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Blind cavesnake (Cavernerpeton caecus)

By AlexSone
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Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Snakes (Serpentes)
Family: Colubrids (Colubridae)
Habitat: caves in mountains of Central Africa.
Usually in caves rather small animals live: insects, spiders and other invertebrates. More progressive animals, as a rule, do not belong to number of permanent inhabitants of caves. Only in cave reservoirs there are fishes and amphibians. But in Neocene mountains of Central Africa became the native place to one of most unusual cave animals.
Food resources in caves of equatorial area differ in abundance in comparison with those in temperate latitudes. The abundance of sunlight in equatorial latitudes favors to growth of mosses and algae in caves even at significant distance from an entrance. And such animals as bats and birds, settling in caves, become a constant and reliable source of organic substances. Therefore tropical caves have more various and numerous population.
In caves of mountains of Central Africa there is the original ecosystem including different insects: beetles, cockroaches and larvae of different butterflies. Some of them eat dung of bats, others gnaw seeds and sprouts of plants which have got in cave in stomachs of bats. There are scavengers eating dead small mammals, or tiny predators.
But all of them do not occupy top of feeding pyramid of caves: other predator lives here. Between stones the long body of this rather large creature (its length is about 1 meter) slides. It is covered with smooth shining scale, and moves practically silently.
When the animal creeps out from stones to open place, it can be seen better. It is a snake of ivory color with pale pattern like chain of yellowish spots on back, with white stomach. The snake lifts head and then one feature of its appearance at once is evident: it is blind. Eyes of this snake are latent under skin, and scutes, closing eyes, differ from others practically with nothing. The blind cavesnake – it is the name of this reptile.
The cavesnake never leaves underground world. Here it finds everything necessary for life. The climate in cave is constant, here dangers of overheat or overcooling are absent. Due to narrow body this snake easily squeezes even in “bottle-neck”, therefore it in due course had widely settled in caves of Central Africa.
Sight at snakes has already undergone a partial degeneration when they passed to partly underground habit of life during evolution. At the blind cavesnake this process has gone even further, and there are only eye rudiments under skin at this species. But instead of sight at this snake other feelings, senses of smell and touch, are developed, permitting to receive the adequate information about the world around.
Nostrils of blind cavesnake are well advanced and very large.
Because blind cavesnake is a predator, it lives only in caves where there are colonies of bats. Cavesnake eats basically insects inhabiting such caves, but also willingly eats fallen down cubs and weakened adult individuals of bats. As against to many snakes, blind cavesnake eats carrion as willingly, as fresh catch: food resources of caves are rather poor, and it is more favorable to use them maximally full. Teeth of this reptile are numerous, but short, thin and recurved.
Snakes are known for the ability to feel vibrations of ground, determining in such way approaching of large animals or possible catch. Blind cavesnake has unusually keenly advanced ability to feel vibration of objects. Due to it this reptile it can feel the cockroach or cricket running on stone. During hunting the snake constantly puts bottom jaw to stones or ground, determining presence of moving catch. Snake makes solving throw completely blindly, having found catch by speed and direction of movement. After throw the reptile promptly rolls up to spiral, trying to “overflow” by loops of body environmental space, and then compresses to dense knot. The sense of this tactics is, that even if the insect at last moment will change movement direction, one of rings of snake will necessarily cover and will press it down.
Cavesnake can not digest chitin of insects, therefore it from time to time spits out the rigid armors of prey pressed to dense lump.
Despite of relative food abundance, each separate cave can support only limited population of predators which stand at the top of feeding pyramid. But here there is other problem: the population of snakes containing too little number of breeding females, easily can degenerate. Therefore blind cavesnake during process of evolution has got one more property: it became the hermaphrodite from diecious animal. Sexual glands at this species had changed: one of them became masculine, and another feminine one. Snake ready to pairing emits small amount of odorous liquid, leaving appreciably smelling trace. By the same traces left by other snakes, it finds partners for pairing.
During pairing two snakes mutually fertilize each other. Pregnancy lasts about 4 months. Blind cavesnake concerns to ovoviviparous species: each snake once a year lays 5 - 7 large eggs covered with thin filmy shell, in which there is already completely advanced posterity. Young snakes about 20 cm long hatch from eggs practically at once. At them there is more contrast colouring, and eyes appear under skin like dark spots. They can distinguish light and darkness, and vaguely distinguish contours of subjects. After the first shed they start to eat small insects, obviously preferring larvae of beetles and butterflies with soft covers.
Young snakes can leave cave, and at night crawl out in searches of new places of inhabiting. Thus they expand an area of species, and interfere with inbreeding which leads to degeneration. Traveling snakes spend hot time of day in holes of rodents or under stones. These snakes are guided, analyzing streams of air, and finding wind carrying specific smells of caves. They grow slowly: sexual maturity comes only at 6 - 7-years age at length of body up to 70 cm. But duration of their life frequently exceeds 30 years.
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anonymous's avatar
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electreel's avatar
Very impressive! omfg 
AlexSone's avatar
grisador's avatar
Just amazing ! :D
AlexSone's avatar
grisador's avatar
You're very welcome ! They are very good & creative ! :)
Amplion's avatar
Ого-ого! Верю! (с) Воистину хорошо получились!
А сверчков крупным планом не будет? )
AlexSone's avatar
Если их опишут в рамках проекта, можно и сделать
Bhurloka12's avatar
Can the snake still use run-of-the-mill snake chemoreception in caves?
AlexSone's avatar
Bhurloka12's avatar
I assumed that's their main sensory tool for hunting, though from the description it sounds like the cavesnake shifted away from that in favor of vibration reception.
bubblekirby's avatar
Wow, it actually took me a second to realize this wasn't a photograph.
PonchoFirewalker01's avatar
I have an idea similar to this, only the snakes have heat-sensing pits for eyes :)
anonymous's avatar
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