Shit happens part IX: The fatal snake hunger of a grebe

Bizarre deaths and accidents of animals were already covered for several times on the blog, especially in the shit happens-series. Today I want to feature an interesting specimen to continue this topic. This is a partially dissected great crested grebe (Podiceps crestatus) which was found dead, after it tried to gobble an adult European grass snake (Natrix natrix).

Great crested grebe which suffocated while trying to swallow a European grass snake. From the collection of the Senckerberg Museum at Frankfurt. Photo by Markus Bühler

I appears that the snake´s body somehow formed a knot around the grebe´s lower jaw, with fatal effects for both opponents. Great crested grebes usually prefer much smaller prey items like small fish in the range of 10-15 cm, sometimes also amphibians and invertebrates. The normal maximum length of their prey is about 25 cm, so this grebe was particularly enthusiastic when it trid to swallow a whole grass snake which likely exceeded its own body length. You can even see the snake´s head in the opened stomach:

Head of the grass snake in the opened stomach cavity of the grebe

The snake inside the grebe

To give you a better idea of the size of the snake inside, I´ve tried to make a simple reconstruction of it. I have to emphasize this is really just a speculative reconstruction, without an X-ray image it´s hard to say how exactly the snake was curled inside the stomach and perhaps the curve I expected for the snake´s body inside the grebe´s esophagus was not curved enough. But anyway, here it is:

Reconstructed grass snake inside the grebe

The tragic death of the grebe and the snake aside, we see here also an interesting example how unpredictable animal behavior can be. Who would have expected that a grebe would try to attack a snake which is several times as long as its usual maximum prey size for example?

The dissected grebe sadly doesn´t really show the beauty of this elegant kind of waterfowl, so I wanted to finish this blog entry with a somewhat lesser macabre photo. I see grebes comparably often in the wild, but they are usually too shy and too far away to take good photos of them. But several years ago I managed to take some better close-up photos of some grebes at Lake Garda.

Great crested grebe, Lake Garda. Photo by Markus Bühler
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