A prey item not previously recorded for Bothrops asper: a case of ophiophagy involving two sympatric pit viper species/Una presa de Bothrops asper no reportada previamente: un caso de ofiofagia que involucra dos especies simpatricas de viboras.
Abstract: We document the first record of viperid predation for Bothrops asper. The feeding event involved a neonate of this species and a neonate of Porthidium lansbergii, the prey item. We consider neonate viper opiophagy in B. asper s. density-dependent response, as has been shown in cannibalistic events. High neonate abundance during common parturition dates makes encounters of both species likely to occur. Although we consider this feeding behavior as opportunistic, its true frequency in nature is unknown.

Key Words: Serpentes, Viperldae, ecology, diet, feeding habits, Porthidium lansbergii, Colombia.

Documentamos el primer registro de depredacion de viperidos por Bothrops asper. El evento de alimentacion involucro un neonato de esta especie y un neonato de Porthidium lansbergii, la presa. Consideramos que la ofiofagia en B. asper es una respuesta denso-dependiente, como se ha descrito en eventos de canibalismo. Abundancias elevadas de neonatos durante las fechas de nacimientos comunes para ambas especies, facilita el encuentro entre ellas. Aunque consideramos este comportamiento alimentario como oportunista, su frecuencia verdadera en la naturaleza es desconocida.

Palabras Clave: Serpentes, Viperidae, ecologia, dieta, habitos alimentarios, Porthidium lansbergii, Colombia.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Infants (Newborn) (Food and nutrition)
Animal behavior
Poisonous snakes
Authors: Roldan, Juan Salvador Mendoza
Lucero, Mateo Fernandez
Pub Date: 07/01/2009
Publication: Name: Herpetotropicos: Tropical Amphibians & Reptiles Publisher: Herpetotropicos Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Zoology and wildlife conservation Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Herpetotropicos ISSN: 1690-7930
Issue: Date: July-Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 5 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Canadian Subject Form: Animal behaviour
Accession Number: 294074386

The diet of the pit viper Bothrops asper (Carman, 1883) has been characterized by various authors. Prey items include a great diversity of vertebrates such as mammals, anurans, birds, lizards and fishes (Boada et al. 2005, Martins et al. 2002). Snakes such as Tantilla melanocephala (Linnaeus, 1758), Ninia atrata (Hallowell, 1845), Leptodeira annulata (Linnaeus, 1758), Atractus torquatus (Dumeril, Bibron et Dumeril, 1854), and other unidentified colubrids, have been found in B. asper and B. atrox stomachs (Campbell and Lamar 2004). Cannibalism has been documented in juveniles and neonates of 8. asper, and observations made in captivity show that Intra specific ophiophagy is a common event between newborn siblings (Campbell and Lamar 2004, Egler et al. 1996). Low-prey density, high conspecific abundance, starvation, and poor kin recognition, have been considered causes of this type of feeding behavior in snakes (Polis et al. 1985, Pernetta et al. 2008, Engeman et al. 1996). Herein we report a prey item not previously recorded for Bothrops asper, being the first record of pit viper ophiophagy in this species.


On 7 July 2007, at 19:00 h, a neonate Bothrops asper was captured during a night search held following the course of a small stream in the tropical dry forest reserve "Reserva Forestal Tierra Arena", Vereda San Jose de Saco, Municipio de Juan de Acosta, in the departamento del Atlantico, Colombia. The specimen, having a total length of 381 mm, was sacrificed and deposited at the Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia, under the catalog number ANDES-R170. In a later stomach content analysis performed by opening the stomach and intestines of this pit viper specimen, an undigested Porthidium lansbergii (Schlegel, 1841) neonate (ANDES-R 171), with a total length of 180 mm, was found (Fig. 1). Insect appendages belonging to small beetles (Coleoptera) and a pupa of an unknown fly (Diptera) where present in the hindgut of the snake, suggesting that an amphibian had been previously digested. This finding questions whether other vipers constitute a common prey in Bothrops asper diet or if this prey item may be only consequence of a casual opportunistic behavior.


Boada et al. (2005) suggested that Bothrops asper is dominant over smaller and ecologically less versatile pit vipers, often displacing them by means of competitive exclusion. Porthidium lansbergii is also known as a versatile species with a wide range of trophic and ecological habits (Campbell and Lamar 2004), and tends to be a dominant snake in Northern Colombian dry forests wherever low densities of B. asper neonates and juveniles are found (Mendoza et al. 2008). Both neonates and juveniles of B. asper present, up to a certain degree, dietary and habitat overlap with all age-groups of P. lansbergii (Martins et al. 2001, Campbell and Lamar 2004). However, competition, differences in reproductive cycles, dial activity, microhabitat preferences, and behavior, may account for spatial and temporal segregation between both species (Campbell and Lamar 2004, Acuna and Escorcia 2005). Encounters between these two vipers are more likely to occur during common parturition dates (July and September), where both species show high neonate abundance in riparian forests (Acuna and Escorcia 2005, J.S. Mendoza unpublished data). Viper ophiophagy In B. asper neonates may be attributed to a density-dependent response, as has been shown in other cannibalistic events by Polis et al. (1985) and Campbell and Lamar (2004).


We have observed that, under natural conditions, the frequency of ophiophagy in B. asper is low, with snakes being one of its least representative prey items. The opportunistic nature of this feeding habit Is suggested by a set of 40 prey items found in 50 B. asper stomachal contents where only 7.5% of total prey items were identified as snakes, comparable with the observations performed by Egler et al. (1996) in Bothrops atrox. The highly digested fragments of unidentified ophidians in this sample hinder calculations on the ophiophagy frequency of specific taxa. Our observations during an eight-months period on well-fed neonates of both species kept in captivity in a common enclosure, never evidenced predation events involving either species, suggesting the observed feeding behavior may be opportunistic in the wild. Additional field research on Bothrops asper ophidian preys from northern Colombian tropical dry forests is needed to reveal whether this feeding behavior is actually rare or more common than expected.


We would like to thank Professors Emilio Realpe and Juan Manuel Renjifo; biologists Natalia Rodriguez Salcedo and Jaime Palacio Sierra, Dr. Santiago Madrinan and Mauricio Bernal at Museo de Historia Natural ANDES, for their many forms of support in the development of this note. Two anonymous reviewers made valuable comments that helped to Improve the original manuscript. Enrique La Marca provided additional editorial comments.


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(1) Museo de Historia Natural, Coleccion de Herpetologia, Universidad de los Andes, Departamento de Ciencias Biologicas, Cra. 1A No. 18A-10, Edificio J, Piso 4, Bogota, Colombia.

(2) Send correspondence to / Enviar correspondencia a: viperjuan@gmail.com
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