Raiders of the Lost Ark fans remember the scene when Indiana Jones finds pilot Jock Sorenson’s pet snake in the plane and gives the big reveal:
I hate snakes, Jock! I hate 'em!
To which Jock replies:
Come on! Show a little backbone, will ya!
Jock might have felt the same as Indy if that snake had been a Cuban boa. Researchers studying bats (if you hate bats too, you made need to stock up on backbone for this story) in caves in Cuba observed Cuban boas coordinating their attacks on bats with precision maneuvers that would inspire Professor Jones if he was able to watch them.
According to his study in Animal Behavior and Cognition, Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor of animal psychology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was exploring sinkhole caves in Desembarco del Granma National Park in Cuba to observe how Cuban boas (Chilabothrus angulifer) hunt for their favorite food -- Jamaican fruit bats.
What Dinets found had never been seen before in the snake world. Long thought to be solitary hunters, he observed multiple Cuban boas hanging from cave ceilings near the entrance and and snatching bats out of the air as they attempted to fly by. That would be enough to make a great movie scene.
However, what he saw prior to that sounds like the plot of an entire horror movie. Dinets watched as the Cuban boas positioned themselves across the cave’s opening so that a bat could not fly through without running into a hungry mouth hanging from the ceiling. Dinets found that this wall of boas (a great name for a band) never failed, while solitary snakes frequently missed their dinners flying by.
Herpetophobics can scream now.
If Cuban boas can do this, what about rattlers and pythons and cobras? In the press release announcing the discovery, Dinets gives this disconcerting answer:
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.
Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Outside of Vladimir Dinets, where are you going to find people who have no fear of snakes, bats, caves and the dark? Unfortunately there aren’t many Vladimirs but there’s a lot of poachers and that doesn’t bode well for future animal psychologist or for Cuban boas.
I suspect that if their numbers in a cave fall, they can’t hunt in groups anymore and might die out even if some of them don’t get caught by hunters. A few of these caves are in national parks, but there’s a lot of poaching everywhere.
Perhaps Indiana Jones (the original, of course) can come back for one more movie with a new reveal and mission:
I hate poachers, Jock! I hate 'em!
(Cuban boa photo credit: Vladimir Dinets)