Have you ever thought it would be nice to have super flexible jaws so you could eat whatever you wanted? I tend to think about this when I’m eating something that’s too big for my mouth, such as a hamburger or a double decker sandwich. Unfortunately we humans haven’t quite evolved that kind of elasticity in our mouths, but todays animals, the egg-eating snakes, have.

There are actually two groups of egg-eating snakes — the African egg-eating snakes and the Indian egg eaters. Both evolved their unique diets separately, and are not closely related. I’m going to focus on the African snakes, because there are more of them than the Indian variety  (twelve species versus one).

As you’ve likely guessed, African egg-eating snakes are found in Africa. They live all over the continent, in forested areas. Due to their specific diet, egg-eating snakes are limited to living in areas where there are lots of different species of birds.

When threatened, these snakes rub their scales together to make a hissing sound. They aren’t dangerous though, as they don’t have any teeth. Image by Ben Phalan, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Really the only thing that the different species have in common is their propensity for eating eggs — otherwise there is a great deal of variation between them. Colours range from green to brown and black, while size can be anywhere from 30 to 100 cm in length.

This may come as a surprise to you, but egg-eating snakes eat eggs. It’s pretty much all they eat, and they’re very good at it. The snakes use their sense of smell to locate nests full of tasty eggs. Their smell is so good that they can tell if eggs are rotten, or overdeveloped. The snakes then open their jaws ridiculously wide and place them around their chosen meal. A series of muscle movements brings the egg into the snakes’ throats.

An egg-eating snake with a big fat egg in its mouth. Image by de:Benutzer:Mond76, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At this point, the snakes look extremely silly, as they have a giant egg lump partway down their bodies. Luckily egg-eating snakes have a way of dealing with this: they have handy spines coming out of their backbones, which are prefect for breaking eggshells. Once the egg has been crushed, the snakes squeeze the eggs until they’ve extracted as much of the tasty insides as possible. The shell is then regurgitated, because who wants to eat eggshells?

I like eggs (especially devilled), but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want my entire diet to consist of them. I like some variety, though I suppose if you’ve evolved to only eat one thing, you might as well eat it. Hopefully egg-eating snakes actually like eggs!

Cover image by Willem Van Zyl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons