of the lodge to experience wildlife at its best. For those of you who were here when the Tsalala Pride killed a buffalo right in front of Varty deck you can testify to that.
However, you do not need lions and buffalos to create a stir, which was evident a little while back in our own staff village. Ranger Chris Taylor, walking back to his house one morning, came across a pretty unusual sight and quickly sent out word for the rest of us to come and take a look. On the path in front of him was a Western stripe-bellied sand snake that had managed to catch a tree agama and was in the process of trying to swallow it whole.
What made this so impressive to watch was comparing the size of the Agama to that of the snake, and more particularly, the snake’s head. Length-wise the sand snake is significantly longer at an average adult length of about 1m whereas the agama will only get to about 30-40cm, but the girth of the Agama is what made it quite an ambitious meal for a very thin sand snake. The tree agama is regarded as the largest of southern Africa’s agama species and wards off opponents or threats by opening its mouth to reveal a startling bright inner lining. It can also deliver quite a nasty bite which makes it a great effort on the snake’s behalf to have gotten around this and successfully caught and killed it. Having said that, the sand snake did have speed on it’s side as it often regarded as the fastest moving snake in Southern Africa. But, with this attribute aside the question is how exactly do they manage to swallow their prey whole?
It always beggars belief how a snake can swallow something so big, whether it be a python eating an impala or an egg-eater devouring lapwing eggs, and inevitably the conversation turned to how snakes are actually able to do this.
There is a common myth that snakes can detach their jaws giving them a much bigger gape in order to swallow large prey items. This would be very impressive but is simply not true. The answer is a little more complicated but put simply a snake’s jaw has more complex joints than other vertebrates. Instead of detaching, it has more than one hinge point which enables far greater flexibility. The lower jaw is also not fused together, instead it is split at the chin and the two parts are joined by highly elasticized tendons. Once they have successfully caught something large then they will slowly work their flexible jaw over the body of their prey and digest it whole.
It was another great reminder of how some of the forces of nature are so impressive that you can only really grasp and understand them until you see it for yourself. You may have a phobia of snakes or simply not like them but even if this is the case there is no denying that their unique physical adaptations to survival are pretty phenomenal.