Springwatch: dinosaurs vs reptiles

June 9, 2014 • 1:29 pm

[JAC note: I’m not really fond of posting pictures of death and depredation in nature, but, hey, that’s biology folks! You can’t have the squee without the squalling.] by Matthew Cobb The BBC’s annual three week-long nature extravaganza, Springwatch, is starting its final week. One of the highlights last week was the antics of Grub, a barn owl chick, who was fed a live “slow worm” (i.e., a legless lizard). I can’t find a video of this (though UK readers can watch the grisly business here – it starts at 06:00). Here are some screen grabs (they’re filmed with night vision, so are rather dim). First up, Grub (named by viewers because he is generally very grubby) starts to eat the hapless reptile:

Grub1a Grub took about 10 minutes to swallow the damn thing, partly because it was still alive. Every time he took a pause for breath, it started to come out again. Presenter Chris Packham wondered what the slow worm thought about it and described it as a living endoscope…: Grub2 Eventually, after a lot of struggle, the baby dinosaur was triumphant, if looking somewhat queasy: Grub3 Within minutes, however, he was being stuffed full of more prey. And, as they have just announced on tonight’s programme, Grub fledged on Saturday, with a rather ungainly flight. Over the weekend, however, it seems as though the reptiles have struck back. The programme has live webcams on a number of nests, one of which is a very messy and smelly goldfinch nest (they just crap everywhere – it really is pretty foul, stinking and covered with maggots and flies). And over the weekend, an adder came to visit, with obvious consequences, nomming one of the chicks. The full horror was shown on tonight’s programme. Here’s a screen shot that was posted on Tw*tter that gave us an advance taste of what came slithering towards the goldfinch babies: https://twitter.com/matthewcobb/status/475765087022874624 Here’s another screen grab, in which you can see that the adder is very small indeed, and has to try and swallow the nestling head first (nestling head and adder head on left of picture). The reptile got away with the bird, but shortly returned to have another go. There was no tell-tale bulge in the adder, suggesting either the snake bit the prey and stashed it somewhere or it dropped it. adder2

13 thoughts on “Springwatch: dinosaurs vs reptiles

  1. Let’s have a poll! How many of you were pulling for the birds, as opposed to the snake and lizard?

  2. Grub is a tawny owl. Springwatch has provided some excellent footage of animal behaviour this year. The BBC’s nature programs are far superior to anything available anywhere else. I have never seen any programs of remotely comparable quality on any of the commercial channels.

    1. Yes, Strix aluco. It has been fed a broad range of prey items during the time it has been filmed including rodents, amphibians, reptiles and a large number of slugs. On one occasion the slug it had eaten produced copious amounts of mucous which resulted in the owl getting thoroughly caked in the stuff and its eyes all gummed over. Fortunately this was a temporary set back for the young owl.
      The show has also had some amazing footage from a bittern’s nest.

  3. The adder is SO COOL! In Florida we could tell if there were snakes near scrub jay nests by the noise the birds made – we used to track down rat snakes and pine snakes just by that. I had no idea that adders predated nests. I did see a mamba in Mozambique take two nestling doves while the parent sat six inches away watching.

  4. Snakes are not generally into ‘stashing’ prey, though rodent specialists (at least, possibly also bird-eaters) may constrict or envenomate multiple prey in a nest before beginning to feed. I’d like to see video of the adder at the nest, if anyone gets a link.

      1. A number of snake species have been recorded eating carrion, including smelly road kills such as dead rodents and frogs. In regards to John’s comment I have observed bull snakes (Pituophis) kill the entire contents of a nest of cottontail rabbits (five young) before they fed on the first one. I had one Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) as captive that would habitually bite all the food items placed in with it before it began to feed.

  5. Prof. C.C., I’m sorry to say that my wife observed a feline neighbor trying to kill a grounded baby robin in our back yard. She ran him off and is going to speak to the feline’s assistants about the ordinance in our town: Loose animals, felines and d*gs alike, at not allowed.

  6. My kingsnake can easily eat a mouse two-three times the width of his head without showing a bulge. My theory is that the process of swallowing the prey elongates it so it doesn’t really show.

    1. Incidently even though I’m in the USA, I was able to watch a short video of the adder ‘attack’ on the BBC website by searching for ‘springwatch goldfinch adder’ on Google.

  7. If I remember rightly Springwatch had some footage a couple of years of a barn owl chick nomming its own siblings. Now, is that proof that god exists or that he doesn’t – I get confused…

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