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Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases

On-line version ISSN 1678-9199

J. Venom. Anim. Toxins incl. Trop. Dis vol.9 no.1 Botucatu  2003

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1678-91992003000100009 

CASE REPORT

 

Death of Boa constrictor amarali (serpentes, boidae) after ingestion of a tree porcupine (rodentia)

 

 

A. L. CherubiniI; T. H. BarrellaII; R. J. Da SilvaIII

ICurso de Pós Graduação de Medicina Veterinária, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Botucatu, São Paulo, Brasil
IICentro de Estudos de Venenos e Animais Peçonhentos (CEVAP), UNESP, Botucatu, São Paulo, Brasil
IIIDepartamento de Parasitologia, Instituto de Biociências, UNESP, Botucatu, São Paulo, Brasil

Address to correspondence

 

 


ABSTRACT

The objective of this paper is to report the death of a Boa constrictor amarali after ingestion of a tree porcupine. The animal was donated to the Center for the Study of Venoms and Venomous Animals (CEVAP/UNESP) - and died in captivity. At necropsy, spine-like structures were observed in the stomach serosa and vicinity, and the stomach mucosa showed an intense reddish area, suggesting inflammation. The analysis of the spine-like structure revealed that they were tree porcupine spines. The feeding habits and inexperience of this Boa constrictor amarali in selecting its prey may have been be responsible for its death.

Key words: serpente, boidae, porcupine, feeding.


 

 

INTRODUCTION

On a global basis, snake diets include a wide range of different preys. All snakes are carnivorous, but beyond that, their diets run the gamut from meringue-like tropical frog eggs to porcupines (7). Boa spp. forages for food at night. Young small specimens are good climbers and search for prey in trees; older and larger specimens usually forage only at ground level, often lying among leaves on the forest floor, camouflaged by their pattern, waiting for the prey to wander by (5). Amaral (1) reported that Boa constrictor feeds on various sorts of animals, giving preference to rodents. For Gomes et al. (6), these snakes feed mainly on little birds and little mammals.

Boa constrictor ranges from the coastal northern Mexico southwards through Central America to northern Argentina. It lives in a wide variety of habitats, including tropical rain forests and evergreen or deciduous jungles, brushy and grassy savannas, rocky semi-deserts, and cultivated plantations and fields (5). In Brazil there are two subspecies of Boa constrictor: B. c. constrictor, found in the Amazon valley to the northeastern and eastern regions, and B. c. amarali, in the states of Mato Grosso and Goiás and to the south (1).

Data on snake feeding is important in understanding prey-predator relations. The objective of this paper is to report the death of a Boa constrictor amarali after ingestion of a tree porcupine. This snake was captured in Botucatu, São Paulo State, Brazil, and donated to the Center for the Study of Venoms and Venomous Animals of São Paulo State University (CEVAP/UNESP). It was maintained in a semi-extensive breeding and died two months later. In this period, this snake did not accept the food. A necropsy was performed to investigate the causa mortis.

During examination of the animal organs, various 1 cm spine-like structures were found. These structures were yellow at the basal portion and black at the extremity (Figure 1). They were observed in the stomach serosa (Figure 2) and vicinity (Figures 3 and 4). Some of them were seen more than 30 cm from the stomach. The stomach mucosa showed an intense reddish area, suggesting inflammation (Figure 5). The analysis of the spine-like structures revealed that they were tree porcupine spines.

 

Figure 1. Spines of tree porcupine collected at necropsy of Boa constrictor amarali. Scale bar = 1 cm.

 

Figure 2. Spines of tree porcupine in the stomach serosa of Boa constrictor amarali.

 

Figure 3. Spines of tree porcupine in the Boa constrictor amarali celomatic cavity.

 

Figure 4. Spines of tree porcupine on the celomatic cavity wall of Boa constrictor amarali near the stomach.

 

Figure 5. Stomach mucosa of Boa constrictor amarali. Note the mucosa inflammation and the purulent secretion.

 

We suggest that death was caused by the lesions from the spines in organs such as the esophagus, lungs, and stomach when ingesting a tree porcupine. In addition, these lesions caused secondary infection in these organs and probably sepsis.

Tree porcupines (Ordem Rodentia) are named “ouriços” or “porcos-espinhos”. In Brazil there are seven species; six belong to the family Erethizontidae (Coendou bicolor, C. koopmani, C. prehensilis, Sphiggurus insidiosus, S. spinosus, and S. villosus) and one to the family Echimyidae (Chaetomys subspinosus). They live mainly in multistratal tropical evergreen forest; they sometimes can be found in dry deciduous forest in the vicinity of streams (8). They are nocturnal and rest in trees during the day, often not sheltering in cavities but remaining inconspicuous in a tree crown (2). Boa spp. forages for food at night and search for prey in trees (5). These habits of Boa spp. and of the tree porcupines suggest that their encounters are common.

The feeding habits and prey capture behavior of snakes are related to genetic and learning factors (3,4). Young inexperienced snakes attempt to take exceedingly large preys more frequently than adult snakes and this behavior may involve time and energy waste, as well as increase the risk of death (9). So, it is possible that the ingestion of tree porcupine may have been be related to the inexperience of this Boa constrictor amarali in selecting its prey. This inexperience was responsible for its death.

 

REFERENCES

1 AMARAL A. Serpentes do Brasil: iconografia colorida. São Paulo: Melhoramentos-EDUSP, 1977. 246p.        [ Links ]

2 BECKER M., DALPONTE JC. Rastros de mamíferos brasileiros. 2a. ed. Brasília: Editora Universidade de Brasília, 1999. 180p.        [ Links ]

3 CHISZAR D., RADCLIFFE CW., BYERS T., STOOPS R. Prey capture behavior in one species of venomous snakes. Psychol. Rec., 1986, 36, 433-8.        [ Links ]

4 DITMARS RL. The feeding habits of serpents. Zoologica (N. Y.), 1912, 1, 197-238.        [ Links ]

5 ERNEST CH., ZUG GR. Snakes in question. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996. 203p.        [ Links ]

6 GOMES N., PUORTO G., BUONONATO MA., RIBEIRO MFM. Atlas anatômico de Boa constrictor Linnaeus, 1758. Monogr. Inst. Butantan (São Paulo), 1989, 2, 1-59.        [ Links ]

7 GREENE HW. Snakes: the evolution of mystery in nature. California: University of California Press, 1997. 351p.        [ Links ]

8 NOVAK RM. Walker’s mammals of the world. 5th. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. 1629p.        [ Links ]

9 SAZIMA I., MARTINS M. Presas grandes e serpentes jovens: quando os olhos são maiores que a boca. Mem. Inst. Butantan, 1990, 52, 73-9.        [ Links ]

 

 

Address to correspondence
T. H. BARRELLA
Centro de Estudos de Venenos e Animais Peçonhentos (CEVAP), Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)
Distrito de Rúbião Junior, S/N, Caixa Postal 577
18618-000, Botucatu, São Paulo, Brasil
Phone/fax: 55 14 68026054 or 68213963
thomaz@cevap.org.br

Received December 10, 2001
Accepted May 13, 2002

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