If a snake eats a monkey in the forest and no one sees it, does it make a difference? New evidence suggests that it does.
For the first time, scientists have witnessed a boa constrictor attacking and eating a howler monkey. The finding, and boa-eating-monkey video, is noteworthy since reports of primates being eaten by predators are relatively rare, according to the study, published this month in the journal Primates.
“This may cause us to rethink how vulnerable [these] primates are to predation,” said Paul Garber, a primatologist at the University of Illinois, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Vulnerable to predators
Predation does happen to primates and monkeys, particularly by snakes, large raptors and big cats — but it has not been witnessed very often, Garber told LiveScience. That’s due in part to the fact that primates live in groups, wherein each member looks out for threats, providing “coordinated predator detection,” he said. Primates also generally have good vision that enables them to spot would-be attackers. It’s also possible that the presence of scientists watching primates helps drive predators away, he added. [Gallery: Monkey Mug Shots]
But sometimes the group’s defenses are not enough. In this incident, which occurred in the western Brazilian Amazon, an adult female Purús red howler monkey (Alouatta puruensis) was seen climbing away from its group of five other monkeys, trailed by another adult female in the rain forest canopy. Without warning, a hidden boa struck at the monkey, wrapping the primate in the muscular coils of its body and crushing it.
The attack was typical of boa constrictors, which crouch and wait for prey. The snakes have been known to lurk in one place without moving for more than a month, according to the study. Typically boas eat smaller prey, such as rodents and small birds. Most adult female howler monkeys weigh about 13 pounds (6 kilograms), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In this case, the howler likely didn’t see the snake, said study lead author Júlio César Bicca-Marques, a researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul. The study suggests that “snakes may play a stronger role as predators of New World monkeys than previously thought,” he told LiveScience. [Video of Boa Eating Monkey]
A meal, headfirst
After the snake struck, the victim’s companion approached the snake and hit it a handful of times. But the snake showed no reaction, and the other monkey soon withdrew, watching the macabre affair. Seventy-six minutes later, after strangling the monkey to death, the snake ate the howler headfirst.
“According to observations on predation attempts on howler monkeys made by other researchers, howlers often don’t do anything to defend the victim,” Bicca-Marques said.
It’s possible that the monkey might not have been eaten if it had stayed closer to the group. “Being a solitary monkey is definitely not a good thing,” Garber said.
Other recent studies have found heretofore-unknown examples of primate predation. A study earlier this year, for example, found evidence of a leopard eating a chimpanzee.
The present study was conducted by Bicca-Marques and his student Erika Patricia Quintino. One of the photographs of a boa eating a howler monkey adorned the cover of the American Journal of Primatology, of which Garber is the executive editor.
- Boa Constrictor Eats Howler Monkey – First Look | Video
- Image Gallery: 25 Primates in Peril
- That’s Odd! The 10 Weirdest Animal Discoveries
- Wild Madagascar: Photos Reveal Island’s Amazing Lemurs
Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Also on HuffPost:
The rhinoceros beetle (pictured) can push around 850 times its weight.
Largest Invertebrate (Land)
The coconut crab weighs about 6.6 pounds and its legs can span up to two and a half feet
Liz Hall from the Melbourne Aquarium inspects Coconut Crab as he takes possesion of a coconut in Melbourne, 19 December 2006. They Coconut crab (also known as the Robber Crab) are the largest living crab in the world and can climb coconut trees to harvest coconuts which they can break with their huge nippers and have been gruesomely know to feed on injured or unconcious people in the bush. (William West, AFP / Getty Images)
The giant squid is the world’s largest invertebrate, and the largest ever measured was 59 feet long. Giant squids also have the largest eyes of any animal, each one about the size of a human head.
The etruscan shrew is the smallest mammal (by weight) in the world. The smallest animal by skull size is the bumblebee bat.
Most Venomous Animal
The sea wasp jellyfish (pictured) has enough venom to kill 60 adult humans.
Photo: a href=”http://www.flickr.com/people/65578066@N00″ target=”_hplink”Guido Gautsch/Flickr/a
Arctic terns migrate about 11,000 miles to the Antarctic each year…and then come all the way back!
An Arctic Tern dives down to protect its nest on June 24, 2011 on Inner Farne, England. (Dan Kitwood, Getty Images)
Blue whales’ low-frequency pulses can be heard over 500 miles way. At 188 decibels, these sounds are louder than a jet engine.
In this picture taken on March 26, 2009, shows a blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. (Ishara S. Kodikara, AFP / Getty Images)
World’s Most Extreme Animals
North African ostriches run up to 45 miles an hour, making them the fastest land bird. They are also the biggest, weighing up to 345 pounds.
An african ostrich eats at the Addo National Elephant Park, north of Port Elizabeth, on June 24, 2010. South Africa is hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (Patrick Hertzog, AFP / Getty Images)
Peregrine falcons dive toward their prey at over 200 mph.
A young male Peregrine Falcon eats meat taken from the protective glove of Taronga Zoo bird trainer Erin Stone (unseen) following a short flying lesson in Sydney on December 9, 2009. (Greg Wood, AFP / Getty Images)
Sailfish can swim at speeds of up to 68 mph, although experts disagree as to just which species of sailfish is the fastest.
Sailfish jumping out of the water on January 16, 2006 in the Florida Keys, Florida. (Ronald C. Modra, Sports Imagery / Getty Images)
Cheetahs can run at speeds up to 70 mph.
Majani, a 2-year-old male African cheetah, exhibits lighting speed Friday, March 19, 2004 while chasing a mechanical rabbit at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park as part of the Park’s environmental enrichment program. (Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo / AP)
Three giant tortoises are estimated to have lived over 175 years, with one estimated at a whopping 255 years.
Image: Harriet, who died in 2006, was thought to be the third longest-lived tortoise on record.
a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/123660557/” target=”_hplink”Cory Doctorow/Creative Commons/a
World’s Most Extreme Animals
African elephants are the heaviest and second tallest land animals. Large males can exceed 13,000 pounds and are 12 feet tall at the shoulder.
This photo made on February 10, 2011 shows an elephant in Tsavo west national park, some 350 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. (Tony Karumba, AFP / Getty Images)