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Egg-eating Snake (Dasypeltis fasciata) photo by Bill Bouton

To continue “egg week” we encounter a creature which not only reproduces through laying eggs, it lives entirely by eating them!  Meet Dasypeltis,  a genus of colubrid snakes of Africa.  There are 12 recognized species of Dasypeltis snakes ranging across the great continent (they are non-venomous, by the way).  These serpents are all oophagous , which is to say they eat eggs…  In fact they are exclusively oophagous—they eat nothing but eggs! Gosh!

The adult snakes range in size from 30-100 cm (12-39 inches) in length and come in a variety of unobtrusive colors.  They have ridiculous jaws of vast flexibility which can expand to many times the diameter of their head so that they can eat eggs which are much wider than their bodies.   This leads to some disturbing-yet-amazing-photographs which would make even the greatest champion-eater envious. Egg-eating snakes have a highly developed sense of smell–they are capable of telling if an egg has gone off, or if it has developed past a point where it is easily digestible.

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Photo by David A. Northcott

These egg-eating snakes do not have teeth as such; instead they have hard ridges on their spine which allow the snakes to break open the eggs after swallowing them.  So once the egg is safely inside the snake’s gullet, the hungry creature breaks it into pieces inside itself and sucks the nutrients out (whereupon it regurgitates all the shell fragments).  This strikes me as an insane way to get nutrients, but it apparently works surprisingly well:  snake nutritionists (?) calculate that “snakes are remarkably efficient and waste very little of the contents of an egg.”  Because of the way egg-eating works in the wild–where one tends to discover a lot of eggs at once or none at all—the snakes can eat a number of eggs in one uh…sitting (can I say “sitting” in this context?). They then go semi-dormant during the wet season (all of which means that distraught reptile enthusiasts sometimes force feed quail eggs to their pet egg-eating snakes—which also strikes me as insane).

Dasypeltis 022Photo by Jonathan Brecko