The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Pulled in Two Directions

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One recent sunny afternoon, my family and I were celebrating my dad’s birthday by enjoying a picnic at Glen Providence Park in my hometown of Media, PA. After savoring our awesome lunch from Desert Rose, we enjoyed an afternoon constitutional around the park’s pond and through the surrounding trails, where we observed the usual neighborhood assemblage of herps: Eastern painted turtles (Chrysemys picta), those invasive denizens of suburban parks, Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) , and an Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

On the long walk by up the hill, my mom’s attention was drawn to some movement in the undergrowth to the side of the trail. Thinking that only a mammal would be so obstreperous, I wandered over to see what all the (relative) commotion was about, and heard several muffled “meeps” indicating a distressed amphibian was in the area. Looking down, I realized that a garter snake was in the process of consuming an American toad (Anaxyrus americanus).


An American toad up to its waist in garter snake.

But as I slipped my camera out of my pocket for a quick pic, something seemed wrong. I saw at least 4 feet of garter snake, well above the record size for the species. As I hovered above, peering into the vines below, the snake which was in the process of devouring the toad’s leg rolled over, allowing me to see that there were in fact, two garter snakes, each of which had worked their way up a hind leg of the toad and were now vying with one another for control of the prey. I moved in with my camera as both snakes recognized that what must have seemed a much larger predator had arrived on the scene. I only had time for one quick and blurred picture before the snakes released their hold on the toad and quickly slithered away in opposite directions.

Taking extreme measures to increasing your flexibility in preparation for the Toadlympics can be a dangerous enterprise.

Taking extreme measures to increase your flexibility in preparation for the Toadlympics can be a dangerous enterprise.

In case you have trouble seeing both snakes due to my shoddy camerawork, I’ve made good use of my MS in Paint to outline the second snake for you below.


A relative of Trogdor?

After being released by both snakes, the toad itself seemed a bit dazed and bloodied, but appeared free of serious harm. I set him down in a cool, shady spot to recuperate, reflect on the ultimate fleetingness of life, and resolve to finally go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the next breeding pond over to see what the crowd down there has been trilling about.


Author: Chris Thawley

NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Rhode Island; evolutionary ecologist, herper, lizard lasso-er, cookie monster, discslinger

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