Cannibal copperhead snake caught on camera

By Ellen Rykers January 23, 2017
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Twelve-year-old Jasper Lowenstein snapped photos of the snake-eat-snake incident in his backyard in Hobart, Tasmania.

IT’S NOT A SIGHT you ever expect to see: two snakes locked together, one eating the other, in your backyard. But that’s exactly what 12-year-old Jasper Lowenstein came home to after school in December last year.

Jasper’s sister and his neighbours were playing on a trampoline when they noticed two snakes underneath them – a realisation that caused a lot of frantic squealing.

“I heard a lot of screaming out back, and they said that they thought the two snakes were mating,” said Jasper. “I thought that was pretty cool, so I went and got my camera.”

By the time Jasper returned, the kids had realised what was really going on: “The snake was eating the other snake!”

copperhead snakes

Image credit: Jasper Lowenstein

The larger snake, a common or easter copperhead (Austrelaps superbus), was slowly gulping down its after-school snack: a smaller snake of the same species. Over 15 minutes, the serpent dragged its unfortunate relative across the grass and into the bushes. The prey, having made the fatal mistake of slithering into the path of a hungry fellow-copperhead, was dead by this stage.

“It was exciting and kinda freaky,” said Jasper. “I’ve only seen two snakes before, so that was pretty cool.”

By the time a snake catcher arrived, the copperhead and its meal had disappeared. “The snake guy said he had never seen the same species eating each other before,” said Jasper’s mother, Leah Cleary. “It was quite amazing watching it.”

copperhead snakes

Image credit: Jasper Lowenstein

Although we might not see such cannibalistic acts often, herpetologist and author Steve Wilson says they’re not rare. “Cannibalism has been recorded in quite a few snake species,” he said. “They’re opportunistic predators, and the larger venomous species tend to have broader diets. They’re not all that fussy; they’ll eat all vertebrates including birds, mammals and reptiles.”

An unlucky encounter for the smaller serpent – but lucky for us that Jasper was there to capture this unusual fascinating moment.