Feeding behavior and venom toxicity of coral snake Micrurus nigrocinctus (Serpentes: Elapidae) on its natural prey in captivity
Urdaneta, Aldo H.
Gutiérrez, José María
The feeding behavior and venom toxicity of the coral snake Micrurus nigrocinctus (Serpentes: Elapidae) on its natural prey in captivity were investigated. Coral snakes searched for their prey (the colubrid snake Geophis godmani) in the cages. Once their preys were located, coral snakes stroke them with a rapid forward movement, biting predominantly in the anterior region of the body. In order to assess the role of venom in prey restraint and ingestion, a group of coral snakes was ‘milked’ in order to drastically reduce the venom content in their glands. Significant differences were observed between snakes with venom, i.e., ‘nonmilked’ snakes, and ‘milked’ snakes regarding their behavior after the bite. The former remained hold to the prey until paralysis was achieved, whereas the latter, in the absence of paralysis, moved their head towards the head of the prey and bit the skull to achieve prey immobilization by mechanical means. There were no significant differences in the time of ingestion between these two groups of coral snakes. Susceptibility to the lethal effect of coral snake venom greatly differed in four colubrid species; G. godmani showed the highest susceptibility, followed by Geophis brachycephalus, whereas Ninia psephota and Ninia maculata were highly resistant to this venom. In addition, the blood serum of N. maculata, but not that of G. brachycephalus, prolonged the time of death of mice injected with 2 LD50s of M. nigrocinctus venom, when venom and blood serum were incubated before testing. Subcutaneous injection of coral snake venom in G. godmani induced neurotoxicity and myotoxicity, without causing hemorrhage and without affecting heart and lungs. It is concluded that (a) M. nigrocinctus venom plays a role in prey immobilization, (b) venom induces neurotoxic and myotoxic effects in colubrid snakes which comprise part of their natural prey, and (c) some colubrid snakes of the genus Ninia present a conspicuous resistance to the toxic action of M. nigrocinctus venom.