Mid-week Reptilians #6: Snake vs. Woodpecker

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 5:42 PM Bookmark and Share
Busy week, so this so here's a quickie: a spectacular reptilian interaction that was caught on video in the Amazon.

The caption along side the video (with minor corrections, and the bird's binomial name C. melanoleucos added) explains:
On vacation in Peru Yarapa River Lodge we came across a woodpecker knocking on a tree, when we came closer we saw the fight between a [female] woodpecker and a snake.

The snake is: Olive whipsnake, [Chironius fuscus]
The Woodpecker is: Crimson crested woodpecker [Campephilus melanoleucos]
[See below for correct ID of the snake.]


I spoke with our local herp expert, Harry Green, and the snake is actually not the (typically terrestrial) Chironius species as indicated above. It's actually one of the "Bird-eating Snakes" in the genus Pseustes (maybe this one?). One of the few real bird specialists out there, these snakes are also known as Puffing Snakes, owing to the defensive behavior of puffing up their "throat" (as seen in this video) to ward off would-be attackers.


Posted by: Helen | 11/13/2009 1:47 PM

It looked to me like the woodpecker was getting pretty beaten up, so I wanted to find out whether the olive whipsnake is venomous. To my surprise, it looks like the name "olive whipsnake" most commonly applies to an Australian snake. I think the scientific name Chironius Fuscus may be a correct identification, but that snake is not commonly called the "olive whipsnake" (and 'chironius' was misspelled in their identification).

What do you think? I really can't tell one snake from another with any reliability. I'm depending heavily on the first few google hits.

Posted by: Paul | 11/14/2009 11:02 AM

Without knowing the outcome, I would guess that the woodpecker probably fared pretty well - as long as it didn't get any major injuries to the wing joints during the skirmish. Presumable the snakes small teeth (i.e. no large fangs) wouldn't do any major damage.

Fortunately for the woodpecker, the Olive Whipsnake of South America is a member of the family Coulibridae - a large family of non-venomous snakes that includes more familiar species like corn snakes, garter snakes, gopher snakes, and most of the other small non-venomous snakes. The Australian species with the same common name is in the family Elapidae along with the cobras, kraits and coral snakes.

There's a really nice high resolution picture of a (non-venomous) Olive Whipsnake from French Guiana here.

Posted by: Anonymous | 11/24/2009 4:11 PM

I saw this on RED EYE, a FoxNews program that airs at 3am eastern. It is amazing video, very persistant bird I must say. Thanks to whoever posted it online & a tip to the folks at RED EYE.

Posted by: Anonymous | 11/28/2009 2:14 AM

Thats amaxing to watch. No quite the same nature-action we get here in Denmark :)


Posted by: Anonymous | 5/13/2012 7:16 AM

There is also a South African species of the Olive Whip snake (Psammophis Mossamibicus) that is mildly venomous but non-lethal to humans. I'm trying to find out it's toxicity effect on small dogs and cats. Can anyone advise?

Post a Comment