Animals | July 30, 2021 4:07 AM | Hang Bona

With the help of a Facebook page, we were able to track the dietary habits of snakes throughout Africa

Snakes are a varied reptile family that may be found on all continents except Antarctica.

Despite variances in appearance, habitat choice, defense techniques, and underlying biology, all 3,800 species of snakes have one thing in common: they are all predators.

Snakes, as predators, are expected to play an important role in ecosystems. Understanding what snakes eat might help scientists better understand the ecological relationships between snakes and other species.

This will lead to a better knowledge of how ecosystems work and how changes in habitat or climate may alter biological communities.

Some snake species have evolved powerful venoms that aid in the capture of prey.

Venom composition appears to be adaptive and tied to what snakes eat, according to mounting research.

Snake venoms evolved mostly for feeding, although poisonous snakes also bite to defend themselves.

In 2017, the World Health Organization declared snakebite a neglected tropical illness due to an increase in the number of persons who have been bitten by snakes.

Given the relationship between venom biochemistry and feeding, a thorough understanding of a species’ nutrition can help researchers better comprehend snakebite.

Unfortunately, the exact diets of many African snakes are unknown, Dissecting conserved museum specimens or chance observations of snake feeding that are published as brief remarks in journals or newsletters have traditionally provided information on snake diets.

More recently, technology has been used to analyze snake feeding behaviors.

Fixed videography studies of ambush predators like puff adders and timber rattlesnakes, as well as DNA analysis of smooth snake feces, are among them.

However, many snake species are not suitable for these methods, and they demand a great amount of time, effort, and resources.

Because snake diets are difficult to examine, we noticed in 2015 that photos and videos of snakes eating were being posted often on Facebook.

We created a special Facebook group – Predation Records – Reptiles and Frogs (Sub-Saharan Africa) – to collect these observations and to systematically record them.

Our findings demonstrate how the Facebook network of active users may assist us in collecting ecological data rapidly and inexpensively.

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