Sunday, May 18, 2008

Snakes on the brain

Around the dawn of time I promised to post occasional goodies from what may be the most wonderful book in the world, Gerald Wood's The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats (this is also how I got to be a Google-recognized expert on headless butterflies). But I kept loaning the book out to people--forcing it on them like a pusher would be more accurate--and I never got around to it. Then just the other day I realized that I had the book back in the house so I picked it up and BANG! had my mind blown by the bit quoted below. Completely by coincidence, Darren decided to visit this overlooked branch of Tetrapoda this week as well. It's a strange world, and I can think of few pieces of information that better demonstrate that than this (from Wood 1982:112):

...the giant snakes are also great fasters and there are a number of records of individuals going 12 months or longer without food. One female reticulated python at Frankfurt Zoo fasted for 570 days, took food for a time and then fasted for another 415 days before eating, and a much larger example at the same zoo went 679 days without food although it drank regularly (Lederer, 1944).

All of these achievements, however, pale by comparison with the fasts carried out by the highly venomous Okinawa habu (Trimeresurus flavovirdes) of the Ryukyu Islands, W. Pacific. On 10 September 1977 the Amami Kanko Pit Viper Centre in Naze City, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan started a fasting experiment with five of these snakes. Four of them died on the 207th, 696th, 1101st and 1184th days respectively, but the oldest individual aged c 12 years was still going strong--if approached it reared up in preparation for an attack--when the experiment was terminated on the 1189th day (12 December 1980), which is a record for a vertebrate animal. Although its weight decreased by 60.9 per cent during this period, its length actually increased much to the puzzlement of researchers. After is marathon fast the snake was given some milk and has since been restored to full physical health (Eiichi Nakamoto, pers. comm.).

If you are even remotely interested in animals, I strongly recommend tracking down a used copy of Wood's book. It's a shame that is has not been updated in 26 years, but it's still an awesome compendium of amazing stuff.

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